Interview – Author of Puha, J. Bradley Van Tighem
Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by J. Bradley Van Tighem, author of Puha: Book 1 in the Master of the Wild series. Welcome to the Showcase, Brad.
J. Bradley Van Tighem:
Thanks for the opportunity, Paul, and thanks for all the great publicity and exposure you provide for Indie authors.
SPS: For any of our readers that haven’t come across your work previously, can you take a moment to tell us all a little about yourself?
Like many authors, I’m just starting the second half of my life. I’ve been very happily married for over 25 years and have two awesome teen-aged boys who keep my weekends busy with their sports activities, which I love being a part of. I’ve been a software developer (i.e. programmer) for close to thirty years, so writing gives the other side of my brain something to do.
SPS: What are your perfect writing conditions, and how often do you write?
I’m a night owl, so writing at night when everyone else is asleep is perfect for me. I tend to write in spurts. I do a lot of my first draft writing in the fall months, during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) mostly, which is in November. I feel it’s important to dump the story on paper (or I should say, into a computer document) quickly so it doesn’t lose that sense of continuity. The rest of the year I’m writing to fill in gaps or editing or marketing!
SPS: Can you put your finger on the moment where you decided that you wanted to publish your work?
When the first draft of PUHA was done, which took about five years, I discovered that it wouldn’t be too difficult (or expensive) to self-publish it. I received a ton of help from my editor who walked me through the whole process. There was simply no reason not to and I was already starting on the second book in the series.
SPS: Why do you think it is that you have decided to work in the historical fiction genre, and do you see yourself ever writing in other genres?
I have always been fascinated by Native American cultures since I was a boy. I remember doing a school project about some of the famous war chiefs: Tecumseh, Osceola, Cochise. Also, I was inspired by two of my favorite movies, ‘Dances with Wolves’ and ‘Last of the Mohicans.’ That being said, I wanted to write about the Native American world BEFORE the white man came, because I always wondered what is was like and very few books or movies have covered this seemingly forgotten time in American history. I found the Comanches in Texas were the most compelling of the Native American tribes because of their fighting prowess and adaptations as a horse culture. With regards to other genres, maybe I’ll write a story about baseball someday.
SPS: Puha is the first book in the Master of the Wild series, can you tell us about the novel?
The story centers around two primary characters, Many Wolves, a white boy whose parents were killed by Comanches and Laughing Crow, the leader of the Nokoni Comanches. Many Wolves is adopted by Lipan Apaches, but is forced to escape to the harsh desert of Western Texas when Laughing Crow threatens to capture him. In the wilderness, Many Wolves trains three hawks to hunt for him, which help him to survive. Eventually, when he gets a little older, his path crosses Laughing Crow’s once again, forcing an eventual confrontation.
SPS: Where did the inspiration for such a fantastic sounding idea for a story come from?
As a boy, I loved survival stories like ‘My Side of the Mountain’ and ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’ and often imagined what it would be like to live in the wilderness. Since Comanches and Harris Hawks (my favorite bird of prey) were both indigenous to Texas, it gave me the idea that I could write a story which featured both of them prominently.
SPS: How much of the story is based on real historical facts, and how much research was involved?
All my characters and events are fictional, but the story’s setting required a lot of research on the Comanche and Apache cultures, the plants, animals, and geography of Texas, and falconry (training hawks). The book took five years to write because much of that time was spent researching the world and subject matter I used in the story. My hope is that my portrayal of the Comanche and Apache cultures is somewhat historically accurate because I want the story to be believable. As a historical fiction writer, you walk a tightrope between what is historically accurate and creating a vivid, entertaining story. You don’t want to shake your reader out of the world by introducing unbelievable elements.
SPS: ‘Many Wolves’ is the protagonist of the story – how have your experiences shaped the boy we meet?
There is a large part of me in Many Wolves. When I was young, I used to play with ants, catch lizards and snakes, and watch birds in my backyard. Also, like Many Wolves, my grandfather was very much an avid nature lover. A couple of the stories that his grandfather tells are in fact from my grandfather.
SPS: Who else should readers be on the lookout for?
The antagonist, Laughing Crow, of course. From modern standards, he seems like a brutal, violent person. But from 1700s Texas standards, he’s a war leader trying to do what’s best for his village and survive in a violent world. I want my antagonist to be somewhat likeable. A villain who is pure evil just isn’t interesting to me, or believable.
SPS: What type of reader would you say would enjoy Puha?
