Inside the World of the Rail Legacy series, an Interview with William J. Jackson

It’s time once again to dive into the world of another author and find out the mechanics for creating a whole fictional world for readers to enjoy. My next guest is another Book Fiends Reader Fest author.

Welcome, William J. Jackson!

Before we dive in to the nitty gritty, what is the Rail Legacy series about?

I’ve been told the Rail Legacy series is a cross between the comic book Uncanny X-Men and an H.G. Wells novel, and that’s fine by me. In the late nineteenth century, paranormals (superhumans) crop up in Railroad City, Missouri. With that comes superheroics and tales of glory. However, by the time of the first volume, that Golden Age is gone, and terror and fear rule the day. It’s up to two unlikeable protagonists to turn things around, if they survive.

What are the main differences between the “regular world” and the world of your story? Did you choose a moment in time or certain technology to punk to get there?

The later part of the Victorian Age certainly had no superhumans, but my story also contains a large scale of technology the Wild West, nor us, ever saw. Flying aircraft carriers, swordguns becoming more popular in usage, steam-powered prosthetics. Some of this is straight out of the steampunk steamer trunk with my own flair. 

Because one of the Rail’s early characters was a superhuman genius, he was able to hit the ground running in terms of making technological leaps. This mainly occurred in Railroad City for the first few years. In the series, it’s several years later, and America is a military juggernaut using that same tech to expand an empire. So it is utilized for good and for ill. Technology comes in, makes sweeping changes and it never slows down.

What is the main way people travel in your world?

It’s the Wild West, so it’s still horseback or carriage. However, steam-powered carriages become a reality for those in the city, and the wealthy have steam boiler sky yachts.

Did you invent any new technology or energy sources to power your story?

Negatrite! It’s an offworld element that is the source of superhuman powers (Talents) and can be fuel for those flying vehicles. It rears its head a lot as the series progresses.

Does language play any role in your world? Does everyone speak the same language, or is there a variety? Did you invent any new slang or terminology during your world-building process?

All the languages on Earth remain, and occasionally I have a character speak something other than English. Alien tongues show up as well. I invented an alien language and new technological based slang for certain devices, which by the way, was fun to play with.

What kinds of climates do your characters experience? Do they see a lot of change or is it always the same? Has your world always had this kind of climate, or has it changed over time? 

Weather and climate change throughout the first volume and the succeeding ones. I love change and hate stagnation, so scenes need to move along and weather needs to be alive. Overall thought, the general climate hasn’t changed, but Negatrite is having a subtle effect…

Is there any kind of faith system in your world? Myths and legends that inform the setting or characters? Did you draw inspiration from any real cultures, living or dead?

Standard Earth religions apply for the era, and some play parts in helping our heroes, and harming them. There are definite views denominations have about superhumans and they’re not afraid to voice them. As for cultures, I’ve drawn a lot about an alien species I made and the socio-political struggles of paranormals in general from the Civil Rights Movement and the many protests of the 1960 and 1970s.

What do people in your invented world do for fun? Are there sports, games, music, or other activities they do in their free time?

Music, sports and holidays of the time are prevalent. My main characters were into debate and reading, and loved to jibe about what they read or argue over morality. Oh, and combat. It’s superhumans. A few love fighting, lol.

Are there any interesting creatures in your world? 

Negatrite fundamentally altered anything organic. Animals, plants, microbes in the Missouri area were mutated. I have everything from giant green bats that fly during the day to bark spiders, deer made from water, intelligent rats, ice wasps and the list goes on and on. Don’t get me started on what happened to crops!

William’s Process

When you build a world, what is your process like? Do you do a lot of research upfront, wing it completely, or something in between?

I call myself a pantser, because when I write, I jump in as the mood strikes. Sitting at the computer everyday never got me a novel, but inspiration has. But for the world itself, I love fleshing it out on paper, and that comes in the form of buying a notebook and filling up page after page with characters, lifeforms, a history timeline, technology, the feel, genre, background and so on. So that would be more of a plotter mentality, though my notes end up all over the place. 

How central is the setting of your story to the story itself? Is it more of an interesting backdrop, or is it integral to the events of the story?

Railroad City at first is setting, just a wonky place to live in. You would read it and, like Gotham City in Batman, wonder why anyone stays there. But with each volume, its paranormals and weirdness spreads and affects the entire country and later, the world. It greatly changes the course of US history.

When helping the reader get to know the world you built, what techniques do you use? Do you tend to be front load with context, or keep the reader in the dark and feed them only bits at a time? 

I use both. Part of me likes to start a chapter with a locale in my world and give you some lore. So I do that. But then I hate a book that gives me every bloody detail and rambles on for pages about it. So for me, there have to be sections in a story where something is there, or an event occurs, and I explain nothing. I let the reader get what they want from it. If we love to read, with that should come a love of freely thinking.

How much of a role does realism play in your world-building? 

Superheroes and weird science tech can make a world flase really fast. So for me, the effects of their actions are the grounding. Military responses, social upheaval, just how destructive and bloody super strength or heat vision would be, keep the Rail Legacy somewhere between Silver Age comics and the Alien movies.

Do you have any specialized training or background from your “real life” that has informed your world-building? 

No. And as much as writers are great for having an expertise in a field and using it for their books, I have sheer imagination. What I will use is personal recollections of my experiences with being bullied and racism, as my novels focus on those two things. 

How do you keep all of the details of your world and characters straight? Do you have a system for deciding on different factors and keeping it all organized, or does it live more in your head?

I write all the world background out, reread my novels on occasion, but honestly, I am the type of artist that makes it, then moves on. My brain is always on the next story. Weirdly I recall it only when it pops up in the next tale. Otherwise, it’s floating in my head…somewhere.

Did you experience any difficulties while building your world? Any facts that refused to cooperate or inconsistencies you needed to address while editing?

I first made the Rail as a campaign for a tabletop RPG in 1993. It’s been written and rewritten and added to a lot in twenty-six years. The biggest hassle is trying to see how events change history, and then deciding what that does to America specifically down the road.

Thanks for stopping by! Where else can people find you on the web?

You can find me in the following spots:


Twitter: @railroadcity

Instagram: @andorian9

WordPress: therailbaron



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