Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author Bruce McCandless about his new novel, In The Land Of Dead Horses. He describes his creative writing process, inspiration, and the advice he has for others.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m a sixty-year-old writer and editor who lives in Austin, Texas. I practiced law for 25 years before retiring in 2019. I grew up in and have spent most of my life in Texas, but I’ve also lived in Reading, England; New York City; and Hong Kong. I like to read and write, as one might imagine, and I try to hike, bike, and play my guitar whenever possible.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
As a fourth grader, I wrote a long story—a “novel,” I guess—about me and some of my friends, whom I imagined as being members of a World War II fighter plane squadron.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I’ve been writing for so long that I really can’t remember, but I suspect it was right after practicing my multiplication tables one day in fourth grade.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Not counting “The Adventures of the World War II Rainbow Squadron,” above, three years.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
It took me a little less time to complete In the Land of Dead Horses, but not much. I’m pretty slow!
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write In The Land Of Dead Horses?
In the Land of Dead Horses is a follow-up to a novel I wrote in 2010 called Sour Lake. It wasn’t really a Western. It was more sci-fi/horror, but midway through the novel a character showed up who immediately bent the narrative his way. That character was Texas Ranger Jewel T. Lightfoot, an irascible and plain-spoken lawman who has a habit of forcing the action—any action. The story headed west from there, and indeed Dead Horses is about as far west in Texas as you can get. Lightfoot’s a charismatic character, and he just took everyone with him—including me.
What were your biggest challenges with writing In The Land Of Dead Horses?
This is going to sound weird, but it’s a lot easier to be scary in a swamp or a dark house, with rain dripping and night falling, than in an empty and usually very sunny desert.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
When I was an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas, I worked with an alcoholic beverage commission agent who provided the inspiration for my protagonist, Jewel T. Lightfoot.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
The principal antagonist is inspired, visually at least, by the gargoyles of Notre Dame. Other influences: Dracula; “Alien”; and the Indiana Jones movies.
What is the inciting incident of In The Land Of Dead Horses?
The murder of a middle-aged Irishman after he helps a trio of Mexican nationals to find an ancient sarcophagus.
What is the main conflict of In The Land Of Dead Horses?
A powerful and horrifying ancient evil vs. a valiant but very mortal set of human beings.
Did you plot In The Land Of Dead Horses in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
A little of both. I try to have a rough idea of where I want to go, but otherwise a lot of it comes together as I proceed. For example, I know I want to drive from Austin to the beaches of California, and I know I need to head west, but I pick the route depending on which roads look interesting at the moment.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did In The Land Of Dead Horses need?
I received substantial editing support from both my publisher and several friends. Editing is basically organized criticism. Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s tough to figure out which pieces to accept and which to ignore (politely, of course). Over-editing is a thing.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Be patient with yourself. Writing anything good can be a long, difficult process. I’ve only ever had one story come to me more or less fully formed, just begging for me to write it down. It was great, but I’ve learned to count on perspiration more than inspiration.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Sure thing. I’m currently working on a non-fiction book—a short book, but a book nonetheless—about the hypothesized “Planet 9” and the way astronomers are searching for, and arguing about, it.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes, I’m proud of it. I think it moves pretty well. Of course, I’ll be happier if other people like it as well as I do, but regardless, it was worth the effort.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Personal Website: https://brucemccandless.com/
Amazon Author Central Page: https://www.amazon.com/Bruce-McCandless-III/e/B004FJPT8U%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4993225.Bruce_McCandless_III
Publishing Company Website: https://www.ninthplanetpress.com/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/bruce.mccandless.92
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