A Bloody Mess in the Wild, Wild West

wildwest

Outlaws, soldiers gone mad and the aftermath of the Civil War encompass the pages of Justin Bienvenue’s horror novel, A Bloody Mess in the Wild, Wild West. Following the Civil War, a corrupt tycoon has taken over one ghost town that must reclaim its peaceful status and survive the struggles of a powerful man with abilities beyond these citizens’ imaginations.

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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What can you tell us about your latest work?

My latest work is a western horror called A Bloody, Bloody Mess In The Wild, Wild West. It is a book about struggles and life during western times, the Civil War and, of course, the undead. It focuses on the Mexican outlaw Javier “Bones” Jones and his wish to wreak havoc upon the small town of Toomswood. When the town has had enough of his business in their town, they wish to take him out; however he has gained new abilities and suddenly getting him out of town will mean a lot more than just asking him nicely.

What was the inspiration behind wanting to write this?

I was watching a few horror films on zombies and a few days after that I was watching some of those spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood. I believe the movies were Dawn of the Dead or one of those weird, gory zombie flicks and the Clint Eastwood movies were A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Well upon watching them I thought writing a western would be a great idea. I then thought back to the previous days of watching zombie movies when suddenly the title popped into my head. I realized my brain didn’t need to be sold on it anymore –  I was in! I have always enjoyed westerns and when the thought came into mind that I could actually write one I knew right then and there that this was happening.

How does your book compare to other books written in its particular genre?

I would say they are definitely similar for sure. I didn’t really realize how much of the Western Horror genre was out there until I glanced at some of the books. They have a very good fan base and my concept for the book is a common one in genre but I have found that everyone has their own creative unique spin to it. I have found a few fellow authors of the genre such as Tim Curran, who is highly regarded, Joe R. Lansdale and Eric S. Brown who all have multiple book within the genre and all look very enticing. I think the book shares certain qualities for sure although I also like to think my book gives a small detail to the real hardships of The Civil War and the western times compared to most. However, I know my book doesn’t come close to works of Tim Curran and other such profound western horror writers.

How do you think potential readers will perceive the book?

So far it has been perceived very well. Some have stated it’s got plenty of action and they enjoy being put in that western atmosphere and others have stated it comes off as a manuscript for a horror movie. I realize some will love it and others won’t care for it and either way I am happy with the outcome. I just hope that if they didn’t enjoy it they at least took something from it.

What’s one unique element or quality you put into the book that people would be interested in knowing?

The historical accuracy of certain aspects during The Wild West era. I wasn’t going to just write a book about The Wild West and throw in horror; I wanted to also portray real life events or accurate things during it as well. This includes such things as the right weapons (when certain revolvers came out), the language, certain Civil War accounts and timeframes. Overall, I wanted to give it a good ol’ western feel with real historical events and elements as well.

What is your take on the self-publishing/Indie industry?

My take on the industry is that it is just like the traditional publishing industry although people tend to treat it as less. I believe that Indie publishing is clearly on the rise and that the authors who self-publish work just as hard as those who take the traditional route. Given the spike it has taken, I think more people are going down the Indie route as either a shortcut or they want to do the work themselves and retain control of their work. I do believe for the most part that it is a growing trend in the publishing world and I think it’s a good thing.

How has being a self-published author helped in your writing and what have been some of the downfalls?

It’s helped in the sense that I don’t have people giving me a deadline as to when I need to get the book done. Also there are no certain set of rules or word counts that I need to follow or reach. I believe this helps me by giving me the freedom to set my own rules and pace and this way I can write at the pace I wish and not have to worry about reaching a deadline. The downfall is, of course, not getting the proper processes that follow the finishing of a book such as editing, formatting and proofreading. Traditionally the company tends to have all those on hand whereas a self-published author has to find someone to do it for you – sometimes one person to do it all – but mainly individuals to help assist you in each department. For the most part I have been lucky in finding the proper help but it certainly makes it a challenge when you have to look and find the right person to look over your work.

What do you believe is a benefit in being self-published that traditional publishing doesn’t offer?

Freedom, self-esteem and satisfaction. The freedom in being able to work as you please without having to worry about certain things you’d otherwise worry about with a traditional publisher as I stated above. The feeling that you did all the work yourself and the outcome gives you complete satisfaction. There’s nothing better than working your hardest on something and feeling good in the end knowing you accomplished it.

Was it always your plan to have your book self-published or did you look into traditional ones as well?

For my second book, yes. I went with a bad traditional publishing company with my first book. I believe they were even a vanity press in some degree. Anyway, I had a very bad experience with them so I decided that for my second book it would be best to go down the self-publishing direction. I definitely think it was the right choice and it has been a lot better. I have since gotten out of my contract with that company and also re-published the first book as self-published as well. I am not completely turned off on the idea of traditional publishers in the future but I just feel right now that I like the Indie side of publishing.

What’s one thing you want readers to take from reading your work?

I want them to enjoy what they are reading and I want them take to something with them after reading that will stick with them. I want them to remember something from the book that they find themselves looking back on and either referencing it with something or just thinking “that was a good scene.” Overall I want them to experience the book as if they themselves were a part of it.

