Wednesday 28 January 2009

All round action woman - Celia Hayes interview

Celia Hayes's books will be of interest to western fans - although they are not strictly westerns but historical sagas set in the Old West. Hang on, Maybe they are westerns after all.

Though certainly not of the shoot em up, good guys, bad guys variety. But then the western is a genre flexible enough to incorporate all kinds of writing.

Celia has lived a life of adventure that would put most western characters to shame- a military veteran she now described herself as a a gardener and storyteller.

"I served in the US Air Force from 1977 to 1997, as a radio/television broadcast specialist – mostly overseas, in places like Japan, Korea, Greece, Spain and Greenland. That’s where there generally was no English-language television and radio programming, until cable stations like the Star Channel began international service. So, I wound up doing all sorts of interesting and amazing things – I was the midnight rock and roll DJ at our station in Greece, for example, and the TV newscaster for the 6PM news broadcast in Japan. I think I’ve been lost in every major city between Portugal and the then-Iron curtain, I know how to say ‘excuse me’ and ‘I’ll have a pound of that’ and ‘take me to the American base’ in about eight languages. I drove across Europe alone with a small child, at the wheel of a bright orange Volvo sedan. We took six weeks at it, and my poor daughter got dragged through every museum and historical site we came across. We went camping all over Spain, and when I was in Korea I had an outside job copy-editing and voicing English-language educational videos. It was a very small career field, military broadcasting; after a time, everyone knew everyone else in it. For about three years, I was the only woman at once assignment, and so every time they needed a female voice for a spot, I had to do it. If I hadn’t been me, I’d have been sick to death of the sound of my own voice!"

Quite a full life by anyone's standards - but when did Celia decide she wanted to write?

"Quite early on – at about the age of 12. I loved books and stories, and so I began creating further adventures of my favorite book people. Fan-fiction, basically. I grew out of it early on, and began creating original stuff, though."

And it is the original stuff that has given Celia her success. But before the finished book comes all the hard work. So what are Celia's writing practices?

Oh, start at the beginning – with the research. For the Adelsverein Trilogy, I put all my notes into an excel spread-sheet, which is broken out by year and month, and into about twenty different categories. The story covered fifty years, three interlinked families, five different small towns or cities, four romantic couples, three wars … and the cattle business in post-Civil War Texas. From that, I worked out the chapter outline, which was pretty general – just a rough outline of what was supposed to happen. Most of the rest just happens, when I actually sit down to put in the conversation, and the descriptions! And sometimes the characters and events take off on their own. Otherwise, I try to make the chapters 6,000-7,000 words, but if it went longer, then I could break it into two chapters. When I actually start going, I can do about two chapters a week, working at it for the whole day. I did the draft of my first novel, Truckee’s Trail in about two months flat."

Celia obviously has a love for American history and of the West in particular. So what is it that compells her to write about the West?

"Not sure about that, really – I was just drawn to it. Why do you fall in love? You just do! I’ve always loved history, and my mother had a subscription to American Heritage, when I was growing up. This was when it was a fairly serious and scholarly publication, about all sorts of interesting events. But I had always loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, and reading about adventures on the emigrant trails – covered wagons and all that. Why I am particularly attracted to the 19th century? I think that is because it was absolutely key in developing what we think of as our national character, for better or worse, and because so much changed for us during the course of it. Think on it – in 1801, the United States was a relatively poor, struggling little nation, just barely filling up the area between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachians. The way that everyone lived looked back more to the previous century, people lived by candle-light, they never went farther from where they lived – and they mostly lived on small farms – than the nearest town. Goods and people traveled on horse-drawn wagons, or on ships powered by wind. And by 1899 – good heavens! The United States went from sea to sea! There were electric lights, and factories making everything that once had been made by hand; you could travel by the railway, or steamship, send a telegraph or use a telephone. And it was possible for someone to seen all of this during their lifetime! The 19th century and the western frontier made us; and I find it irresistible to write about. "

Writing, as every author knows, can be a lonely business and it's often difficult to find anyone qualified to give advice. These days with online forums, writers groups things are easier and the various author's organisations can also be a boon for both legal and creative information. Celia is a founding member of the Independent Author's Guild. What are her duties?'

