Legends of the Lost Causes
In this Creator Conversation, Legends of the Lost Causes is the thrilling start to an action-packed middle-grade series by debut authors Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester. In this Q&A session, Oklahoma author Brad McLelland discusses what readers can expect from the series, what it’s like working in a co-author in another state, inspirational places in Oklahoma, and more.
What can readers expect when they pick up a copy of Legends of the Lost Causes?
Expect one of the wildest rides through the Old West you’ve ever experienced, from nail-biting confrontations on a dusty Main Street to white-knuckle chases through cryptic graveyards and cursed forests. But Legends is also an emotional journey, filled with challenging moments that stretch Keech and his Lost Causes to their limits. Readers should prepare to laugh and cry, as well as shout at the bad guys.
How do you describe yourself and what you do?
Yikes! Super tough question. I would say I’m a fairly methodical person who needs a plan in place for much of what I do. On the writing front, that means preparing detailed outlines and synopses, knowing exactly where I’ll be placing my feet before I take the first step. But on the other hand, I think I’m also pretty easygoing, and I hope people find me good-natured and approachable. Because kidlit writing and publishing is a huge responsibility, I think these two aspects of my personality help me be as professional and equipped for the job as possible. I love interacting with kids about stories and have a blast with the day-to-day work; but at the same time, I understand the importance of the narratives I tell and the ramifications of the words I use.
What got you interested in writing stories?
I’ve had a passion for the written word for as long as I can remember. I credit this enthusiasm to my mother, who was an Arkansas educator for nearly 18 years. She not only taught me how to read and write, but also how to appreciate stories as vehicles for understanding my world better, and for obtaining a deeper sense of empathy for others. Because of those early lessons, I became a voracious reader in early middle school and began writing stories when I was eight. I haven’t stopped since!
What inspired the Legends of the Lost Causes?
When I was a kid, I consumed every adventure book I could get my hands on—from The Call of the Wild to The Hobbit to Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence—and I always craved more. Legends comes from a strong desire to give young readers a book and series that I would have loved at that age.
I’ve also drawn heavy inspiration from Charles Portis’s True Grit, in which a scrappy, resourceful, 14-year-old girl named Mattie Ross hunts her father’s killer with U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. The novel packs a serious punch, but it’s also hilarious and fun. Another obvious influence is Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, one of the first Western Fantasy mashups I ever read and a series that ignited my imagination more than any other.
What was the greatest challenge you overcame in writing the book?
Collaborating with a writing partner can be a difficult endeavor, but it’s especially challenging when you’re writing over a thousand miles apart from each other. I live in Oklahoma and Louis lives in Idaho, so we have to plan our books and schedule our writing times quite meticulously. On top of these distance challenges, we also hold full-time jobs outside of kidlit publishing. I work as a technical editor for a publisher of fire and emergency services training manuals, and Louis is an English professor, so our daytime jobs keep us busy throughout a typical week. It’s important that we keep to a writing routine that not only succeeds for our publisher, but also works for our families and our employers.
What advice would you like to share with other writers who are working on a book with a co-author?
Check your ego at the door! You might write a sentence you love, even absolutely cherish, but your partner might not see the beauty of the line and want to remove it. This will happen more than you think. You can’t take such edits personally. As long as you and your partner share the same determination to produce the best story possible, you’ll be willing to set aside your personal desires and let the best ideas shine through.
You’ll also want to be open to new, strange ideas. Your partner might make suggestions that at first seem odd, and your impulse might be to say, “That’s not the story I had imagined.” BUT if you’re open and willing to consider your partner’s rationale, you’ll find that sometimes the strange idea on the table can actually take the story in an exciting new direction, leaving you with a tale you could never have created on your own.
What are some of the biggest takeaways you wish readers would learn from the book?
I hope everyone has as much fun with the magical and thrilling aspects of the story as Louis and I have had; but I truly hope that readers recognize the heart of Keech’s tale as one of friendship, teamwork, and acceptance. That is, I want our audience to understand that even though the world is full of people who look and speak and act differently from one another, we are all capable of working together to solve problems, accepting our differences, elevating each other, and destroying the seeds of hatred that try to tear us apart.
Where are some great places to go in Oklahoma for inspiration?
If you need a good place to find your muse, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Natural Falls State Park in the Ozark Highlands. It’s a true place of beauty. I also highly recommend escaping into the Wichita Mountains, where my wife and I have enjoyed some wonderful weekends of hiking and photography and relaxation. I also love the sweeping Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, which isn’t too far from my home in Ponca City. And speaking of Ponca, I love to frequent the Cann Memorial Gardens in the spring, where I tend to sit for hours under the Garden’s quiet gazebos and read fiction to recharge. I also draw inspiration from occasional visits to Ponca City’s own Marland Mansion, which feels like stepping into Europe for a quick trip.
What’s in store for the future of the Legends of the Lost Causes series?
Well, I’m proud to say that Book 2: The Fang of Bonfire Crossing, just hit stores in February, so Louis and I are continuing to promote the second volume. But behind the scenes, we’re also finishing up work on the third book, The Key of Skeleton Peak, which wraps up the Legends saga (with a massive bang, I must add). Volume 3 will publish in March 2020, and from there, we’ll keep working with middle-grade schools and libraries to build our readership. And who knows? Maybe if enough people enjoy the series, our publishers will let us saddle up again someday for a sequel tale or spinoff. The Old West still holds plenty of stories to tell!
Anything else you want to say or let people know?
Louis and I would just like to thank the readers of Oklahoma for embracing Keech’s story, and for supporting two unknown authors who never thought their work would see the light of day, much less make it onto national bookshelves or win the Oklahoma Book Award. Authors can’t do what they do without readers picking up their work and sharing it with others, so we sincerely appreciate everyone who has come along for the ride.