C.T. Markee – Otherworld Tales

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Otherworld Tales: Irish the Demon Slayer is a middle-grade fantasy-adventure. 12-year-old Irish thinks he’s an ordinary kid — until trees start talking to him and an old woman tells him he’s chosen to defend the mystical Otherworld. He blows off the prophesy until a demon kidnaps his kid sister. Then Irish and his two best friends, Streak and Huff, time hope to this besieged world of Celtic mythology to rescue her.

Tell us something about yourself.

Born and raised in San Francisco, I’ve been writing since I published my first family newspaper at the age of 12. It prompted my parents to buy me a Royal portable typewriter, a gift that encouraged my writing through high school and college. After graduating from the University of California in Berkeley, I joined the Bay Area technology boom, a choice that helped me support and raise a family of six boys and three girls. My interest and ability as a writer contributed to my success as a technical manager. Engineers hated to write, while I reveled in it.

With my family grown, I retired and left Silicon Valley in 2001. A University extension class on Creativity launched me into eight years of creative writing classes, workshops and conferences and a new career writing poetry, flash fiction, film reviews and short stories, which has now evolved into my current project – pre-teen novels.

My whole life has been embedded in Irish culture. The central character in my book, Peter (Irish) Kehoe, is named after my maternal great-grandfather, who was born in Ireland and immigrated to this country in the midst of the great potato famine, circa 1850. When I was growing up in San Francisco, we lived in an Irish neighborhood. Kehoe relatives, Irish nuns, priests and brothers surrounded me. Our high school motto was and still is “The Fightin’ Irish.” The fascinating Irish poet and IRA rebel, Ella Young, who conversed with animals, trees and even rocks, inspired the talking trees in my story. And finally, in the midst of writing the book, I toured Ireland to see the landscape where the famous Celtic warrior, Cuchulain, fought his battles and I visited Tara, where I placed the castle of Aine, queen of the fairies.

What inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to capture the summers I spent in San Geronimo, California, wandering the hills, forests and creeks with my two best friends. They ended up in the story as Streak and Huff. That time is still vivid in my memory. Back then, the area was open countryside We were 12-years-old, so middle-grade was a natural target audience for the story. Some part of me still exists back then.

Fantasy was an important part of my life as a child. My father transformed our living room – dinning room into a fantastical world every Christmas. Many of my childhood games were creations of my fantasy. My first significant reading experience was the complete works of L. Frank Baum’s fabulous land of Oz. In retrospect, there are more similarities than differences between Irish the Demon Slayer and Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. Both protagonists visit a fantastical place, get help from friends, overcome obstacles, defeat a super-evil adversary and return home victorious. Writing a fantasy novel allows me to relive the best parts of my childhood.

How did you choose the title?

The protagonist, Peter Kehoe, is nicknamed Irish. I wanted that name in the title. When I learned about the Mystical Irish Otherworld, the home of fairies, leprechauns and the spirits of the Irish dead, I knew that had to be the venue for the story, so it was important to include it as the title. Finally, the title needed to portray the intense action scenes in the book; so “demon slayer” was born.

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

I had suffered through 70+ rejections for my first book, so when the rejections for this book began arriving and the count reached about thirty, I decided to publish the book myself. I created a publishing entity, Moonview Press and hired a professional children’s book editor and later a book designer. I was competing with traditional publishers, so I wanted a professional product. I found that publishing via POD is easy compared with marketing your own trade book.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?

Writing was one of my strengths as a technical manager, but I suppressed the urge to write in order to make a living. Before I retired, my wife and I attended a class on Creativity at the University of California at Santa Cruz. We used Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way as a guide and we both discovered an interest in art, she chose painting and I chose writing. That began several years of creative writing classes, conferences and workshops.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I write in intense bursts of focused energy. Our third bedroom is my office and the door closed signals my wife that I’m unavailable. I’m constantly at war with distractions, most of them created by me. I believe in the “butt in chair” system.

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

My protagonist’s name, Irish, specifies a type of character we all know: valiant, competent, a bit reckless, looks on the bright side and has a quirky sense of humor.His two friends, Streak and Huff, have names that relate to their super powers when in the Otherworld. Streak can run at supersonic speeds. Huff can blow a hurricane from his mouth. Later in the storyline, when Irish’s sister, Kathy, joins the team, she Irish gives her the nickname Bright, because she is precocious.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

First time novelists tend to over-write, repeat and recap and I was no exception. I ended up removing seven chapters from my first draft manuscript. This sequel is moving along much more quickly. I was pleased with my publishing process with one exception. I would go directly to Lightning Source for POD rather than CreateSpace in order to avoid their artificial restrictions.

Tell us about the research that went into the book.

As soon as Peter Kehoe became “Irish,” I started looking for information and accumulating books on Irish lore. I quickly discovered that a culture of oral history depicts the same event a zillion different ways. I spent about two years concurrent with my writing, digging through books that were mostly about fairies and leprechauns. I wanted the most authentic characters I could find and I hit pay dirt when I discovered a treatise titled “Cuchulain of Muirthemne” by Lady Augusta Gregory, a peer and colleague of Yeats. Her renditions were somewhat convoluted, but I outlined the stories and charted the characters in detail and used this to create my own versions of the Celtic episodes. I was able to verify my work later when Marie Heaney (wife of Seanus Heaney of Beowulf translation fame) published her book of Irish legends.

Irish had to undergo some testing to qualify for his journey to the Otherworld. The answer came from another discovery, Blamires’ book on Celtic tree mysteries. Later, traveling in Ireland to get the feel of the land, I purchased detailed contour maps of Ireland and a wonderful book about Tara by Michael Slavin. I wanted to meet Michael, but unfortunately, he was gone the day we were at Tara.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

This is an unfair question. I read many, many books, fiction and non-fiction. However, I read middle-grade novels specifically to learn what works and what doesn’t and to size up my competition. I also only read an author once. Two obvious favorites are Tolkien and Rowling. Just a few others who have really impressed me are: Pullman – The Golden Compass; Choldenko – Al Capone Does My Shirts; Riordan – The Lightning Thief; Collins – The Hunger Game; Klages – The Green Glass Sea; Thompson – The New Policeman; Nix – Abhorsen. There are a lot more, too numerous to list.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

A number of readers requested a second book about Irish and his friends. I’m more than half way through a first draft of an Otherworld sequel with a target to publish it next summer. Mt. Shasta, California is an important venue and character in this story. I’ll have the first chapter up on my website very soon.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

Read voraciously, especially in the genre you want to write in. Get to know your target audience. Join and participate with your local community of writers. Join or form a critique group. It’ll keep you sane. And above all, keep writing.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

A ten or eleven-year-old boy. I was aghast after reading an essay by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times about boys’ declining interest in reading and how it limited their success in school, career and life. I wrote this book especially to entice boys to read, although it’s really a book for all pre-teen kids.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

The best information is on my website http://www.charlesmarkee.com. However there is a brief description of the book on Amazon. It’s also available as a Kindle eBook. Prime members of Amazon can borrow the ebook free of charge.

As a special promotion, I made the eBook version available for Amazon Kindle Prime Members at no charge for two days at the end of May. There were 1,003 downloads of Irish the Demon Slayer.