The Western Fictioneer Member author interviews in this month of April start with Chris Mullen. It is always amazing to see the journey writers take to tell their stories. Sit back, enjoy the read. Be sure to leave a comment or question. It is always rewarding to hear from others.
1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I have always enjoyed creating and telling stories, especially with my students, but becoming a writer always seemed so far off, a dream on the horizon. I suppose the beginnings of my dream trackback to a high school creative writing class. I would write poetry, songs, and short stories, though at the time, the poetry was terrible adolescent love-torn thoughts, my songs were a little better and varied from folk style to grungular weirdness, the better ones telling a story within the verses, and my actual short stories were in very raw shape. I had a long road ahead of me but gained some very real, appreciated guidance from my creative writing teacher. “KEEP WRITING.” Over the years, I wrote whenever I could, but my top priority became being the best Dad to my boys, which took the majority of my time. Telling stories and making up adventures with my students over the years kept my creative juices flowing and eventually led me to create my main character, Rowdy, and the adventures that he would have. As the Rowdy adventures gained interest in class over many different years with new students, it became clear that I needed to take the next step with Rowdy and write his adventures down. Over the next 8 years, I wrote when I could, keeping my priorities intact, and completed book 1 – Rowdy: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen. In the summer of 2020, I took a huge leap of faith and, thanks to a loving, supportive wife and family, made the transition to full-time writer/author.
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2. Did you choose the genre you write in or did it choose you?
With regards to Rowdy, I would say the genre picked me. I was leading my kindergarten class through a rodeo unit and cowboys and cowgirls were a huge interest for my students. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo were just around the corner, so all of our focus was on rodeo and the old west. It was an easy decision for character development. I had no idea how popular Rowdy would become with class but welcomed their interest and told many tales over the duration of the unit, and the years of classes that followed.
3. Where did you get the idea for your latest release and tell a bit about the story?
Rowdy: Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen is my debut novel and was born from storytelling during the closing hours each day in my kindergarten class. ~ Set in the mid to late 1800’s ~ Thrust to the mercy of the Mississippi river, thirteen-year-old Rowdy floats safely away as he watches the smoke rise from his burning farmhouse. His father, dead. His brother, dead. Both gunned down in front of him by a murderous gang of bandits. Now alone in the world, his perilous journey of survival begins, challenging and shaping him into the young man his father would want him to become. Pulled from the waters, he is given a chance by a lone river Captain and his mate. Working the trade routes between St. Louis and New Orleans, he learns to navigate safe passage but more importantly identify dangers both in and on the water. Rowdy has grown strong working the river but must use his wit as well as his strength to confront a bullying crewman and survive a surprise attack by river pirates. Growing up on the Mississippi River was a start for Rowdy, but a new beginning is just around the next bend. Dodge City, Kansas proves it has its own challenges but gives Rowdy the one thing he has been longing for, companionship. He was warned about Patrick Byrne but was smart enough to procure a sickly horse from Dodge City's most powerful rancher. Rowdy's care for his new horse, Delilah, sees the blossoming of a magnificent animal and loyal friend, yet the rumble of a dark cloud forms over him. Byrne wants the horseback and will go to great lengths to get what he wants. Facing life and death decisions, Rowdy's only option is to run. Survival is what Rowdy has come to know all too well. His escape across the plains towards Lincoln, New Mexico nearly claims his life. Through a stranger's help, Rowdy recovers but is faced with questions about his rescuer's motives. Deciding to quietly move on, Rowdy finally discovers Lincoln, New Mexico, acquiring a new friend along the way. Rowdy must prove that he is who he says he is, not just to the people of Lincoln, but to himself. Rowdy is finally settling in when hired guns sent by Patrick Byrne find and confront him. Blood, bullets, and tears bring Rowdy's world to a showdown. Fighting for what was right is his code, living life for others becomes his way, and staring danger in the face is what he must do if he can truly be Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen.
4. Is there a writing routine you follow or do you write when the muse strikes?
I am too scattered in thought and activity to follow any set routine for writing, although I am constantly internalizing storylines, plot, settings, characters, etc. When I have mulled over the most current thoughts enough, I then sit down and let everything escape onto the computer. I will take notes from time to time, but mostly I play through each section of story in my head, like an internal drive-in movie. I see the scenes, the action, and I hear the dialogue. Once the ‘movie’ is finished, I usually re-watch/re-think it over multiple times. We all enjoy our favorite movies multiple times, so its similar in that the more I ‘watch’ the better the story becomes, because unlike actual movies I enjoy, I can’t reach into the screen and change what I don’t like.
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5. If you had a choice, which is your favorite to write, short stories, novellas or full-length novels?
I enjoy writing novels most of all. I love diving into a scene, fine-tuning the details so that my readers can project themselves into the action or events that I am describing. I enjoy painting pictures with words that show the reader what I am seeing. Choosing the perfect rhythm in text and words that flow with the speed of the action or the thickness of emotion take time to develop, so it is within novel writing that I find the most enjoyment.
