Bill Zeilinger’s aunt lived in the Philippines when the Japanese occupied that country. She had a romance with a Philippine Air Force pilot, who was soon to be her fiancé; the war separated the pair. Several years after the war, she briefly met the man again. Each had already settled down and married someone else. They never spoke again. The day of the pilot’s funeral, she was home and received a package; inside it was a scarf she once gave him, along with their would-be engagement ring.
She told Zeilinger’s wife the story while visiting America for heart surgery. Zeilinger and his wife decided together to write his aunt’s story of war-torn love. The husband and wife decided to visit the Philippines to gather more details, but she had died. This was the ’90s. “So we got started on that story of my aunt, which we still haven’t published yet…and that got us inspired to write. We took novel-writing classes at Long Beach City College, we joined writers groups, we got online and talked to other published authors,” Zeilinger said. “And I never pictured myself as a writer. By profession, I’m a graphic designer.” Zeilinger and his wife now both write.
His latest book, Something’s Cooking at Dove Acres, is a comical young-adult novel. In it, Maddie Van der Wald inherits her deceased great-aunt’s mansion on a fictionalized version of Catalina Island. However, Maddie finds herself entangled with rumors of ghosts and buried treasure, a property debacle with the residents and local darling Luke Garrett. “Her plan in the book, which I can say without giving it away, was to convert this estate, perhaps into a bed-and-breakfast with a restaurant that she could makemoney (with) to help support it,” he said.
Though Something’s Cooking came out after The Naked Groom, it is Zeilinger’s first effort. “That was my first novel, and I hated it the way it was, so with the help of my wife we made it so it was a decent story, because it needed help,” Zeilinger explained. He and his wife routinely edit and read each other’s manuscripts. “Originally it was called Dumpster Diving for Love. And everybody seemed to like it. The agents and editors seemed to love the title for about three or four years. And then one day somebody said, ‘You know, we never really liked the title.’ Thanks for telling me.”
Zeilinger tried to get both his books published, to no avail. “A lot of these romantic comedies…they tend to favor female authors because the majority of the readership are women, and so I sent out a lot,” he said. “I’d written some other manuscripts and sent them out, and I [received] a lot of rejection slips to get them published the traditional way.” Zeilinger noted only six companies control publishing in the United States, further narrowing the odds in an already competitive field.
Zeilinger discovered self-publishing through Smashwords.com when he was with his wife at a writers conference at UCLA. “It’s sort of a haven for all the indie writers, not because they can’t get published anywhere but because it’s faster,” Zeilinger said. He recalled a conversation with a woman at a writers group meeting he attended. “She was 73, and she was writing historical novels…and she was doing electronic publishing. And [my wife and I] were still trying to go the traditional route and said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ She goes, ‘I’m 73. I don’t have time to wait around.’”
Zeilinger self-published; it was faster, guaranteed and worked around the various patience-wracking hurdles and pitfalls often found in traditional publishing. “Because the truth of the matter is if a publisher bought my book today…it’d probably be three years before it even hit a shelf,” Zeilinger said. “And in this day and age, we all have short attention spans. We want things to go now. So this was a much better avenue, and you get your readership out much quicker.” The Internet reached a global audience instantly. Zeilinger noted that probably 75 copies of Something’s Cooking at Dove Acres have been sold, having been up for digital purchase on Smashwords.com, Amazon and similar e-book vendors.
Writing is a relatively recent development for Zeilinger. “I started out as a political science major, but I’d always been drawing. My whole life I’d been drawing. And my father said something to me one time. He said, ‘You know, Bill, you’re going to be working for the rest of your life, so when you wake up in the morning you better be doing something you like,’” Zeilinger said. “And so I changed my major from political science and international relations to art and graphic design.”
His first job after his time in college was devising the package design for Citizens’ Band radios (often known as CB radios). This was the 1970s. These short-distance radio communications systems were in their prime, but cellphones have now rendered them obsolete. He eventually moved on to art director of the moving company Van Lines, but a Canadian firm bought it out in 1980. In turn, Zeilinger began his own small business, Those Designers, which remains today. He also took up a job at Long Beach City College in its Community Relations and Marketing Department, where he designed everything from bus decals to schedules alongside another graphic designer. He planned to work there temporarily. Last Thursday, June 28, he retired.
Zeilinger has a routine he plans to keep into retirement. “My wife and I get up every morning at 6 and write for an hour,” he explained. He remains a member of the International Animation Society and the Orange County Chapter of the Romance Writers of America. He hopes to fill his extra time reading more, noting that as a writer he must read others as well.
“I feel I’ve got a sense of humor, and hopefully the readers feel that way too, because it’s all for them, and that’s the nice thing,” Zeilinger said. “We’re writing to please the readers, not to please the publisher.”