"Oh my – it’s a volunteer collaborative organization, so it’s whatever I feel like doing and what I think needs to be done at the moment. I built the website, and keep it updated, and take part in the discussion groups. Every once in a while, I gently steer the other participants back to the subject and remind them of the aims of the group. For those who haven’t heard of it, the Independent Authors’ Guild is a group of authors who have published through tiny regional presses, or through POD firms, who clubbed together to share strategies and suggestions for marketing our books. We do a semi-monthly newsletter, help promote each others books, pass on tips about where to get reviewed, or edited. Two aims – help each other write the very best books that we can, and to support each other in getting them out there to a wider audience. I’ve been helped enormously by other members, who provided me with editing, blurbs and reviews – and even one of the other members, Al Past let me use some of his fantastic pictures for my covers. Another member, Mike Katz, has a micro-publishing house Strider-Nolan; not only did he edit Books 2 and 3, but he provided technical advice about weapons handling, gave me the ISBNs and let me market the books under the aegis of Strider-Nolan. Mike has his very own western adventure: serio-comic adventure about a Jewish railway detective, investigating a train robbery in the Old West called “Shalom on the Range”. It’s hilarious, by the way."

The aforementioned Adelsverein Trilogy is a saga about German settlers in the old West. Is Celia happy for these to be thought of as westerns?

"Whatever works! I started off trying to find a publisher for my first novel, “To Truckee’s Trail” – which is one of the great unknown adventures of the California trail – and damned if just about every agent and publisher I tried to interest in it had that snotty “Oh, we don’t do westerns!” Me, feebly protesting, “No, it’s not really a western, it’s a historical adventure set on the American frontier!” did not butter any parsnips. So with the next book project, which became The Adelsverein Trilogy, I decided – what the hell, embrace it! If a story set on the American frontier is a western, than that’s where I’ll take it."

The books are very heavily researched. What form did this research take?

"Oh yes, very heavily researched. One of my marketing strategies is to have them so accurate, that I can appeal to museums and historical societies: ‘Why yes, my story has lashings of drama, but it’s historically accurate down to the nth degree, and wouldn’t you like to stock it in your museum store so as to give people a good idea of what it was really like, back then?’ I actually start with the research; basically plunging into every book that I can lay hands on which is relevant to the topic. In the case of ‘Truckee’ I actually had a lot of the books on my shelves already. For ‘Adelsverein’ I had to practically camp at my local library. I think I read just about every book that I could get from them, regarding the German settlements in Texas. And there turned out to be quite a lot of them; a lot of local history enthusiasts had done biographies of ancestors, saved letters and memoirs and the like. There is just stacks and stacks of materiel there. And as I read, there were things that I just kept circling back to, incidents, elements and accidents and people who just grabbed my attention. These were the things that I just kept thinking ‘Ah-ha! I’ve got to work that in, somehow or other!’ For ‘Adelsverein’ it was the Goliad Massacre, the Civil War era hanging band, and white children kidnapped by Indian raiders, and people like Jack Hayes and Sam Houston – among a long list! By the time I finish the first couple of stacks of books, I have a nice long list of elements that I simply must include, and so then I work out a plot to incorporate them – that’s where the spreadsheet comes in!"

What future projects would Celia like to make Archive readers aware of?

"The next project is another trilogy – loosely linked to the Adeslverein Trilogy, but a separate set of adventures by some of the peripheral characters. One will be set in pre-independent and Republic-era Texas. The second will be a picaresque adventure in the California Gold Rush – I’ve always wanted to write one of those! The people involved were such an eccentric lot, and the Gold Rush in California was so incredible! One of the characters in that will be a wandering Irish Fenian, a slippery character who calls himself Polidore O’Malley. And the third is still pretty vague at present, but will involve vigilantes and range-wars, and the crash of the cattle industry in the mid-1880s. That was another rather interesting time, when a lot of hopeful foreign investors and adventurers were getting involved in American cattle ranches. Look for that in about three years, as I am just now getting started on the first book of it!"

And finally with Wild West Monday fast approaching - March 2nd. I ask Celia what she plans to do for the day?

"Depends on if I have my next royalty check in hand! Otherwise, I shall be stony broke! I think I will go with ordering some of the classics, Zane Grey and that sort of thing."


Leon1234 said...

Hey, how are you doing?

David Cranmer said...

Great interview and I will be on the lookout for Celia's books. Thanks.


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