My author guest today on “Chatting with the Pros” is a seasoned western author who has written many, many western novels and been quite successful. He lives and write by the western creed that he grew up with. He’s a cheerful guy with a good sense of humor. Please welcome Cherokee Parks.
Kaye: You believe in and stand behind some good old fashioned values and live by the code of the west. How do these things come through in your writing?
Cherokee: In every story, the main character does the right thing in every single circumstance. Even when characters like Colton Raines (the Colt’s Justice series) or any of the Creed family (the Creed Novels) are forced to kill large numbers of opponents, it’s done to save others, or to protect they and their family or possessions. They respect women, the law, the nation and all it represents – even in spite of possibly having been on opposite sides during the Civil War. They expect the same from everyone else, and accept no compromise. They always speak the truth, and if they can’t, they keep their mouths shut. They are never afraid to speak their mind, short of intentionally hurting a friend, unless that friend needs a wake-up call. They give both compliments and criticism sparingly, and only when necessary. They never give their word if they can’t keep it. They know that they can’t get along with everyone, so they don’t even try. And they all know how to laugh, mostly at themselves.
Kaye: You have co-authored several books along with other western authors, such as Scott Harris, whom I interviewed last year. What is the most difficult thing about co-authoring a story?
Cherokee: Actually, there have not been any truly co-authored books, only those where credits are given for inserting a foreword. Only once have I ever attempted to co-write a book, but things just didn’t work out. We envisioned completely different events and character development, and never got past the first chapter together. I have, however, had the distinct pleasure of co-writing a good number of songs, and found it very gratifying being able to feed off another person’s input. So would I work with another author to create a book? Honestly, probably not, as I already have a basket full of story ideas, as well as several books already in the works. I don’t know how I’d squeeze in the time to work with another author, although I think the creative juices might get a real boost, depending on how I got along with the co-writer from the beginning.
Kaye: What draws you to the western genre?
Cherokee: Growing up cowboy and around the western lifestyle, it was a natural changeover for me, and what I had always wanted to write. Unfortunately, I was very good at writing mysteries and suspense, and got pigeonholed by my publishers at the time – both saying “Westerns don’t sell.” Well, Westerns DO sell, and I’m enjoying a very happy resurgence of my writing career. It’s easier and far more enjoyable to write about things one knows and loves than to create things someone else wants an author to fantasize about on paper.
Kaye: What time of day do you prefer to do your writing? Why?
Cherokee: Mid-morning until mid-afternoon, while the two grandchildren we’re raising are in school, but I can write just about anytime, anywhere, when the inspiration strikes.
Kaye: Which author, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
Cherokee: I’d love to once again have lunch with Louis L’Amour, as I learned more about my craft from him in a day than I did squirming in a seat during all those college class hours. Although I did study under James A. Michener, and enjoyed his classes, what I learned from him was about styles and research, but little about actually being creative. Michener taught strict adherence to storylines, only diverting if research showed it was necessary, while L’Amour had no idea where a story would go until after it was written, like myself.
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing a western novel? What’s the least fun part?
Cherokee: Wow! There are just so many fun parts to creating a western. Finding out where the story goes, and how it ends is a blast, as I never really know when I start out. Imagining how different characters react to situations is also a lot of fun. What’s not fun is having one of your books just sit on the market, not moving, not selling, just sitting there gathering dust. Although really poor reviews are also a knock, often a real punch to the gut… But I’ve learned from those knocks too, as the old commercial told us, “never let ‘em see you sweat…”
Kaye: How do you decide the titles for your books? Where does the title come in the process for you?
Cherokee: That’s difficult to say, really, as sometimes a book is created based on the title, while other titles are taken from a place or event that emerges in the book itself. And there have been times when a title needs to be changed, even after the work is published. Titles are among the hardest parts to creating a story, as a good story can die without a good title to launch and carry it. On the other hand, sometimes a story is soooo good, it doesn’t really matter what it’s called.
Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?
Cherokee: How much time do you have? Seriously, I started out my career as an author of mystery and suspense, trying to fit into the most popular publishing mold of the time, mostly as a result of my publishers at the time insisting on my creating such stories. Eventually, I tired of writing what they wanted, and then having stories sell well while the publishers made all the money using “creative bookkeeping” while I received a mere pittance – not even enough to live on.