 

A Bloody Mess in the Wild, Wild West is available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats.

 

Stone Heart’s Woman

“If you want something done,” wrote Benjamin Franklin, “ask a busy person.” Unquestionably, the venerable statesman would apply this definition to Velda Brotherton, a whirling dervish author who – now in her seventh decade – shows no signs of setting aside her pen or moving away from her keyboard. If the books she has published to date are any indication of her prolific imagination, we’re in for a gloriously long ride with characters she is unabashedly pleased to bring to life. And hey, who among us can’t relate to her crush on Tom Selleck?

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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What ignited your passion for writing and what were the first steps you took toward that journey? 

I wrote a lot when I was a young mother, but then as my children began to need more of my time and I went to work full time as well, I put away my novels and short stories. Then we moved to the Ozarks and I began to work with a Craft Outlet. They asked me if I would interview crafters and write a weekly column for three small newspapers. That reignited that lost love, and I began to write fiction again. It really took off when a young woman came into the shop while I was there and began to talk about her writing. We hooked up, spent one day a week working on our books and I realized that I might have something going for me. I’ve been at it ever since, 28 years.

Did you have a day-job prior to or while you were pursuing a career as a writer? What was it and were there any aspects of that employment which proved helpful in seeing the fictional world through different eyes?

While I was young I worked for a temp agency and one of my assignments was in New York City where I worked for the American Cancer Society. My boss was gone a lot, leaving me with idle time where I had to be present but with little to do but answer the phone. I began to write a novel there and learned that several people were also writing. We would get together and compare notes. I also saw the world through different eyes when we moved from Kansas to New York. I learned not to take what people said at face value, but to experience and see for myself. People there were nothing like what we heard living in the Heartland!

Some of the best writers are individuals who were voracious readers throughout their adolescence and into adulthood. Was that the case with you and, if so, what are some of the titles and authors that particularly resonated with you?

Funny story. My mother read a lot, and some of the books were considered, well today we’d call them MA. She’d hide what she was reading in her closet. My brother and I found one of the books and we read it. Of course, giggling at the sex and language, which I’m sure now would be PG. I wish I could remember the name of that book, but that kicked off my love of reading and I checked out books from the library at school every week. I remember reading The Robe and being enthralled. While working in NYC I took the train and subway everyday, and read Anna Karenina and loved it.

Did you have mentors who helped guide your career or did you embrace a DIY approach in learning the craft and navigating commercial publishing waters?

I’ve had a lot of supporters during my career, but it’s been mostly DIY as far as learning the craft itself. One friend is responsible for pushing me into pitching my first novel to an editor, and it later earned my first contract with Topaz through that editor. That sort of support has been invaluable to me, but I go my own way with the craft itself.

How does today’s publishing differ from when you first published?

It might as well be a million miles apart. Today I publish with small publishers and I know the editors personally, spend time on three-ways with cover designer and my editor, and become friends with them.

When I was with Topaz I had a marvelous editor, but she had no idea about western writing at all, so I had to educate her to the lingo. There was a wide gap between me and them, though. I had no say in my covers. However, in the beginning they did a lot of promotion and ran large ads for our books and the distribution was wide. Of course, today’s distribution is worldwide and as long as we put in hours on promotion, sales will happen. The biggest difference is advances and royalties. Without advances – such as we had with New York publishers – we have to rely on royalties for a paycheck and we never know what that will be.

To that end, what do you know now that you wished you had known at the start?

Patience and I learned not to take stuff personally. Especially rejection.

Tell us about Stone Heart’s Woman and your inspiration for its plots and characters.

I read a book called Cheyenne Autumn written by Mari Sandoz in 1953. She interviewed many of the people involved in this story of the Northern Cheyenne’s final break from the reservation to go home to the land of the Yellowstone. Many were still alive then. Their stories stuck with me and I couldn’t get them out of my mind.

When that happens to a fiction writer, the solution is usually to write a book, and so I created my characters and dropped them into the situation of that final breakout.  It took me several years of working off and on before I had this book the way I wanted it – with just the right mix of history and a love story. I consider it not so much a romance as a cultural love story set amidst a tragic time in both the history of the whites and the American Indians. By the way, most prefer to be called that, rather than Native Americans.

How does the history of the time period you research affect your characters and story?

The effect is enormous. My heroine must live and love in the way of the time. The language must be carefully studied so words that weren’t in use don’t crop up. The hero, though he has to treat her properly for a romance, is influenced by the way men were then. Clothing, ideals, morals of the day have to be considered.

How much creative license do you take when you place your heroines and heroes against a historical backdrop?

My only creative license happens when I use real characters. I study as much as I can find about them, but can’t possibly know how they might think or talk. In Stone Heart’s Woman, Libby Custer plays a part in the story offstage. She writes a letter that impacts the final scene of the book. I knew only that Libby spent her lifetime trying to improve the reputation of her husband, George Armstrong Custer, so I used that knowledge to formulate the letter. Of course, she never wrote any such letter, so that’s creative license.

You have a new series – The Victorians – coming out in time for holiday reading. Tell us about it.

