Though she has roots in the Albany-Saratoga Springs area, author S.A. Williams spent her youth in London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Brussels. Before the release of her debut historical novel, Anna’s Secret Legacy, in 2010, she’d already owned her own media-buying company in Philadelphia, worked on the film sets of the Academy Award-winning Philadelphia and -nominated Sixth Sense, among others, and been an Account Executive at Albany’s NBC affiliate. Late last year, Williams published her second novel, Mackenzie’s Secret, the follow-up to Anna’s Secret Legacy, and is currently on tour promoting the book.
Part historical fiction, romance, thriller and modern-day alchemy, Mackenzie’s Secret is a potpourri of genres. Set in 1969, the novel centers on 20-year-old Mackenzie (daughter of Anna from the first book), who’s been sent to boarding school in Paris, leaving her boyfriend behind. What starts off as an innocent historical romance quickly shifts into a thriller, when Mackenzie uncovers a long-forgotten passageway that leads to a secret source of sulfur water, which has the potential to revolutionize the world of medicine—or wipe out all of humanity. Now Mackenzie holds a dangerous secret in her hands, and she alone has to decide what to do with it. Williams first came up with the idea for Mackenzie’s sulfurous secret while soaking at a spa right here in Saratoga (see below).
Williams’ background in film and media seems to have paid off in more ways than one; she’s currently in talks to adapt Mackenzie’s Secret into a TV miniseries. She’s currently in Saratoga for the track season, and I caught up with her about her Upstate connections, and literary and film careers.
You’ve obviously been around the world and are now based in Philadelphia. But tell me a little bit about your Capital Region connection.
I worked for NBC affiliate WNYT as an Account Executive and lived in Clifton Park. My father owned Thoroughbred racehorses when we lived in Europe, and I remember he would love to take me to the Fasig-Tipton sale. I’d be sitting there with him, and he’d say, “Don’t move.” [laughs] Because he’d just bought a $1 million horse. So I’d go up to Saratoga and, of course, WNYT had a box at Saratoga Race Course, and we took our clients every chance we got. I loved that.
Saratoga also played a role in inspiring your novel Mackenzie’s Legacy, right?
One year when I went back up to Saratoga for the Travers, I was staying at the Gideon Putnam, and I thought, “Let me go try these baths. I’ve never done it.” And I’m sitting in these baths and I’m reading the poster on the wall that has all the mineral content that comes out of these sulfur springs, and I started thinking about the history. People have been sitting in these sulfur baths for centuries. It’s all over the world, people have been doing this. There has to be something to it.
Mackenzie’s Secret is obviously a work of fiction, but is there anything that’s autobiographical about it?
I did go to boarding school in Paris. So I didn’t just make [that] up. There are actually some episodes in the book that were really from my life in Paris. Except that I made Mackenzie 20 years old, whereas I was only a baby, pretty much.
You have a background in film and media. Did you always secretly want to be a writer, too?
No, I really had absolutely no desire to do this. I was very happy running my ad agency, working in radio and TV. All along, my life has been lunch with Mick Jagger and dinner with Billy Joel. So people would say to me, “Oh my gosh, you should write a book about your life.” But you know, the grass is always [greener]—we always think everybody else has a wonderful life, and I just didn’t think mine was all that interesting until other people told me [it was].
And how about your work in film? I see you’ve been in quite a few big name productions.
While I was running my media-buying company from Philadelphia, I was asked if I wanted to audition, or just do some background work, in Martin Scorsese’s movie, The Age of Innocence, with Michele Pfeiffer and Daniel Day Lewis. And I thought it was a great opportunity to learn set protocol. I loved watching how the directors were setting up the shots. I also realized that you need an awful lot of patience to be in this business. So once I did that one, I continued on and I did Philadelphia, Silver Linings Playbook with Bradley Cooper, I worked with M. Night Shyamalan in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. I worked on a lot of films, mostly background work, but they were all just wonderful experiences.
Anything we can expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new book or film projects?
Well, we’re looking at a film project for Anna’s Secret Legacy and a TV series for Mackenzie’s Secret. So it’s a very exciting time.