Today my author guest is a multi-genre author who dips into the western and weird western genres on occasion. He’s published over 100 books, including novelizations of several well-known science fiction films, such as Star Wars, Alien, and The Chronicles of Riddick. He’s also credited with the first ever book adaption of an original video game in his novel, Shadowkeep. He’s a New York Times bestselling author and he’s joining me here to share a few tidbits about the weird western genre, writing a novelization of a movie, and his latest book, Mad Amos Malone and other weird western works. Please welcome author Alan Dean Foster to Writing to be Read.
Kaye: The majority of what you write is science fiction or fantasy, so obviously these are your preferred genres, but you have western tales thrown into the mix here and there. What is it that draws you to the western genre?
Alan: For one thing, I have lived the past 40 years in a famous western town: Prescott, Arizona. Virgil Earp was the marshal here. Doc Holiday’s mistress, Big Nose Kate, is buried in one of the local cemeteries. The Palace Saloon, the oldest operating saloon in Arizona (since 1877) is here. And much more. You cannot live in such a place without soaking up some of the historic atmosphere. Also, like most kids of my generation, I grew up watching TV westerns in the ‘50’s. Hop-along Cassiday, The Lone Ranger, and more. My favorites were the Cisco Kid (“Hey Pancho!…Hey Ceesco!) and Disney’s Zorro.
Kaye: You have a collection of short western stories out that have a strange twist. What is so different about Mad Amos Malone?
Alan: Folks are fascinated by the mountain men who explored the American west. I thought it would be interesting to develop one who acts and lives like your typical mountain man, but who is considerably More Than He Seems. When you like a character but are never sure how he will react in a given situation it adds tension to a story. Think the character of Mike in “Breaking Bad”. Not quite what he seems. Also, in the end, thoroughly bad ass.
Kaye: In 1985 you wrote a novelization of the movie Pale Rider, with Clint Eastwood. How did that come about? Did you get to meet any actors from the movie? Did you consult with the screenwriters during the writing? What was the most difficult thing about doing a novelization?
Alan: Authors of film adaptations rarely get anywhere near a movie set (though I have, on occasion). Certainly I never met or consulted with anyone attached to the movie.
For me, the most difficult thing in doing a novelization is to expand on the characters without contradicting the characterizations in the film itself. That, and remaining true to the spirit and style of the filmmakers while simultaneously injecting a little bit of myself here and there. You always have to be aware.
Kaye: You have a story in Straight Outta Tombstone. The anthology is listed as fantasy, but its stories have kind of a western twist. Would you talk a little about that book?
Alan: The stories are fantasy with, generally, settings in what is called the American West. I think it would be more accurate to called them westerns with a fantasy twist. Fantasy or science-fictional takes on actual history are a lot of fun to do, and can often be thought-provoking. Call it the “What if the South had won the Civil War”? trope, only often with more recognizable fantasy elements.
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a western novel or short story? What’s the least fun part?
Alan: Working with actual western history. Many of the Mad Amos stories take place in actual western settings and involve real folks from history. Just with the occasional witch, dragon, Chinese demon, visiting gnomes, etc.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Alan: Mornings, because I’m fresh, and also because I prefer to go to gym in the afternoon. But I will work late if and when necessary. And if an idea hits me, I’ll head for the study no matter what time it is.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of being a writer?
Alan: Not getting bored with your own work. And persisting even when you are.
Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?
Alan: I think my historical novel MAORI, which takes place in 19th-century New Zealand. That’s a long way from writing science-fiction or fantasy. Very hard to research such a subject from Prescott in pre-internet days. Might also consider SHADOWKEEP, which was the very first novelization of an original computer game.
Kaye: What do you think is the single most important element in a story?
Alan: Character. If your characters aren’t interesting, then you’ve lost the reader no matter what kind of language, special effects, settings, or action you employ. True of any kind of writing, be it theater, film, prose, even commercials.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Alan: When I made my first two short story sales, to August Derleth and John W. Campbell. I figured if two giants in the field thought my words worth buying, I might have a shot at doing it full-time.
Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Alan: Don’t make your heroes too powerful (Campbell). You can be interested in Superman, but it’s hard to empathize with him. Hence the need to invent kryptonite.
Kaye: Which is your favorite type of writing? Short fiction or novels?
Alan: I enjoy them both, but if pressed I’d have to say short stories. Get the idea down and out fast and dirty. I also very much enjoy writing non-fiction. Essays, movie reviews, history, etc.
Kaye: What is next for Alan Dean Foster? What are you working on now? Any more weird westerns in the future?
Alan: No weird westerns at the moment. Putting together The Complete Mad Amos Malone was a bit of a project in itself.
Forthcoming: April – The Unsettling Stars – original Star Trek novel set in the Kelvin universe. Later this year: Madrenga – original fantasy novel from Wordfire Press. The Director Should’ve Shot You – non-fiction; a history of my involvement with film novelizations from Centipede Press.
Hopefully next year: Mid-Death and other tales of the Commonwealth – a collection of all the short stories set in the Commonwealth, featuring the never before reprinted Midworld novella “Mid-Death”, from Haffner Press. Short story “The Treasure of the Lugar Morto” – Analog; no date yet.
Forthcoming at a future date: the completed Commonwealth novel Secretions and the stand-alone SF novel Prodigals.
I want to thank Alan Dean Foster for sharing with us here as we delve into the weird western. It looks like his work is cut out for him for the next couple of years. Obviously, many writing tips and tricks are not restricted to a single genre, but can be applied across them all. You can learn more about Alan and his books on his website or his Amazon Author page.
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My author guest today on “Chatting with the Pros” is a seasoned western author who has written many, many western novels and been quite successful. He lives and write by the western creed that he grew up with. He’s a cheerful guy with a good sense of humor. Please welcome Cherokee Parks.
Kaye: You believe in and stand behind some good old fashioned values and live by the code of the west. How do these things come through in your writing?
Cherokee: In every story, the main character does the right thing in every single circumstance. Even when characters like Colton Raines (the Colt’s Justice series) or any of the Creed family (the Creed Novels) are forced to kill large numbers of opponents, it’s done to save others, or to protect they and their family or possessions. They respect women, the law, the nation and all it represents – even in spite of possibly having been on opposite sides during the Civil War. They expect the same from everyone else, and accept no compromise. They always speak the truth, and if they can’t, they keep their mouths shut. They are never afraid to speak their mind, short of intentionally hurting a friend, unless that friend needs a wake-up call. They give both compliments and criticism sparingly, and only when necessary. They never give their word if they can’t keep it. They know that they can’t get along with everyone, so they don’t even try. And they all know how to laugh, mostly at themselves.
Kaye: You have co-authored several books along with other western authors, such as Scott Harris, whom I interviewed last year. What is the most difficult thing about co-authoring a story?
Cherokee: Actually, there have not been any truly co-authored books, only those where credits are given for inserting a foreword. Only once have I ever attempted to co-write a book, but things just didn’t work out. We envisioned completely different events and character development, and never got past the first chapter together. I have, however, had the distinct pleasure of co-writing a good number of songs, and found it very gratifying being able to feed off another person’s input. So would I work with another author to create a book? Honestly, probably not, as I already have a basket full of story ideas, as well as several books already in the works. I don’t know how I’d squeeze in the time to work with another author, although I think the creative juices might get a real boost, depending on how I got along with the co-writer from the beginning.
Kaye: What draws you to the western genre?