Wilda’s Outlaw is the first of the series from The Wild Rose Press. They have decided to issue the ebook to Kindle on December 5th free for five days, then $2.99 until the print book comes out February 13th. This story is a lot lighter than my previous book with them. It’s set in Victoria, Kansas where the English actually brought England with them to build the town and eschewed becoming Western or American. Two sisters and their younger cousin journey for a year to join Lord Blair Prescott who is bound to marry Wilda and become a guardian to the other two until they marry. She finds she can’t stand his Lordship and arranges with a young, handsome outlaw to be kidnapped so she won’t have to go through with the wedding. There are good reasons she can’t simply say no.

I plan two more books involving the other two women, then hope to link the final one to Victoria, Texas where I’ll continue the series.

Who is your favorite character in your books and why?

That’s almost as hard as picking a favorite child or grandchild! But I do like Allie Caine, the photographer in Images In Scarlet. She is strong, willful, intelligent and stubborn. She sets out to travel to Santa Fe in her late father’s “what’s it” wagon, taking pictures along the way to pay her expenses.

Might we find aspects of your own personality in your fictional casts?

Of course. I don’t think we writers can avoid sticking bits and pieces of ourselves in our books. My first serious novel, which has never been published, probably picked me up as a whole and set me down in the fictional story. I hope one day to do something more with that book, which earned me an agent early in my career. He never understood why he couldn’t sell the book, and neither did I.

As traditional publishing venues continue to downsize in the 21st century, it’s the midlist authors that have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves, a scenario that has prompted many of them to either pursue self-publishing routes or seek out the harbor of smaller houses that will welcome their talents. What was your own response when the midlist writers crisis hit?

Two or three days of moping, swearing I’d quit. The entire route. Left adrift when Topaz closed, I was unhappy with the house my agent sent me to for an additional two books. I finished up the last one and walked away. For a few years I worked with small regional publishers and did some nonfiction books. All the while I continued to write my books.

Then one day, at a conference, a friend came over to me and asked me if I’d pitched to the editor who was there from a small house. I said no, it hadn’t occurred to me. She told me that I should pitch one of the many fiction books I was sitting on, and so I did. That began my career with small publishers. They took Stone Heart’s Woman, another house took a paranormal I’d written and now I’ve approached yet another to take a mystery series. I feel like my career in fiction writing is back on track. I also converted the rights to my earlier books and published them all to Kindle, taking a few months off writing to learn how to do it myself.

What is your writing schedule these days and how do you stick to it?

Since the beginning I’ve written all afternoon six days a week. Now I’m so busy that every morning I handle emails and all requests there, then still write every afternoon six days a week. I’m never tempted to do anything else. Only doctor’s appointments or emergencies take me away from the schedule. I take a break at 3 p.m. and kick back in a recliner with a Pepsi Max, then at 3:15 I’m back in my office. I might as well have a boss.

Do you outline, take copious notes or just wing it?

I wing it, but do take a lot of notes as I write so I don’t forget stuff like eye color or minor characters’ names which I create as I go.

A lot of writers seek out critique groups for brainstorming and/or feedback. From your own experience, are these groups a help or a hindrance?

Since I’ve been a member and now co-chair of a critique group for over 20 years, I must think they are a help. Some can be a hindrance if they veer away from constructive critiquing. Some become a mutual admiration society. No help at all there. Others drift into gossiping or worse tearing down each other’s work. It all depends on those in charge whether things go well or not. Our motto is: Don’t put out the flame.

What’s your advice to new writers who are just starting out?

Persevere. Don’t give up unless you begin to hate what you’re doing. In that case do something else, but if you have a deep down love of writing and the voices won’t leave you alone, then you only have one choice. Don’t quit. Do it for the love of it, not that you imagine this romantic career with lots of fame and money.

What has writing meant to you in your life?

I tell my husband it keeps me off the streets. Truly, I can’t imagine a day without it. The dear friends I’ve made, the wonderful writers I’ve met, the conferences and yes, the parties, have all been such a joy in my life. I can’t imagine going through the days without sitting down at a keyboard and stepping into that fantasy world most of us writers live in a part of the time. Are we crazy? Well, yes, just enough to have a great deal of fun.

What are you currently reading?

Just finished Junk Yard Dogs by Craig Johnson and looking forward to another of his books, Hell Is Empty. Have read all of James Lee Burke’s books and waiting impatiently for his next one. I don’t read romances, I do enjoy writing them. I can’t explain that sufficiently.

What would most people be surprised to learn about you?

That I’m in love with Tom Selleck?  No, that probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me.  That I enjoy watching schlock horror movies late at night. Once in a while.

What’s next on your plate?

Several more Victorian novels, hopefully a mystery series that’s with a publisher right now. Actually, I probably won’t live long enough to do everything. I want to self publish some women’s novels I haven’t sold, and hope to do that in 2013.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yes, I feel that this is the best time for writers that has come along in years. Sure, things will have to sort themselves out. The bad stuff will have to drift away and the excellent come to the top like thick cream. What with so many small houses publishing excellent books and so many self-published writers making their great stuff available, times couldn’t be better for readers and writers.