Interview: Charles Freedom Long
This week was a lot of fun. Join me as I sat down with speculative literature author, Charles Freedom Long. He talked about how moving around helped shape his perception of what was “real” and how the voices in his head were dead people trying to get him to tell their stories. Charles has won several awards for his books, and I definitely recommend picking one up for your next read.
CJ: Welcome, Charles! I would love to hear more about your background.
Charles: Charles Freedom Long is the pen name I use. I have lived and worked in a number of countries, including Africa, and that has given me a perspective on what people believe is “the way it is” as being very different from place to place.
CJ: Can you elaborate a little more on that point?
Charles: Sure. I grew up in the Big Apple, and thought, like most New Yorkers, that it was the center of the universe. Then I moved out to Western New York and found out that people thought and acted very differently from what I was used to–and they thought that was “normal.” I was further affected by “normal” when I moved to Montreal, and dealt with the Quebecois and the Anglais. Then, I moved to West Africa, where I really got a new sense of what “reality and normal” was. A return to the States led to jobs in Pennsylvania and Ohio and then an international consulting gig that sent me to England. Finally, a few years in the “bible belt” of Ohio. Every place I went people there “knew” what normal and “the way things are” should be.
CJ: How has that affected your writing?
Charles: It’s made it very easy to write speculative literature. I have no trouble at all imagining alien or future human societies having unique beliefs.
CJ: I can see where that would come in handy. Tell us a bit about your series.
Charles: Well, it begins with Witches’ Gambit, which actually was written after I wrote the other two books. In Witches Gambit, Aidan Ray, a successful high-powered attorney and psychic, secretly communes with the dead in a future fascist fundamentalist earth society that would call her “witch” and wipe her mind. She’s visited by a dead alien who brings a summons to her to defend Earth against charges that would lead to the death of every living thing on the planet. To do this, she has to gather a team and make a hazardous “quantum intrusion” trip to another galaxy, knowing that she may not survive the journey nor have a place to come home to.
The next book in the series, (time wise) is Dancing With the Dead, where a young genius is taken from his home in the mountains of Yemen and trained to be an astrophysicist and terrorist tasked with destroying Luna City. He falls in love with just the wrong person, a cat-like alien from a planet of pacifists, and now has a moral dilemma to face. The terrorists who trained him will kill his entire tribe if he fails in his mission. But he does not want to kill Doctor Quenby, his alien love. The galactic police have realized the plot and are trying to find out who he is and kill him, and Aidan Ray has rallied the Terran dead to aid them.
The third in the series, Alvar’s Spear, is about the half-human, half-alien, Gar, who is chosen by the sentient planet, Alvar, to become the spear she hurls into the heart of a mutation that wants to turn Alvar the planet into a fetid swamp and enslave the Antal who live there. To do this, he must venture out into the Vild, where no one dares to go because of the fearsome snow wolves rule. He must travel to the Forbidden Mountains from which no one has ever returned, on a vision quest. If successful, he will become the planetary savior and save Alvar. But the danger of creating a savior is he will become his own person, and do what he will, whether anyone else likes it.
CJ: That is a lot of cool information. How did you come up with these story ideas? What inspired you?
Charles: Okay, this is where I say I have one piece of paper that says I’m a psychologist and another that says I’m a medium. I get my ideas from talking with my dead friends, or the dead folks they send to me.
CJ: How long have you been able to do that?
Charles: Back when I began writing what turned out to be the beginning of the series, I had voices in my head telling me to write, and to write about future earth societies and other societies that communed regularly with the dead. As a psychologist, I knew what we did to people who “heard voices” so I searched out some help. I live a scant distance from Lily Dale, the world’s largest Spiritualist community, and had some previous experience with spiritualism. There, I found a medium and PhD Philosopher who took me into a training circle. I spent five years learning my way around the world beyond the veil called death, writing all the time.
CJ: You said this started when you were writing the first book in the series, but that wasn’t the first book you wrote, correct?
Charles: Absolutely. The first “book” I wrote turned into 750 pages of material, which has largely become the backstory for the series. The first book I published was Dancing With The Dead. back in 2015. I had been writing the material from about 2008.
CJ: What is it like to write the series out of order? It would worry me that I’d change too much of the story and have to go back and rewrite what I’d already done.
Charles: That actually did not turn into the problem it could have become. It required my almost constantly going back into the first two books to make sure I was not irreparably changing something that should not be changed but adding to the storyline.
CJ: That is amazing. I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to do that. Now, you’ve got 3 books out so far. At what point do you consider yourself a successful author?
Charles: I considered myself a successful author when Dancing With the Dead was named as a finalist for Best SF/F Book of the Year and won three other awards. Since then, Alvar’s Spear has won gold for Best SF/F Book of the Year from Next Generation Indie Awards, and Witches’ Gambit has been a finalist. I’ve had my share of sales, but for me, it’s about getting my message out and having it received.
CJ: Congratulations on winning those awards! It must have felt surreal for you to even be nominated, let alone win.
Charles: Yes, it was. I was not sure at all about how the critical world would take stories where the main theme was talking to the dead, interacting with the dead daily, and a healthy dose of social comment about where our society was heading if we let fundamentalists take over and let greed continue to run rampant.
CJ: It looks like you had nothing to worry about. Going back just a bit. How has the reception been when you tell people how you get your inspiration if you do at all?
CJ: Yes, I certainly can. When it first started for you, how receptive was your family?
Charles: Not receptive at all. Except for my wife and son, who are completely simpatico.
CJ: And with the success of your books, has your family come around?
CJ: I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m sure you’ve got an audience out there who love the ideas and either don’t care where they come from or are intrigued by the idea. With all of those great ideas, I’m curious. Was there ever a time when you experienced writer’s block? On the flip side, when you started getting the inspiration through your mediumship, was there any time that you disregarded or argued about the information you got?
Charles: I’ll answer the first question first. Yes. I have gotten writer’s block—right now, I am having trouble finishing the WIP I’m on, which I ascribe to “outrage fatigue” and the fact that the alien antagonist bears a strong resemblance to a certain resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The second question is more easily answered by saying that “they wouldn’t leave me alone when I did.” They kept bringing coincidences my way to show me the direction I should go (as Jung said, ‘there are no coincidences”) and what I found out about mediumship was it was more a case of letting go of preconceptions and notions than of learning new stuff—once I trusted my inner self more, things became clearer and clearer.
CJ: Yeah, the world right now is all topsy-turvey and many people I know are having trouble writing. Hopefully, your friends will help get you out of it but in the meantime, just focus on some self-care and distractions. I find that works best for me.
Charles: Good advice. And I have been focusing on is self-care, fun distractions, and it helps. I know that I will be able to complete the WIP. I’ve gotten 65,000 words down so far and my protagonists are about to bring the antagonist to his well-deserved punishment.
CJ: Sounds like you’re in a good place then. Charles, thank you so much for sitting with me today. I really enjoyed our conversation.
Charles: So did I!!!. Thank you!
You can connect with Charles via these avenues:
Charles Freedom Long
Charles Freedom Long
Charles Freedom Long