Lee: To start things off, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and your work as a writer.
Charles: I grew up on a small family farm in Arkansas. I loved to read and used to get in trouble with my parents for reading too much, probably because I was supposed to be doing chores. I never thought about writing myself until high school English, where we were assigned to write a poem, a nonfiction essay, and a short story. I don’t remember the poem but the essay was about drinking beer and the story was an SF/fantasy piece about a world where people grew from seeds. We read them in class and both of mine got good responses from the teacher and students. That started me thinking about writing, but I didn’t know where to start. I’d never met a writer. They seemed like magical creatures to me.
When I went to college, I found that one of the English professors was a published author, and that he’d actually lived in my hometown, Charleston, Arkansas, when he was younger. I took an essay class with him, then got up the courage to show him a western novel I was working on called The Bear-Paw Valley. He told me it was unpublishable, but that I had talent and that he’d mentor me on my next novel. I was tremendously excited. Then the fellow—Francis Gwaltney—died a couple of weeks later in an accident. I didn’t write another word of fiction until graduate school, where I’d sometimes fiddle with fictional scenarios on nights I was too wired to sleep. I shared a couple of those stories with friends and they always got good responses. I finally started submitting and sold my first story in 1989.
Lee: I’ve heard that in addition to horror, you also write westerns, as well as other genres. Can you tell us a little about your work outside the realm of horror?
Charles: I’ve always read just about everything I can get my hands on, and story ideas come to me of all different kinds. In my thirties, I decided that I wanted to try to write and publish something in every genre, which reflects what I read. So far I’ve managed Poetry, Nonfiction, SF, Fantasy, Horror, Westerns, Romance, Erotica, YA, Kids, Thriller, and Literary. I’ve never had a play published so that’s something I still have to work on, and straight up mystery. The biggest subset of my work has been in SF/Fantasy. I have five novels in the “Talera” series, which takes its cue from the John Carter of Mars stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and an SF novel called Under the Ember Star. Good stories can come from anywhere.
Lee: What drew you to the western genre? Did you adopt the horror genre before or after your work writing westerns?
Charles: My brother-in-law was a big fan of Louis L’Amour, probably the best-selling western writer of all time, and I borrowed his books when I was a kid. The first novel I wrote was a western. However, at the same time I was fiddling around with SF/Fantasy short stories, many of which had horror elements. Most of the stories I wrote in grad school, which were the first things I sold, were either straight horror or SF/Fantasy/ Horror. The influences here were my studies in Psychology, where I got my degree, and the influence of Lovecraft and the short story anthologies edited by Charles Grant being published at that time. I didn’t have time to read novels in grad school but I couldn’t give up reading so I devoured a lot of short stories. Most were horror. This is a long way of saying that I don’t have a ready answer for which came first. There were three parallel and contemporaneous lines of influence on my writing: SF/Fantasy, Horror, and Westerns.
Lee: I’m familiar with your work writing short stories and flash fiction. Where do you get your inspiration from?
Charles: As far as I can tell, inspiration seems to come from everywhere, the stuff I read, the TV/Movies that I watch, work and home experiences. A lot of inspiration for horror has always come from my dreams. I’ve been blessed with nightmares my whole life. There’s nothing much better than a good heart-rushing, sweat-pouring nightmare. Scary while you’re having them, but when you wake up you just gotta say, “That was cool!” I’m getting ready to release a collection of my dream derived stories called Out of Dreams: Nightmares. Several of these were first published in The Sirens Call ezine, which I know you have a connection to.
Lee: What has been the toughest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
Charles: Promotion. Trying to get your work noticed is a full-time job, which means I have three of them, teaching, writing, selling. Inevitably, something has to suffer, and for me it’s selling. That’s because I don’t enjoy it, and I’m not very good at it.
Lee: If you could live in any other time in history, where and when would you choose to live?
Charles: Can I pick the “Far Future?” I certainly fantasize about living in the wild west, or crusader times, or the stone age, but I know those times were pretty damn harsh in reality. If humanity can survive, though, there are likely to be some amazing adventures ahead for our species. New planets, new forms of life, new experiences that we can’t even imagine. I’d love to be there for it.
Lee: Is there any one book or story that has influenced you as a writer?
Charles: There are so many books that have influenced me, by writers like Ray Bradbury, Louis L’Amour, Robert E. Howard, and John D. MacDonald. If I had to pick one book that marked the greatest influence on me it would probably be A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Lee: What do you like to read? Who are some of your favorite authors?
Charles: I still read everything I can get my hands on. There’s about a thousand unread books in my house, in all genres, so whatever I’m in the mood for, I’ve got. In the past year I’ve been reading a lot of Harlan Coben; I’ve also been on something of an E.C. Tubb kick, reading his Dumarest SF series. In the past six months I’ve discovered two men’s adventure writers that I’ve begun collecting: D.B. Drumm, who wrote a post-apocalyptic series about a character named Traveler, and David Robbins, who has written a series about Mountain Men and another post-apocalyptic series. There are also certain authors I reach for regularly because of their consistently good work: James Reasoner (and his pseudonyms) in westerns, Ken Bulmer and David Gemmell in fantasy, Bruce Boston and Marge Simon in speculative poetry, and Koontz in horror, though he can be hit or miss. I also read quite a few horror magazines, such as The Sirens Call, The Horror Zine, and Night to Dawn, which has helped me discover a bunch of new (to me at least) horror writers that I’ve been enjoying.
Lee: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
Charles: I read a lot. I also collect books. I’ve got close to 8,000 volumes in my house, more than our small local library. Other than that, I play video games in my spare time, such as Doom, Red Dead Redemption and Skyrim (my current favorite). Skyrim has books, which I love. I even collect those.
Lee: What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a career as a writer?
Charles: I don’t want to be discouraging but I think this is a very tough time to have a “career” as a writer. If you want to make enough money to live on, it’s going to be incredibly hard. There are so many writers and so many books being published that it’s hard to get noticed and break out. So, my advice for someone who wants a writing career is to find a job that’ll pay the bills but still give you time to write. I teach college, for example, and I tend to do most of my writing during school breaks and across the summer. This certainly slows down one’s progress and development as a writer, but it also gives you some needed security. Personally, I need that security.
On the other hand, if you’re not worried about making a living, this can be a great time to be a writer. There are numerous small markets, and there’s always a chance to self-publish. There are quite a few small presses out there. The money isn’t good and it’s difficult to find a readership, but there’s a good chance to see your work in print and get some feedback. Over the last few years, I’ve begun to worry less and less about making money directly, and more about publishing in places where my work can be read by a lot of folks. I hope, of course, to attract an audience that way who’ll begin to buy my books.