In this “Author Spotlight” I interviewed Charles O'Keefe, author of the book The Newfoundland Vampire Book 2, Killer on The Road, published by Distinguished Press and coming out in November 2015.
Tell us about your book
Joseph O’Reily is still adjusting to the lifestyle and the dangers that come with being a new vampire. He and Cassandra have been tasked with hunting down and killing a rogue vampire, Donald Rathmore.
Another of John Snow’s creations, Donald is an evil misogynistic killer in his own right. His deadly wake spans more lives than Joseph wants to accept. While Donald continues his murderous spree, Joseph and Cassandra always seem to be one step behind him. The chase is further complicated as they encounter other vampires and learn more about the mysterious nature of the Vampire Council and the coming war between good and evil.
Joseph is only now beginning to trust Cassandra and his trust will be shaken when he discovers she has even more secrets than he imagined. Her idea of justice and morality is at complete odds with his own. Despite all his powers and growing skill, Joseph is tested, physically, as a vampire, and emotionally by Cassandra.
This time the answers and challenges may be too much for the young vampire to handle.
What drew you to writing?
I guess I’ve always been a creative person. I suppose initially it was a way to explore my imagination. I started role-playing (Dungeons and Dragons) when I was 13 and it really stoked the fires so to speak. I have always had a desire to be in a control of characters, the story, and the whole world really. Maybe that means I have a big ego but the ability to create a story and have it turn out how you want, to turn your ideas/scenes into words and write them down always held so much appeal. I love to reflect on things in my life and writing (whether it was a journal, poem, short-story or later novel) was a huge draw for me.
Do you have a degree in writing? Do you believe that matters? Why/Why not?
Yes, I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy. While I don’t think it’s essential I do think having a degree matters. I learned about grammar (though I admit I forgot a lot of it), learned how to examine a story and characters and most importantly gained an appreciation for all different kinds of literature. The more you’re exposed to writing, (good, bad or something in between), the more it broadens your mind as a writer. You learn what writing styles/stories/genres you like and who you can emulate. Every writer (at least that I know of) has another writer they admire, another one they are inspired by. I know for me doing a degree exposed me to writers I never would have found on my own, it brought me to great stories and it helped me understand and appreciate them in ways I never did before. It helped me to see how writing can affect people and how you can be affected by it in turn. So if you have a degree you get all these benefits, ultimately for me I came to see that I love reading, studying stories and writing. If I didn’t do my degree I seriously doubt I would be another today. I know that there are people who just have a natural talent, who are basically born writers and pursue it instinctually. This is great but even in those cases, if you love to write why not to a degree in it? If you have the time, money and interest, it can’t possibly do you any harm (just don’t expect to get a high-paying/any job after it ;)
How long did it take you to create your first book?
It took me about 8 months to write it (though I had a huge gap of 8 years when I initially came up with the idea and did almost nothing with it aside from one chapter). I did an outline as I went, spent a lot of time thinking about it at work and updating my friends and co-workers as I went along (one friend in particular was a huge help, he’ll talk about my writing for hours and always gives good or at least interesting advice/ideas). After those 8 months, I spent another 16 months editing and submitting it to publishers, then editing again before it was finally published. So like I said in my bio, it took about 10 years, with a gap of 8 in between.
How long did it take you to create the last?
I was a lot faster for book 3, only about 5 months. In truth though I was the speediest for book 2, I just kept going as soon as I had finished with book 1 and had then done in 4 months. For me editing took longer than the writing (as it’s a back and forth process with an editor). I have a distinct process for writing (which may change a little for book 4). I get up in the morning, have some breakfast and try to write just a page or two. That way I never push myself or tire of it but it gets done. I also am a big believer in planning. I do an outline for every chapter (sometimes I plan out the whole book before I even start), then I make sure that my outline is always 2-3 chapters ahead of my writing. I find for me this eliminates writers block and it gives me a goal to work towards (and I know how the book will end). That doesn’t mean I don’t make changes, move chapters around, delete some, radically change others but still the structure of it helps me a lot. I also do a detailed outline as a I go, which explains point by point what happens in every chapter. If my new editor, Jen, doesn’t want this than I’ll just do one outline. I’ve been lucky that I’ve never suffered from writers block, once the ideas flow I can just keep going.
