Name: Cathleen Townsend
Where are you from?
CT: I live in the beautiful Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California, between Sacramento and Tahoe. I have my very own thirteen-acre wood of mixed oak and pine, which is beyond incredible. I grew up in an LA suburb, so living on this much land is amazing. And the forest is so exquisitely lovely this time of year. For March, April, and May, it’s like living in Hobbiton.
Of course, then the grass turns brown in June because summer drought is normal in California. But even then it’s still pretty, in a more understated way.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
CT: It was right after I turned fifty. Up until then, I’d never been able to write a story I thought was worth keeping. But it just blazed in front of me that if I didn’t start writing now, I’d have to give up the idea that it would ever happen. Then I sat down and wrote seven novels in eighteen months. It was like the stories exploded out of me.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
CT: When I finished that first novel spree, I figured I was a writer. Unfortunately, I had an uphill climb in front of me before I became any kind of editor.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
CT: I love fairy tales and family history, and that led to my first three novels retelling Hansel and Gretel in Depression-era southern California. I’d just finished a couple years of taking oral histories with all my Greatest Generation relatives and writing them down. Suddenly I had access to all the details a writer needs—the stuff that doesn’t make it into the history books—and the desperation of the time seemed to suit the Brothers Grimm tale.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
CT: Hmm…that’s tough. Hopefully pretty, but not so much that it distracts from the story. Writers I admire include Tolkien, McKillip, McKinley, Pratchett, Diana Wynne Jones, and Roger Zelazny. More classic favorites include Austen, Dickens, Alcott, Kipling, MacDonald, and Shakespeare.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
CT: I’m getting a new cover for my short story collection, Dragon Hoard and Other Tales of Faerie.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
CT: Dragon Hoard is a collection of fairy tales, mostly urban, a couple historical, and two high fantasy. I tried to give all of them unexpected twists in settings and plot. Only one is a retelling; all the rest are tales peopled with traditional fantasy characters—a dragon, pixies, a gargoyle, or a troll—but I put them in unusual situations, with non-traditional problems. For example in the title story, I have a dragon in the modern age who needs a stockbroker. Nobody carries money around in gold coins anymore—we all use credit cards, so he needs a human go-between to do what dragons do: amass wealth.
Fiona: Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
CT: Each story in the collection has its unique theme, one often found in fairy tales, even if it’s simply to stay sharp because Faerie is perilous. In the end, the tales are meant to entertain, but hopefully they fill a similar niche that fairy tales did in the past. More than anything, they’re about keeping your head and your sense of wonder.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know or events in your own life?
CT: Uh, none at all, because I’ve never actually met a dragon, troll, or wizard. And even though magic seems wonderful when you’re reading about it in a book, to be an interesting read, you have to do some rather terrible things to these make-believe characters you’ve come to love. With the exception of my tale “Phoenix,” most of it is stuff you’d never wish on someone in real life. They might not survive it.
Fiona: What book has influenced your life the most?
CT: The Lord of the Rings is the clear winner there. Tolkien was a miracle when I first read him as a fourteen-year-old. I couldn’t believe that any book could be that good. Fortunately for me, the professor was a profound enough writer that my enjoyment of it has grown as I have—one of the hardest things to nail as a writer.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest, and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
CT: Diana Wallace Peach writes some fine epic fantasy, and I quite like the work of LJ Cohen, who uses a more urban setting, one where someone from our world crosses into Faerie. Both are indie fantasy writers whom I highly recommend for their grasp of character and plot.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
CT: Absolutely. I’m in too deep to quit. What could possibly replace having supreme cosmic power in my make-believe worlds? There’s nothing like it.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
CT: No, I was pretty confident about Dragon Hoard. All the stories were veterans of Absolute Write’s Share Your Work sub-forum, and that isn’t an easy room. We’re tough on each other’s work, not in a destructive way, but to get everything out of the story that we possibly can. And then I had some very talented beta readers review the collection as a whole. All that was a nice confidence booster when I went to click that publish button.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
CT: Sure, here’s the title story, “Dragon Hoard.” It’s a quick read—only 683 words.
I shifted my tail, and several coins rattled down the enormous mound of gleaming treasure. Impressive, in a sense. More wealth than many countries had at their disposal. But there was so much more to be made out there and nobody carried it around in coins anymore. Everyone had credit cards and bank accounts. And I couldn’t get them on my own.
I turned my attention to my current broker. He’d just handed me a summary of the past quarter, and it was encouraging. Not only because it showed a healthy profit, (I expected that), but because he had taken his agreed-upon five percent, and not a penny more. This one was definitely smarter than his three predecessors.