Cherokee: Growing up cowboy and around the western lifestyle, it was a natural changeover for me, and what I had always wanted to write. Unfortunately, I was very good at writing mysteries and suspense, and got pigeonholed by my publishers at the time – both saying “Westerns don’t sell.” Well, Westerns DO sell, and I’m enjoying a very happy resurgence of my writing career. It’s easier and far more enjoyable to write about things one knows and loves than to create things someone else wants an author to fantasize about on paper.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Cherokee: Mid-morning until mid-afternoon, while the two grandchildren we’re raising are in school, but I can write just about anytime, anywhere, when the inspiration strikes.
Kaye: Which author, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
Cherokee: I’d love to once again have lunch with Louis L’Amour, as I learned more about my craft from him in a day than I did squirming in a seat during all those college class hours. Although I did study under James A. Michener, and enjoyed his classes, what I learned from him was about styles and research, but little about actually being creative. Michener taught strict adherence to storylines, only diverting if research showed it was necessary, while L’Amour had no idea where a story would go until after it was written, like myself.
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a western novel? What’s the least fun part?
Cherokee: Wow! There are just so many fun parts to creating a western. Finding out where the story goes, and how it ends is a blast, as I never really know when I start out. Imagining how different characters react to situations is also a lot of fun. What’s not fun is having one of your books just sit on the market, not moving, not selling, just sitting there gathering dust. Although really poor reviews are also a knock, often a real punch to the gut… But I’ve learned from those knocks too, as the old commercial told us, “never let ‘em see you sweat…”
Kaye: How do you decide the titles for your books? Where does the title come in the process for you?
Cherokee: That’s difficult to say, really, as sometimes a book is created based on the title, while other titles are taken from a place or event that emerges in the book itself. And there have been times when a title needs to be changed, even after the work is published. Titles are among the hardest parts to creating a story, as a good story can die without a good title to launch and carry it. On the other hand, sometimes a story is soooo good, it doesn’t really matter what it’s called.
Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?
Cherokee: How much time do you have? Seriously, I started out my career as an author of mystery and suspense, trying to fit into the most popular publishing mold of the time, mostly as a result of my publishers at the time insisting on my creating such stories. Eventually, I tired of writing what they wanted, and then having stories sell well while the publishers made all the money using “creative bookkeeping” while I received a mere pittance – not even enough to live on.
I stopped having any work published for over fifteen years, giving up completely on the honesty of the publishing business, though I still wrote stories. The difference was, I wrote to please me, not the publisher. One day, while I was writing a particularly interesting story, a friend stopped by, and insisted on reading what I had written up to that point. Now normally, I pretty much discount what family and friends say about something I’ve written, as I believe them to be absolutely biased. But that particular friend was very critical, and if he liked it, well… Not wanting to go the publisher route, I self-published. Epic fail. I’m an author, not a publisher.
So when a small publishing house opened near me, I presented the story to them. They jumped on it, and I became their third signed author. Over the next year, they published four more of my stories, but their management absolutely sucked. Given an opportunity to guide them, I was appointed Executive Director, lasting nearly five years at the job before they were forced to shut down due to IRS problems unrelated to the publishing side of things.
In a way, it was the best thing in the world for me, because I once again had time to write, something I had all but given up on while working with the books of many other authors and wannabes. But now, I had the writing bug again, and needed to find a publisher. After a couple of mistakes, I finally landed with a really good publisher specializing in the western genre (Dusty Saddle Productions), who had a great publicist (Nick Wale at Novel Ideas) under contract. I couldn’t be happier!
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Cherokee: I guess I was about thirteen, when I wrote a short story for an English class assignment. I had a lot of fun writing the story, and when our teacher had me read it to the rest of the class, I was embarrassed, but hooked. That teacher was a friend and understudy to James A. Michener, and gave it to Michener to grade. Michener drew a big star on it, penned a message, “Keep up the good work”, and signed it. Had I not been hooked on writing before that, I was after. I’ve been writing since then, with the two aforementioned lapses, continuing to try to perfect the craft.
Kaye: Do you travel to the places that end up in your books?
Cherokee: Yes, absolutely. In fact, I took a clue from L’Amour about knowing the geography and climate I include in my books. As a result, I only write about places I have been, doing my best to remain true to the area. But I also use a bit of artistic license in my stories. For example, in Hard Ride to Cora, set in the Green River basin of Wyoming, I slipped in a cave that doesn’t exist. Sometimes one has to enhance the story with little details that may or may not exist, but I do my best to “keep it real,” even though all I write is fiction.
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Cherokee: Never depend on what family and friends say about what you create, as they are completely biased, and 99% of the time they don’t wish to hurt your feelings, or already believe anything you do is great just because you did it. Get outside opinions as your guide. Study the craft of writing, trying to make yourself the best you can be at it. ALWAYS give your work to an editor, as even the very best English teachers make mistakes when they write. But don’t allow the editor to change your style, only to correct your English (except dialogue), your punctuation, and all too often your sentence structure. Just make sure you improve with every attempt, and learn to accept honest criticism for what it is, not for what you want it to be. But above all, NEVER stop writing!
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Cherokee: Hmmm… Other than I don’t have a clue where a story will go, or where it will end up when it’s finished? I don’t think so, but then again I suppose we each have our little idiosyncrasies when we write, but we’re far too close to the source to know what is “unique” or “unusual” about our process. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
Kaye: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Cherokee: Sleep… eat… Actually, in my younger and healthier years, I enjoyed hunting and fishing, exploring new areas, being around horses and dogs, just generally living the Western lifestyle. But now I’m old and half crippled up, suffering from the ravages of time, so I’ll go with my first two answers. Sleep… eat… But I will add that staying alive is real big on my list of things to do everyday now…
Kaye: As a western writer, what kind of research do you find yourself doing for your stories?
Cherokee: Mostly digging back into my memory banks and photo journals, though I do use a great deal of online research to confirm what I know already or think I know about history, clothing and weapons in use during the era I’m writing in. I have no choice, as my memory isn’t quite what it used to be. Additionally, finding historical documents, maps or writings that detail certain places and events, be they weather events or something of a physical/historical nature, always serve me well, and at times even help with my creativity.
Kaye: If one of your books was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Cherokee: I suppose that would have to depend on which of my books was chosen… I think they’d all make great movies, but that’s the writer in me thinking I’m that good… For example, it would have to be a middle-aged man to play Jake Laughlin, while it would require a man in his twenties to play Mick Swinney from Hard Ride to Cora, and a very tall man to play Thomas “Tree” Bell in The Trader… Now, if I could chose which book was made into a movie, I would say Hard Ride to Cora, as it was my first full-length western, although the Colt’s Justice series ranks right up there, as does the Creed series and the brand new series, The Trader. But to pick an actor to play the lead in any particular book? I don’t think I’m capable. I’d leave that to the casting people, as that’s their job, and I’ve got my hands full just writing.
Kaye: Would you like to talk briefly about your latest books? (Those you sent covers for.)
Cherokee: Hard Ride to Cora was my first published Western, and will likely always be my favorite as a result. Besides, it’s a really good story involving a host of characters from many different backgrounds, and if I ever get time I’ll be able to write at least another half dozen stories based on those characters.
No Town for Outlaws actually prompted a prequel (Silver, Gold and Blood in Arizona), and both books have sold consistently – and well – featuring a family of fast guns, including the women, bent on making certain the law is upheld, and good people are given a chance to live free.
My biggest Western hit so far is really a mountain man tale, The Trader, with the second book in the series due out early in March. The Trader sat in the #1 spot on Kindle in the Old West History of the U.S. category for over three weeks, and as of this writing is still at #3.
