Interview – J.B. Bergstad, author of the Hyde’s Corner Trilogy
Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by J B Bergstad, author of the epic historical fiction trilogy, HYDE’S CORNER. Welcome to the Showcase Lounge, J.B.
Jim: I’m fine with Jim, but I’ll answer to almost anything.
SPS: For any of our readers that haven’t come across any of your work previously, can you take a moment to tell us all a little about yourself?
Jim: I was what was referred to at the time as a “wise-ass punk” growing up. I was asked to leave school for the final time as a sophomore in high school. I don’t recommend that road to anyone, it’s an invitation to disaster. My life could have gone that route but for a friend. A friend I have remained in contact with to this day. I was also lucky enough to meet the woman I would go on to marry for life in 1959, in March we will celebrate 55 years together. Since then I have worked as a roustabout in the oil fields, door to door salesman, drive-in movie usher, liquor store clerk, truck driver, firefighter, Guest Relations Department Supervisor for a major television network and ended my varied career with thirty years in the Interstate trucking business serving in sales and management until starting my own trucking company in 1980. I Retired the first time in 1998, then again in 2000 and for the last time in 2002. I am a self-educated man, reading profusely and always dreaming of making a better life. I’ve played at writing short stories, television show scripts, etc., but when I retired for good I began to study with a passion. I’ve attended many adult education classes in creative writing and studied with the Long Ridge Writers Group and Gotham Writers Workshop as well as online university courses . Together my wife and I have raised five children who have gifted us with fourteen grandchildren. These children have in turn produced five great-grandchildren which round out the Bergstad family tree so far. I have published in several prominent literary magazines and journals including The Monarch Review, Scissors and Spackle, Midwest Literary Magazine and The Feathered Flounder among others. My first published collection of short stories won the Readers Favorite Gold Medal for Best Fiction of 2009. A New Revised Edition of that book, “Screwing the Pooch” released early 2013 and is truly a unique short story experience. Books I & II of The Hyde’s Corner Trilogy have received over thirty five star reviews as has my newest Short Story compilation, Doors to Perdition. If you like horror without fantasy, this is the collection for you. All four books are available here at Self Published Showcase and of course my website and most major ebook retail outlets.
SPS: You started to consider writing as a career after retiring. But was the love and desire to write there long before?
Jim: Yes, it was and I suppose I jumped the gun a little by answering that in the question above.
SPS: When it’s time to write, do you have any perfect writing conditions?
Jim: Yes, anytime I can turn on a computer and find a keyboard that works. I’ve heard so many times the phrase: “I write because I have, too.” Soon after, I hear complaints like: “I feel terrible when I can’t write, when I have “writer’s block.” I don’t believe there is such a thing as “writers block.” I write because I love to write and can think of nothing I’d rather do with my time. For those who think they suffer “writers block” they might visit my world of “WHAT IF.” Pick any subject, say a doorway or window fame and say to yourself: “WHAT IF….”
SPS: In the first book of the Hyde’s Corner trilogy we meet Selmer Burks. Can you tell us about your leading man?
Jim: Selmer Burks is the most compelling character you will ever love to hate and hate to love. He is a contradiction of emotions and actions. He is relentless, cruel, loving, helpful, evil, without mercy, he hates, but never for the sake of hate alone. He loves and protects those weaker than himself and though he feels his soul is lost, he finds a conscience that constantly badgers him with invective over what his upbringing tells him he is violating.
SPS: How did you set about creating a character that can be a monster, but is still someone the reader can connect to? One where they really care about the decisions he makes and the consequences of those decisions.
Jim: Selmer Burks boiled down to the simplest of terms is: you, me and everyone else we live among. We all have the same abilities to do good or evil, to love and hate, to do good and take revenge. We have the capacity to do everything Selmer Burks can do. The difference and what makes the reader connect emotionally while involved with the storyline is that fact. But, I have also made Selmer Burks into a man almost invincible, huge, muscular from wrestling longhorn cattle to the ground for branding or tick removal, etc. A man who seems incapable of being beaten or killed. In creating this type of character the reader can readily recognize she or he is reading pure fiction and sit back and enjoy.
SPS: Was there anything in particular that gave you inspiration for the epic tale?