Anyone who enjoys westerns and/or stories about nature. Not traditional John Wayne westerns, but grittier ones like ‘Unforgiven’ and ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales.’ There are no cowboys in PUHA, but it’s still a western. Also, if you enjoyed ‘Dances With Wolves’ and ‘Last of the Mohicans’, then you should give PUHA a try.
SPS: The second instalment in the series, Mestizo, is due out this year. What can you tell us about it?
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers for PUHA. MESTIZO takes place roughly seven years after PUHA ends. One of the main characters is Thorn Bird, Laughing Crow’s son. He is a half-breed (mestizo), half-Mexican and half-Comanche. Because of this, he feels that he is inadequate in his father’s eyes and is constantly trying to prove himself as a warrior and leader. In his mind, capturing and killing Many Wolves is the only way to earn his father’s approval. Meanwhile, Many Wolves meets some new friends and develops a love interest in MESTIZO. The second book is fast-paced like the second-half of PUHA and is a bit shorter in length.
SPS: Are you finding the writing process any easier second time around?
Absolutely. I know my world intimately now, so I don’t need to research as much. PUHA took five years to write, while MESTIZO was five months! I don’t consider myself a polished writer by any means. Writing can be torturous, but it gets a little easier the more you do it. I rely heavily on editors and my writing group to correct a lot of the mistakes I make. I keep them quite busy!
SPS: Have you found the pacing of the book different to Puha; was there less of a need for introductions and explanations?
I think some readers will find that PUHA is slow-moving at the start, but it definitely picks up the pace in the second half. MESTIZO continues this rapid pacing throughout the whole story because most of the world has been established. MESTIZO is very much a survival story filled with plenty of visceral moments like PUHA.
SPS: Are there any new characters that you are excited about?
I’m excited about exploring Thorn Bird’s character. He has a lot of his father in him, but is also very different. He’s definitely more frightening and unpredictable than his father. Also, one of my favorite characters from PUHA returns – Malone – and plays a pivotal role in MESTIZO.
SPS: Do you already have an idea of how the story will continue into Tejano (the 3rd in the series) or are you seeing where it takes you?
Yes, I’ve written most of it already. It takes place roughly ten years after MESTIZO. I expand the world to include Mexicans from San Antonio and the first Texas Rangers. Many Wolves discovers more about his white heritage in TEJANO. That’s about all I can say right now without spoiling the first two books.
SPS: We do like to take a look at covers and the stories behind them. Can you tell us about how your covers for The Master of the Wild series came together?
The cover for PUHA was created by Zak Hennessey. I wanted to have Laughing Crow on the cover because I feel he can sell books. Also, it’s a dark cover which tells the reader that the story has dark elements in it. Texas in the 1700s was a desolate, violent world and I feel that mood is reflected in the cover. The cover for MESTIZO was created by Maxi Quy and features Laughing Crow’s son, Thorn Bird. I’m hoping Maxi will do a TEJANO cover for me in the near future, because I really like his work.
SPS: What can we expect after Mestizo from the pen/keyboard of J. Bradley Van Tighem?
I hope to finish writing and eventually publish TEJANO. After that, I have a few ideas for a fourth book, but it all depends on feedback I get from readers.
SPS: Was the Self-Published/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?
Yes. I’ve heard so many horror stories about agent rejections that I just didn’t want to go there, especially as an unproven author. I don’t expect my writing will allow me to quit my day job, but if a few people out there enjoy my stories, that’s reward enough for me.
SPS: Has the experience so far been all that you thought it would be?
It’s been an enjoyable ride so far. We’ll see how the reviews go! Frankly, I’m amazed that I actually published a book. If you would have told me ten years ago that I would write and publish a novel, I would have laughed. Now that I know the ropes a little bit, I love the pure creativity that writing provides. Self-publishing is a wonderful way for authors to get their creations out in the world with very little financial risk.
SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to get into writing, what would it be?
Find a critique group to help you. I get a lot of good advice from my writing group. PUHA would not have been possible without their contributions to the story. Also, give NaNoWriMo a try in November. It allows free-form writing, which is the best way to write, in my opinion. I’ve heard many authors talk about tapping into the subconscious mind to create stories and NaNoWriMo provides the perfect vehicle for that.
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…
A shout-out to fellow Indie authors Nicholas Rossis, T. F. Walsh, and Alexandra Amalova for following me on Twitter. Also, a big thanks to my writing group (Amber, Nathan, Brandan, Kerry) for all their invaluable contributions. I hope you guys get your books out there too!
SPS: Thank you for joining us today Brad, and all the best for the future.
Thank you Paul. It was my pleasure.
SPS: For more information on J. Bradley Van Tighem and his work, please do visit his Author page here.