Kaye: How did you chose your pen name, Cherokee Parks?
Cherokee: I guess the easy answer would be—sentimentality. When I was a young teen, my father and I used to deer hunt in an area of Northern Colorado called Cherokee Park. They were some of the best times I had as a young man, and some of the best times spent with my father before he lost his health. So when it came time to create a new pseudonym for my western stories, Cherokee Parks was one of five I started out with. I kept narrowing the list down until only Cherokee Parks remained, mostly to honor the wonderful memories I shared with my father, and of him.
Kaye: Why did you choose to take a pen name?
Cherokee: It was a simple thing. In order to keep the genres separate, as well as multiple publishers back in the day, I used pseudonyms. I decided to continue using pseudonyms when I started writing again for some very personal reasons, primarily using Cherokee Parks to honor my father’s memory.
Kaye: Do you think it helps you sell books?
Cherokee: Yes, frankly, I think a good author’s name can help, depending on whether or not it fits the genre.
Kaye: What are you working on next?
Cherokee: Currently, I’m working on a sequel to No Town for Outlaws, called Death at Devils River, featuring the Creed brothers on a mission to help out an old friend facing disaster from a gang of Mexican banditos. I’m really enjoying it, and hope my readers will as well. Death at Devils River should be out by the end of March or early April.
Kaye: What do your readers have to look forward to in the near future?
Cherokee: Within the next ten days, I should have the second book in The Trader series back from the editor, meaning it will be released within a week of that. The first book in the series is subtitled West to the Stony Mountains, the second book subtitled Of New Life, War and Peace, and a third book already in the planning stages (as much as I ever plan a story!). I stay busy, and have at least a dozen story concepts floating around in my mind at any given time, as well as having anywhere from two to half a dozen at various stages of development or publication.
I have to say, Kaye, this was one of the more fun interviews I’ve had, and I appreciate not being buttonholed with my answers by your providing open-ended questions. Honesty is always the best policy, though not every writer has had the pleasure of enjoying life as much as I have. I’ve lived a hard life at times, but always a good life, even though there were times when I had no idea where my next meal would come from, or where I might be sleeping that night. But by the grace of God and the aid of friends, I made it through the hardest of times, making my current success all the sweeter. Thank you!
I want to thank Cherokee Parks for sharing here on “Chatting with the Pros”. He really came up with some great answers which are somewhat enlightening. It has been wonderful chatting with a seasoned western author, and it instills confidence to know that we share the same publisher. Nick Wale and Dusty Saddle have been great to work with. You can learn more about Cherokee and his books on his Amazon Author page or his Goodreads Author page. Join me next month on “Chatting with the Pros”, when the theme will be fantasy, and my author guest will be L. Deni Colter.
You can catch the monthly segment “Chatting with the Pros” on the third Monday of every month in 2019, or you can be sure not to any of the great content on Writing to be Read by signing up by email or following on WordPress. Please share content you find interesting or useful.
My author guest today makes her living writing erotic romance under a pen name, and prefers to display the cover of her bestselling novel, Bullet, the first book in her Rock Star Romance series, (see my review of Bullet), rather than an author photo in order to conceal her real identity. (When you like at it that way, authors can be kind of like superheroes, taking assumed identities. You’ve gotta admit that’s pretty cool.) We may not know who she is behind the book cover, but we do know that she’s written over fifty books to date, and when perusing them, one is sure to find one that’s just the preferred temperature, because she writes in them all, from sweet romance to sizzling hot erotica. Please welcome erotic romance author Jade C. Jamison.
Kaye: Why do you write erotic contemporary romance? Would you ever consider writing any other genre? If so, which one?
Jade: It took me forever to puzzle out exactly what genre I wrote.Back in 2013, the term “erotic romance” seemed to most capture what I wrote, but the “E” word is now becoming taboo.(I’m smiling as I write this.)Nowadays, the genre is being called “steamy contemporary romance,” although that may change yet again. But, anyway, I digress. Not only would I consider writing in other genres, I have. Within romance, I’ve written everything from romantic comedy to romantic suspense. Outside romance, I’ve written horror and nonfiction, but under another name, I’ve penned mystery, news writing, instructional pieces, academic literature, and even poetry.
Kaye: Does erotic romance come naturally to you? Why does it appeal to you to write in this genre?
Jade: I don’t know that writing romance comes naturally to me. Ten-plus years ago, I found that, no matter what I wrote, some aspect of romance became part of the story. So even though I have a tale to tell and even though the relationship is the key element in the story, making sure I have all the facets that make a romance satisfying to avid readers of the genre is not always easy, and it’s definitely not organic.
Why it appeals to me? I haven’t a clue. I’m sure a psychologist would have a heyday with me.
Kaye: What is the most difficult part of writing erotic romance for you? What part is the most fun?
Jade: Sex scenes are, by far, the hardest. They easily become the most tedious part as a reader as well. From some of my conversations with other authors, I don’t believe I’m alone. You want to keep things fresh, so to speak, and non-repetitive while at the same time you want to keep readers emotionally engaged. It’s easy to mess that up in those sorts of scenes—so I put a lot of pressure on myself to write scenes that are emotional and engaging.
The most fun part is when a character surprises me. I think I know where the story is going and then BAM! She does something completely unexpected, but I know it’s working and there’s no way I’ll change it.
Kaye: Which of your stories is your favorite? Why?
Jade: Sorry if you’ve heard this from me before, but asking me to choose a favorite story is like asking me to choose a favorite child.That said, I do have some stories that I don’t like as well as others, but my lips are sealed. Some of the stories I like the least are reader favorites.
Kaye: Your sex scenes range in temperature from steamy, to sizzling, to blazing hot. What determines how hot the scenes get in each story?
Jade: Part of it depends on the story itself. In my bestselling book Bullet the sex scenes got hotter as the story moved on. That was one of the ways I let the reader know the main character was maturing. It mostly depends on what I think readers will expect. Am I billing the book as super steamy (like Finger Bang), or am I emphasizing the story itself (like Savage)? But, honestly, I always thought they were all pretty close in steaminess. I guess I’m too close to the forest!
Kaye: Do you prefer to write during the day, or are your stories so hot they can only be written at night?
Jade: I actually do almost all of my writing in the early morning, from about 5:30-6:30 am. It’s the only quiet time I have and I find I’m far more creative when my brain is fresh.
Kaye: You’ve written over fifty books. What is the writing achievement are you most proud of?
Jade: I don’t know that I’ve “achieved” anything as an author, other than sharing my stories with the world.I guess, though, that I’m currently proud of my growth as an author. I’ve really taken a step back in an effort to realize that being prolific isn’t nearly as important as transporting a reader to a different world—so I’m proud of not letting my pride stop me from learning!
Kaye: What is one thing your readers would never guess about you?
Jade: I enjoy playing Pokemon Go.I used to play Pokemon games with my kids when they were little, and now they have me playing this silly game on my phone!!!
Kaye: In 2019, you released books 3 and 4 from your Matchmaker collection. They are described as Reverse Harem Romances on their covers. I can see lots of potential for steamy action there. Would you like to talk a little about this story collection?
Jade: I’d taken a couple of marketing courses the year before, compelling me to “write to market”. So, I looked through Amazon’s top 100 contemporary romance books and found that Reverse Harem Romances were dominating at the time. At first, I thought that meant a literal harem, but with a woman surrounded by men. I discovered through my research that that’s not quite what Reverse Harem is all about. I like a challenge, so I decided to go for it. One of the courses I took is by one of the bestselling indie romance authors in the history of Amazon, and she advised writing a series with cliffhanger endings at the end of each book. That was another challenge. So, that’s the nuts and bolts of the series.
