A conversation with Ken Williams about his social work and recent novel Fractured Angel
We recently interviewed Ken Williams, a very famous Santa Barbara Author who is a huge advocate for the homeless and disaffected youth there. His debut novel Fractured Angel is getting good response and appreciation from readers.
Pro Media Mag: Please introduce yourself to the readers and how and when did you first get into writing?
Ken Williams: I was a social worker for the homeless in Santa Barbara CA for thirty years. I worked with the long term disabled, mostly the mentally ill, but also including veterans, the physically disabled, women beaten out of their homes, AIDS clients and the economically dislocated. Currently I am a full time write of novels, screenplays, short fiction pieces and poetry.
As most writers I started in high school. Years later I started to keep a journal when so many of my clients were dying on the streets during the AIDS and crack epidemics that I was beginning to forget their particulars, which I felt extremely guilty about.
I began my “professional” career writing letters to the editors in response to very prejudicial articles against the homeless. The newspapers began to run my “letters” as guest opinion pieces. I remember being shocked at this development—something I wrote being published.
I met with an editor of the main newspaper in Santa Barbara, along with another homeless activist to complain of their coverage of the homeless.
He offered us the chance to write rebuttals, which I followed up on. That newspaper began running my pieces fairly frequently. Then when that newspaper took a hard right detour an online news service offered me an ongoing column. And when they became uncomfortable with my articles criticizing Trump and the ongoing wars in the Middle East I moved to poetry and fiction which I have had, surprisingly success in getting published in a wide variety of journals, both online and hard copy and overseas. Looking back I see how each setback was in fact an opportunity, spurring me to expand my writings beyond my comfort zone.
As for the novels, a Hollywood screenplay writer came up to me after a speech I gave and told me the personal stories I had highlighted my talk with would make great material for a movie. From there I began to write screenplays then novels.
Pro Media Mag: What is your favorite part about being an author?
Ken Williams: Actually it is to see people in my writings, who are without power and money overcome so many hardships in life. To find ways to enable my characters—the marginalized, get to experience an element of justice. So many people are poor and homeless through no fault of their own yet society demonizes them and shuts them off from mainstream society.
Pro Media Mag: Tell us about your novel FRACTURED ANGEL?
Ken Williams: Fractured Angel is the story of a professional woman who comes to Santa Barbara in a desperate search for her fifteen year old daughter, who having suffered her first psychotic break is chased to the streets of Santa Barbara by her wounded mind. In the process, the mother is forced to confront the alien world of the homeless in one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Her journey into this new world exposes the reader to the reality of homelessness in modern day America.
In writing FRACTURED ANGEL I incorporated numerous experiences when I was working the streets of parents looking for their runaway child, who having suffered their first psychotic break found themselves on homeless. Some of those memories are some of the saddest ones I have.
Pro Media Mag: What kind of response the novel received so far?
Ken Williams: I have been moved with some of the reviews. Mental illness and homelessness are hard subjects to wrap a mind around and I am pleased that people, regardless of numbers give up their free time to read my book.
Pro Media Mag: Do you need any certain environment or inspiration for writing?
Ken Williams: No. I can and do write almost anywhere. In the quiet of my home, coffee shops, whenever and wherever I can get ten minutes of time to myself. My favorite place to write is a restaurant on top of a cliff overlooking the Pacific. I love the sound of waves pounding the shore. And even have, at times watched Humpback whales frolic yards off shore.
Pro Media Mag: What do you do when you are not writing?
Ken Williams: I spend too much time trying to get my poems, fiction pieces and novels published. I really dislike taking time away from writing. Writing is one of my loves in life, my wife being my other main love. I enjoy walks on the beach and the forest. I am a gym rat and really love weight lifting.
Pro Media Mag: What inspired you to become a homeless rights advocate?
Ken Williams: I didn’t start out as one. I did consciously however make the decision that I wanted to work with the mentally ill. While aboard the USS Repose, a hospital ship off the coast of Vietnam I decided—pledged that if I survived the war I would work with the mentally ill and the poor.
When I start working at Social Services and found that most workers wanted nothing to with the mentally ill—let’s just say it was a fit made in heaven. I greatly enjoyed working with them and they honored me with a comradelier, trust and friendship that I hold dearly to this day. But along with my incredible clients came the prejudices, hatred and cold-hearted attacks by those fortunate enough to be housed. There was simply no way for me to remain silent.
Pro Media Mag: You also won awards for your work and efforts. What’s the biggest achievement so far?
Ken Williams: By far and away my, “biggest achievement” has been the friends I made while working the streets. Just last week I received a Facebook posting from a former client. When I first met her at the shelter she was about seven years old. She told me she always considered me to be her hero. Another women wrote me from Florida telling me how much my friendship meant to her when she and her children were homeless. So many people have reached out to me over the years to tell me how my small acts of kindness, compassion and concern touched them. More than the awards on my wall, they are what are important. I’ll take that enjoyment of success over any billionaire’s life of wealth any day
Pro Media Mag: Are you working on any future projects?
Ken Williams: I currently have three novels that are ready to shop around is. The first, Seven Levels, Homelessness, A Combat Veteran, Mental Illness: A Love Story. It is the story of damaged people coping the best ways they can. Of how an abandoned structure, taken over by the homeless becomes the therapeutic background for an L.A. Sherriff who suffers from PTSD from his time in Afghanistan. Seven Levels is the story of people reaching out to others who share life’s lacerating wounds in order to heal themselves or simply survive. As to when it will be published that is something I am working on.
One of the main themes is that mentally ill people also have a right to fall in love. That redemption can be found in the strangest of places if we allow ourselves to drop our guard and prejudices and accept people the way they are.
My second novel is For The Love of Death. This is a New-Adult/Urban Fantasy. This novel is about a young woman who struggles in the aftermath of not only her failed suicide attempt but also a violent assault by her boyfriend. She is forced to confront the very nature of sanity and what price she is prepared to pay for love?
My third novel: GAIA’S REVOLT takes place in the near future in California. It is a crippled time where Danny Camus can no longer find employment in her field as a climatologist. It follows her struggle in a brutal world suffering from the devastating effects of Global Warming. How she becomes friends to the poor in a homeless camp that is her new job as a researcher. And her increasingly desperate attempts to navigate her way through the overreaching powers of the state, Big Oil and other extraction corporations, the resistance, and bringing her son home alive from yet another resource driven war.
I have also have success the last year in getting my short fictions pieces and poems published. Finding that people enjoy my poetry and fiction has been rewarding and very humbling. Surprisingly, I find myself being increasingly drawn to poetry and fiction.