Book Review Ninja Interview

This interview originally appeared on Book Review Ninja in August 2014.

What is your name?

Carlos Cunha

How many books have you written?

Currently, I’m writing my first book.  It’s the biggest writing project I’ve ever done.

I’ve written a ton of short stories and several articles.  I also blog consistently now that I’ve joined the 21st century and started using all the usual suspects of social media.  However, this book thing is another animal entirely.

What’s your background?

My professional background is Intelligence, Law Enforcement, and Accounting.  I’ve been doing some variation or combination of the three for a very long time.

What’s the name of your book?

The name is L’homme Theroux.  It is the first book of the Coureur des Bois series.

What genre is it?

It’s a Canadian Western, or if you prefer, a Northern.  I hesitate to call it a North Western or Nor’wester for fear of being to cutesy or having it mistaken for a really nasty winter storm.

I am still conflicted over where it can be considered a Young Adult novel because the violence gets graphic at some points.  The novel contains themes with which young adults and teenagers can identify, but I would recommend parents read it first to make certain their kid is mature enough.  My defense is that life on any of the North American frontiers had pretty gruesome violence committed by both sides, and the violence in the novel is to move the plot forward.

What’s it about?  (Brief description or synopsis)

A teenage Métis boy living in the Canadian frontier territories in the mid-19th century finds himself head of his family after losing his parents to an Indian raid.  He has to learn the skills of being a man while continuing his father’s work, navigating the natural perils along the way, and avoiding the hostile Indians pursuing him to satisfy their Blood Debt.

How did you become a writer?

I remember charging grammar school classmates to write essays and book reports and such, but I don’t tell that particular origin story to my kids.

The first time I could attach my byline to something I created was in my eight grade newsletter.  For the life of me, I can’t remember what the piece was about.  My mom still has it tucked away somewhere and thinks it is the first thing I ever wrote.  Hopefully, she will not read this interview.

I was published in literary reviews and magazines while in college.  Unfortunately, since those were pre-internet, all I have to show are clips and contributor copies stashed in my attic.  It’s almost as if my early career never happened.

What inspires you as a writer?

This will sound like complete horseshit until I explain it, but living life is an inspiration.  The further back in my body of work you go, the flatter and less textured it becomes.  This is one reason I am selective about how much of my old stuff I release.  I really should throw about half of it into the fire because I think it’s so bad.

I couldn’t write authentically about war until I went.  I couldn’t write authentically about the responsibilities of manhood until I discovered them myself.  Whatever the topic, firsthand experience always shines through in the narrative.

What made you want to write about the subject of your book?

I’m continually amazed and inspired by previous generations who looked around and said, “This place sucks.  Let’s try our luck somewhere else.”  Whether it’s my grandfather who came ahead of the family and worked like a rented mule for three years to save enough to bring his family over, or pioneers on any continent who left the life they knew to carve a new one out of the wild unknown, I venerate these people.

Life is hard.  Life in the past was harder.  To willingly give up the few comforts available and volunteer for a life of isolation, toil, and danger requires men and women made of iron.

I tell this story for the same reason Homer wrote Iliad and Odyssey, the same reason the Anglo-Saxons recounted Beowulf, and the same reason we tell the story of United Flight 93:  “If you, young man, should ever find yourself in a similar sort of situation, this is what we expect of you as a man.”  To think entertainment value, catharsis, or the opportunity to emote enters the equation is to largely miss the point.

Is this the usual thing you like to write about or is this something new for you?

Yes and no.  L’homme Theroux is a new genre and setting, but the themes are familiar.  Much of my writing deals with loss, aspects of coming of age, lessons learned the hard way, or life’s little indignities.  Since the novel, and the series I intend it to become, is a much longer format than I’ve ever attempted, it allows me to explore these themes and many more in depth.

Do you write every day?

I actually have a word count target for each day and follow the progress in a spreadsheet. I approach writing from a Project Management perspective.

What keeps you writing all the time till you finish?

Discipline, determination, and stubbornness.  Throw in some old-fashioned ornery for good measure.

When I decide to slay a dragon, there’s only going to be one of us that makes it out alive.

What’s your favorite procrastination when you don’t feel like writing?

Farting around on the internet and justifying it by calling it research or expanding my social media platform.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned from being a writer?

No matter how bad an ass kicking you just took, get back on your feet and get back into the fight.

That piece of advice works both figuratively and literally.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I took a decade off from writing, and during that time, the world changed.  The internet went from a novelty to a requirement for most of life.  Publishing platforms like Smashwords, GoodReads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., etc., along with the rise of electronic reading devices, has allowed writers to circumvent the traditional gatekeepers of publishing.

When I stopped writing, self-publishing was a dirty word and seen by “respectable writers” as a refuge for hacks, hucksters, and washouts.  That isn’t the case anymore.  There are excellent writers going the self-publishing route.  The self-publishing industry is heavily dominated by heterosexual erotic/romance, but I think that is actually a reflection of the traditional paper-publishing industry.  It is a response to demand in the market.  The fact is women read more than men.  If you want proof of this, walk into the bookstore of your choice at any time you choose and tell me the gender breakdown you see.

I also like the control I have over my work when I self-publish.  Writers are only limited to how fast they can churn out a finished product.  No more waiting by the mailbox, being told there is a two year backlog of articles, or that the publisher has changed editorial direction.  The control over the entire process is also an important benefit.  I publish when I choose.  I write what I want to write and what I think my readers desire to read.  To plagiarize Frank Sinatra, “I do it my way.”  All the success or failure is mine alone.  I will have earned whichever I receive.

How hard was it to self-publish?

The mechanics are simple and straightforward once you get over the learning curve, but there was a learning curve in traditional publishing.  You can’t get away from that.

The hard part is what it has always been; writing is work.

What advice would you give to new writers?

Write, write, and then write some more.  Build a body of work in the genre and format with which you are most comfortable.  Then start experimenting and branch out.  Sooner or later, you will find your voice and your style.

Once you’ve accomplished that, go back though your old stuff and ruthlessly kill your babies.  I am amazed at how terrible I find my early writing.  I’m sure in another decade, my current work will embarrass me, too.

What makes it all worthwhile?

When I get feedback from readers that they related to something I wrote.

Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?

I plan to publish L’homme Theroux in October and roll right into the second book of the Coureur des Bois series, Little Crow’s War.  This is actually the first mention of the next title I’ve made.  I already have the outline complete, and am aiming for a Christmas release.

In addition to continuing with posts to my blog (carlosxcunha.wordpress.com), I will post progress updates for Little Crow’s War, just as I started for L’homme Theroux, where I explore writing related topics I encounter during the creative process.  For example, I’ve address the acceptable levels of violence in Young Adult literature, the pain of killing off your first character, and whether famous actors would be upset at being imagined as a character while I wrote.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

I’m on Twitter, Facebook (personal profile and page), Google+, and Smashwords, but my blog is the social media I give the most attention and it has the most up-to-date and comprehensive information.

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