Here is Part 2 of my Q&A with “Dark Territory” Authors J. Gabriel Gates and Charlene Keel:
Question: Do you have a favorite character?
Gates: I have a lot of love for every character I write. They all have their admirable qualities. I love Raphael for his heart and his determination, Zhai for his patience and his discipline, Aimee for her headstrong desire for freedom, Master Chin for the love he bears his students, Ignacio for his loyalty and his sense of humor, Dalton for her strength. That’s one great thing about this series; you really have a broad family of characters with whom you want to spend time.
Keel: I’m partial to the misfits and miscreants—the anti-hero heroes like Maggie, the popular cheerleader and resident bitch who’s dating Rick, the local football star, but she wants Raphael and would love to see him and Aimee break up. We get under her skin and explore the reasons for her behavior (like having to parent an agoraphobic mother for most of her life)…I also like Maggie’s mom, Violet, who’s not as crazy as one would first think, and Ignacio (Nass) is fun and full of surprises.
Question: Is there room for a sequel?
Gates: Absolutely! The Tracks Book 2 is called “Ghost Crown”. We’re putting the final touches on it now, and it comes out in January (of 2012). Char and I both think it’s even better than “Dark Territory”, so we’re excited for it to get out into the world.
Keel: The Tracks has always been envisioned as a series, both by myself and Jacob, and by HCI Books. With rave reviews coming in on almost a daily basis, we are more eager than ever to keep going with the series. (I should also mention that it took) about the same amount of time to write “Ghost Crown” (as it did “Dark Territory”).
Question: Can you share a little about “Ghost Crown”?
Keel: We introduce a new character, with whom I’m totally in love. Orias is the son of a fallen angel and a human woman. He goes to Middleburg with a plan to take Aimee away from Raphael for his own devious purposes. He is the ultimate bad boy, doomed to a living hell through no fault of his own—and he’s so supernaturally gorgeous it melts your heart just to look at him. That’s a pretty hot combination. As for Maggie, her character has the greatest developmental arc, going from resident bitch in (book one) to spiritual warrior in the second book.
Question: If a movie were adapted from the book, which actors/actresses would you like to see play the primary characters?
Gates: The characters in my books are such individuals in my mind that it’s difficult for me to imagine them in any other way. But I will say this: whoever plays Raphael and Zhai had better be genuinely good at Kung Fu, so you Hollywood teen actors had better get down to the nearest Kwoon and start practicing now!
Keel: For the younger characters, I’ve already consulted with my very own minion of teen readers (my granddaughter Allie and her friends) and they think Emma Roberts (Nancy Drew) should play Aimee and Dakota Fanning (The Twilight Saga) should be Maggie. Thomas McDonnell (Prom) or Avan Jogia (Victorious) – both who have been compared to Johnny Depp – should play Raphael, and Channing Tatum (Dear John) should be Rick. I’d love to see sexy John Barrowman (Torchwood) as Oberon and either Gary Cole (Office Space) or Joel Gretsch (The 4400), both of them intense and compelling actors, as nasty Jack (Aimee’s father), and multi-talented Philece Sampler (Another World) as Violet, Maggie’s agoraphobic mom. Blair Redford (Switched at Birth and The Lying Game) should play Orias.
Question: Do you have a favorite story arc or favorite character?
Gates: There are lots of pieces of the story that I love, but I find Raphael’s back story particularly haunting. I’m a big fan of Dostoevsky; he was such a master of creating these terribly heartbreaking situations for his characters to rise above, and that’s what I think of when I think of Raphael’s life: he can either take his circumstances as an excuse to be a troublemaker, or he can buckle down and be a force for good. I think that’s a relatable situation for a lot of teens.
Keel: One of my favorite story arcs is the mystery of what Violet has locked down in her basement. How did it get there? What’s going to happen to Middleburg if it gets out? This thread runs through several books and is key to the mystery of Middleburg.
Question: Were any of the characters modeled after either of you or anyone you know?
Gates: Nope. They are all real individuals – they just happen to live in my (and Charlene’s) mind!
Keel: Probably. Specifically (and on purpose), Lily Rose, the housekeeper for a few of the wealthy Topper families. She is a magical creature and is modeled after the wonderful African American woman who took care of me for the first 12 years of my life. Her name was Lugene Lewis, and any goodness and compassion in me she, along with my Aunt Daisy, is responsible for. I’m a great fan of Stephen King and in some of his books (like “The Shining” and my favorite, The Talisman, which he wrote with Peter Straub); old black guys with humble occupations have magical qualities. So I guess that’s a nod to Stephen King. And Dalton is a compilation of a couple of my friends.
Question: Are there any story arcs that you ended up not using in the book?
Gates: There’s a moment near the beginning when Raphael considers stealing a video camera. In an earlier draft, I wrote that he actually took it. It was the first big battle of our collaboration. I saw that act of theft as a mistake Raphael would have to rise above and learn from, but Char adamantly opposed it as a “non-heroic” action. Ultimately, I think it was a good cut. It would have been a violation of Raphael’s Wu-de (martial arts code of conduct) and anyway, it wasn’t necessary to the main story. Charlene was right.
Keel: Some will carry over to other books, like Violet’s “deal with the devil” and how she got to be agoraphobic. (And, of course), our creative conflict (over) whether or not to let Raphael steal (the camera). I just couldn’t believe that the character we created would go so totally against his philosophical beliefs. That’s why it’s so important for a writer to get to know his/her characters, to get inside their heads and live, eat, sleep, breathe, play, work and walk with them every day. When I’m writing, I even dream about my characters and become submerged in their world.
Question: Do you have any advice for new writers?
Gates: Write daily, read daily! Don’t start by writing a novel – start with short stories and make sure they have all the necessary dramatic elements: a beginning, a middle, an ending, rising action, conflict, character development, etc. Hone your craft on short projects then move to longer ones. Above all, be patient. There are no shortcuts. Getting good takes years, and once you’re good, getting published takes even longer. Ultimately, writing has to be a lifestyle. And what a wonderful lifestyle it can be!
Keel: Yes—write, write, write. Also read, read, read. When I’m asked for advice by aspiring writers who tell me they don’t have time to read, or that they don’t want any outside influences sneaking into their work, I wish them well and suggest they at least read Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft“. You can’t write good fiction unless you read good fiction (and even bad fiction, since it shows you what not to do). Writing is a process and it’s long, tedious and usually lonely, so be willing to listen to successful writers and don’t think that (as one novice writer told me), “It’s perfect the way I first spew it out. I don’t believe in re-writing.”
If you would like to learn more about J. Gabriel Gates, please visit his website here. And, if you would like to learn more about Charlene Keel, you may visit her website here. They would love to hear from readers about The Tracks series.
Again, the first book in The Tracks series – “Dark Territory” is now on bookshelves and the second book – “Ghost Crown” – will be released in January of next year. You can also visit HCI Books here for downloads of posters, wallpaper, ringtones or information on the book series.
Get out there and buy a copy of “Dark Territory” for yourself (and for your friends and family too) and mark your calendars for the release of its sequel “Ghost Crown” in the new year!