Lynnwood author William McClain’s first novel, The Risk in Crossing Borders, is literally an “eye-opener.” Set in Seattle, Syria, Beirut and France, the book reflects McCain’s views on the global situations that cause people to jeopardize their own safety and take leaps of faith, not only in order to gain entry into the United States but also to explore the overall boundaries of family, culture and other crucial aspects of life. Those who choose to upend their lives to cross borders face all of these concerns, but with the most compelling circumstances. One of McClain’s goals was to personalize their experiences.
Through intriguing characters who travel in the sphere of a middle-aged woman living in Seattle, McClain delves into the issues that all people face: race and religion, family and cultural backgrounds, gender and romantic relationships, among others. The protagonist finds her beliefs challenged at every turn, in unexpected ways.
McClain is a Snohomish County native who has lived in Lynnwood for 25 years. Having grown up in Lake Forest Park, he attended Shorecrest High School, where he also taught math and physics. He gravitated toward writing even as a consultant and credits consulting more than teaching in his transition to becoming a writer. He especially gained considerable writing experience by drafting client employee communication materials in his own area of expertise related to their retirement programs: i.e., 401(k) type plans, which were then used by his colleagues nationwide.
Erica Miner: Describe your journey from former high school teacher and corporate retirement planner to writer.
William McClain: With teaching, I found satisfaction in helping people understand complex concepts by identifying the underlying foundational principles. When I entered the field of retirement consulting, I found that explaining IRS and Dept. of Labor regulations to retirement plan committees was surprisingly similar to explaining trigonometry to adolescents. This carried over into writing, where through storytelling, I have attempted to illuminate some of the important underpinnings of our humanity.
EM: The parallels between enlightening retirement plan committees and adolescent students certainly is an interesting one. How did your previous backgrounds prepare you for creating your first novel, The Risk in Crossing Borders? In deciding to write this book, did you yourself take the kind leap of faith that you explore in its pages?
WM: Some may view age 64 as late in life to be writing your first novel. To me it felt natural. I believe the best starting point in writing is a clear conception of what it is you have to say. Our experiences provide a natural framework from which to try to understand life. Some people gain that perspective early in life, while others of us take our time.
EM: I completely agree. Writing is something you can take up at any point in life when you have something to say.
WM: However, the learning curve in going from business writing to writing fiction was steeper than I anticipated. I am grateful to my editors for helping me through that transition.
EM: What made you decide to self-publish this novel?
WM: When I researched this, I found that print-on-demand technology has significantly lowered the cost barrier to self-publishing, and also removes the risk that comes with ordering more books than you are able to sell. My understanding is that, in the current environment, it is very difficult to get a traditional publisher to consider your work unless you are an established author, are already a well-known figure, or have written what they consider to be a very promising book along with a well-developed marketing and promotional plan. For me, it was a clear decision to self-publish.
EM: What motivated you to choose the book’s locales?
WM: The book’s settings—Seattle, Syria, Lebanon and France—provided an opportunity to write about familiar places as well as challenges in learning about unfamiliar parts of the world. It’s difficult for us in the US to grasp the magnitude of the disaster in Syria—it can feel distant and disconnected from our experience. My hope is that The Risk in Crossing Borders will help build connection by illustrating the common humanity we all share.
EM: Explain how you treat the topic of crossing borders via your characters and their intersecting stories.
WM: While borders are a necessary part of maintaining order in our lives, they can create conditions where the path of least resistance is to remain constrained and separated. The Risk in Crossing Borders follows a set of characters who make conscious decisions to push past borders, whether they be physical or societal, in order to make more of their lives than they could by remaining where they were.
EM: Is risk the most important theme in the book?
WM: My interest is not in risk itself, but in the motivations that push people to take risks. For some, it’s being true to who they are rather than the person society expects them to be. For others it’s acting in accordance with what matters most in their lives. When you ask someone what matters most, the answer almost invariably involves caring for other people.
EM: Do you think The Risk in Crossing Borders is relevant to today’s socio-political climate?
WM: My hope is that people will find The Risk in Crossing Borders relevant, especially in the current social and political climate. Social media has amplified the voice of tribalism, along with the fear and hatred it can spawn. In this setting, it is more important than ever that we span our borders and view those who are different than ourselves with empathy and tolerance.
EM: That is a powerful message for our times. Thank you, Bill, for your insights.
— By Erica Miner