Bill Sewell sits in his cottage office in Palos Verdes Estates where he finished writing his first novel, Nonofficial Asset. Photo by Chelsea Sektnan
Bill Sewell will be signing his book, Nonofficial Asset, at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore at 2810 Artisia Blvd on Saturday November 3 from 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. Call 310-542-6000 for more information.
This article was previously published in Peninsula People…
Bill Sewell, author of Nonofficial Asset, mined his experiences as a security specialist
William Sewell, the author of the new international spy mystery novel Nonofficial Asset, was never a “spy,” he said. But the wink in his eye said differently.
Sewell, previously a systems and security designs specialist for the government, began his novel in 2009 after his wife suggested he put his experiences on paper.
“It was interesting because when I first met Bill he would tell me some of these stories that he had personally experienced, and to him it was normal,” said his wife Nancy. “I would go ‘Wow! Nobody knows these things; that’s not what most people experience in their life, you need to write them down!’ I think in some ways it gave him the confidence to make it into an actual book.”
Nancy, who also worked in the intelligence community, knew that Bill’s knowledge would make a compelling novel because of his natural storytelling ability.
“To Bill it’s not all that unusual, but to other people it’s fascinating,” said Nancy.
“If they only knew the day-to-day they’d think, ‘Oh my God,’” added Bill.
He began writing Nonofficial Asset, a thriller about a security expert on the hunt for a stolen nuclear weapon in the Middle East, while he was working on a security project in Abu Dhabi. As part of his job, he had to imagine potential security situations and figure out how to prepare for them. This day-to-day thought process eventually inspired him to begin his book.
“There are two cardinal rules in being a writer,” said Bill. “One is don’t quit your day job, and the second is to write what you know. This is what I know.”
His job, which he said often turned adventurous, took him all around the world and threw him into intelligence situations that eventually turned into chapters in his book. While sitting down to write, he was surprised by how many things he had done in his lifetime that could easily be added into the story.
“A lot of the details I can’t say, and a lot of the details I’ve changed in the book,” said Bill. “I’ve changed it enough so that nobody will have a problem, but I’ve kept it the same enough that it’s absolutely authentic. Mostly the things that the government is concerned with in the world where I worked is where they are and what they do in that place, so I just changed the place.”
It was important to him that the characters were authentic.
“Peyton [Stone] is a lot like me,” said Bill. “We’re both security guys and a lot of stuff that happened to him has happened to me in one way or another…. I wanted to make him real and interesting, but I don’t know if I’m all that interesting, so it’s all about striking that kind of balance. It’s funny because he does some things that are far beyond my capabilities – well, maybe they weren’t so far out in my younger days — but that’s the tough part, identifying with a character. I don’t want to say he’s going to leap tall buildings in a single bound, because I would feel guilty because I would be misrepresenting myself. At the same time if I sit on the couch and watch TV all day, nobody’s going to read that.”
Not only is the Stone character inspired by Bill, but many of the other characters in the novel are based on friends or acquaintances he has worked with or met throughout his life. Another main character, Rachel, is based on his wife.
“It’s pretty much looking back on my life and my adventures and putting them in Peyton,” said Bill. “But he’s a little better at it than I ever was, but it’s fun – I can pretend.”
During an initial read-through, his step-daughter Joni Kneller was even able to pick out the different characters and connect the dots to their real-life counterparts, which to Nancy proved that Bill was effectively able to portray the characters and their motivations.
“At one point she called me up and said, ‘I didn’t know he was a spy,’” said Nancy. “She was really taken aback because Bill’s a regular guy, he’s just ‘Papa’ to them.”
He’s been surprised by the compliments he has received from his writing.
“I’ve gotten a couple of reviews from people I respect who are writers and they’ve been really glowing,” said Bill. “I almost didn’t believe that they were saying that to me. I have to admit, I’ve had a little trouble going, ‘Really? You like it?’ Sometimes I’ll even read parts I’ve written and think, ‘Wow, did I write that?’”