The story itself is about Claire, an actress struggling to make it in Hollywood. She tries out for a reality TV show called Matchmaker, hoping that if the right people see her, they might give her a chance as an actress. If nothing else, she’s bound to meet the love of her life. Her suitors are five gorgeous men who’ve been “guaranteed” to be a perfect match, but the audience gets to determine who stays and who goes. And, yes, there’s quite a bit of steam between the covers.
Kaye: I reviewed Heat: Book 1, which was really a short prelude to a larger story that will change the way you think about getting a message forever. But there is more to the story. Would you talk about Heat: The Complete Series?
Jade: Heat was another challenge I couldn’t say no to. Several years ago, I was approached by a publishing company in Australia about republishing one of my older series, and I did that with them. While it never neared the level of success they’d promised, a year later they approached me about something new they were doing, inspired by stories James Patterson had been writing. The basic premise for the romance stories was that you write a short but intense “intro,” followed by three more books, all following a particular formula—but very hot with cliffhangers at the end of each short book. I really liked the idea, so I pitched what became Heat. Unfortunately, it didn’t perform as well as I had hoped, so I took back my rights to it after a year and republished it.
So what you read in the free first part, Heat: Book One, is the beginnings of a steamy romance between Sergio and Rachel. Rachel is actually a character from Finger Bang, and I’d been inspired to write a story about her for a long time. When I was approached by this publishing company, I thought her story might be perfect for the format they’d talked about. Because it’s shorter and steamier, there’s not as much depth to the characters, but that wasn’t the idea behind the series. It’s meant to be intense, somewhat shocking, and super steamy. Fun. No ugly crying, no heart-wrenching moments. Just pure, unadulterated fun. What you read in Heat: Book One is a prelude to the rest of the story. If you enjoyed the first part, you’ll love the complete story.
Kaye: What is next for Jade C. Jamison? What can your readers look forward to?
Jade: The biggest problem for me is I have so many things I want and need to write, and so little time. I literally have over fifty book ideas outlined, but I’m currently working on a project. It’s a series called Small Town Secrets. I’ve taken about thirteen of my books off the shelves, and I’m re-purposing them. In an effort to be an even better writer, I’m rewriting eight of those books, but they are now all interconnected in this series. My review team has read the first one (Love and Lies) and loved it. I’m hoping to release six of those books in 2020.
I also have one book left in the Nicki Sosebee series. Book 12, Wake Up, ended on a cliffhanger, and so I can’t keep my readers waiting for too long. That book is fully plotted and I promise it will be satisfying! I just need to write it. But, I also have several other series I need to finish (Feverish, Codie Snow, Tangled Web), so we’ll see what I can tackle. I would love to write a lot more this year (like I said, fifty ideas and counting!) but I have a lot on my personal plate, so it all depends on how much I can get done in the time I have. I’d cross my fingers, but I can’t type while I do that!
Kaye: (See my review of Tangled Web)
I want to thank Jade for joining me here and sharing today. It has been a real pleasure. I learned a few things about writing erotic romance and hopefully my readers did, too. This interview is the perfect way to finish up February’s erotic romance. And thank all of my readers for reading and commenting on Writing to be Read. I hope you will all saddle up and join me again next month, when we plan to wrangle up the western genre. See you here.
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My guest today is an author and talented illustrator of children’s fantasy books. She seems a bit shy, but I was able to coax a few answers out of her, regarding writing for children and creating beautiful illustrations. Because, after all, at least half of writing for children is creating visual images, so an author who can do their own illustrations comes into the game a step ahead. Please help me welcome author and illustrator Judy Mastrangelo.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Judy: I’ve always enjoyed writing, ever since I was very young.
Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?
Judy: As a child I would write little stories from my imagination, or about my everyday experiences.
Coming from a fine art background, I’ve always loved the wonderful artists of the “Golden Age of Illustration”, who illustrated books from about 1850 to 1925. I like to think that I continue along this line in my own small way. I enjoy writing stories that I illustrate, and also love illustrating classical stories in the public domain.
Many of my paintings have been licensed for various markets, such as art prints, wall murals, greeting cards, jigsaw puzzles, oracle cards etc. I have written and illustrated several published books. And I have both illustrated and written the text to a new inspirational Oracle Card Deck which will be on the market next year, published by “RED FEATHER MIND BODY SPIRIT”, a division of Schiffer Publishing.
You can see and hear podcasts about my artwork on Youtube.
These include some radio interviews, plus several teaching podcasts about the steps I take in the creation of my Art. To learn more about my Art and products, you can visit: www.judymastrangelo.com
Kaye: What’s something most readers would never guess about you?
Judy: I am a “movie buff” and enjoy many genres of film.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing for children?
Judy: I try not to “talk down to children”. Just having fun at writing is what I enjoy doing, and making my stories come from my heart, expressing how I feel. My books are really intended to be appreciated by all ages ~ the young and the young at heart. I attempt to appeal to the “Child in all of us”, and to rekindle the wonderful feelings we have all experienced in our youth, of the awe and beauty of the world around us. As we grow older, life seems to become more mundane, with all the everyday things we have to do in order to survive. The realm of art certainly plays an extremely important part in everyone’s lives, so that we may feel uplifted and inspired to higher worlds.
Kaye: What is the one thing you hope to teach children?
Judy: I like to impart the wonder and beauty of the world around us; sensitivity to nature and to all living beings, including animals, plants, and trees, as well as humankind are excellent lessons to understand. I feel that developing creativity as an art form, and one’s imagination, are very important aspects of life. Many people seem to place imaginative painting and literature more in a children’s category, although I’m sure you’ll agree that the genre of fantasy art is appreciated by all ages.
Many adults also enjoy themes, such as fairy tales, and other types of fantasy. I’m sure no one will dispute the fact that great authors such as William Shakespeare, Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Barry, etc. wrote memorable outstanding fantasy stories. And that’s why I feel that my writing and paintings can also appeal to any age person.
One just has to “let go” of their preconceived notions that fantasy, fairies, fairy tales, etc. are just for the young. It will keep us all “Young at Heart” if we believe in the magical power of art to unleash our imaginations.
Kaye: Your books are illustrated in bright, vibrant colors. What medium do you work with?
Judy: Acrylic paint on canvas is my medium of choice.
Kaye: What is the most challenging thing about illustrating your own books?
Judy: The art of illustration is very dear to my heart, something I have been developing my entire life. It is a labor of love for me, and I paint because I enjoy doing it so much. I usually paint slowly, because I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and as a result my paintings aren’t created very quickly. This can sometimes present a problem. But I do enjoy illustrating my own books that I also design. Many of my books I have written myself, and others have stories or poems that are in the public domain which I illustrate. It’s all great fun to illustrate, and I relish every moment I spend doing my paintings!
Kaye: What is the most important quality in a children’s story for you?
Judy: Delight, imagination, and fun.
Kaye: What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Judy: Be true to my heart, be myself, and enjoy the process of creating.
Kaye: Flower Fairies is focused on the characters. What comes first in your mind, the character, or the story?
Judy: I’m a very visual person, and often I first get images in my mind of a painting that I would like to create. Often this “germ” of an idea or image leads to a story, or a series of paintings. So I would say that the story as a whole comes first.