What have you learned in between?
I’ve learned quite a bit. Well to start I had one publisher (Penumbra Publishing) which I choose to leave and now I’m with Distinguished Press (who have been wonderful and I plan to stay with as long as they’ll have me).
So my first lesson has been to treat my books as a business and not just a personal hobby. While I was friends with my last editor, Pat, and some of the authors there I just felt the company wasn’t doing enough to promote and put out my books in a timely fashion, so I made the difficult decision to leave and have no publisher. I believe it was the correct one. I’ve learned the importance of connections. I’ve been active with Twitter, FB and my website. I see know the importance of promoting/helping out other authors.
It was because of Karyn Pearson (and her mentioning me to Jen) that I got on with DP and I’m very grateful. My point is if I had not made a connection with Karyn, then I would have had a much harder time getting a new publisher. I’ve always learned that, unfortunately in my case, and I’m sure most other authors, writing isn’t a way to make a living at least not as an author. I know you need to get discovered or have some smash hit but realistically that has very little chance of happening. I’ve learned that you write because you enjoy it, you love to meet fans and get good reviews (and try to learn something from negative ones) and go to cons and everything else that comes with being an author.
When someone comes up to me and says they enjoy one or both books, it makes me feel great. So I’ve learned that while writing is a mostly solitary activity, for me it’s the interaction with other people that makes it worthwhile. I’ve met some amazing people at conventions and book signings and it’s why I do them even though I make little to no money (one con in Halifax I sold near nothing but still had a great time). I’ve learned to keep your expectation low, then when you have a few sales or a good convention or great compliment, it’s a nice treat and a surprise. I’ve learned that writing is a journey and while it’s one you can take alone, it’s a hell of a lot better to have people to help you on the way and guide you in the right direction.
What are you currently learning to further develop your craft?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. Well I suppose right now I’m seeing how different editors ask for different things. As a small example when I originally wrote book 1 my first editor wanted everything explained. Whether it was a reference to Plato or the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian, I had to spell it all out. Now I see, with Jen’s help, that’s there’s nothing wrong with challenging the readers. It can be a good thing to make a reader look up something, challenge them intellectually. I’ve also been asked to write a short story with a theme and a certain word count. While I’ve done short-stories, I always had total freedom but this will be a challenge and one I hope I can meet.
Do you prefer creating short stories, or novels?
I prefer novels, though I have enjoyed the three short stories I did. I suppose it’s because a novel is where I started. I enjoyed the challenge and then I wanted to continue the story. For me the feeling of completely a chapter and then a whole book is so immensely satisfying, such a great feeling of accomplishment, that I want to keep doing it. I like stories that have some meat to them, I like to have a character change and have big events happen to him. Don’t get me wrong I love to read short stories and I’ve read some great ones but I suspect I’ll always prefer novels.
What Genre do you write and why?
I write in supernatural/vampire genre. I’ve been fascinated with vampires for a long time, while I don’t remember the exact date it was probably since I was 12 or 13, whenever I first picked up Anne Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire”. I love vampires because there is so much freedom, you can take this classic supernatural creature and do whatever you want with it. From the near-mindless killing machines you get in movies like “Blade” to the sensitive, vegetarian in “Twilight” and anything in between. Vampires are such a great fantasy, if you could be young forever, immensely strong, fast, have lots of cool powers and retain your memories, personality and feelings, why wouldn’t you do it? As I imagine (and many other writers have too) if you were careful you wouldn’t even need to kill anyone. I’ve always loved horror too, I think most people love to be scared just a little. I always have a high tolerance for gore, especially in the written form. Bad people/creatures/fights create terrible injuries and this should be well described in a book. Also there’s the sex, I always imagine vampires as very sexual liberated beings, hang-ups and boundaries you had as human would fade away over time and this gave me a chance to explore in an imaginative way. Hey, I’m a guy and I think about sex a lot (like 99% of all men). I know I’ve never have a three-way or be in a orgy, or…well lots of other stuff but I can write about it and experience it vicariously through my characters. I think supernatural/vampire/horror gives the writer a lot of freedom and this is something I enjoy a lot. I have written some sci-fi short stories but I think vampires will always be my first writing love and always the place I go back to.