I stopped having any work published for over fifteen years, giving up completely on the honesty of the publishing business, though I still wrote stories. The difference was, I wrote to please me, not the publisher. One day, while I was writing a particularly interesting story, a friend stopped by, and insisted on reading what I had written up to that point. Now normally, I pretty much discount what family and friends say about something I’ve written, as I believe them to be absolutely biased. But that particular friend was very critical, and if he liked it, well… Not wanting to go the publisher route, I self-published. Epic fail. I’m an author, not a publisher.
So when a small publishing house opened near me, I presented the story to them. They jumped on it, and I became their third signed author. Over the next year, they published four more of my stories, but their management absolutely sucked. Given an opportunity to guide them, I was appointed Executive Director, lasting nearly five years at the job before they were forced to shut down due to IRS problems unrelated to the publishing side of things.
In a way, it was the best thing in the world for me, because I once again had time to write, something I had all but given up on while working with the books of many other authors and wannabes. But now, I had the writing bug again, and needed to find a publisher. After a couple of mistakes, I finally landed with a really good publisher specializing in the western genre (Dusty Saddle Productions), who had a great publicist (Nick Wale at Novel Ideas) under contract. I couldn’t be happier!
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Cherokee: I guess I was about thirteen, when I wrote a short story for an English class assignment. I had a lot of fun writing the story, and when our teacher had me read it to the rest of the class, I was embarrassed, but hooked. That teacher was a friend and understudy to James A. Michener, and gave it to Michener to grade. Michener drew a big star on it, penned a message, “Keep up the good work”, and signed it. Had I not been hooked on writing before that, I was after. I’ve been writing since then, with the two aforementioned lapses, continuing to try to perfect the craft.
Kaye: Do you travel to the places that end up in your books?
Cherokee: Yes, absolutely. In fact, I took a clue from L’Amour about knowing the geography and climate I include in my books. As a result, I only write about places I have been, doing my best to remain true to the area. But I also use a bit of artistic license in my stories. For example, in Hard Ride to Cora, set in the Green River basin of Wyoming, I slipped in a cave that doesn’t exist. Sometimes one has to enhance the story with little details that may or may not exist, but I do my best to “keep it real,” even though all I write is fiction.
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Cherokee: Never depend on what family and friends say about what you create, as they are completely biased, and 99% of the time they don’t wish to hurt your feelings, or already believe anything you do is great just because you did it. Get outside opinions as your guide. Study the craft of writing, trying to make yourself the best you can be at it. ALWAYS give your work to an editor, as even the very best English teachers make mistakes when they write. But don’t allow the editor to change your style, only to correct your English (except dialogue), your punctuation, and all too often your sentence structure. Just make sure you improve with every attempt, and learn to accept honest criticism for what it is, not for what you want it to be. But above all, NEVER stop writing!
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Cherokee: Hmmm… Other than I don’t have a clue where a story will go, or where it will end up when it’s finished? I don’t think so, but then again I suppose we each have our little idiosyncrasies when we write, but we’re far too close to the source to know what is “unique” or “unusual” about our process. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!
Kaye: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Cherokee: Sleep… eat… Actually, in my younger and healthier years, I enjoyed hunting and fishing, exploring new areas, being around horses and dogs, just generally living the Western lifestyle. But now I’m old and half crippled up, suffering from the ravages of time, so I’ll go with my first two answers. Sleep… eat… But I will add that staying alive is real big on my list of things to do everyday now…
Kaye: As a western writer, what kind of research do you find yourself doing for your stories?
Cherokee: Mostly digging back into my memory banks and photo journals, though I do use a great deal of online research to confirm what I know already or think I know about history, clothing and weapons in use during the era I’m writing in. I have no choice, as my memory isn’t quite what it used to be. Additionally, finding historical documents, maps or writings that detail certain places and events, be they weather events or something of a physical/historical nature, always serve me well, and at times even help with my creativity.