Kaye: As a children’s writer, what kind of research do you find yourself doing for your stories?
Judy: I often research period costumes for my characters to wear, and I also consider other art forms which portray the ideas I wish to develop in my stories. I love all forms of great art, and often music, drama, dance and other literature is a great inspiration to me, as well as great painting of course. So I immerse myself in art that I love, as part of my research for a specific project. It brings me great joy to do this.
Kaye: Tell me a little about your Portal to the Land of Fae series?
Judy: The world of nature spirits has always been fascinating to me. I love the realm of fantasy. And the tiny folk, such as fairies and elves are of particular interest. For many years I’ve done paintings of these lovable spirits, and have enjoyed writing about each painting I create. I love writing poems to go with my artwork, and have enjoyed describing my feelings about the fairy world. The idea of making a series of books incorporating these works was an intriguing one for me, and four categories developed from them:
FLOWER FAIRIES: This book tells about the precious Elves and Fairies who live amongst the Flowers, such as: the graceful ROSE FAIRY, and the comical little SWEET PEA ELVES. I often depict Flower Fairies to appear as graceful ballet dancers. In this genre of art, I have been inspired by the Flower Fairy paintings of British artists Cicely Mary Barker and Margaret Tarrant.
In my SECRETS OF THE FAIRIES, I portray the secret life of elves and fairies that I imagine to exist in amazing places. There are many delightful things that i depict these creatures doing. They often enjoy frolicking and playing in a garden. These secrets tell of the hidden world of elves and fairies, little known to mortals. I’ve also written and illustrated depictions of the four seasons with the fairies, and their beautiful romantic lives.
FAIRY TALE FAIRIES, various forms of fantasy have always been the closest to my heart. They include fairy tales and myths.
The world of fairies has often inspired the arts of other great literature. Some excerpts from classical literature for this FAIRY TALE FAIRIES book are included in this volume. You will see some of my illustrations from Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina, Cinderella by Charles Perrault, Peter Pan by James Barrie, and many others. Sometimes authors and painters depict elves and fairies in a darker way, but I prefer to focus on depicting the lighter, more cheerful and spiritual side of the fairy realm.
MYSTICAL FAIRIES: In this volume, I want to share my feelings of Spirituality and Goodness, Love for Life and Nature, and the Healing power of Art. I feel that Elves and Fairies, are beautiful, Magical, and Spiritual Beings which can inspire and uplift one to higher realms. I often depict them as radiant beings, which glow with an inner light, with radiating and sparkling auras, glow like spiritual Angels.
Kaye: Your Come Play with Me series includes bonus features. Would you like to tell us about the series and bonus features?
Judy: My Come Play With Me book series is designed to give readers high quality illustrated storybooks in full color. They also include some delightful interactive bonus pages. These books include fun filled things, such as How to Draw pages, coloring pages and recipes, etc.
My first book in this series, THE STAR, illustrates the entire famous TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR poem, written by Jane Taylor. I’ve interpreted this beloved poem, as a fanciful, Dream-like adventure. I’ve included a delicious bedtime snack recipe, some “how to draw” pages, a creative writing section, coloring pages, and some decorative gifts to cut out, etc. An Audiobook of my book THE STAR is also available, where people can listen to this song being beautifully sung. If the kindle ebook, or paperback versions of my book THE STAR are purchased also, along with the audio book, people can sing along with the audiobook as they read it interactively.
Two other books in this series have a Bunny theme: The first one, entitled WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? is my original story of a little Bunny’s first adventure. Some interactive pages include Mama Bunny’s recipe, coloring pages, creative writing and drama ideas, and decorations to cut out from the book. An audiobook of this story will be available soon, to be listened to interactively along with reading this book in kindle or paperback.
The second Bunny book in this series, LEARN TO DRAW BUNNY AND HIS FRIENDS, is a companion book to my book WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? In it I show easy to do, attractive, and fun ways to learn to draw little Bunny’s animal and flower friends that he meets in the book about his first adventure.
Some of the animals I show how to draw are rabbits, frogs, butterflies and turtles. Then daffodils, daisies, and buttercups are several of the flowers I describe drawing, all in three easy steps. It’s a delightful interactive book, which also includes special pages for people to draw their own pictures, with small border decorations for inspiration.
Kaye: Which character is your favorite? Why?
Judy: One of my favorite characters is Little Bunny in my book WHAT DO BUNNIES DO ALL DAY? He is a sweet innocent little rabbit who is delighted and excited at the opportunity of investigating the big world all by himself for the first time. I’ve modeled this little animal on our own dear little Netherlands Dwarf pet rabbit, who is very loved by my husband and me. He gives us both a lot of Love in return. Knowing this adorable Little Bunny intimately was a great inspiration to writing and illustrating my story.
Kaye: Where does your inspiration come from?
Judy: My inspiration comes from many things: my love for nature, for instance. When I am in a flower garden, I imagine delightful Flower Elves and Fairies living there. I visualize them wearing costumes made of leaves and flowers, acorn caps, etc. I collect things such as leaves, pine cones, berries, ribbons, and scarves, to give me ideas for their fanciful clothing.
I take photos of beautiful places that I visit, to give me ideas of backgrounds for my paintings. Great art of the past and present is always an inspiration to me, such as: wonderful films, great literature, beautiful music, ballet dancing, and beautiful paintings. They always kindle my enthusiasm.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your creative process?
Judy: I have developed a method I call “Mind Painting”. This is my own personal way of capturing ideas and images for my paintings and writing, which develop in my mind. This is a procedure used by many creative authors, composers, painters, poets, choreographers, etc. throughout the ages. I just close my eyes and “visions” appear in my head. I do this during the day, or at night before going to sleep. These images often develop into stories which evolve into my books. It’s a delightful process.
Kaye: What is your greatest achievement to date in the literary world?
Judy: Reading and hearing the wonderful and appreciative compliments from people who have read my books, and who have seen my illustrative paintings, has always been very encouraging to me. I receive these compliments from all kinds of people, worldwide, and of all ages. I feel that these wonderful responses have been the greatest achievements in my literary and artistic world.
I want to thank Judy Mastrangelo for sharing with us here today, both her wisdom and her fabulous illustrations and book covers. You can learn more about Judy and her children’s books on her website or on her Goodreads Author or Amazon Author pages.
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Last week, we lost a dear friend of mine and a member of the Writing to be Read author family, Tom Johnson. Tom was a multi-genre writer for most of his life, mostly pulp fiction in the traditions of the classics, but in recent years, he dedicated himself to children’s fiction, with the intentions of creating stories for today’s children which reflect old fashioned values and morals in the traditions of the stories his mother read to him as a child. Tom took part in Round 2 of my “Ask the Authors” blog series, (which will become a published book by WordCrafter Press soon), and I interviewed Tom about his children’s stories back in 2018. He had some great things to say about writing for children that may be relevant here, since the Writing to be Read theme for November is young adult and children’s fiction. With that in mind, I’m reprinting that interview in part here, (you can read the full interview here), as we remember our friend and fellow author. Tom may be gone, but his wisdom lives on. This is what writing for children meant to him.
Kaye: Although in the past, you’ve written and published many different genres, you are currently writing only children’s stories. So, let’s talk about that. Tell me a little about your stories.
Tom: My children stories are about 1k and meant as bedtime tales, and to be read in classroom or library settings. They are short stories with little morals to teach children something about life.
Kaye: Are they a series or stand alone?