What about your life influenced your drive to create?
Well my Mom was a teacher and she always read to me as a child, so I developed an early love of reading. I had some good teachers in school who encouraged my love of reading more and I started to do some lousy poetry for the school paper in high school. I guess I’m lucky to have grown up where I always had plenty of free time to let my imagination run wild. I think (as I mentioned above) my friends introducing me to role-playing games when I was 13 was also a huge influence. During a role-playing game everything that happens is what’s in your head. If the game master describes it well then it’s a unique and wonderful experience. These created worlds that I became a part of ultimately me inspired me to create (first as a GM) and later as a writer. I would also add that a friend of mine published a book in 2006 (which I helped him edit) and this also encouraged me to write as I saw that if he could do it, why couldn’t I?
Tell us something personal you've enjoyed due to being an author.
Once I was doing a book signing and I noticed a woman sitting off to herself reading. I didn’t think anything of it and continued to sit there. After an hour or two she came over to say hello. She said she didn’t have the money to buy a book but that she wrote me a little note and asked me to wait and read it after she left. I was surprised and said “Oh sure no problem and thanks, I will.” When she walked away I read it (and I’m paraphrasing here as it was 2 years ago) and it said something like “Every writer is on a journey. That journey starts with a word, becomes a sentence and then something more. Look at how far you’ve come and continue on your path, you can achieve your dreams.” Maybe it was something that she got out a book but it didn’t matter. It was so very thoughtful of her to do it, I was touched and appreciated it very much. I didn’t get her name or any way to contact her but if she reads this, thanks. It’s the little moments I get from people related to my writing that make it all worthwhile.
What is next on your current writing agenda?
Next will be hopefully a short-story for a collection at DP and then edits for book 1 of “The Newfoundland Vampire” and also sometime after Xmas a start on book 4 (currently untitled). So I have lots going on! I also maintain my blog and have a movie review to write, a post on my journey as a writer for KG Stutts and the IWAssociation and also my personal year in review post for my blog, busy times! Luckily I’ll be off work for 5 days this month.
Questions about Reading
What kind of books to you enjoy reading?
I enjoy horror, supernatural, vampire, sci-fi, fantasy and non-fiction. I have always been fascinated with World War II and I’ve read several books on it, I do occasionally read a book about Newfoundland history as well as a biography on someone interesting (Robin Quivers for example wrote a surprisingly good one a number of years ago). I have also been reading a lot of comic books lately too. I love “Walking Dead” comics as well as “Hulk” and “Batman”. There are so many great comics now, many shows that ended continue as comics (some in particular are done by the original writer/creator like “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”).
What are you reading now?
Right now I’m read “The Gathering Storm” by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson from the Wheel of Time story. I’m an immensely slow reader (and despite this book being much better than some previous ones I still find many parts very long). It’s the other reason why I’m so much back into comics, it’s just such a smaller investment of time, good, bad or something in-between it still only take 10-15 minutes to read most of them. Back to Wheel of Time, it’s a great series but I think it was dragged out far too long, as with “Dark Tower” (book 6 and 7 never should have happened). The problem (sometimes) with a series of books though is that you’re hooked and I have to find out how it ends.
In the Indie vs Traditional debate - does it matter to you? If so why? Thoughts?