6. Is there anything else you feel people would like to know or would be surprised to learn about you?
I was a teacher for 23 years, spending the entire time in an early childhood setting. Within my Kindergarten and PreK classes, my favorite time of year was spring because that was when we changed gears from reading stories, to making original stories. We then went a step further and brought those stories to life on screen. Over the years I have produced close to 100 short movies, all original, and all created by 4-5 year-olds. They each created a problem and solution and went through the steps of a simplified story structure that guided them through their idea. We were lucky enough to film both during the school day and after school hours. Thanks to many supportive parents we even traveled off campus and filmed on location. Our most memorable off campus shoot was at NASA. We even got to use and film on the NASA sets! If a student created a story in outer space or under water, we transformed the classroom into a green screen set and filmed there, inserting drawings or pictures that supported their desired sets. We held a movie festival for the parents and made dvds for all to take with them. The many years of movie making and story building helped pave a path for me to be awarded the Connie Wootton Excellence in Teaching Award for work with Pre-Kindergarten, which is given bi-annually by the Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools.
7. Do you write in other genres?
I have written some non-western, picture book style, children’s stories, but those currently remain in manuscript form. They are not forgotten but put aside while I continue with Rowdy. I’m sure I’ll meet the right illustrator one day and then maybe those stories will come to life as well. I also hope to explore other areas of novel writing, specifically in Science Fiction, Murder/Mystery, and possibly even YA Romance.
8. What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?
My biggest piece of advice, whether it be to my younger self, or another just getting the itch to write is to PERSEVERE and create what makes YOU happy. Ignore the ‘lists’ and wants of others and focus on the stories that come from within. Learn from those writers who have walked the path before you and keep an open mind as you hear how others have found their success. The path you make for yourself may not be the same as the authors you meet, but it is the determination and effort that you put into your work that will drive success. Remember your mistakes, but more importantly, take chances. What have you got to lose?
An interesting interview. Since I was able to be a fly on the wall while Chris was teaching, producing and writing, I can attest to the accuracy of his story and to the solid enjoyment available in his books (WNo 2 is near finishing.) We are all proud of Chris and his Award winning first novel, "Rowdy, Wild and Mean, Sharp and Keen.ReplyDelete
You are more than a fly on the wall! Thanks for your candor and willingness to be a part of the journey!Delete
An enjoyable interview, Chris. What a really fabulous way of stimulating your students' imaginations. Your enthusiasm bubbles and they were so fortunate to have such an inspirational teacher.ReplyDelete
Rowdy sounds a great character and the Mississippi is a superb backdrop for the start of his adventures. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were great favourites of mine.
Wishing you great success,
Thank you Keith. I had a lot of fun with my students over the years. They had the best ideas and I enjoyed their creativity immensely. I do miss them, but I am so excited to be on this writing journey.Delete
I enjoyed Tom and Huck's adventures as well. There are so many possibilities for adventure, danger, and discovery on the Mississippi, and it really proved a great setting for Rowdy to learn what it would take to survive on his own.
Thanks so much for reading the interview and for your comments!
I wish my son had had a teacher like you. And your advice to take chances and persevere is something every writer needs to hear. Thanks, Doris and Chris, for a good interview.ReplyDelete
Howdy Vicky. Thank you for your kind words. We have to practice what we preach, right? I appreciate your taking time to read the interview. :)Delete
Anyone who can teach kindergarten for so many years is my hero.
Good stuff! Now write a 100 more!
You can't get to 100 without finishing the first one, so I'm on the way! Thank you for the compliments and encouragement.Delete
Thanks for posting this interview. Nice to learn details about other members. Best wishes for your writing career, Chris!ReplyDelete
Thanks for stopping by Frank. Much appreciated!ReplyDelete
Wow, Chris. I am in AWE of you and the lengths you went to in stimulating the interests and learning of your classes! You are amazing, and rare, in this world! Rowdy sounds like a wonderful story. Love the cover, too. This was a great interview and I'm so thankful to Doris for doing these interviews on the blog. I really enjoyed your answers, Chris, and getting to know you!ReplyDelete
Thank you so much. My classes were so much fun that most days it didn’t feel like a job. What an awesome compliment. I am so happy for the opportunity to be a part of the blog. Thank you for taking time to read the interview. (And I’m glad you like the cover. 🤠 It took some time, but I think we got it right.)Delete
Wonderful interview, Chris! I feel as if I sat down and visited with you for a while. Thank you for sharing slice of your life with the rest of us.ReplyDelete
Thanks Mark! It was my pleasure to share. I appreciate your taking time to read the interview. I hope to visit with you and other Western Fictioneers on the trail one of these days. All the best!Delete