Tom: They are a series, and published in anthologies about once a year. There have been four anthologies so far. I was invited to participate beginning in volume #3. The anthology is called Wire Dog Storybook. Here is the background. True story. A young girl, Ellen Walters, asked her father, David Walters, if she could have a dog, and he said, “No.” So she found an old wire hanger and shaped it to resemble a dog, and called it wire dog. David Walters was fascinated by her ingenuity and created the Wire Dog storybooks. So the stories usually feature Ellen and Wire Dog, but always Wire Dog. Five of my stories have been published so far, and I’ve written three more for the 2018 yearbook when it comes out at the end of the year.
Kaye: What age group are they aimed at?
Tom: I feel that we should begin reading to our children by age one. With that in mind, my stories are aimed at the age group of 1 to 5. However, older children will enjoy the stories, as do adults.
Kaye: What differences do you see between writing for children and writing adult fiction?
Tom: Adult fiction usually means, “no holds barred”, while writing children stories you want to stay away from violence, horror, and adult themes. Keep in mind, young children absorb what they hear quickly, and some themes could have an adverse effect on young minds. When writing for children we must keep this in mind.
Kaye: What appeals to you about writing for children?
Tom: Do you remember the old radio show for kids, Let’s Pretend ? It produced shows for children that acted out fairy tales and light adventures – nothing as harsh as today’s cartoons that are aimed at our youth. Well, I have the chance to import my love for adventure in tales easily understood by young people; children who some day may also experience that same love to pass on to their children. Stories that give our children a moral to live by, not “It’s clobbering time!” Or Pow! Bang! Boom! It’s something my mother did for me when I was little, and now I have the same opportunity, and I’m not going to pass it up.
Kaye: You have wanted to write for children since you were little and your mother used to read to you.
Tom: Oh, yes. I hope that mothers are still reading to their children. They learn at such a young age, and we’re missing an opportunity if we fail them when they’re young. They will never forget what they learn as children, it’s when their minds are growing and grasping at everything. I think one of the first words they learn is, “Why?”
Kaye: What were your favorite children’s stories?
Tom: Really, I would have to look them up in the book of fairy tales on my shelf. There were so many she read to me. Knights saving young damsels come to mind. I remember one particular fairy tale where the princess was on a glass mountain, and the young knight had to save her. She watched each day as a knight riding brown horse attempts to scale the glass mountain, then a knight on a white horse, and so on, until the final day when a knight riding a great steed scales the mountain, and we find out that he was the knight on the brown horse, the white horse, etc. It wasn’t the color of the horse, but the persistence of the knight that finally achieved the goal.
Kaye: In what ways do the stories you write emulate those favorites from your childhood?
Tom: Like the fairy tale I mentioned above, my stories will also have a similar moral – it’s not the color of the horse, or the knight’s armor, but his persistence that wins the hand of the princess. Do the right thing, for the right reason. Persevere. If you don’t succeed today, try and try again.
The stories that we hear and read in childhood often stick with us into our later years. Even though Tom wrote other fiction through the years, as he grew older, it was the stories that his mother read to him as a child that inspired him. That’s what writing children’s fiction is all about.
Tom’s other works included pulp, crime and science fiction stories right up there with the best, and many may be familiar with his promotions for them on Facebook. His covers seem to reach out and grab your attention. He published over eighty books during the span of his career. In that previous interview, Tom claimed that Alien Skies was born from his most unusual inspiration and the Guns of the Black Ghost was written as a homage to Walter Gibson’s The Shadow radio drama. You can read my review of Pangaea: Eden’s Planet here.
Writing was a big part of Tom’s life. It was important to him. But, Tom was more than just a talented and dedicated writer. He was also a loved life partner to his lovely wife Ginger. She was supportive of his writing, and I believe she edited some, or perhaps all of his work. With Ginger at his side, Tom lived a life doing what he loved – bringing his characters to life.
Tom, farewell. You will live on through the plethora of books and stories you’ve left us with, but you will still be greatly missed.
Are you a Tom Johnson fan? If so, feel free to leave a few words in the comments telling us what Tom meant to you, or share a memory, or just tell me which of his books is your favorite. Thank you all for joining me in saying good-bye.
My author guest today on “Chatting with the Pros” may just have books in his blood. Before he was an author he managed a bookstore. He’s gone on to work in both marketing and publishing, and become a bestselling, multiple award-winning author with leanings toward dark fiction. He’s got great insight into writing on the dark side which he’s willing to share with us today, so let’s welcome Jeffrey J. Mariotte now.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Jeff: I started writing stories when I was very young, probably 7 or 8. They were terrible, of course, and utterly derivative, mostly of the Hardy Boys novels that were my primary reading material at the time. I kept at it all through school, and by the time I got to college I knew I wanted to make my money writing something–I just didn’t know precisely what. I went in as an advertising major and did some copywriting, but graduated with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, a minor in English, a literary award, and a published article. Three years later, I got a job at a bookstore, and eventually became a manager (and later, opened a store of my own). It was while managing a store that I met a lot of authors and publishing professionals and found out the realities of publishing, and sold my first short story. So I guess the short answer to the question is: always, and the long answer is: I always wanted to write, but I didn’t know I could do it professionally until much, much later.
Kaye: What draws you to dark fiction? Why not romance, or mystery, or western?
Jeff: The truth is, I have written in two of those genres, and others besides. I’ve written both mysteries and westerns (along with science fiction, fantasy, straight fiction, and more), and intend to continue. In fact, the next couple of books I’m planning are both westerns. But yes, I am drawn to the dark side, and often when I work in those other genres I bring in elements of horror or dark suspense. I’ve never really analyzed it, but I suppose it’s a combination of a longstanding interest in horror and the supernatural, and an awareness of the darker, more unpleasant aspects of human nature.
Kaye: Cold Black Hearts is one of several recent releases through Wordfire Press. With more than 70 novels under your belt, what lead you to join the Wordfire family?
Jeff: I’ve known Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta for what seems like forever–this goes back to meeting authors through my bookstore work. They’re two of the greatest people on the planet. They’re supremely talented, super nice, and scrupulously honest. When I saw the books they were putting out, I knew I wanted to be part of their line, and to work with friends rather than strangers.
Kaye: My review of Cold Black Hearts posted this month, but for those who didn’t catch it, would you like to tell me a little about it?
Jeff: It’s a supernatural thriller about a police detective who loses her hearing in an explosion, but gains something else in its place–a heightened sense of empathy. That quickly becomes a burden in a crowded metropolitan area, where people’s emotions press in on her from every side. When she’s offered a job in a remote part of New Mexico, working to free an accused killer from prison, she takes it. But it turns out that she’s just stepped from the frying pan into the fire, because there are strange, spooky things going on.
Kaye: You don’t advertise your books as horror, but as dark thrillers. In your mind, what is the distinction?
Jeff: Actually, that’s WordFire‘s tag, not mine. I think of Cold Black Hearts and some of my other books as supernatural thrillers, because they combine traditional thriller elements–law enforcement, espionage, etc.–with supernatural elements. The first book of mine they published, Empty Rooms, was a straight, non-supernatural mystery/thriller, and it was very dark indeed, so I guess the phrase came from that.
Kaye: You also write comic books and graphic novels, short fiction and nonfiction. Which is your favorite type of writing? Why?
Jeff: The novel is my favorite, because it gives me more room to tell a complete story–to really dig into the characters’ psyches and explore their worlds. I love it all; I’ve even recently done some very short, 3-page comics for HyperEpics.com, which is a blast. But if I had to only pick one, it’d be novels.