“The spike in gold prices has definitely helped,” he was saying. “Our hostile takeovers are all well in hand.”
I referred back to the figures. “None of them show fifty-one percent.” I snorted a smoke ring to remind him profit wasn’t everything. I already had wealth. Power was something else.
“You’ve just got to be patient,” he said, adjusting his tie, and his scent communicated sincerity along with the expected surge of fear. “If we do this too fast, prices surge and your net gain is lost. And other shareholders may unite against you if they see it happening too fast. We’re trying to optimize your profit potential.” I barely stopped myself from blowing another smoke ring. I hated business-speak. At least I had stopped his inane chatter about paradigm shifts and synergy.
It was just as well I had turned my mind to other avenues. “I want you to investigate currencies for me.”
He nodded. “I was going to suggest it. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as making money off of money.” He embellished this with some more syllables and promised to bring me a plan next week.
I spent the intervening time investigating venture capital investments and privately held companies which were for sale outright. Nothing there. They were selling for a good reason, and I for one could read the death rattle in the neat columns of figures. And I wasn’t about to risk money on gold mines in countries that allowed strikes.
At our appointed time, my broker came to my cave and handed me his currency proposal. I gave it some serious attention. Interesting. Creative, and not too dependent on hair-trigger timing, although it went without saying he’d be watching it carefully.
“I like it. Your plan for the euro seems promising.” He stood a little straighter, which was a relief. I liked them submissive, but cringing annoyed me. “And I’ve worked up an idea for precious metals.” I indicated a proposal on the left side of the antique walnut desk.
I settled back as he read, scratching my shoulder against a particularly fine ruby-encrusted goblet. Nothing settled an itch quite like rubies. I made myself a mental note to keep it back during the next phase. My broker cleared his throat.
“It’s elegant in its simplicity, sir, but we can’t do this.”
“Why not?” I hadn’t missed anything important when it came to money in centuries.
“A plan of this magnitude…flooding the market to depress the price of gold so we can buy up more…” His voice trailed off, and he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. “It’s wrong, sir. A plan like this could cause massive instability. Wars have started over less.”
I suppressed a head shake; he was already afraid enough. I supposed this was the liability that came with an honest stockbroker; none of his predecessors would have hesitated. “Very well. I will come up with a new plan.”
He turned to go and froze in agony as the flames enveloped his body. It was time for lunch anyway.
Damn. Now I needed to find an honest, unprincipled stockbroker.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
CT: I enjoy drafting far more than I do revision, which is a shame because I’ve put way more work into revision than I ever did into the first drafts. But my more recent work hasn’t needed as much editing as my early stuff, so I’m hoping for a better drafting-to-revision ratio in time.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
CT: Only once. My seventh novel, California Trail Rose, took place, not surprisingly, on the California Trail. All my other books had characters who were already in California, which is a setting I know very well. I just couldn’t write the tale, not just from pictures on the internet. So I talked to my husband, and we took a week and drove the trail, camping out of the back of the truck, which was still far more comfortable than how my great-great-great grandmother had it. We hit all the major stops like Independence Rock, Fort Laramie, and the City of Rocks. That last is the southwest corner of Idaho, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. We even got to take the trail in early summer, which is when my characters would have traveled it.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
CT: I paint my own covers in acrylics, but I’m having Kim at Deranged Doctor Designs handle the font. She should have Dragon Hoard back for me this coming week, and then I’ll have a snazzy new version up. It’s still free, so if you want the improved model, you can get it with no problems. The link to all the retailers is on my site:
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead?
CT: I suppose I’d like Benedict Cumberbatch to play the dragon. He did an excellent Smaug in The Hobbit.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
CT: Revise until you can’t stand it anymore, and then put the book aside for six months. Write another one. Then revise again, and repeat until you can see your work mature. Don’t be in a huge hurry to publish. Make sure it’s something you’ll still be proud of in ten years.
My novels are finally reaching that point. I’ll start releasing them in 2018, beginning with Snow White and the Civil War.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
CT: Yes, it was Go, Dog, Go, and I was three years old. I still remember that moment when I realized that d-o-g made dog. It felt like I could suddenly do real magic.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
CT: Sure, it’s at https://cathleentownsend.com. I’ve got different sections for my books, writing tips, social media how-to’s, author interviews, and book reviews, although I think my focus is going to shift mostly to blogging my short stories and promoting other fantasy authors. But first I’ve got to finish the social media conference I’m still in the middle of. We’ve already covered Twitter and Facebook–with Pinterest, blogging, and newsletter building still to come. Please feel free to stop by and see if anything piques your interest.
Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Fiona.