Kaye: If one of your books was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Cherokee: I suppose that would have to depend on which of my books was chosen… I think they’d all make great movies, but that’s the writer in me thinking I’m that good… For example, it would have to be a middle-aged man to play Jake Laughlin, while it would require a man in his twenties to play Mick Swinney from Hard Ride to Cora, and a very tall man to play Thomas “Tree” Bell in The Trader… Now, if I could chose which book was made into a movie, I would say Hard Ride to Cora, as it was my first full-length western, although the Colt’s Justice series ranks right up there, as does the Creed series and the brand new series, The Trader. But to pick an actor to play the lead in any particular book? I don’t think I’m capable. I’d leave that to the casting people, as that’s their job, and I’ve got my hands full just writing.
Kaye: Would you like to talk briefly about your latest books? (Those you sent covers for.)
Cherokee: Hard Ride to Cora was my first published Western, and will likely always be my favorite as a result. Besides, it’s a really good story involving a host of characters from many different backgrounds, and if I ever get time I’ll be able to write at least another half dozen stories based on those characters.
No Town for Outlaws actually prompted a prequel (Silver, Gold and Blood in Arizona), and both books have sold consistently – and well – featuring a family of fast guns, including the women, bent on making certain the law is upheld, and good people are given a chance to live free.
My biggest Western hit so far is really a mountain man tale, The Trader, with the second book in the series due out early in March. The Trader sat in the #1 spot on Kindle in the Old West History of the U.S. category for over three weeks, and as of this writing is still at #3.
Kaye: How did you chose your pen name, Cherokee Parks?
Cherokee: I guess the easy answer would be—sentimentality. When I was a young teen, my father and I used to deer hunt in an area of Northern Colorado called Cherokee Park. They were some of the best times I had as a young man, and some of the best times spent with my father before he lost his health. So when it came time to create a new pseudonym for my western stories, Cherokee Parks was one of five I started out with. I kept narrowing the list down until only Cherokee Parks remained, mostly to honor the wonderful memories I shared with my father, and of him.
Kaye: Why did you choose to take a pen name?
Cherokee: It was a simple thing. In order to keep the genres separate, as well as multiple publishers back in the day, I used pseudonyms. I decided to continue using pseudonyms when I started writing again for some very personal reasons, primarily using Cherokee Parks to honor my father’s memory.
Kaye: Do you think it helps you sell books?
Cherokee: Yes, frankly, I think a good author’s name can help, depending on whether or not it fits the genre.
Kaye: What are you working on next?
Cherokee: Currently, I’m working on a sequel to No Town for Outlaws, called Death at Devils River, featuring the Creed brothers on a mission to help out an old friend facing disaster from a gang of Mexican banditos. I’m really enjoying it, and hope my readers will as well. Death at Devils River should be out by the end of March or early April.
Kaye: What do your readers have to look forward to in the near future?
Cherokee: Within the next ten days, I should have the second book in The Trader series back from the editor, meaning it will be released within a week of that. The first book in the series is subtitled West to the Stony Mountains, the second book subtitled Of New Life, War and Peace, and a third book already in the planning stages (as much as I ever plan a story!). I stay busy, and have at least a dozen story concepts floating around in my mind at any given time, as well as having anywhere from two to half a dozen at various stages of development or publication.
I have to say, Kaye, this was one of the more fun interviews I’ve had, and I appreciate not being buttonholed with my answers by your providing open-ended questions. Honesty is always the best policy, though not every writer has had the pleasure of enjoying life as much as I have. I’ve lived a hard life at times, but always a good life, even though there were times when I had no idea where my next meal would come from, or where I might be sleeping that night. But by the grace of God and the aid of friends, I made it through the hardest of times, making my current success all the sweeter. Thank you!
I want to thank Cherokee Parks for sharing here on “Chatting with the Pros”. He really came up with some great answers which are somewhat enlightening. It has been wonderful chatting with a seasoned western author, and it instills confidence to know that we share the same publisher. Nick Wale and Dusty Saddle have been great to work with. You can learn more about Cherokee and his books on his Amazon Author page or his Goodreads Author page. Join me next month on “Chatting with the Pros”, when the theme will be fantasy, and my author guest will be L. Deni Colter.
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