I was camping with friends this past weekend. It was amazing to spend time in nature, to get dirt under my fingernails, to start campfires, and to spend time with these people who are dear to me.
I was talking with one of the moms in the group, whose middle school son is a voracious reader and who is struggling to find enough books that he’ll enjoy that aren’t dark and violent.
Immediately, one author came to mind: Kyle Robert Shultz.
I’ve featured Kyle Robert Shultz on here before, and I will continue to do so, because his books are just that good. Today, I want to talk about his latest release, Deadwood, and share an interview I had with him.
It’s not the people in this town you have to watch out for.
It’s the buildings.
Monster hunter and part-time centaur Todd Crane didn’t ask to be sheriff of Deadwood. For one thing, he’s never had an easy time staying on the right side of the law. For another, he’s too busy trying to find a dangerous sorcerer who nearly destroyed the United States of Neverica.
But some men—and centaurs—have greatness thrust upon them. Not only is Todd the reluctant defender of the peace in Deadwood, he’s the only one who can thwart the schemes of a powerful magical entity manipulating the town from the shadows.
And when Todd’s past comes back to haunt him, the stakes get a lot more personal for him and his friends.
Heroes will fall. Secrets will be revealed. Everything is about to change.
Shultz’s Crockett and Crane series is set in the same world as his Beaumont and Beasley series, which I previously featured. This is a world with magic, monsters, and mystery. The events of Deadwood happen about a generation before the events of Beaumont and Beasley and they take place in a Wild West version of the world.
How does each Shultz story just keep getting better?
“Deadwood” was full of the quirky characters, creative catastrophes, and healthy dash of magic that I’ve grown to know and love from all of Shultz’s series. If possible, the execution of all of those elements was even more delightful in this book.
Todd, Amy, Meg, and Julio find themselves in a new tricky spot. The situation is perfect for highlighting the best parts of these characters, including the quippy lines and heartfelt moments, AND it was perfect to challenge them. One thing I love about this series is that the books are relatively episodic in nature, but despite that, the characters do grow and develop.
As the backdrop, Shultz introduced his creepiest—and most creative—villain yet.
This book made me feel many things: Joy, fear, humor, dread, hope, shock, and eager anticipation. I can’t wait for more!
Interview with the Author
I’m blessed to be part of the Phoenix Fiction Writers with Kyle Robert Shultz, and he graciously agreed to an interview.
To make things a bit different and have more back-and-forth, we did a live interview via direct message. Here is the transcript of our conversation. My questions and comments will be bolded and Kyle’s will be italicized.
In our conversation, we used a lot of emojis that I’m not quite skilled enough to insert into this post. When in doubt, just assume we were doing a lot of laughing.
Beth: Were you a reader growing up?
Kyle: Yes, I was a pretty voracious reader when I was younger.
B: Excellent! Did you have a few favorite books or authors as a kid? I’m limiting you to no more than 5-6.
K: I’ll bend the rule here a little and go by series/authors. Oddly enough, I didn’t develop a strong interest in fantasy until my early twenties, though I did love the Narnia books as a kid. I enjoyed the Hank the Cowdog series by John R. Erickson as well (still do), and pretty much anything by Agatha Christie.
B: I wasn’t even introduced to fantasy until my early twenties, so I sympathize on that front. Narnia and Agatha Christie’s works are great stories! Unfortunately, I haven’t heard of Hank the Cowdog; what’s it about?
It’s a really sweet and funny series that’s technically fantasy in that it involves talking animal characters…though they generally don’t talk to humans, so it’s more standard children’s fiction on the whole. It’s about a ranch dog and his adventures defending his territory from various threats, as well as the scrapes he gets into by virtue of being a dog and making dog decisions.
The author has also written a fantastic book on writing called “Story Craft.” I highly recommend that one.
That sounds adorable! Clearly I missed out as a child. And I’ll make note of “Story Craft.”
I think every author should read it.
That is high praise! I’ll look it up! “Cowdog” sounds Western, which would be something it has in common with your Crockett & Crane series. Was it influential in inspiring the series, or did the inspiration come from somewhere else?
You know, I never really thought about that before, but I suppose that the Hank books did play a role in that. Especially considering that they involve non-human characters, as do the Crockett and Crane books. Erickson’s writing is distinctive in that he writes animal characters behaving like animals rather than people. (Hence dog characters making very dog-like decisions.) I’ve borrowed from that a little in that I try to make sure my non-human characters have personalities and mannerisms informed by their unique perspectives on the world. That said, what really pushed me to write the Crockett and Crane books was my discovery of classic Westerns like The Virginian and The Big Valley in my early twenties. Those were probably the strongest influences on the series.