Jim: Early in the 90s I thought of one line of dialogue: “A man can’t stop a pack of fools from doing foolish things.” That line kept running around in my head until it was driving me crazier than I already am. I finally wrote a flash fiction piece creating what would soon become the character Selmer Burks.
SPS: Selmer suffers loss at almost every turn. What sort of man is he by the end of the first installment? As bitter as one could expect?
Jim: Selmer is not so much bitter as determined to protect the only thing he sees as his family. Having lived through the horror of watching his entire family wiped out, he has adopted Hyde’s Corner and Sundowner County as his family. He is determined to cleanse the sacred or perhaps hallowed ground, baptized by the blood of his family, of what he considers the Hyde plague.
SPS: Are there any other characters we should be on the lookout for? Do you have any favorites?
Jim: Hal Owen, Sid Tassel, Sara Tassel, Tom, as he grows, but as readers will see Tom and Sara become the prominent players in Book’s II and III. My favorite characters, with the exception of Selmer himself, would be Sid and Sara Tassel, Millie Saint Jardine, who I didn’t mention above, and Doctor Herman Beaman, another major character I didn’t mention above.
SPS: Was it always the plan to produce a trilogy? Or did the story just grow and grow?
Jim: Hyde’s Corner took on a life of its own. When I finished, with Book III fleshed out, I had too much for one novel. Books I & II numbered some 520 pages and 159,000 words. I had thought to publish, but was reluctant because it was cumbersome at best. My cyber-friend, novelist DJ Swykert gave me the idea for the trilogy.
SPS: Book II: In the name of Vengeance begins with some redemption, but Burks’ hard rule continues. Are there any decisions that Selmer truly regrets?
Jim: The tragedy that occurs at the conclusion of Book I drives Burks over the edge. From that moment on he could be considered legally insane. His insanity is well hidden, but there is no place in that insanity for regret only satisfaction of what he perceives as evil done his “family.” Due to iron self-control his insanity is held in check, but as he consumes more alcohol that self-control slips more and more as time goes on. I provide hints along the way in Book II and it becomes quite clear by the mid-point of that tome that Burks is not to be trifled with, for at any given moment, his rage, a product of his mental illness, can break through the wall of containment he has created. Alcohol becomes the real trigger of Book II and its conclusion.
SPS: Can you talk to us about how the relationship grows between Selmer and his grandson?
Jim: Burks is the only mother-father figure Tom can recall. All that he has is provided by his grandpa. Selmer Burks cherishes his grandson, finding similarities in the boy’s looks, bone structure, rapid growth and learning abilities. These characteristics convince Burks that his family’s strong blood has destroyed what might have remained of Hyde taint and he almost smothers the boy with love. Tom’s love for his grandpa is like the love he would’ve felt for natural mother and father. Tom looks up to Burks because he is huge and strong, fearless, respected and keeps the peace with nothing more than a soft word or for the ignorant or stranger, a fist so brutal it requires no repeat performance. But if the situation calls for a gun, Burks is quite capable of swift action resulting in even swifter death to those who oppose him.
SPS: What sort of reader do you feel the trilogy would appeal to?
Jim: Originally, I thought this would appeal only to men, eighteen and up. After quite a few reviews by women, I have learned it is a book they, too, can get into and thoroughly enjoy. This surprise is more than I could have hoped for at any time during the writing, editing period. In some reviews the reviewers remark they can’t wait for Book III to see the story carry on.
SPS: What can we expect from Book III, due out this year?
Jim: As readers learn in Book II, Tom has inherited a bit of his grandpa’s unstable personality. As the book comes to a close his ravishing thirst for vengeance is obvious. But Tom realizes he needs seasoning and experience. He needs to think more like Selmer Burks; with cunning and quickness his enemies will not be able to see coming or compete. For this he realizes he needs to learn and to employ the trait his grandpa has drilled into him throughout his years of growth, patience.
SPS: You’ve spoken to us about the trilogy taking ten years of your life to complete, where there any moments you regretted starting?
Jim: Toward the end, I was exhausted and thought I was out of ideas for, at the time, the sequel which would allow the reader to see Thomas Silas Burks morph into a man no sane man would want to deal with in any violent situation. But as I stated above, after a short respite, a trip to my “WHAT IF” world started to kick in and the ideas just built one upon the other.
SPS: You also have a horror, short story collection published: Doors to Perdition. What could someone expect if they picked up a copy today?
