Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
My name is Charles Cassady Jr. (although I rather like dreaming up far-out pseudonyms I may likely never use). I am currently 55 but I like to say I have the income of a teenager.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I was born and spent the vast majority of my life in an unfashionable, faded manufacturing town called Cleveland, Ohio. Now better known as the city close to where LeBron James came from.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
Well, when one grows up in a place like Cleveland, one tends to think of other places. And I found early on that books were marvelous ways of getting to those other places – even imaginary ones. I read voraciously on all sorts of exotic and wide-ranging material – I think I might have been ten or eleven when I found William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” at my grandparents’ home and read it through. More to the point, though, was that my family indulged me trips to libraries all over the county. When I wasn’t borrowing books, I was inspecting the used-book sales they held on a monthly basis. For an adolescent such as myself, the idea of going into a marketplace with just small change and walking out with a shopping bagful of amazing books was very empowering. I bought tremendous quantities of books – mostly nonfiction. With my book-buying power far exceeding my shelf space, I soon starting applying arbitrary rules about what books I allowed myself to hoarde. They HAD to have an index. The author could not have written any other previous books that I had not read… Finally, I tried to restrict myself to buying only books I found autographed…So, even before internet-sales sites, I found tons of books that are autographed. My house is filled with them now. I suppose in the end I would either become a bookseller or an author. In the last ten years I’ve managed to produce six works of nonfiction.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
In early 2019 my first photo-oriented book comes out “Mardi Gras in Kodachrome,” created in partnership with Mary Lynn Randall. It’s an album of 60-year-old color photographs taken by Mary’s late grandmother at the New Orleans Mardi Gras carnival over a ten-year period in the mid-20th-century and never before published. Mary had offered me use of the photos in relation to some other regional history titles I had been doing, but I felt they were strong enough to support a step-back-in-time book all by themselves. It only took two queries sent out for us to find a publisher, Arcadia, who enthusiastically agreed about the value of the photographs.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I had decided to study journalism at university. Which was a big mistake; I think I might have done better in library science, as the acquisition, preservation and passing along of arcane knowledge is what really fascinates me. Three-quarters of my way through college I finally read one of those hoarded 25-cent library book-sale books of mine from way back, a standard popular how-to guide on the practice of freelance writing. It taught me all I needed to know, right there. No classes, no homework, no tuition, no getting lectures from laid-off reporters or editors who eagerly fled the profession. So I can date my life as a writing professional to my third year in university. But no thanks to university, unfortunately.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I was embarked on a university semester-abroad program in London, England, still making a go of the journalism degree, combined with what I learned from that 25-cent ex-library guidebook (okay, I confess I had to get the updated edition to stay current, so it was more like 12 dollars). I sent out a barrage of letters and stamped return envelopes and International Reply Coupons – this was well before e-mail – to an array of potential magazine and newspaper publishers, so that once I situated myself in London I would have some connections and could market myself as an exotic foreign correspondent. In short order I sold an article (with photos) on the London Stock Exchange to a business magazine for more than $300. Still the best sale I’ve ever had. Pure beginner’s luck.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
It’s complicated. I came away from England, actually, with my first book contract in 1985, but it was as a minor contributor to an ongoing series of international film guides (this detoured me into being a film-critic type for many years). I’d only be published in France – but translated into Dutch! It was still enough to get me credit as a legitimate entertainment writer, so in the USA I formed similar relationships with other film-guide publishers, though I was always just a contributing writer (or editor). I wound up anthologized in perhaps more than two dozen books, some high profile, others quite obscure. My first solo book came somewhat out of the blue. Schiffer Publishing, in Pennsylvania, was running online classified ads soliciting regional writers to compile local ghost stories for their book series. I was now into my second decade of freelance writing, and I possessed file cabinets of such X-Files type material (it always made an easy sale around Halloween). I approached Schiffer with my credentials, and they signed me to write “Cleveland Ghosts,” which came out in 2008.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
It had to be called “Cleveland Ghosts”; that was pre-determined by the publisher to be internet-search-engine friendly. I have always had to defer to my publishers on those matters. There was one Schiffer book of the paranormal for which I wanted to use the word “Abcedarium” in the title. I am told top management was horrified, and not in a good way.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
Schiffer has been very kind (except for book titles!) in letting me have my own attitude in most things. In writing about out-there and paranormal topics I tried to live up to (or down to) the standards of journalistic ethics and present the facts sensibly, even with a somewhat sardonic sense of humor. Of course, the challenge for me is not going to print with bad information and urban-legend fairy-stories passed off as true (unless I specifically describe it as such). After I wrote up the most famous haunted house in Cleveland for my opening chapter, I later met the future author William Krejci, who would later do his own book on the place – the results of some 20 years of study by Bill. But he complimented me that my version was the best account that had so far appeared in print; I only made four major errors!
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
In the paranormal field (even the true-crime and historical field, that I entered subsequently), it seems a la mode to insert oneself, telling Gilderoy Lockhart stories about personally battling demonic entities or tracking serial killers. But I am a boring Cleveland person to whom very little exciting happened, so it is mainly research and cross-checking varieties of sources and putting all that into something hopefully interesting to read. I have been lucky to talk to some adventuresome people. For my “Great Lakes Folklore” I had a nice, long phone interview with a scuba diver, wreck explorer and Clive Cussler associate, who provided invaluable information on some strange antique submarines lost in the Great Lakes. He said he wanted to make sure I wasn’t a “kook” before I quoted him (but I never heard from him afterwards, so perhaps I did turn out to be a kook after all).
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I have wanted to, but as a lowly freelance writer-author with a wobbly series of odd jobs keeping me going, I just had no travel budget. One book-in-progress that never seems to get done, about UFO phenomena, would call for some proper travel, at least within the state of Ohio. But that’s been pushed to the margins.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
My publishers have had final say on that. Sometimes they’ve surprised me and used a photograph or even an illustration of mine (I can resort to myself as an artist when I have to; nobody works cheaper!). For “Great Lakes Folklore” I had a marvelous lighthouse image contributed by Paul Wunderle, a digital-photography wizard I knew through mutual friends. It is my most beautiful cover by far. I submitted a slide of my own as a potential cover image, and I was not at all disappointed that my effort lost out to Paul’s. Funny story about the cover of my first true-crime book, “Crescent City Crimes: Old New Orleans, 1718-1918”; while living in a rotten Cleveland neighborhood I bought my first gun, a 32-caliber antique target pistol that some unknown owner, probably up to no good, had filed down into a sinister snub-nosed thing that fit easily in a pocket. Due to all the wire-brushing, it caught the light and photographed very well. And because the barrel was practically nonexistent, I could photograph the gun head-on with no blurriness. The revolver had a tendency to fall to bits, would probably disintegrate if I tried to shoot it. Nonetheless, my family was terrified that I owned a gun and figured I’d go insane and do something very harmful. I assured them it was only a photo prop, no worries…And so when Schiffer published “Crescent City Crimes” I practically begged them to put my picture of the gun on the cover. It’s only on the back cover, and not very prominent – but it is there. After 20 years, my family can relax.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
N/A, as I do not write novels; I just don’t possess that talent (or confidence that I have the talent, which is probably half the battle). But what carries all my prose books (I guess even the movie-review compilations, in their louche way) is the sheer thrill of storytelling – whether dubious neighborhood ghost legends, stirring sea tales or New Orleans outlaws passed off as folk-heroes and patriots.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
Growing up I was transfixed by the fiction of Ray Bradbury. A neighbor girl who owed me a Christmas present almost apologetically gave me a paperback of “The Martian Chronicles.” I was hooked; I still have it. Mark Twain, though, is sublime, everything one might aspire to be in a writer (and equally a pleasure in nonfiction). And in my “Paranormal Mississippi River” I have a piece about the psychic powers that seems to run in Twain’s very talented family; it was a topic he took quite seriously.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
Well, my publishers, obviously – Schiffer, and now Arcadia/The History Press. But that’s a very good question because a lot of authors just press ahead and write their manuscripts, in outline or entirely, without assurance of a contract or a publisher, ever. And for some of them, it’s worked out happily in the end. But for myself I just cannot go out on that limb bravely and lonely by myself; if I am going to pour so much time and effort into it I have to know some office is indeed waiting for my manuscript. Maybe that speaks ill of my character, I don’t know.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I suppose it is what I will be known for in the end (unless I do something really illegal). Though the sad fact is, writing has comprised less and less of my income over time. It did carry me along for a dozen years, even if I lived like a pauper at the time.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I keep thinking the introduction in “Mardi Gras in Kodachrome” could have been stronger. But again, this is a book chiefly of images rather than words, so new territory for me.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Unlike my past books, when I was weaving together entire nonfiction narratives, the task for “Mardi Gras in Kodachrome” largely amounted to writing photo captions and arranging pictures sequentially. But there is a real art to that for a project of this nature, if one seeks to maintain a sort of flow of information and artwork. I believe we pulled it off. Arcadia seems to think so!
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Oh, remember I started out as a movie critic. I do not have much faith in cinema for translating the written word, though there have been some noble attempts, even in nonfiction. I like to think that if the unthinkable happens and a property of mine actually goes before cameras, I would have the strength to dictate that the title be changed, so moviegoers realize that a movie and the book are two different creations. But commercially, for me to do that would be suicide (but I’ve made bad business decisions before…like my journalism degree).
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
First, read the annually updated library book that got me started (“Writers Market” is the title; I know there was a similar book in the UK for a long time). But have a fallback skill in the career field; you’ll probably need it…Also, one piece of advice I received early on is worthy of comment; some gentleman with a gleam in his eye said that women find writers intrinsically attractive, that it is practically an aphrodisiac. And you’ll get that message from a lot of memoirs and pop-culture. Well, allow me to say that such has not really been my experience. Rather the opposite. Maybe it’s a Cleveland thing.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I think my books find fresh angles and insights on subjects that are compellingly readable to begin with; no point in my writing them otherwise. But I do not do cleansings, banishings or exorcisms. I know some of the people who do, however.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I read several books at once – especially now that I get paid to do book reviews on the side. But the long-ago library booksale hoarding of my youth that I just now finally got around to is notable. “Folkways” is a 1906 volume, once very well known – now not so much – that seemed to represent the life’s work of scholar/lecturer William Graham Sumner. He tries to do nothing less than sum up all human behavior and tradition in quick, sharp strokes. Much of it, I have to say, comes across as disturbing, if not morbid and ghastly (chapters on cannibalism, abortion and slavery in quick succession). I like to think that the grim picture he paints is somewhat tainted by the bias of his times; unverified traveler’s tales, imperialism or racism. But too much, I fear, is more factual than not. Hopefully I can get verification from an anthropologist. And Sumner wrote that he originally planned to focus more on worldwide superstition – that he calls “goblinism” – but mostly left that part out. A ghost-story-monger such as myself really would wish he had done an equally massive job compiling goblinism after all.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Sadly no. It was probably a bit beyond my comprehension abilities at the time.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
My royalty checks.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I suppose the noblest answer would be the unsung photographer Ruth Ketcham, who died well before her granddaughter Mary Randall gave me a box of her vibrant color slides that will see print now as “Mardi Gras in Kodachrome.” I would have been able to assure Ruth that the work she undertook all those decades ago, so long unseen, was not forgotten and will now be out on the racks and in libraries, available for the enjoyment of countless readers…But I would also have asked her to have taken better notes when she took the photos; I had to painstakingly reconstruct a lot of the caption circumstances under a magnifying glass. I also wish I knew what brand of camera and lens she used. Nobody in the family remembers.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I have had the privilege of generating an income out of things that other people consider hobbies, such as a watching films, reading books, hearing ghost stories, and so forth, so the line is fuzzy between livelihood and entertainment. I suppose my own photography and video-editing counts as my hobbies, mainly because I have thus far failed to gain any career advantage out of them. And I collect autographed editions, let us not forget that.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
For sheer entertainment value, I enjoy the cult-movie showcase “Mystery Science Theater 3000” – although I have on occasion been lucky to be paid to review its DVD-release compilations. Otherwise, since my larger film-critic gigs have largely dried up, almost nothing lures me into the cinema any longer.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Out of ethics – and poverty – I have embraced a vegetarian/vegan diet. Give me an all-you-can-eat salad bar and I am content enough. As a photographer I cannot play favorites with colors – Kodachrome made them all glow. I find third-wave ska music immensely appealing, as well as film/TV soundtracks, gothic-industrial dance, and 80s alternative-underground pop. Part of that is rooted in nostalgia for my lost youth; the rest just proved very effective for keeping me awake and up late making deadlines.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I used to think photography was a suitable creative fallback, but in practice I determined it was even more competitive and high pressure than writing. I held a position as a sports videographer for seven years; it was great, and I often wish I could go back to it. Of course, part of the appeal was that I was installed all by myself in a tall camera tower in a wooded area overlooking a horse-race track all evening long. I was unsupervised, and in the downtime when the animals weren’t running I could do anything I wanted. So there in that racetrack tower is where I wrote three of my books!
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
I suppose I would go to the nearest hospital emergency room!
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
“At Least I Got Out Of Cleveland” (this presupposes that I am able to arranged being interred out of state)
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Not at the present time. I keep feeling the time I might take to establish an online presence would sap away energy and opportunity to write more books! Perhaps I’ll get past that block someday.
My Amazon Author Page:
Link to my books published by Schiffer.