To be honest it really doesn’t matter to me, if it’s a series I have been following (and enjoying) I’ll read the next book. Same goes for an author, if I’m enjoying what he or she has done, I’m likely to keep going. I think the lines are blurring as time goes by. With Ebooks and sites like Amazon, Kobo, Chapters, iTunes and Smashwords books are so easily available (and cheaper) that I always judge each book on it’s own merit. With that said I do like how indies book are generally cheaper than Big 6 ones and it’s nice to know you’re supporting someone like yourself (and the great people who work at the company.) The biggest concern I have is when a book is self-published. While I have read a couple of good ones, sadly most of the self-published stuff I’ve read has been terrible. I think that many writers have good ideas but when they have no one to help with the editing, no one to bounce ideas off and get feedback, well the results can be disastrous. Ultimately I think there is room for both the big traditional publishers and smaller indie presses. Sure the indie press has an uphill battle but with the internet and social media (plus all the authors’ onboard helping out) they have a much better chance of success now than they did 10 or even 5 years ago. While I think print books are in trouble, I don’t see book sales (in whichever format people prefer) ever being a problem. If you write a great story and people can find it, it will be bought and enjoyed.
What makes a story interesting to you?
I like it when writers do something a little different; it has to be a world with characters that interest me. I like it when writers don’t take themselves too seriously, even in a serious story it’s nice to though in a little joke, maybe a little nod to a popular show or movie. I also always enjoy it when a writer can do something that I can connect to, even it’s just something the relaxing feeling of a nice drink or the thrill of going fast in a convertible. For example in a Wheel of Time magic is split between men and women. Women can channel the power in such a way and men can do it in another. The big twist is that when men use magic it taints them, literally bringing them to madness and eventually death. So the female characters who can channel this power most seek out and capture/kill or still (meaning removing their ability to channel) these male channelers. That’s a great twist on a simple Wizard/Witch/Warlock kind of magic system and it’s one of the reasons why I picked it up.
What might make you pick up a book outside your own comfort choices?
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover but I think most people do. I know I do, if I see a really great or different cover that can get my attention. For me at this point in my life it’s all about the authors. If, for example, Stephen King wrote a sci-fi novel (and it wasn’t crazy long) I’d consider it because I know his books. Obviously money is also a factor, if I can get a indie book for half the price of a traditional one, I’m more inclined to get the former. Everyone loves a deal, it’s a part of human nature (and least here in North America.) The same, of course, goes for free. I have reviewed books for authors since they asked me to. The hope here is a triple benefit, you get to read a good book. It cost you nothing and hopefully that author will read your book and post a review in turn. The same goes for celebrities and people I know. I love David Suzuki for example, while I wouldn’t normally read a book about science/nature/conservation as I admire him so much I might be inclined to read something by him.
Do you have a favorite author(s)?
Even though I think he’s done some terrible stuff I would still pick Stephen King. He is the master of horror and he has written some amazing characters and wonderful stories. Stephen King has also been one of embrace new technologies and ultimately forced the publishing industry to change. I think he cares about his readers and makes an effort to give them what they want. He seems a like a regular guy who worked hard, got lucky and has achieved a huge amount of success. He leads the typical writer life (as far I know) and don’t flaunt his wealth or status. I think the fact that he continues to write despite the fact of a terrible accident he had with a van a number of years ago speaks volume and his character and strength as a person.
Where is your favorite place to read?
At home on my small couch (maybe it’s a called a love seat? I don’t know, it’s just big enough for me and maybe a cat or two). Some people like to read in coffee shops or other noisy busy places but not me. I enjoy reading the most when it’s peace and quiet and I can look out the window. So be even more precise, at home, on my couch, during the day and when my wife is asleep or not home (so it’s more quiet). I used to spend a lot of time in libraries when I was a student, they are nice reading spots too. It’s always nice to be surrounded by books. I used to spend a lot of time reading in my car (in the summer/early fall mind you) as it had my important requirements, peace and quiet, a view and if I so desired some fresh air as well. When I’m in Florida I love to read outside, once again I prefer daytime to look out at the ocean and in a place with a screen to keep the flies away.
What’s next on your To Be Read list?
Before I get to the last two “Wheel of Time” books I have one a friend gave me called “He is Legend” which is a collection of short stories all done in the style of Richard Matheson (he wrote “I am Legend”). Then I’ll be reading a book or two from a DP author (probably one by KG Stutts and one by Karyn Pearson). After that I have one by Natasha Larry and one by Jamie Wasserman (two indie authors I enjoy).