I do see that influence in your stories—your non-human characters very much act like whichever creature they are. It’s one of my favorite things about your portrayal of mythical creatures.
Thanks! Actually, I think the thing which specifically inspired me to get cracking on the books was a really funny piece of fanart I stumbled on of Hawkeye as a centaur with Kate Bishop on his back, both of them firing arrows and bantering with each other. It wasn’t Western, but it was so entertaining that I felt like I had to adopt the basic concept and character ideas into a story. This story is very timely, given recent Marvel announcements.
That artwork sounds hilarious—if you still have it, I’d love to see it! And I will take your word for it; I’m very behind on the recent Marvel announcements.
Apparently there’s going to be a TV series with those two characters. Hang on, I’ll just quickly google the pic…Here it is.
That is very good news. Hawkeye needs more love than he got in the movies.
I agree. Kate Bishop is actually a fun character too. Not always written well, but I’ve read some very entertaining comics with her.
Oh, that picture is hilarious!I look forward to meeting her!
Yep, this was what eventually became Chapter…whatever chapter it was in which Todd and Amy were fighting the Horseman; I can’t remember.
I can’t remember what happened in which chapter of my books, either.
I love how you adapted the picture to fit the context of your story so well.
You’ve mentioned several stories that you loved or that influenced you. Thinking of these stories, what would you say is a checklist of your requirements for a fantastic story?
There has to be a certain degree of humor. I can’t really get into super-dark or heavy stories without any glimmer of fun. The stakes have to be high enough…or at least, the characters need to feel that the stakes are high. That, as someone whose name has escaped me once said, is the key to good comedy: making your characters think they’re in a tragedy. And while the ending of the story doesn’t necessarily have to be happy (though I do prefer that on the whole), either way, it needs to feel earned and not out-of-the-blue.
Your stories certainly succeed at that. That’s an interesting point. The characters and readers might have very different ideas about what genre they’re in. I can’t remember where, but I once read that a similar thing applies when writing tragedies: The main character is just in the wrong genre or story.
That’s definitely true. Poor characters.
We give them such difficult lives.
But we do feel mildly guilty.
You’ve turned characters into interesting things, including the main character, Todd, who occasionally turns into a centaur. If you were to turn the main characters of this series into ice cream flavors, what would they be?
Todd’s flavor would probably be dark chocolate with nuts in it, because he’s a little nuts and he has a dark-ish past. But also some marshmallow because he’s still a fun and upbeat guy (and a mushball, when you come right down to it).
Amy’s would involve pieces of cookie dough in peanut-butter ice cream. Not sure why, I just think that fits her for some reason. (And now I really want that ice cream flavor…)
Julio’s would be something unpalatable like jalapeno because I think that’s probably the kind of ice cream he’d invent (and enjoy).
Meg’s would be berry of some kind, maybe with some candy pieces in it. (I resisted making a rocky road pun there. Get it? Gorgons…never mind.)
I love your explanations. Substitute the peanut-butter for almond or cookie butter, and Amy’s flavor would be my go-to. And yes, thank you for the pun.
Now that you’ve ice cream-ized your characters, how would you characterize your stories in three major features?
I think that, tying in with what I said earlier about story essentials, I try to keep humor and high stakes first and foremost in my stories. Some readers might substitute “nightmarish creatures” for the high stakes, but my ultimate goal is more about making readers feel like a lot is on the line rather than gratuitous scares. In addition to those two features, interconnectedness is a big part of my stories. Everything is in the same universe (or multiverse), and there are always callbacks and Easter eggs scattered around for readers to find. It’s a nice little bonus for the people who enjoy the full body of my work, even though I try to craft my stories so that people can enjoy them separately if they prefer.
There were some Easter eggs in Deadwood that will delight people who read all of your works. I am still dreaming of the implications of one of them.
How to you juggle such a large inter-connected universe/multiverse?
Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of notes. And the help of my long-suffering editor Deborah O’Carroll, who helps me catch possible continuity glitches. The main thing I focus on is not allowing the universe to overwhelm the actual story and characters. I recently rewrote an entire draft because the original version was too much about connecting the dots between established plot points and moving characters around like chess pieces on a board. Everything felt too wooden. So I rebooted it and started from the premise of telling a really good story instead, and let the continuity stuff fall naturally into place along the way.
I believe you about the notes. I’m only one-and-a-half books into The Firstborn’s Legacy saga, and I’m already having to create a wiki to keep track of everything.
I’ve heard WorldAnvil is amazing for that, but I haven’t done much experimentation with it yet.
And oof, that’s rough. Sorry about your need to reboot.
Ah, it was all for the best in the end. I’m really glad I did it.
It’s the reason The Dark Excalibur is now a thing.