Jim: If the reader is looking for monsters, vampires, zombies, alien creatures, etc. Doors to Perdition is not the book for them. Doors is about “real horror.” The kind we create for ourselves either because we are put in a position of impossible escape or place ourselves in that position. What do you do if you or your family are threatened by outside forces? The short stories tell tales of people not necessarily bad, but perhaps forced into bad circumstance . Some have their difficulties created by others and some create their own hell on earth. Day to day problems can become catastrophic if a wrong decision is made at a critical place in space and time. And then there are those who are simply evil and do evil for its own sake. Those whose blood lust cannot be sated.
SPS: What can we expect next from the pen of J.B. Bergstad once Book 3 of the trilogy is with us? Will it be the something similar or are you keen to produce something very different?
Jim: I have nine other novels in various stages of development. Possibly two westerns, one of those is ify at best at this time. I created a character in an exercise I was assigned during a writing course that intrigues me. The working title of that book would be Mace Talon. But before another western I’ll finish one of several options on the table: Rainy Days and Deadly Ways, a mystery-suspense thriller, Madness, another mystery-suspense thriller, A Wake for the Dead, a psychological thriller with a supernatural twist, The Stopper, a suspense-thriller, Hank Straker, S.A., a straight mystery drama and The Murder Man, a working title, the story of a professional killer who works for organized crime, but keeps his identity a secret, communicating through the personals in the classified section of various newspapers which he changes on a weekly basis. His career and methods are flawless until he is stiffed for his fee after crafting a rather exotic method of killing the man he has been hired to kill. This infuriates the killer and he makes the mistake of rectifying the situation personally.
SPS: Was the Self-Published/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?
Jim: For several years I tried to get an agent interested in my work, but looking back I can see that I wasn’t ready, my work wasn’t of the caliber they could sell and Hyde’s Corner was still in development. My short stories improved more and more with practice, but I wasn’t “literary” enough for the high-brow magazines, most of which aren’t even around anymore. My stuff will never appear in The New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly, although I did seem to prick the interest of Atlantic Monthly’s editor with my short story Milton’s Pickle. The problem with the story was it was too “blue collar” for the silk stocking set the Atlantic Monthly pursues.
SPS: Has the experience so far been all that you thought it would be?
Jim: I love the freedom of self-publishing. I love going to the trouble of putting a quality piece of work on the market. We still have too many “authors” who are not professional enough to be professional in the presentation of their work. They don’t want to spend the money for a professional edit, they don’t self-edit, they have friends and family and consider that an objective opinion. They don’t read enough, study enough. I once thought I was endorsed by God Almighty and could do no wrong, I’ve been there and learned the hard way by subjecting my work to harsh criticism. It isn’t fun, but it’s the only way to improve and help make the self-publishing industry the recognized leader it should be in innovative fiction and non-fiction work.
SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to get into writing, what would it be?
Jim: First read, read, read. Writing is a craft and it can be learned. The one ingredient you must have, however, is imagination and that ties into my “WHAT IF” concept. Write something every day. If you’re working get up earlier than usual and spend a half-hour or hour writing something, anything. Make up scenarios in your mind. See someone on the street who stands out? See he or she and think “WHAT IF.” At home at night take time for the family, but make sure you have some time to write down the ideas that came to you that day. If you want to write forget the “because I have to write.” Write because you love to write and if you don’t love to write than forget it and find another hobby.
SPS: Before we bring this interview to a close, it’s your chance to name-drop. Anyone who you feel is deserving of more recognition at present or someone whose writing you have recently enjoyed? Now is your chance to spread the word…
Jim: I assume you’re talking about people I respect and admire in terms of their writing and love of the business, but no names like me, not big names like Lee Child or John Sanford or Steven King. My long time friend and brother in spirit, Donald E. Mosher who writes what I term “soft fiction.” You’ll have to read his books available on Amazon.com and his website http://www.capnmosh.com The other gentleman I can recommend is DJ Swykert. His books Death of Anyone, Children of the Enemy, Maggie Elizabeth Harrington, Alpha Wolves are all available at http://www.magicmasterminds.com
SPS: Thank you for joining us today Jim, and good luck in the future.
Jim: Thank you for having me and I hope I didn’t get too carried away with my answers.
SPS: For more information on J.B. Bergstad and his work, please do visit his Author page here.