Hi guys! I am really really excited to share with y’all this month’s LILbooKtalk! Last semester, I had the amazing opportunity to read Legends of the Lost Causes, which was an epic MG western novel full of magic, action, and adventure! Today, the authors of the series, Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, are here on the blog to talk about what it was like collaborating on their books. I hope you enjoy it!
About Legends of the Lost Causes
A band of orphan avengers. A cursed stone. A horde of zombie outlaws.
This is Keech Blackwood’s new life after Bad Whiskey Nelson descends upon the Home for Lost Causes and burns it to the ground.
With his home destroyed and his family lost, Keech will have to use the lessons he learned from Pa Abner to hunt down the powerful Char Stone. Luckily, he has the help of a ragtag team of orphans. Together, they’ll travel through treacherous forests, fight off the risen dead, and discover that they share mysterious bonds as they search for the legendary stone. Now it’s a race against the clock, because if Bad Whiskey finds the stone first…all is lost.
But Keech and the other orphans won’t hesitate. Because they’re more than just heroes.
They’re Lost Causes.
Legends of the Lost Causes marks the thrilling start to an action-packed middle grade series by debut authors Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester.
About The Fang of Bonfire Crossing
The Brotherband Chronicles meets the Wild West in this rip-roaring middle-grade adventure series filled with dark magic, scrappy heroes, and diabolical villains.
Keech Blackwood and his band of fellow orphans demand justice for their fallen families. But the road to retribution is a long and hard-fought journey.
After defeating Bad Whiskey Nelson, the man who burned Keech’s home to the ground, the Lost Causes have a new mission: find Bonfire Crossing, the mysterious land that holds clues to the whereabouts of the all-powerful Char Stone. Along the way they’ll have to fend off a shapeshifting beast, a swarm of river monsters, and a fearsome desperado named Big Ben Loving who conjures tornadoes out of thin air. It’s an epic standoff between the Lost Causes and the outlaw Reverend Rose, a powerful sorcerer who would be unstoppable with the Stone in his possession.
With the world—and vengeance—hanging in the balance, the Lost Causes are ready for battle.
The Fang of Bonfire Crossing releases on February 19th, 2019, from Henry Holt! Pre-order it today!
Questions are in bold
Kester: Today, we have Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, the two talented authors of Legends of the Lost Causes, an MG fantasy adventure novel set in the Wild West and of which released earlier this year. Would both of you like to tell us a little bit about each of yourselves and your novel?
Brad: Sure thing! Well, I’m an Arkansas native, but I moved to Oklahoma in 2008 to attend grad school at Oklahoma State University — where I met Louis in a creative writing program. I’ve been in OK ever since, and now I have a wonderful wife, Alisha, and an 8-year-old stepdaughter, Chloe.
Louis: I’m an English professor at Lewis-Clark State College in northern Idaho. I earned my PhD at Oklahoma State University where I met Brad. I also have a wife and two dogs. The dogs are named Cake and Muse.
Brad: Louis and I got to know each other through casual hangouts, really. A mutual friend of ours would host fun get-togethers, where we would all play Werewolf and other games, and mine and Louis’s friendship just naturally occurred at these get-togethers. And of course, I saw Louis from time to time in the halls of the OSU English Department. But he was WAY too popular for me to hang out with there. 😉
Louis: Right before I left for Idaho, we decided to write a book series together.
Brad: Yep, we started outlining the series in–what was it, Louis?–Spring of 2010, I believe.
Louis: Yep. We planned out the basic plot points and then I left town.
Brad: Yes you did! I was devastated. (Kidding.)
Louis: From then on, we had to work with each other online or by phone.
Brad: By that time, we already had a pretty good amount of work done on Book 1–which at that time was this kind of monstrosity of a YA Western. In other words, we didn’t quite know what sort of book we wanted to write at the time.
Kester: So what inspired you to write Legends of the Lost Causes together?