I’ve heard good things of WorldAnvil, too, but the layout unfortunately was a bit over my technologically-challenged head.
Oh, yay! Then the struggle was worth it.
Is balancing universe and story/characters the most challenging part of writing these books, and Deadwood in particular? Or did you find something else more challenging?
The balance is tricky, but it’s usually not a major problem for me. The biggest issue I had with Deadwood was that out of all my books, it featured the most “original” material and the least retelling of established stories. I was doing a lot of trailblazing in it. So I wasn’t sure how it would go over, and I second-guessed myself a lot during the editing phase. I’m happy to report, though, that thus far it’s been the most enthusiastically-received of all my books, which was a wonderful surprise.
The originality of it made it a delightful read. I never knew what was coming, and it kept me on the edge of my seat in the best way! Thank you for braving the uncertainty.
Thank you! I’m very happy you enjoyed it.
What did you enjoy most about writing Deadwood?
Pretty much every scene involving Julio, because he’s so much fun that he practically writes himself. I also liked going a little further into Todd’s past and his thought processes to develop his arc and add layers to his character. However, without divulging spoilers, I will confess that the most fun part of all was writing That Ending.
Ah, yes, That Ending [my lips are sealed].
Julio shone in this book, it’s true. And it was wonderful to get to know Todd better!
I’m really happy with how Todd’s character arc has played out in these books so far. I like to leave my characters changed at the end of every story so that they’re not stagnant, and I think he’s grown a great deal since the series began.
He really has. And that is yet another way in which your stories stand out as excellent. I’m excited to see how your characters continue to change and grow.
You’re quite welcome! Speaking of the future, is there anything you can tell us about future plans for the Crockett and Crane series?
Book 3, Westenra, is currently in the works and will wrap up some of the biggest plot threads remaining from Books 1 and 2. After that, future Crockett and Crane books will be more stand-alone and a little less arc-heavy. (At least, that’s what I’m planning at the moment, but it’s very possible that an arc will slip in anyway.) I can’t really say anything about Book 4 yet, but Book 5 will take place in Secordia, the Afterverse version of Canada, and will revolve around Canadian history and folklore. There will be at least eight books total in the C&C series, possibly more if I feel there’s continued demand for them and more stories to tell after Book 8.
That’s great news! Goodness, I know so little of Canadian history and folklore. As you’ve been researching for Book 5 (and the rest of the stories in this series), have you come across any fascinating real or fictional stories from American history? And I mean “American” as the continent(s), not just limited to the U.S.
Quite a few. In a general sense, I’m surprised at how similar the real history of the Old West is to the fictional portrayals we’re familiar with, in many ways (though not all, obviously). One specific story that’s quite interesting…and which I’d probably have to tone down quite a bit if I ever adapted it into a book…is the tale of the Bender serial killer family. A very strange historical anecdote with lots of twists and turns, including the young Kate Bender’s claim to possess magical powers (a deception she used to lure unwitting travelers to their deaths). My own character Kate wasn’t named after her, but I might put a version of her in a story someday.
There’s also lots of cool Canadian stuff that my Canadian readers have been sharing with me, including the tale of Laura Secord, a Canadian national hero of the War of 1812 who walked 20 miles to warn the army of an impending attack by AHEM a certain nation to the south which shall remain nameless.
Kate Bender sounds intense, and almost hand-crafted to fit in your universe. And Laura Secord sounds like someone I should know more about. And cough good tactfulness.
While we’re on the subject of history, we have to talk about one of my other passions: grammar. Do you have a favorite grammatical rule and/or punctuation mark?
I have great, enduring love for the Oxford comma as a grammatical rule. But speaking purely in terms of punctuation marks, my favorite is the em-dash. There’s so much you can do with it.
We were meant to be friends—those are my two favorites, as well. I have a bad tendency to over-use the em-dash in all of my writing.
As you’ve seen several times in this interview, haha.
Yeah, I think I do the same thing.
Well, I think those are all the questions I have for today. Thank you for coming on my blog! Did you have any last tidbits of wisdom or sneak peeks for the readers?
Wisdom? Me? [laughter] I’ll settle for a sneak peek. The next book I’ll be releasing this year is The Geppetto Codex, Book 5 in the Beaumont and Beasley series. In some ways, however, it serves as a sequel/companion piece to Deadwood, elaborating on some of the plot threads left over from that story. So if you have questions about the mythology introduced in Deadwood, you may get answers very soon. Terrifying answers.
Oh, boy! I imagine it’s going to be a wild ride. Fantastic, but scary.
Thank you again!
Thank you! I had a great time!
There you have it :)
I’m sure you’re dying to read this series now. Buy Deadwood here: www.kylerobertshultz.com/deadwood.
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