Describe the ideal situation for your reading time? (in detail - include location, time of day, drinks/food, etc)
I really already did this above. I’ll add though that I do like to have some chocolate almond milk (or an alcoholic drink) nearby. I am also a huge lover of snacking, so some chips or trail mix is also a great thing for reading time. Lately I try to do some reading every Sunday, whether it’s Sunday afternoon or evening, I have been reading comics on Sunday’s for about 6 months now and I really enjoy it. This is almost always done at home, on my couch. I love it when one of my cats come over to see me when I read. Jude, an all-black cat I’ve had for 11 years as of this writing, will sometimes sit by me and purr. I really love that, I find if a cat lies on you it bothers you after a while (except on my legs when I’m asleep, that’s always nice) but sitting next to you just touching, that’s perfect and I love the sound of a cat purring.
Questions about You
If you could invite any 7 people (living or dead) for a day out, or a meal together, who would it be?
Ernest Hemingway (just a fascinating man, brilliant writer and such a tragic figure.), Jesus Christ (because I’d have to know if he really was the son of God and of course he was the best part of Christianity), Stephen King (as I discussed before), William Shatner (one of my favorite actors), Jackson Browne (the most talented songwriter alive), Queen Elizabeth (about to be the longest ruling Monarch in British history, just an incredible woman) and George Clooney (amazing actor, great director and super-cool guy).
What season most inspires you?
Summer for sure, in Newfoundland we have long winters (it can start snowing the end of October and continue to do so off and on until June!) and fall can be nothing but rain and wind. This past summer we had our hottest July on record and I loved it. It never gets too hot here for me, it’s one of the big reasons I keep going back to Florida is the warmth and sunshine. Summer the days are long, it’s warm, I feel like I have more energy and I’m more inclined to get out and do stuff.
What hobbies do you enjoy?
Aside from role-playing I enjoying reading, writing, video games, TV, board games, poker, Pilates and martial arts. I also love to listen to music, play piano and enjoy walking and swimming. The past few years a friend and I brew our own wine, beer and cider and I enjoy that (more particularly the saving money and the drinking part).
Deadlines – solid dates to meet or unattainable goals to reach for?
I don’t mind deadlines, they give you something to work towards. Not to brad but I’ve always been good at getting things done ahead of time. I try to be very organized in most aspects of my life and as such things are almost never put off until the last minute. So I would say solid goals to meet, but I don’t often set deadlines for myself. Life has a way of screwing up a lot of plans. I think you need to be careful and make realistic goals, otherwise you are just constantly disappointed or rushed.
What are 3 things that you’ve not often shared about yourself?
That’s a little tough, my life is almost an open book (pun intended!). Well when I was in high school I was actually a hockey fan, even had a favorite team, the Montreal Canadians. I think I just followed them to fit in with other people in my high school, after that I lost all interest in sports, except for martial arts if you want to count that as one. I have a tattoo (a geeky one of course) and I will be getting another in early 2015. I am fascinated with tattoos but I still don’t plan on getting more than 2 or 3. I love to see other people’s tattoos and ask about them when I can. I love the feel and smell of money, in particular a lot of money. When we go to Florida I usually bring down a lot of cash rather than use a credit card (we had an issue once of someone at a store getting our number and using it somewhere else). I don’t know if that makes me greedy, I just enjoy the feeling of it because it’s not something that I do a lot.
About Charles O’Keefe
Charles O’Keefe lives in the beautiful province of
Newfoundland, Canada, with his wife and two feline
children,Jude and Eleanor. He is a co-owner of a Beauty
Wholesale Business and enjoys many hobbies and
activities that include writing, reading, watching
fantasy/science-fiction movies and television shows,
gaming, poker, walking, Pilates, martial arts and of course
fantasizing about vampires. He is also a vegetarian, animal
activist, environmentalist and Agnostic.
You can find out more about Charles O’Keefe here: