I’ve been interested in reading some of Bobby Underwood’s books for some time now and recently read The Wild Country & Beyond Heaven’s Reach. Mr. Underwood was kind enough to answer some questions about his writing and on these two books as well. You can see my reviews for both books and the Q&A below. If you’d like to add these books on Goodreads, just click the covers.
~The Wild Country~
I love western films, but I personally haven’t read many western’s as I’ve never considered it one of my favorite book genres, but this book has opened up a whole new world for me. The Wild Country is a story about a boy named Wyn, who along with his older sister witnesses his parents being killed by a gang of evil outlaws. To add to the catastrophic events, his sister, the only person he has left, is kidnapped by them. Wyn is left alone in hard times and as he gets older he is determined to locate his sister and seek revenge against every man that was involved in killing his parents and kidnapping his sister, especially Muerta, the main man responsible for it all.
I knew right away that I would LOVE Wyn, the main character. I love a good revenge and I was rooting for Wyn from the beginning. He builds a reputation for himself and people from all over the lands hear stories about him, the man known as “Ghost Rider.” On his journey he experiences love, violence, death and meets new people along the way.
I found the book to be written well with beautiful descriptions of the landscape, people, and even the horses. It was smooth to read, easy to follow, and interesting. I enjoyed it from beginning to end and I was pleased with the conclusion. If you like stories about the wild west, you’ll love The Wild Country.
Blurb: As a boy, Wyn watches helplessly as raiders kill his parents. Saved by his sister in a terrible bargain struck with their leader, Wyn dedicates his life to finding her. He becomes a legend in a time when the country was wild and free, and full of bad men as well as pioneer spirit. As the lonely cowboy metes out justice to the men responsible for changing the course of his life, he meets a girl, and begins to ponder over a life which might have been. Filled with beauty and complexity, with plenty of action for western fans, The Wild Country is a rip-roaring tale in the best tradition of legends told over a campfire.
- Print Length: 203 pages
- Publisher: Bobby Underwood (June 15, 2016)
- Publication Date: June 15, 2016
- Language: English
- ISBN-13: 978-1478180234
~Beyond Heaven’s Reach~
Mike, the main character, is a man who is searching for a quiet place to settle down in California. He discovers a perfect little cottage near the coast and becomes very interested in buying it. He’s forewarned ahead of time by the village people that the cottage is inhabited by a ghost, but Mike loves it so much, he needs to find out for himself and is willing to take the risk. He soon discovers that Deanna, the supposed ghost, is very real to him and they fall in love over the course of a weekend. Mike discovers that this is the life he’s always wanted and will do whatever it takes to make it work. What he determines in the end is an unexpected twist you won’t see coming.
This book was a pleasant surprise. I learned about the book from my mom who read it a few months ago. She enjoyed it and told me that I had to read it. I went in completely blind and it was nothing like what I expected. It’s written well, easy to follow, and I found it compelling and mysterious. I have to say that the story felt a little rushed and came to an end very quickly, but I still enjoyed it. It’s a very thought-provoking story.
Blurb: It is the summer of 1944. Fresh on the heels of his novel’s critical and commercial success, writer Mike McCrea is searching for a quiet and secluded spot for inspiration. On a morning drive along California’s coastline he happens upon a charming cottage overlooking the sea. Situated close to an equally charming village, he purchases the seaside cottage for a song, and soon discovers he is not the house’s only inhabitant. Thus begins a love story and mystery with ties to this world, and that beyond. Period atmosphere of the War years enhance this nostalgic tale which will touch the heart. Old-fashioned and romantic, with an otherworldly romance at its center, Beyond Heaven’s Reach is a reminder that the bridge between this world and heaven, is love. * The Trade Paperback edition also includes a bonus story, Gypsy Summer. *
- Print Length: 132 pages
- Publisher: Bobby Underwood (June 13, 2016)
- Publication Date: June 13, 2016
- Language: English
- ISBN-13: 978-1481957526
Continue for the Q&A…
Q&A With author Bobby Underwood
Q: Can you tell readers something interesting about yourself that they might not know?
A: Well, because there are so few phone booths left at which I can covertly slip into my real identity, I suppose it will eventually be revealed, but I’ll keep that part of my life a secret as long as I can…
Q: Did you want to write books when you were a child, and when did you start writing?
A: I’ve always loved writing, and writers who told great stories. I think writers who evoke a visceral reaction, emotions in the reader, are the ones who most influenced me to take up the craft.
Q: What were some of your childhood favorites?
A: Definitely the gentle romantic fantasies of Robert Nathan, and the adolescent themed mysteries of Phyllis Whitney in my youth. I read everything written by them that I could get my hands on, which wasn’t always easy, because we were very poor. As I got a bit older, I discovered John D. MacDonald, Cornell Woolrich, Tony Hillerman, Ed McBain, Ross Macdonald, Earl Derr Biggers, Donald Hamilton, David Dodge, Martha Albrand, Dell Shannon (Elizabeth Linington) and the great Jack Williamson. Much later, I discovered Robert B. Parker. Vera Caspary’s novel, Laura, and Dorothy Macardle’s novel, The Uninvited, both written in the 1940s, had as much impact on me as anything I’d ever read, however. Perhaps the book which had the greatest influence on me was Robert Nathan’s famous novella, Portrait of Jenny. It had a profound effect on my outlook towards writing stories.
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Q: What tools do you use when writing? (computer or typewriter, etc.)
A: I have written by hand in my youth, and typewriter, but nowadays it’s always on my Mac.
Q: Are there any books or magazines that help you with your writing?
A: No. I know some will flinch at that, but I’m of the James M. Cain school, that writing cannot be taught, it must be learned. And there is no magic age at which to start. Raymond Chandler and Robert Ludlum didn’t begin their careers until in their 40’s, after all. Certainly as Ray Bradbury noted, reading a lot makes you a better writer, but the actual craft is a God-given talent, a blessing, in my opinion. You can become better at it, hone your skills through the process of writing, perfecting your craft, but this notion that you can just sit anyone down in a classroom and turn them into a writer, is ridiculous. James M. Cain had a great quote in regard to that:
“A lot of novelists start late-Conrad, Pirandello, even Mark Twain. When you’re young, chess is all right, and music and poetry. But novel-writing is something else. It has to be learned, but it can’t be taught. This bunkum and stinkum of college creative writing courses! The academics don’t know that the only thing you can do for someone who wants to write is to buy him a typewriter.” — James M. Cain
Q: How much time do you spend writing?
A: Quite a bit, generally. If you count all the stories constantly swirling around in my head next to the squirrel cage, all the time. That’s prep work. I’ve recently taken a short hiatus — almost unheard of for me — but I needed the breather. Even then, however, I’m working on stuff in my head, and have written three short stories on my Goodreads blog.
Q: Do you have any unpublished works, or books that aren’t completed yet?
A: I can’t remember when I DIDN’T have more than one work outstanding, waiting to be completed, so I could put it out there. I’m ten chapters into the third book in the Wild Country series at present, and have about half of a novelette called Death in Egypt completed. The opening to the next Seth Halliday novel has been written, and I’m thinking about doing a Matt Ransom Christmas story for the holidays. I like having options to choose from, depending of what I’m feeling.
Q: What do you think makes a good story?
A: I’m a storyteller type of writer. As a reader, I always want a great story, whether small or large, which makes me feel something, touches me in some way, even if it’s a mystery. The same kind of stories I try to write. As Fitzgerald said, finding the key emotion to your story and sustaining it is what’s important. And it has to be entertaining, even if you have something important to say. Science Fiction writer Poul Anderson had a great quote in regard to that:
“I think the first duty of all art, including fiction of any kind, is to entertain. That is to say, to hold interest. No matter how worthy the message of something, if it’s dull, you’re just not communicating.” — Poul Anderson
Too many writers today want to call attention to themselves, rather than the story. It’s pretentious and dishonest, in my opinion. David Dodge was terrific in that his narrative style was so easy and unobtrusive. Somerset Maugham had a great quote in that regard:
“A good style should show no effort. What is written should seem a happy accident.” — Somerset Maugham
Most importantly, I believe, is that the story be about people. I wrote a Science Fiction story last year? — I sometimes lose track of when I published something — called Saturday’s Children, and I was really pleased that within that genre, I was able to tell a small, intimate tale of humanity, what we are, what we might become, if we have the courage. Harlan Ellison has a wonderful take on writing that I’ll try to quote correctly — my apologies to him if it’s not exact:
“There is no nobler chore in the craft of writing than holding up the mirror of reality and turning it slightly, so we have a new and different perception of the commonplace, the everyday, the ‘normal,’ the obvious. People are reflected in the glass. The fantasy situation into which you thrust them is the mirror itself. And what we are shown should illuminate and alter our perception of the world around us. Failing that, you have failed totally.” — Harlan Ellison
Q: Do you try to be original or to deliver what readers want?
A: Delivering what people want leads to boring, cookie-cutter books that you forget five minutes after you turn the final page — if you get that far. John D. MacDonald, author of the Travis McGee novels and a slew of good stories, said that he wrote first and foremost for himself. All good writers do. A story comes from your soul, your gut, the emotions and romanticism, the hope or the poignant tragedy within each story is yours, those things belong to you. The reason so many popular books today are dribble is because people are writing for a market, filling a niche. That’s why they are bland, even if, and when, technically proficient. The writer’s soul and heart, what he or she is, is not on display, because they were either afraid to show it, or they were just trying to make a buck. That might upset some people, but I firmly believe it and stand by it.
Q: How do you develop your plots and characters?
A: That’s the God-given part, I believe. It’s in my head, developing, until it’s like a movie that only I can see. Sometimes I get the final reel first, and have to fill the film in from the beginning. Every story is different, but for me, it’s always a film, wonderful little scenes, sometimes tragic ones, and I feel the emotions myself — which is why some stories, and certain series, are more draining to write than others. Then I release them onto the paper — so to speak.
Q: How do you select names for your characters?
A: That’s actually a much more interesting question than many people might think. A character’s name is important, because it has to fit them, the personality you give them. Matt Ransom, Seth Halliday, Holly, those names fit the characters. But the other characters in the story are equally important. I spend more time than you’d think, deciding on a character’s name. If that person is from Chile or Peru, for instance, I’ll research names common to that country, and the gender of the character, and pick the one which feels right to how I’ve envisioned the character.
Q: When reading The Wild Country I began to wonder what inspired you to write a Western? Do you enjoy reading Westerns or watching Western films?
A: Actor Robert Duvall said that the Brits have Shakespeare, but we have the Western, and I believe he’s correct. The Western is our Shakespeare, and it is all too often denigrated. It is a time-honored, beautiful genre where you don’t need to shy away from right and wrong, moral codes and integrity. I had always wanted to write the kind of Western I’d want to read, so I wrote The Wild Country, attempting to blend the romanticism of Zane Grey with the realism of Luke Short, and the storytelling style of Louis L’Amour. I wanted most of all to imprint my soul onto the narrative while making it a wonderful read for fans of old-fashioned Westerns. It is one of my wife’s favorites. In the second in the series, The Trail to Santa Rosa, I told a more intimate story of two people in need of a second chance. In Whisper Valley, the third, I’ll be blending the sprawling, complex but compelling narrative style of The Wild Country with the more intimate framework I used in Trail to Santa Rosa.
*The following question is a spoiler regarding Beyond Heaven’s Reach*
Q: I found Beyond Heaven’s Reach so compelling. Do you believe in different dimensions or parallel universes here on Earth?
A: I believe in God, in heaven, however unpopular the notion may be nowadays. I think there is so much we don’t know, and it can be poignant and wonderful to explore it. I did so in Joy Island, in Chance at Heaven, and in Beyond Heaven’s Reach. Surfer Girl too, and Requiem, not to mention the darker shaded Night Run. I dedicated Beyond Heaven’s Reach to my sister Debbie, who has passed on now. She was like the girl in Beyond Heaven’s Reach at the beginning, child-like in an adult body. I named the girl Deanna because as a film buff, particularly classic films of the 1930s and ’40s, I’m a Deanna Durbin fan.
As for parallel universes, I deal with it extensively, but on a non-technical, emotional level, in the Matt Ransom series. A Matt Ransom Christmas begins to deal with the Many Worlds Theory, so needs to be read first, I suppose. The story takes wings and is concluded in the huge and sprawling, The Sapphire Sea, perhaps the most emotionally beautiful and complex novel I’ve ever written. The Dreamless Sea, dealing with the aftermath, is perhaps even more emotionally naked, however, due to the tender and sensual love affairs of Teagan and Ariel. The Matt Ransom mystery series set in the latter half of the twenty-second century is sensually charged, and it isn’t for every reading taste. It is the only series I write with that level of intimacy.
The Sapphire Sea’s exploration of parallel universes reverberates back through the entire series, making the reader view everything from The Velvet Sea forward in a new, and poignant light. I was really proud of that achievement. Ross MacDonald once wrote that the ending to any mystery and detective novel should shatteringly reverberate backward through the narrative for the reader, touching all that had come before. I do that in the Seth Halliday series, with each book. But in the Matt Ransom series I was able to create tragic and poignant reverberations to all the books that had come before The Sapphire Sea, and that was no easy task. I’ll always hold it in a special place, regardless of criticism or success. As I mentioned earlier, quoting John D. MacDonald, it’s important to write first for yourself. Gustave Flaubert went even further:
“You must write for yourself, above all. That is your only hope of creating something beautiful.”
Q: I noticed that you write a lot of books including woman as main characters. What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
A: I believe you’re talking about writing from the viewpoint of another gender. I believe when you write about emotion, feelings, it is very easy to write from a different gender, because those things are universal. Look at how similar the experiences of the two people in my short story, Joy Island were. We all hurt the same, want the same happiness, we’re all vulnerable in much the same way when it comes to love, being used, and the dreams we have. When you are a writer with a certain sensitivity to those things, I think you can do it. I wrote from a feminine viewpoint in short stories like I Won’t Forget You, The Strangler’s Tune, The Unlocked Window, Johnny’s Girl, and Voodoo Road. And of course, the novella, I Died Twice. In a more modern setting, I have done it often within the Matt Ransom series, telling a segment through the viewpoint of a female character, such as Maria in The Sandy Shore. Probably the zenith of that is in The Dreamless Sea, with Teagan while she’s in Italy, and with Matt’s sister, Ariel.
That being said, you do have to have a particular kind of empathy, and sensitivity to emotion to be able to do it. More importantly, you have to know when it works and when it doesn’t. Woolrich was genius at knowing when writing from the feminine perspective would make the story more tragic, or romantic, or make the reader more sympathetic to what happened. Robert B. Parker wrote an entire series featuring a female character. Ed McBain has a section of Blood Relatives where there is this diary of a young teenage girl. He does a tremendous job of writing from her viewpoint, when sections are revealed to the reader. You have to be a certain type of writer to do it, a bit more willing to lay bare feelings and emotions, but if you are, and you’re good, you can pull it off.
Q: You’ve written many books. Does writing come easy for you and what would you say is the most difficult part of writing?
A: I generally have the story all in my head when I begin, but it’s the opening which takes forever. It has to be perfect, because it sets the stage for the reader. Once I get that, set the mood for the story, I’m generally off to the races. It’s hard work at all times, it’s simply harder work at certain junctures of a project. The real work for me, is not in coming up with what I want to write, but writing the scene so it makes the reader feel what I’m feeling. It’s sort of like a director continually refining a scene, until he sees the rushes, and knows the scene conveys exactly the atmosphere and emotions he wanted the viewer to feel.
Q: Do you read your book reviews and how do you deal with negative opinions?
A: Yes, and anyone who tells you they don’t read them probably has a nose longer than Pinocchio. Asimov, who had a contentious relationship with reviewers, said this:
“From my close observation of writers… they fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review.” — Asimov
In Gold, there is a section where he talks about three types of reviewers. Two of the three are awful, which says a great deal, I think. One is the reviewer with a personal ax to grind, and uses your book to grind it, knowing you have no recourse. The other is the type who tries to belittle your accomplishment in order to self-aggrandize, as though they could have written something better. Asimov’s response to them was, “Why don’t you, then?”
That’s going too far, I think, but it does highlight how writers can be unfairly criticized. Something doesn’t have to be perfect to be a great read. I can’t remember who the writer was that said it, but their observation was that a review said more about what the reviewer knew, or didn’t know, than what the writer knew. What he or she meant was that if someone had not read enough to have any insight into what the writer was doing, their criticism would be invalid, even ridiculous. If I write something that’s a deliberate pulp homage, for example, and someone reads it who thinks pulp is that floaty stuff in their orange juice, they’re going to judge it unfairly.
That being said, I’ve mostly had positive experiences with reviewers. Since I don’t get reviewed a lot, it’s a small sampling, of course, but I think most readers who find something enjoyable to read will say something nice about your work. Many people don’t review, but they’ll tell a friend, and that’s nice too. It’s awesome that they’ll recommend you to a friend. But it’s a really big emotional boost to a writer to read in print that someone enjoyed your story. I had been an Amazon reviewer — mostly classic films, but also books — for many, many years before I began my writing career, which like Chandler’s and Ludlum’s, came later in life, well into my forties. I was in fact, for a brief time, a Top 50 reviewer on Amazon US, before I let it wane so that I could focus on my own art. I still enjoy reviewing, and deeply appreciate it when someone takes the time to write a review for one of my books, even the shorter ones, because I know they took time out of their day or evening to do me a kindness.
Q: Do you have any hobbies or activities that you like to do outside of writing?
A: Reading, of course, and as I mentioned, I’m a huge film buff, specializing in films of the 1930s and ’40s. There’s that Superhero thing, of course, but we agreed not to talk about that.
Q: What do you think about the eBook revolution?
A: I have mixed feelings about it. It does make it easier to both access books to read, and make my own readily available to the public. As a writer it’s become a tool I have to use, to supplement my trade paperbacks. I do own a Kindle Keyboard for reading. That being said, in a perfect world, there would only be books that you could hold in your hand, smell when you opened them the first time, were obsessively careful with while reading, so you wouldn’t leave a crack in the spine. I still love books, but I do supplement with Kindle.
Q: Where can readers find you online?
My Facebook Author Page — https://www.facebook.com/Bobby-Underw…
My Amazon Author Page — https://www.amazon.com/Bobby-Underwoo…
I’d like to thank Mr. Underwood for his time in completing this Q&A
Bobby Underwood is an American now living in the Snowy Mountains of Australia with his lovely wife, Barbara, also an author, and their dog, Cisco. They live in the Snowy Ways town of Tumut, situated along the Tumut River. “Resting Place by the River” is the Aboriginal meaning of the town’s name.
The author is a respected film buff and his reviews for classic films of the 1930s and 1940s have garnered many favorable comments over the years. His Amazon reviews for Mrs. Miniver and The Bishop’s Wife were quoted in the Saturday Evening Post of Nov/Dec 2006.
He has written in several genres and prefers to think of himself as a storyteller, rather than be pigeon-holed. He believes any story well-told, in whatever genre, will transcend that genre and become a memorable story.
In addition to being the author of the sensual Matt Ransom crime series set in the 22nd century, the humorous Sheriff Jace Wilkinson stories set in rural Idaho, the Wild Country old-fashioned western trilogy, the Nostalgia Crime series set in the 1940s, the new modern-day Seth Halliday mystery/crime series, the Tales of the Night Collections (After Closing Time and Where Lonely Lives), and the romantic fantasy collection, Lovers’ Tide, he has also written three otherworldly romance novellas, and a nostalgic Christmas novella, Grover’s Creek. His latest work is a nine-story collection of old-fashioned mystery and suspense tales which pay homage to writers like Cornell Woolrich and Raymond Chandler, Erle Stanley Gardner and James M. Cain, and one of the greatest of all radio programs from the golden age, Suspense. It is called The Unlocked Window.
To find Bobby Underwood on Goodreads, click HERE.