For Bill, the writing process he goes through before putting pen to paper is different than most writers.
“It’s funny because the movie plays in my head and when it gets to a point where I say ‘no, that can’t happen,’ I’ll rewind it back to the beginning,” said Bill, who is currently working on a sequel about a computer virus. “I really have to motivate myself to write it down, but the movie is always playing in my head.”
Bill usually wrote from 5 – 8 in the morning, and edited in the evening if he wasn’t too tired. Often times his wife would kick him out of bed and tell him to finish a chapter or an idea, otherwise she was worried he would continuously put it off.
While on his travels Bill inventoried different details and information in his head so he could effectively portray the scenes to the reader later on. He even remembered specific conversations he had and used them in his novel, word-for-word.
According to Bill, the novel ended in almost four different ways along the way, but eventually he was able to wrap it up in a way he felt comfortable. “And somewhere along the way I decided to make it a series.”
Ironically for Bill and his wife, four years after starting the Middle Eastern nuclear weapon-based thriller, the times have changed so much that nuclear weapons have become a topical issue.
“Now whenever you turn on the TV you see that,” said Bill. “It’s kind of interesting, because at the time that’s where things on the other side of the fence were headed.”
Now, Bill is safely out of the security industry and living in Palos Verdes Estates.
“I’m so glad we’re not involved anymore,” said Nancy. “Thank God.” PEN
Excerpt from the opening of Nonofficial Asset
by Bill Sewell
Four minutes earlier Peyton Stone’s life had changed forever. For the second time in as many years and this time was no better than the last.
He stared down at the chubby Chinese policeman. In his peripheral vision he could see the yellow crime scene tape that blocked the fire door at the far end of the hotel hallway. Anger, sadness, helplessness, loss — the four horsemen of his neuroses — thundered through his brain on hooves of rage. He fought to maintain rational thought. Get a grip, Peyton. “Breathe,” he could hear his shrink’s voice. “Go to the mountaintop. Breathe in the fresh, cold, clear air. Feel it surge through your body. Push out the mental pollution with each breath.”
The rookie cop’s eyes simply blinked back at him. Stone’s hands balled into fists. As the pressure inside of him grew, he knew he had to hit something. Not the cop! He mentally flogged his fists until they opened, took a deep breath and held it. Then he counted to three and slowly, loudly released it. The cop was between him and the hotel room door.
“Murdered?” The pressure in his head muffled his voice. His question seemed a dull echo from down the hall. He slammed his hand hard against a red lacquered table top. The legs creaked under the blow. The cop backed up a step and unsnapped the flap on his holster. In the rookie’s eyes, Stone saw fear, not purpose, and knew that the officer had never shot anyone. That made him more dangerous, not less. Breathe! He read the name on the cop’s name tag: Han.
Stone turned and stared out the third story window of the Embassy Hotel. Emotions swirled as he tried to push them into mental compartments. Cerebral pigeon holes, his friend, Harry called them. He longed to close the door on them as he’d been trained to do many years ago but the door jammed again. Just like the last time.
Stone was completely unprepared for this. He had stopped by the hotel this morning to meet his partner and prepare for today’s project meeting just as he’d done every day for two weeks. Today he arrived to a chaotic scene, the place filled with police. He had questioned Han, who told him abruptly that his partner was dead, apparently murdered in his sleep.
A sudden flash of red drew his attention to a group of women across the street, their slow, synchronous Tai Chi movements punctuated by the snapping of red fans. Flow…snap, flow…snap, flow…snap. As he swayed slightly with the rhythm, he felt the tension dissipate slightly.
Conditioned by years in the field, he studied the scene in the Shanghai library plaza. Take in the whole scene and look for aberrations – things that don’t belong. Then look at groups of people and evaluate their behavior, their mood. Then look at individuals. Who are the threats? He went through the entire process in just under half a second. Such observation was second nature and constant.