Brad: Well, I really loved my discussions with Louis at these get-togethers. I knew he enjoyed reading (and writing) genre books, as did I, so those discussions turned into deeper conversations about collaborating on an old idea I had.
Louis: As I recall, we were at a birthday party, chatting about writing and our future goals. Brad and I both declared our desire to write a rip-roaring adventure.
Brad: Yep! It was June 3, 2010. Our friend’s birthday. That was the “birth” of Keech Blackwood.
Louis: As we got into our ideas, we realized that we could come up with an exciting tale that would surprise us both if we worked together. And I moved at the end of July.
Brad: After Louis took his professorship in Idaho, we talked on the phone extensively, and just agreed to keep going. As I mentioned before, we had a lot on the page for Book 1 and a lot already outlined for the whole series, we just needed to continue on.
Louis: That’s true. We had a massive outline built by the time I split.
Brad: Yes we did! Eventually, in September 2011, as I recall, we finished the draft of Book 1.
Louis: Yep. For that first draft, we would pass the book back and forth through email. We would write a chapter, then pass it back.
Brad: I’ve always liked to call our process a “perpetual motion machine” of drafting and redrafting — because we never really stop the process between the two of us. We’re constantly honing sentences.
And then came the LONNNNNNG haul of getting it in front of an agent.
Louis: Once we were happy with the story, Brad started the work of finding our agent. He deserves full credit for that.
Brad: Thanks, L.
Kester: I’m very impressed how both of you managed to write what turned out to be this epic story full of adventure! Could you describe to us how your writing and publishing process were different than writing a book on one’s own?
Louis: As Brad says, we have a back and forth rhythm to our writing. So, for example, I’ll write a chapter and send it to Brad. Then he will edit and alter that chapter, then add a chapter onto it. Then I’ll take those two chapters, do another edit, and add a new chapter.
Brad: Well, writing on your own is an extremely lonely adventure, as you probably well know. I think writing with a partner keeps you focused on the task; whereas writing alone, you might feel yourself adrift at times. With Louis, that feeling of being adrift is very seldom.
Louis: Brad makes a good point. Writing alone can often leave you feeling unsure if you’re headed down the right path. With a partner, you get almost instant feedback when something is working or not.
Brad: We basically churn and churn and churn away at the chapter till we’re both satisfied. We also make sure it follows the outline in a way that satisfies our over-arching story needs.
Kester: So how did you combine both of your writing styles into one? Like, how did you ensure that one chapter didn’t seem as if it was written differently than another?
Brad: Good questions! Let’s say I start Chapter 1. I’ll naturally have my voice and style in the chapter. Well, when I’m done, I pass it over to Louis. Louis then reads it over, then starts giving it HIS touches for his own voice and style and rhythm. Then, as he mentioned before, he passes it back to me, and that’s the moment where I get to see how our two styles are meshing. Usually they’re pretty darned close already, but sometimes there’s a bit more smoothing to do. Of course, this works the other way around too. Louis actually wrote Chapter 1 of Book 1, and turned it over to me. At which point I worked on it, integrating my own voice and tone, etc. We also make sure both our passes maintain the story that our outline tells us we should write.
Louis: Right. It all happens in the editing stages. We pass these chapters back and forth so many times, the voices can’t help but meld into one voice that we both enjoy.
Brad: It’s kind of like polishing a jewel. We take turns at it till it shines the way we both like it. (Of course, we had to chisel away to find the jewel to begin with!) The TRUE trick, I think, is making sure our reader doesn’t see any of this process, but that everything just courses through the narrative without a hiccup.
Louis: I think Brad and I can tell each other’s distinct voice pretty easily. And the voice in Legends of the Lost Causes isn’t mine or his.
Louis: It’s ours.
Kester: That’s so neat! I certainly read just one great voice rather than two individual ones when I read Legends. Did you encounter any creative differences and disagreements about the story along the way? How were you able to resolve them? (You don’t have to give away any major spoilers.)