Kaye: Which author, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with? Why?
Jeff: As a bookseller for decades, and someone who’s worked in publishing–in addition to 20 years as a professional novelist–I’ve been lucky enough to meet and spend time with most of my favorite authors. I’ve visited with Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, David Morrell, Clive Barker, Don Winslow, and James Lee Burke (among others) at their homes, hung out with Wallace Stegner, Stephen King, Sue Grafton, Joe R. Lansdale, and Neil Gaiman, had meals with Robert B. Parker, James Ellroy, Jonathan Maberry, and Joan D. Vinge… Plus, every day I get to have a meal with my favorite author, Marsheila Rockwell (who is, coincidentally, also my wife and frequent writing partner, and a magnificent fiction writer and poet on her own). My point is, while it’s cool to have lunch with an author, it’s not exactly something I haven’t had a chance to do.
That said, I’d love to have a meal with the recently departed William Goldman, who’s a longtime favorite for his novels and his screenplays, and who’s the author I’ve most wanted to meet, but never had a chance to. He’s done it all, and exceedingly well, and I wish I could have benefited from his insights in person.
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a novel? What’s the least fun part?
Jeff: The most fun part is finishing it, and seeing it become a real-live book. The rest of it is hard work. The research, the working out of the plot, the discovery of who the characters are, the actual chore of sitting down and turning out page after page after page… it’s a grind. Not to say that it’s not fun, but it’s work, too. The least fun part is probably when, in the editing/revising process, I realize that I have to cut lines or scenes that I really loved writing.
Kaye: What is the one thing in your writing career that is the most unusual or unique thing you’ve done so far?
Jeff: There’ve been several, but if I have to pick one, I guess it’d be that time I went to the set of CSI: Miami to hand-deliver copies of the first-ever CSI: Miami graphic novel (which I wrote) to cast members, all while being filmed for Access Hollywood. Which promptly cut me out of all the footage–but they showed the book, and that’s what counts!
Kaye: Which of your books would you most like to see turned into a film? Who would you like to play the lead?
Jeff: There are several I think would be great for film or TV, but for the purposes of this interview, let’s say Cold Black Hearts, with Jessica Chastain.
Kaye: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Jeff: Catch up on reading and TV shows, I guess. Bake more. But also, since 1980, every dollar I’ve made has come from the business of writing/editing/publishing/ book selling/ etc. — from the written word, and the process of getting it out of the brain and into a reader’s hands. So if I wasn’t writing, I’m sure I’d still be doing something in that realm.
Kaye: What’s in the future for Jeffrey J. Mariotte? What should readers look forward to?
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Today my guest is an author who I’ve gotten to know well, because she is a member of the Writing to be Read team, where she writes a monthly blog segment on children’s literature that’s proven to be very popular, “Growing Bookworms”. By day she walks in the world of fondant and children’s fiction, but when darkness falls she transforms into an emerging horror author. But this author doesn’t just emerge, she explodes onto the scene with this month’s release of her first novel length horror tale, Through the Nethergate. In addition, this month she also has a short story appearing in Dan Alatorre’s Nightmarland anthology, and another coming out in the WordCrafter paranormal anthology, Whispers of the Past. I’m really excited to be able to interview her about her experiences with horror, so please help me welcome author Roberta Eaton Cheadle.
Kaye: You started out writing children’s stories with your son, but you’ve recently leaped into the horror realm, which is kind of at the opposite extreme of the spectrum. Was that a hard transition for you?
Roberta: It wasn’t a hard transition for me at all. I have always loved supernatural, horror and dark psychological thrillers so I think this genre comes naturally to me. More recently I have been reading and re-reading a lot of dystopian fiction such as Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King).
I can remember reading my Mom’s copy of Stephen King’s The Shining behind the couch in the lounge when I was ten years old. After that book, I worked my way through the rest of her Stephen King collection and several other adult horror books too.
Kaye: Can you name one thing you have to think about when writing horror that you might not ever think about when writing for children, (or any other genre, maybe)?
Roberta: When writing from the point of view of the victim, I need to imagine their fear and describe this in a way that brings out the same emotion in the reader. When writing from the point of view of the party who sees a ghost or discovers a body, I need to imagine their shock and horror at what they are seeing. To describe the tumultuous feelings that would bubble up inside them at seeing something truly frightening or gruesome.
I would never attempt to scare children or invoke feelings of fear and anxiety in them. My Sir Chocolate books series is my attempt to draw children into a happy and safe world of complete fantasy where good always wins and any less likable characters are drawn into the circle of friendship and become part of the team.
Kaye: When making the move into adult fiction, why did you choose to write horror? What draws you to the genre?
Roberta: As mentioned above, I have always liked supernatural horror. I was drawn to it from a young age even though it scared me half to death when I read both The Shining and Salem’s Lot by Stephen King.
I have also always gravitated towards psychologically disturbing books that make me think such as Roald Dahl’s short stories for adults. I have never forgotten Lamb to the Slaughter about a pregnant woman who kills her husband after discovering he is having an affair. She saved her own skin, and that of her unborn baby, by making the murder weapon disappear in the most innovative way imaginable.
The idea of writing about ghosts came to me while I was writing While the Bombs Fell, a fictional biography about my mom’s life, growing up in the small English town of Bungay, Suffok, during WWII. My extensive research while writing this book led me to discover the history of one of the oldest inns in the town which is purported to be haunted by over twenty ghosts. The little bit of information that is available about each of these ghosts intrigued me, and I decided to write a selection of short stories, each featuring the circumstances leading up to, and the death of, a specific ghost.
As I went along with Through the Nethergate, Margaret injected herself into this story and it took on a whole new direction with her having the power to reincarnate the ghosts.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge for you in writing horror?
Roberta: I think like many other new writers, my biggest developmental area has been learning to show instead of tell in my stories. I believe I have improved a huge amount in this area. As I came from a non-fiction writing background, I have also had to learn to write more descriptively and really reach into myself and find the whirlpool of emotion my characters are feeling in any given circumstance. These emotions must be shown and not told which takes me back to my first point.
Kaye: Your latest release is a work of horror, Through the Nethergate. Where did your inspiration for this story come from?
Roberta: As mentioned above, my original idea was to write a selection of short stories, each featuring the death of one ghost.
As I went along the idea for Margaret with her power to reincarnate ghosts and experience their deaths and pain came along. Margaret has recently lost her parents which gives her heightened sensitivity to the world around her.
At the same time, the idea of having one ghostly master to rule over the others popped into my head and this evolved into the ghostly black dog, or Black Shuck, which is an ancient myth in Suffolk and its surrounds. Legend in Bungay has it that Hugh Bigod, a most evil descendant of the original Normandy invaders and the man who erected Bungay Castle during the 12th century, still haunts the castle in the form of the black dog. The inn around which Through the Nethergate is centred, shares a wall in its cellar with Bungay Castle.
There are four other descendants of the Bigod family who are also alleged to haunt the town in their ghostly carriage drawn by fire breathing horses.
Initially, the reader will believe that Hugh Bigod is the villain of the book, but this is not the case. There is a far greater evil force at work who covets Margaret’s power and who makes Hugh Bigod look quite pathetic and ridiculous in his small attempts at evil.
Kaye: Can you tell me a little about Through the Nethergate?
Roberta: Through the Nethergate is intended to demonstrate to the reader how evil has always existed in our world and how evil forces manipulate human inventions and greed for power and wealth to their own ends. Evil has always existed, and it always will, but there is the counterbalancing force of goodness and the kindness and empathy that exists in an equal number of people. This is a book about faith and my belief that goodness and faith always prevail.
