Today's Interview is with historical novelist and book reviewer Celia Hayes. She is the author of To Truckee's Trail, a fictional retelling of the all-but-unknown real-life adventure of the Stephens-Townsend Party on the California Trail.
Celia says she was brought up in an eccentric, baby-boom family, and earned a degree in English before a thirst for adventure led her to enlist in the USAF. She trained as a radio/television broadcaster, and served in a wide assortment of duties. She is currently working on her next novel.
Welcome, Celia. It's good to have you here. What made you start writing?
What really kicked off writing for a large audience was volunteering to contribute to a military-oriented blog, Sgt. Stryker’s Daily Brief, along in about 2002. (It’s now “The Daily Brief” at www.ncobrief.com) I was an Air Force veteran, and had worked in Public Affairs and military broadcasting, so I was used to ‘writing to order’, but I first found a wide readership through that blog.
How long have you been writing? When did you sell your first book?
I’ve been scribbling since I was about eleven or twelve, making up stories – mostly for my own amusement. I loved to read, and it just seemed like a natural segue to writing my own.
My first finished and published book was a memoir that I cobbled together in 2004 from some of the nostalgic pieces that I wrote about my oddball family; it’s called Our Grandpa Was an Alien – and it’s still available. I sold it to fans of the website, mostly.
What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?
I am a very organized one: I have a rough chapter outline and a fairly good idea of what is supposed to happen within the chapter. In that framework, of course, all sorts of wondrously strange and creative things do happen. Whole conversations and characters do appear out of the blue, and some of the more strong-minded personalities try and take over.
I do lots of reading and research first, almost always with contemporary accounts of what I am writing about. I make notes of incidents and accidents that I keep circling back to and try and incorporate a story that will take them in. My current project is a generational saga, covering about 50 years, so I have this huge Excel spread-sheet, tracking two interlinked families, three romantic couples, four wars, two cities and three small towns, and national events.
Whew! That's a large undertaking. What is your daily schedule like?
I work part-time a couple of days a week, but my writing days are roughly: get up at 6-ish, turn on the computer and surf the news sites while I have a cup of tea, run with the dogs at 7-ish, shower and have breakfast, then sit down and start writing about 8:30 – on blog entries for various book and review sites, whatever article is the big project – or the current book. Work on those until noonish, when I stop for lunch and to check the mail. When I start again after lunch, I try and carry on until 5.
How do you handle life interruptions?
Probably not very graciously – but since I only work part time, and my daughter is an adult, those interruptions are kept to a minimum.
Do you write to music? If so, with lyrics or only instrumentals?
The local classical music statiference was, how they managed to hang together and endure under extraordinarily trying circumstances, and to tell their story.
FYI, I have a book signing in San Antonio on June 13th. Since the book is about rather decent people, and presents most of the male characters as honorable and upright men, devoted to their families - the manager thought it might make an absolutely divine Fathers' Day present!
It sounds ideal for a Father's Day gift. What is your next project?
Another unknown frontier adventure; the story of the German settlements in the Texas Hill Country – a terrific story that hardly anyone outside of Texas has heard of! It started as a single book about the settling of Gillespie County in the 1840s, when 7,000 German immigrants, straight from Europe, were essentially dumped onto the frontier and pretty much left to their own devices. It turned into a trilogy, carrying the story of one of these families through the Civil War and into the boom years of the cattle industry. As I did the research, I just kept finding more and more great stories, terrific drama and fascinating people. I simply had to carry the story forward; one of my blog-fans calls it Barsetshire with Cypress Trees and a Lot of Sidearms. It’s called "The Adelsverein Trilogy" and Book I, The Gathering, will be out in December.
What is your advice for other writers?
Think of it as your job – it’s what you do. Sit down and do it, and don’t be afraid to show it to other people and to handle criticism and suggestions.
What other work of yours has been published?
Besides To Truckee’s Trail, there is the memoir, Our Grandpa Was an Alien, (Booklocker, 2004) and The Gathering, Book I of the Adelsverein Trilogy, which will also be published by Booklocker this coming December. There’s about six years worth of blog entries at “The Daily Brief” also. I’m not writing as much for them as I was, though, since I became diverted into writing historical fiction!
You've created some fascinating work, Celia. I look forward to reading your books. Thank you for the Interview.
I enjoyed it. Thank you.