IR Approved Author Bill Percy on his inspiration: “My many years in the practice of psychotherapy rewarded me with many dramatic stories from people’s lives.”

The Bishop Burned the Lady received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.

Following find an interview with author Bill Percy.

What is the name of the book and when was it published?

The book is titled The Bishop Burned the Lady, and it was published April 12, 2018 by Black Rose Writing.

What’s the book’s first line?

I have a confession to make: The book has two first lines! The opening scene stars like this: “As Ed yanked the cooler and folding chairs out of his pickup, he didn’t bother to hide his irritation. ‘For a girlfriend, you’re awful damn distant.’ A rotten opening to the question he wanted to ask her.” (This opens the theme in the book that I talk about below, in Question 6, about Andi’s ambivalence about the growing intimacy in her relationship with Ed.) But my beta readers thought I needed to open the book with the first line of the second scene, which begins the story of the sex traffickers. Its line is, “The lead vehicle, a dark sedan, edged slowly into the clearing that brooded under towering pines; the bishop ordered, ‘Stop here.’ ”

I decided, after lots of thought, to open the book with the Ed and Andi scene, because a primary goal in my writing, as I discuss in question 4, is to show the complexity of police officers’—and psychologists’!—everyday emotional and relational lives. And it sets up the book’s closing scene.

What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.

Deputy Andi Pelton, desperately searching for the leader of a murderous sex-trafficking cult, finally finds him in his crematorium—with his knife to her throat.

A mysterious fire in a remote forest clearing; a woman’s charred bones; unexplained tracks in the rutted road—the only clues Deputy Andi Pelton has to what happened. Until she meets an old man living alone in a forest compound that obviously houses many people. Sex trafficking in the Montana wilderness? As she and psychologist Ed Northrup struggle to solve the brutal and fiery murder, Andi faces a fear she didn’t know she had.

The horrors they unearth lead them deep into the appalling reality of prison gangs and a cult led by a malign Bishop—and threaten to overwhelm Andi and Ed’s romance and her growing bond with her “step-girlfriend,” Ed’s adopted daughter, Grace. Will that center hold when Andi finds the killer holding a knife against her throat? And if it does and she succeeds, will she be able to face her greater fear?

What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?

My many years in the practice of psychotherapy rewarded me with many dramatic stories from people’s lives. For a time, I was privileged to work with a few survivors of trafficking gangs, and the current interest in rooting out sex slavery dovetailed with the stories my clients used to tell. Without revealing any details that might identify survivors—The Bishop actually focuses more on the search for the “Bishop” who leads the gang (masquerading as a religious cult)—and it is very true to the experiences of another group of clients: police officers who sought my consultation about this business.

Another inspiration for the story comes from the negative coverage of police behavior—shootings of unarmed men and the like. Those of course are tragic and deplorable, but I wanted to show something of the everyday humanity of police officers—in the person of deputy sheriff Andi Pelton, as she struggles not only with the horrible case but also with the ordinary problems of relationship, menopause, and her ambivalence about family life.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book? 

I write to tell stories that resonate with the issues of the day—sex slavery, school shootings, clergy sexual abuse, abandoned children, tax evasion schemes—but from the human side. I want people to be entertained, not “informed.” Since I do my best to bring my characters to vivid life, I want my readers to fall in love—or into hate—with them, and to find resonance with their own lives and issues. For instance, in my second book of the series, Nobody’s Safe Here, one of the issues is clergy sexual abuse. Rather than focusing on the scandal and the ugly details, I told the story of the deep and abiding love the victim felt, and had to overcome, for his abuser—which is so often the case and so frequently overlooked in media portrayals of this issue. These big issues are complex, and the people who suffer or experience them are equally complex, and I hope my readers will come away from the books with a deepened feeling for other people’s experience.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character?  Who-real or fictional-would you say the character reminds you of? 

In The Bishop Burned the Lady, the main character is Deputy Andi (Andrea) Pelton, one of twelve deputies in a small town and rural county in a fictional valley in Montana. What distinguishes Andi for me is that when she’s confronted with situations she cannot control, her past MO has been to run. She’s avoided emotional entanglements with people, but in the small community where she now lives, that is neither readily possible nor really desirable. Her usual behavior’s complicated by the fact that she genuinely loves psychologist Ed Northrup (who is the main character in the first book, Climbing the Coliseum and shares “main character” billing in the second). As he grows more insistent that they take their love affair to the next level, she resists Ed’s demands for more intimacy—but finds that she can’t as easily take control or run away as she has in the past. Indeed she finds she does not want to, but struggles to figure out how to change. The case terrifies her, but to an extent, it is the prospect of deeper intimacy that is her greater challenge and fear.

If they made your book into a movie, who would you like to see play the main character(s)?

