On the Job and Off: When he doesn’t have his head in the clouds teaching Institute of Aviation students to fly, Bill Jones, assistant aviation education specialist, writes action-adventure novels, as William M. Jones. He published his first novel, "Silent Rescue," in 1997 followed by a sequel in 2000, "A Chameleon in the Plumbing." Jones’ third novel, "Murder by Memory," is due out next year. He also has written two aviation textbooks. A 21-year veteran of the Marine Corps, Jones, a retired lieutenant colonel, began his career with the UI in 1993.
Tell me about your job.
I teach college students how to fly. I teach the ground school on campus. My office is really inside a cockpit. The most challenging part is knowing when to take over the controls of an aircraft so the student doesn’t get us into trouble.
What’s the best part of your job?
My wife says I don’t work because I do what I enjoy doing. A lot of students ask why I’m here and not working for an airline. Quality of life means a lot. I like to go home to my recliner. My son flies 737s for Continental Airlines, so I let him do the living out of hotel rooms.
How did you get started writing action novels?
The publisher I had for the textbooks, Ron Gallagher of Eastern Dakota Publishers, wanted to get into novels and asked me if I’d consider writing a novel. And I said ‘sure.’ That’s when the original ‘Silent Rescue’ came out in 1997.
What’s the hardest part of writing?
The time. Initially coming up with the story takes a long time. It’s a mental exercise just to keep your mind in it. Like I tell people around here, some people do jigsaw puzzles, some people do the word jumbles in the newspaper. This is my mental exercise – getting a story all together.
The reason ‘A Chameleon in the Plumbing’ took three years to write was because I was originally going to have three books in the series, it being book number three. I actually wrote book number two, and it was never published because Ron Gallagher thought it was too much like ‘Silent Rescue.’ I did a lot of rewriting and combining. I lost interest for a while. I built a house here in Savoy. Then I decided I needed to finish this. I was pretty proud when I did this because it was really an exercise in will and motivation getting it done.
Have you always been interested in writing?
I wrote my first novel my senior year in high school, and it did not get published. Looking back now, I can see why. But I had mononucleosis my senior year, and was out of school for a while, so I wrote a book called ‘Onward Kentucky,’ about settlers in 1776. I was turned down by several publishers, then I quit. My last couple years of high school, I wrote books of poetry, and none of those were ever published. My senior year, an English teacher I had tried to get me an English scholarship to American University in Washington, D.C., because of my poetry. I went to another college to play football instead.
Most of those poems were written in 1966 and 1967, and they’d just been filed away at my house. I developed a college-professor character in the book that’s coming out next year and incorporated five of the poems into the book.
For three years, from August 1996 to December 1999, I also wrote a monthly aviation column for The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association magazine.
How do you develop your characters?
The Matt Taft character is actually me: an old retired Marine up on his New York farm on break from his job at the Institute of Aviation. All the background for him is my personal and family history, like my Desert Storm experiences.
What do you read? Do you have any favorite authors?
I read more magazines and newspapers than books. I’ve read almost everything that Dale Brown has written. I read Stephen Coonts, and I liked a lot of Tom Clancy’s books. They’re the aviation-adventure writers. I’m a non-technical writer. Some of their books are getting too technical, I think. My first book was technical: I actually designed an aircraft for the plot and had all the specifications, all the systems for it in the book. But you don’t have to be into aviation to like the story.