Kaye: If Through the Nethergate were made into a film, who do you see playing the lead as Margaret? Who do you see playing your villain, Hugh Bigod?
This is a tough question for me as I don’t watch movies or television. I will have to base it on my previous experience of movies.
I would choose Drew Barrymore to play Margaret in a similar manner to her portrayal of Charlie (Charlene) in the movie version of Firestarter by Stephen King. She would need to be a few years older, however, as Margaret is sixteen in my book. The mixture of innocence, toughness and a strong will to survive are the qualities in Charlie’s character portrayal that underpin my selection.
For Hugh Bigod I would choose Richard Chamberlain in a mixture of his portrayals of Father Ralph de Bricassart in The Thorn Birds and Captain John Blackthorne in Shogun. In both series he portrays someone who is able to separate himself from the anguish of the people around him and ruthlessly pursue his own ends and survival.
Kaye: The setting for Through the Nethergate is an ancient inn with quite the history. How much historical research went into it?
Roberta: I do a massive amount of research for my books with partial or total historical settings.
Each ghostly character in Through the Nethergate came from a different historical era and I had to do meticulous research into what people wore, drank and ate during those particular time periods, as well as how they traveled and the political agendas and attitudes towards servants, masters, females and religious figures that prevailed at the time of their stories and deaths.
For example, Katharine is a reluctant Benedictine nun who comes from a wealthy background and is forced into Bungay Priory during the 14th century. She is in love with William and conspires to escape her dreary life by running away with him. James Wilson was a Benedictine monk who was the cellarer at Glastonbury Abbey during the 15th century when Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, presided. James originates from Bungay where his father was the local blacksmith. Peggy and her husband and child are survivors of the great fire that destroyed much of Bungay in the 17th century. The book also includes other historical figures such as John Collins, the famous Chartist from Birmingham, Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed, a Hungarian Countess and one of Europe’s most prolific serial killers, as well as Tom Hardy, a highwayman who rode with the infamous Dick Turpin and Amelia Dyer, Britain’s most famous female serial killer.
When featuring real people, I must research their stories in as much detail as possible to ensure I get the facts correct. I usually check between five and ten sources, depending on the amount of information available.
Kaye: You also do a lot of short dark fiction, and have stories included in several dark anthologies. In fact, you have two stories “Last of the Lavendar” and “Missed Signs” coming out this month in the WordCrafter paranormal anthology, Whispers of the Past, and “The Siren Witch”, “A Death Without Honour” and “The Path to Atonement” are featured in Dan Alatorre’s Nightmareland horror anthology, also released this month. Do you prefer writing short dark fiction or novel length horror? Why?
Roberta: I like writing both kinds of story.
Short stories are fun to write, but they are restrictive because of their length of 1 500 to 3 000 words. It can be tough to get all the necessary background and detail into a short story in a clear and concise way. I had to cut quite a lot out of “A Death Without Honour” to get the length and sharpness right. Dan Alatorre was great at helping me with that. Sometimes I struggle to get the ending wound up in a concise and exciting way with short stories, as I did with “Last of the Lavendar”, the ending of which you helped me improve greatly. I like writing for anthologies because I learn so much. I also get a lot of guidance from the experienced editors and also from reading the stories included in the anthologies by other authors. They really are a wonderful learning and growing experience for me.
I have written two novellas now, While the Bombs Fell, and my recently completed A Ghost and his Gold which is about the Second Anglo Boer War fought between the “Boers” [farmers] and the British Empire in the early 19th century. I love the length of novellas because it allows for more detail and depth than a short story, but is still fairly short and concise. I think that modern readers prefer shorter stories due to their busy lifestyles.
Through the Nethergate is my first full length novel and I enjoyed writing it and “seeing” how my imagination could take off and extend to a much longer story.
I am currently 40 000 words into a dystopian novel which will be part of a trilogy about a future world dealing with drastic climate change and the fourth industrial revolution. Trilogies are popular and this idea came along so I thought I would jump right in. I love to experiment and learn about new things.
Kaye: What is your biggest fear? What scares you?
Roberta: Real life scares me. The prospect of climate change wreaking devastation on our planet, overpopulation, poverty and criminality which are changing the way society operates as well as the Fourth Industrial Revolution which will forever change the nature of the working world, these things scare me far more than “monsters under my bed.”
Dystopian novels like 1984 by George Orwell and The Long Walk by Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King) really disturb me, but I can’t help reading them. It is better to be informed than not. Even H.G. Wells gives great insights into the nature of society and how it could evolve in his books The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, which are really frightening.
Kaye: What is the scariest story that you’ve ever read and why do you think it is the scariest?
Roberta: I think 1894 by George Orwell is the scariest dystopian novel I have read. Living in the world he describes is so awful I think people would be better off dead.
The Shining is the scariest supernatural horror book I have ever read. The ghosts in the Overlook Hotel that become visible and can harm Danny and his family are most frightening. The invasion of his father’s mind in order to bend him to the will of the evil in the hotel was terrifying. Stephen King has a way of describing things in such a visual way, you feel as if you are living them with the character in the book.
Kaye: What is the scariest story that you’ve ever written?
Roberta: My short story about Amelia Dyer called “Justice is Served” in the murder mystery anthology, Death Among Us, is quite scary as it is based on a real serial killer who murdered babies.
From a purely fiction point of view, I think “The Path to Atonement” in the forthcoming Nightmareland anthology is quite eerie and chilling. “Missed Signs” from the forthcoming Whispers of the Past is frightening because it is within the realms of probability.
Kaye: What methods do you use to create suspense and make a story scary?
Roberta: I use a slow build up to the deaths as a tool to create suspense as well as a lot of visual descriptions and emotional language. Dialogue and onomatopoeia are good ways of conveying literary “sound effects” and tension in a story.
Kaye: Who is your favorite villain or monster from a horror story or film? Why?
Roberta: My favourite villain is Dracula. I loved his sly intelligence and sneaky ways of manipulating his victims and also the heroes of the book.
Kaye: Is there more dark fiction in store for the future readers of Roberta Eaton Cheadle? What are you working on now?
Roberta: I have recently finished the first draft of A Ghost and his Gold and sent that off to my developmental editor. I am hoping to have it available on Amazon in March/April 2020.
I am also working on book 1 of my dystopian trilogy about a world where drastic measures are required to address climate change and the unemployment caused by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The first book is called Russian Roulette Anyone? And will probably be available in October 2020. I also hope to participate in more anthologies next year as I really enjoy those.
I want to thank Roberta for sharing with us today. I too have been a fan of dark fiction since a young age, and at one time delved into all works Stephen King. I read The Shining while babysitting one night when I was 15. I was totally immersed in the story and couldn’t put the book down, but I had to call and wake up my mother to talk to me about three a.m. because the story scared me silly. I finished the book before the sun came up though. Although I grew up reading the masters like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, John Saul, and Peter Straub, doing so set a high bar for the writing of horror.
Roberta gets cudos though for having the nerve to do what I’ve not found the courage to do, the nerve to immerse herself in a world of fear and terror in order to write a novel of dark fiction. You can learn more about Roberta and her books by visiting her on her Amazon Author page or on her Facebook page. You can also learn about her children’s books and her creativity with fondant at Robbie’s Inspirations. And don’t forget to catch her “Growing Bookworms” blog segment on the second Wednesday of every month right here on Writing to be Read.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.