To play Andi Pelton, the deputy, I’d like to see Emily Deschanel in the role. I loved her in Bones, where she had that “don’t mess with me” look that I envision Andi showing when she’s challenged. Ed Northrup’s not so easy. I immediately thought of David Boreanaz, also from Bones. He’s not really that much older than Emily Deschanel but as I thought about this question, I realized that in my mind’s eye, Andi and Ed have a similar look and relationship dynamic to that of Bones and Seeley Booth. Funny what sort of “aha” a random question can lead to.

 When did you first decide to become an author?

Not sure I ever decided, strictly speaking. In 2009, I retired from teaching grad students and just for fun, I started writing short stories. I’d written tons of professional stuff, research reports, training manuals, courses, and the like—but no fiction. (Well, a real stinker of a novel when I was 21. Enough said.) Anyway, the first 35 or 40 stories were, uh, never going to rival Eudora Welty’s stories, but eventually I wrote one I really liked. I put it away, went back to “practicing,” pulled it out some weeks later and still liked it. Six months later, I still liked it—but I realized it was way too packed for a short, so I put it away again. About three months later, out of the blue, I just started writing it as a novel. I guess my subconscious decided I’d be a writer, since consciously I was fooling around.

Is this the first book you’ve written?

No. That long short story-turned-novel was the first, Climbing the Coliseum, which I published myself. When I sent it to my editor, freelancer Lorna Lynch (who’s clear, concise, powerfully persuasive, and right on the money), she wrote back, “This is two books; you need to cut it in half.” So the stuff I took out of Climbing became the central story in my second novel, Nobody’s Safe Here, published by Reagan Rothe of Black Rose Writing. I still liked the characters, so we published this book, The Bishop Burned the Lady, and I’m at work on a fourth book in the series, A Patriot’s Campaign.

What do you do for work when you’re not writing?

I’m retired from the practice of psychology (where I get a lot of my ideas for stories), which as any retired guy will tell you means I don’t have enough time for everything I’m doing. I serve on the city council of Hope, Idaho—a small mountain town that provides me with lots of the “color” I try to show in my fictional town of Jefferson, Montana. “City council” in a small town (89 residents) means something much like being on a condominium association board—plenty of work to do with no staff to do it!

How much time do you generally spend on your writing?

Honestly, not enough. When I am working on a book, I try to write every day for at least a couple or three hours. When the latest book is at the editor’s, I usually start the next one, but I’ll use what feels like “free time” to catch up on other pursuits. I sent the fourth novel, A Patriot’s Campaign, to Lorna (my editor) this morning, so this week I am working on a cemetery project that’s getting underway in our town.

What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?

The best, for me anyway, is simply doing what I really enjoy doing: writing. The hardest part, probably, is the marketing side. I’m a terrible procrastinator—and my favorite reason for putting off a marketing task is: I’ve got to write!

What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?

I’m not a good one for giving advice; almost forty years of practicing psychotherapy trained me to listen, not advise. We writers are inundated with advice, some of it free (and worth it, usually) and much of it costly, so I really don’t have any advice to add to the flood from others who have more experience and wisdom than I do. The best advice I’ve gotten, however, is simple: Study. Study other writers, study the craft, study story-telling, and most of all study my own heart.

Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling?  If so, why?  

Well, I guess the answer is yes, since when a publisher (Black Rose Writing) came calling, I went! I’d posted my novel Nobody’s Safe Here on and promptly forgot it was there. Ironically, one day before I was going to push the button on Createspace, I got an email from Black Rose Writing with a contract attached! They’d found the manuscript on and wanted to publish it. Lucky me.

Is there something in particular that motivates you?

Yeah, sentences like this from a reader: “That part where Grace got lost in the blizzard? I cried all the way through! I couldn’t bear for her to die.” Nothing motivates me more than knowing—from readers telling me—that when I work hard at it and revise and refresh and prune and edit and absolutely work those sentences till they shine, people will enjoy reading it. I love the idea that I’m giving my readers something good or true or beautiful—and not only a good story, but real characters who touch readers. That’s the best.

Which writer, living or dead, do you most admire?

What day of the week is it? I have so many favorites, I can’t name just one. When I was in grad school in the late seventies, I read a line from Carl Jung (who would never survive the #Me Too movement, but still got off some pretty fabulous insights). He wrote something to the effect that young psychologists should avoid textbooks, and instead study fiction. Fiction, he said, shows you how people really tick. So I took his advice. I’ve probably read two or three books of fiction a month since then. I’ve had so many favorite authors over the years. But okay, here is a (very) short list: Craig Johnson, William Kent Krueger, Louise Penny, John Le Carre, Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, Tony Hillerman, Jo Nesbo, Steig Larsson. Dennis LeHane. Stop me. And outside my genre? Kent Haruf, Hilary Mantel, George Saunders, Margaret Atwood, Patrick O’Brien, G.R.R Martin. Ernest Hemingway. Graham Greene. Ann Patchett. All right, this has to stop.

An all-time single most-admired? Really? J.R.R.Tolkien. There.

Which book do you wish you could have written?

The Bible. Think of the royalties. Seriously, I wish I’d written The Lord of the Rings.