William Dietrich Home

 

William Dietrich

William Dietrich authorRead interviews with William Dietrich discussing his books:

Hi, I’m William (Bill) Dietrich. I grew up near Puget Sound in the shadow of Mount Rainier, and like so many writers of the Pacific Northwest, geography, a sense of place, and the natural and human environment flows through my writing. The influence of dramatic landscapes on people infuses not only my non-fiction but my novels, set in Antarctica, the Australian Outback, the barbarian fringes of the Roman Empire, the sands of the Middle East, Tibet, the Caribbean, Paris, and Prague.

My non-fiction has been widely used in university classes, with University of Washington Press reissuing my first book, “The Final Forest,” a sociological look at the Northwest timber wars. A new book, “The North Cascades,” is coming in the fall of 2014. My fiction has made the NY Times bestseller list and sold into thirty-one languages.

I was born on Sept. 29, 1951 in Tacoma, WA, graduated from Mount Tahoma High School during culturally tumultuous 1969, and attended Fairhaven College, an experimental liberal arts division of Western Washington University. Interest in actually getting paid for writing led me to journalism at Western, and my first job was covering agricultural Skagit County for the Bellingham, WA, Herald. I got my literary start chronicling “Berry-Dairy Days” and other such modest events.

I’ve since been in three dozen countries and worked and studied on the East Coast. But as proof that life moves in circle — or at least that my own life has not progressed very far — I moved back to the same rural area a quarter-century later, and now reside only twenty miles from that first bureau office. From 2006-2011, I took a half-time position as an assistant professor teaching environmental journalism and writing at Western, advising a student magazine called Planet of which I’m immensely proud. I consider myself fortunate to have a (rainy) corner of the world I can truly call home, and to have worked with terrific students.

From Bellingham in 1974, I was sent to report from the state capital in Olympia. I then covered Congress for Gannett News Service in Washington, D.C. Not exactly enamored of life “inside the beltway,” I returned to the Northwest to write for the Vancouver Columbian in time to cover the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens next door. In 1982 I took a job at the Seattle Times, where I worked, on and off, through 2008. I shared a 1990 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Times assignments provided wonderful opportunities to report from the Arctic and Antarctic and to circle the globe, covering subjects ranging from the military to the environment. In 1987-88 I was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and later won reporting and study fellowships from the National Science Foundation, Woods Hole Microbiological Institute, and Scripps.

My first book, The Final Forest, (1992) grew out of my reporting on the spotted owl and old growth forest debate that convulsed the Pacific Northwest. I set it in Forks, Washington, and obviously made a colossal career mistake in not including any vampires, ala ‘Twilight.’ Actually, the success of the Stephenie Myers series inspired me to get “Final Forest” republished to discuss the “real” Forks, a fascinating town even without the supernatural. The Final Forest won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and Washington Governor Writer’s Award when first published.

Northwest Passage (1995) is an environmental and cultural history of the Columbia River inspired by its imperiled salmon runs and epic pioneer past.

Science was probably the most enjoyable and improbable subject I ever got to cover, since I was paid to correct my own abysmal ignorance. A 1994 fellowship to Antarctica and a kick in the pants from cancer (fully recovered) prompted me to take a stab at a lifelong goal of writing a novel by producing the World War II bio-terrorism thriller Ice Reich (1998). Its first draft was finished during a second reporting trip to the white continent aboard an icebreaker: It was literally the first sight of icebergs that inspired me to finish the book.

I followed this with an Orwellian view of stultifying globalization and wilderness in the Australian eco-fable Getting Back (2000) and then returned to Antarctica and the South Pole for the claustrophobic murder thriller Dark Winter (2001) that includes scenes from the Cascade Mountains near my home.

These first three novels are now downloadable as e-books for Kindle, Ipad, etc. through Amazon.

I’ve loved history since childhood and a 1996 visit to Great Britain led to the ancient Roman fortification across northern England known as Hadrian’s Wall. Even before my first novel was published I was determined to write a story about this evocative place, and after numerous delays the result was a war and romance novel set in Roman Britain called (you guessed it)  Hadrian’s Wall (2004).

Meanwhile, some of the essays I wrote about nature for the Seattle Times were collected to create Natural Grace (2003). Royalties are donated to land preservation and environmental education. I’ve also contributed essays to Land Trust books for Skagit and Whatcom counties and a book on Fidalgo Island, where I live.

My fascination with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire continued into a novel about Attila the Hun called The Scourge of God (2005).

I then approached the ancient world from a different perspective, writing a novel of pyramid lore set against Bonaparte’s 1798 invasion of Egypt, called Napoleon’s Pyramids (2007). This was the creation of my most popular character, American adventurer and rascal Ethan Gage.  A sequel set during Napoleon’s 1799 invasion of the Holy Land, The Rosetta Key was published in 2008. Ethan returned in The Dakota Cipher in 2009, The Barbary Pirates in 2010, The Emerald Storm in 2012, The Barbed Crown in 2013, and The Three Emperors in 2014.

Meanwhile I took a break from the Gage series to write Blood of the Reich. Based on a 1938 Nazi expedition to Tibet, it ranges from Berlin to central Asia to Washington State and Geneva, and explores the mysterious ties between an imperiled young Seattle woman and a contemporary conspiracy. I’m also working on a young adult book and a nonfiction book based on Napoleon’s maxims.

I’ve also worked on a history of the college where I taught, called Green Fire, that recounts the story of Huxley College of the Environment. That one has been a collaborative effort with students, staff, and alumni, and was published in the  spring of 2011. I’ve also contributed essays to several local books, in which the proceeds went to environmental organizations, on the geography and environment of Northwest Washington.

I’m still married to the wonderful woman I met in college, have two grown daughters too fine to be deserved, four grandchildren, and when not writing I read, hike, sail, travel, and wave around the Roman cavalry sword my wife got to inspire me.

I still find writing hard work, but prefer it to having to decide what to do when I grow up. Besides, I fully intend that my books and articles will save the world (or at least inform and entertain it; my ambitions are growing more realistic with time). I’ve been blessed to be able to follow my curiosity and go from 25-cents-a-column-inch reporting in my college days to work for the great team at HarperCollins today.