I’m here with author Rick Gualtieri of the Tome of Bill, Bill of the Dead, and False Icons works. These three books form themselves into a large overarching urban fantasy universe where the supernatural lives among us and our only hopes are a bunch of jackass geeks that are like the cast of Buffy but much-less attractive. Note, I’m not taking a shot, they say this themselves.
I’ve been a huge fan of the books since the first volume and am happy to discuss the in’s and out’s of the universe with him.
1. There’s fourteen books in the main series (combining the Tome of Bill and Bill of the Dead series), four books in False Icons, and four Bill of the Dead adventures. Did you ever think the world would get so big?
First off, thanks for having me! That said, I didn’t have a freaking clue things would ever take off like they did. I figured back when I wrote that first book, either people wouldn’t care or they’d outright hate it. Then I could get back to my life as an e-commerce manager knowing I’d at least knocked an item off my bucket list. Needless to say, I called that one wrong.
2. Can you describe the Tome of Bill series and what separates it from other urban fantasy?
Bill the Vampire is about a foul-mouthed gamer who, thanks to thinking with his crotch instead of his brain, ends up being recruited against his will to the ranks of the undead. Too bad for him the forces of darkness have higher standards. What I think sets it apart from many other fantasy series is that, despite the danger, Bill and his friends spend a good deal of time goofing on it. They know it’s supposed to be terrifying but it’s also kind of ridiculous too and they aren’t quite smart enough to keep their mouths shut – which means a lot of the horrors that befall them are of their own making.
They don’t want to be heroes or selflessly save the world. Hell, for the most part, they don’t even care that much. Bill and his friends would be just as happy to sit back, drink some beers, and play D&D while the rest of civilization burns around them.
3. Can you describe the False Icons series?
False Icons takes place in the same world as Bill. It’s about Jessie Flores – a high school girl who desperately wants to be a superhero. A fateful meeting with a teen wizard and his chain-smoking aunt leads to the realization that she’s the legendary Icon – a vampire-slaying warrior prophesized to save humanity from evil. Too bad for her, the real world isn’t a comic book. So, it isn’t long before people start dying and she realizes she should’ve been more careful about what she wished for.
4. What’s the proper reading order for the series?
I have a recommended reading order on my website (https://rickgualtieri.com/tome-of-bill-universe-reading-order/) because there’s probably too many books to list here. The main thing is the universe currently has 3 entry points – Bill The Vampire (Tome of Bill 1), Strange Days (Bill of the Dead 1), and Second String Savior (False Icons 1). And there might be a 4th coming soon. Starting off with any of these should work just fine without leaving anyone lost.
I’ve always enjoyed horror stories with a bit of humor. We’re talking Buffy, The Lost Boys, Army of Darkness, etc. Back around the time I wrote Bill, though, it felt like vampires had become too serious. They were either book boyfriends or brooding immortals grousing about their fate. I wanted to poke a little fun at the genre while also telling a coherent and compelling story.
6. Bill goes through quite a transformation over the course of the series, becoming less crass and more responsible as he matures, was this always the plan or a reflection of RL influences?
A bit of both. Bill lives in a world that’s supposed to parallel ours. As he matures so do some of his viewpoints. He starts off as a 24yr old sheltered geek with other sheltered geeks as his friends. As a result, he’s not always the best person he can be. As much as he doesn’t want to admit it, though, being thrust into the supernatural underworld ultimately ends up broadening his horizons a bit – and little by little he does learn to be (a bit) less of an ass.
In my case, times change and I don’t exactly live in a vacuum, so I can’t pretend I’m entirely the same person I was when I first started writing him. That being said, when I write fiction I try very hard to focus on the characters and their world, not my real life circumstances or beliefs – so my characters are very much not me and vice-versa.
7. Is there anything you’d do differently now with the earlier parts of the series as a more mature writer?
It’s hard to say because we can never know what might truly make a story better / more accessible versus what will ruin a “classic” scene all because we decided it’s more heroic if Greedo shoots first.
On the one hand, I’m well aware I made some questionable choices in the earlier books. A part of me would almost certainly consider rethinking that today. On the flip side, they kinda also establish who Bill and his friends are, so changing things might fundamentally change who they are at the start of their journey – and I’m not sure I’d want that.
There’s also the fact of the series mostly being told in first person POV. I am a firm believer that means showing an unfiltered view into Bill’s mindset – which includes all those inner thoughts the world isn’t supposed to see. I can’t see myself changing that. People are complicated. We don’t always think wonderful thoughts. In making Bill and his friends seem as real as possible, I had to take into account that we’re not always going to like them.
Bill’s world is meant to be a roller coaster ride. It’s messy and ugly at times, but it’s also fun, goofy, and seldom boring.
8. The series seemed somewhat wrapped up at the end of Bill the Vampire. What inspired you to revive with Bill of the Dead?
I began getting ideas for a sequel around book 5 or 6 of the original Tome of Bill series. It started off as a combo sequel/spinoff and was originally going to star one of the other characters instead (Christy), but the more it developed the more I decided to keep it from Bill’s perspective.
I remember when I announced it, people were all like, “This can’t work, you did XYZ at the end of the series.” And in truth, I tried to tie up as many loose ends as I could … save one or two, and that was most certainly purposeful.
9. How did the False Icons spinoff come about?
R.E. Carr, author of the Rules Undying series, approached me after a Facebook rant I’d made. I’d been trying to get the Tome of Bill accepted into Kindle Worlds. I thought I was making some progress, but then they shuttered the whole thing. I was complaining about how I’d been hoping to see some spinoffs written by other writers and she popped into my DMs with an idea. I’d already read some of her work, so it was an easy partnership to agree to.
10. What is it like working with a co-writer on that series?
For the most part it’s fun to have another imagination feeding the fires of storytelling. Having a different perspective onboard can really make you think about the ramifications of what might’ve otherwise been a minor section of another story. It can definitely be challenging at times, because there’s always give and take, but for the most part I think the pros heavily outweigh any cons.
11. How would you describe being an indie writer? What are the ups and downs?
It’s an absolute roller coaster. I spent 20 years in corporate America, so I can appreciate being my own boss in terms on decision making. However, the industry is super volatile and will probably only get worse in the years ahead. Even when you’re successful, there’s a feast or famine aspect of it. The good times can be truly wonderful, but the bad times tend to hurt a lot.
You have to make sure you have both thick skin and a solid circle to back you up because it’s very easy to be (figuratively) eaten alive.
When it works it’s the best job in the world, but when it doesn’t it can be a lonely journey.
12. What’s some other works by you or other indie authors you’d recommend?
I have two other series depending on what you’re into. The Hybrid of High Moon is about a family caught in the middle of a cold war between clans of witches and werewolves. Fans of supernatural action and thrillers should consider checking it out. For those who are more into pure horror, Bigfoot Hunters is the lead-in to a gory trilogy about killer cryptids and the team that’s all that stands between us and them.
Fortunately, I am but one writer in a sea of talented authors. So, if you’re looking for other books to sink your teeth into, I’d highly recommend John G. Hartness’s Harker Demon Hunter books, DM Guay’s 24/7 Demon Mart Series, and Drew Hayes’s Super Powereds. You can’t go wrong with any of those. Good writing, intriguing plots, and they’re all just plain fun to read.