Brad: Well, sure, sometimes we do have a minor dispute or two, mostly concerning the way we view a scene or a piece of character development. But Louis and I have a strong friendship which came before the partnership, so anytime we have a dispute about the books–which is very few and far between–we’re super quick to get on the phone or on email and talk to each other, and assuage any stress or fear.
Louis: We have had a number of disagreements. Our way of resolving them is to talk out our concerns and explain our points of view. We listen and try not to get too hurt when an idea is shot down.
Louis: In the end, we want what is best for the book. Our agreement is that nothing goes on the finished page until we are BOTH happy with it.
Brad: That’s true! The book is our mutual work of art; we would never let hard feelings get in the way of the larger picture, OR our friendship.
Kester: Aww, that is so sweet! Since Brad lives in Oklahoma and Louis lives in Idaho, how were you able to overcome this geographical challenge while writing your novel? What were some other challenges that you faced throughout your Legends on the Lost Causes journey?
Brad: This is an interesting question because Louis and I didn’t actually get to see each other face-to-face for nearly 7 years after he left. True story!
Louis: Right. Without the Internet, this book wouldn’t exist. Email saved us for the first few years. Then we moved to Google Docs.
Brad: After he left and we started the process of acquiring our agent, we basically settled into the respective corners of our new lives and just kept in touch via email and we worked exclusively in Google Docs. We never even had a Google Chat or Skype, believe it or not. The first time we actually saw each other in the flesh again was at the Children’s Festival of Stories in Denver, Co. this past March 2018. It was really neat to see him again after all those years.
Kester: Google Docs is definitely a lifesaver!
Brad: Yep! And now, I imagine we’ll see each other again in, say, 2035?
Louis: If we’re lucky!
Brad: Ha right. The zombie apocalypse will probably get in the way of our next reunion. (And we know a thing or two about zombies)
Kester: Hmm… will I see more of them in book two? I’ll have to wait and see, haha!
Brad: Well, without giving away any spoilers, I will say that the thralls you see in Book 1 do basically serve purposes in the rest of the series, but not as large. The story goes in pretty different directions after Book 1.
Louis: Right. Although the Reverend Rose and his minions can raise thralls, they have other sinister tricks up their sleeves.
Brad: SO many tricks! Rose is not a nice feller.
Kester: That makes me even more excited to read it!
Brad: Oh please do! Can’t wait to get your thoughts! We think you’ll be pretty surprised about the events that go down.
Louis: We think you’ll enjoy the next book! It’s pretty crazy. Lots of ups and downs.
Brad: On my side, I might be more proud of Book 2 than Book 1. The first book is always your baby, your first-born, but Book 2 just goes NUTS. I really do have a special place in my heart for it. And then, of course, Book 3… sealing lips.
Kester: I can’t wait!
Louis: Neither can I!
Kester: How has writing Legends of the Lost Causes together benefited the book or you as an author than if either of you had written the story by himself?
Brad: Oh wow, great question. Louis, take this one first while I think?
Louis: Sure. I think that most people imagine that if you write with a partner, you will lose control of your vision. I think that most people imagine that if you write with a partner, you will lose control of your vision. When you write with a partner, you have that instant editor helping you along.
Brad: For me, writing Legends with Louis really solidified the story in a way that I probably would’ve been unsatisfied with, as a solo writer. Sure, I could’ve told the tale, but Louis’s revisional eye and his ability to hone action sequences make him head-and-shoulders better than what I could’ve done on my own.
Louis: Also, writing with a partner helps you get past those blocks that hit every writer. It also helps your story surprise you (in a good way).
Brad: Plus, there’s the simple fact that we can turn out chapters pretty quickly as a team. Most of the time, working in this partnership, we can produce a chapter a week, which gives us lots of great revisional time on the back-end.
Louis: Plus, there’s the simple fact that we can turn out chapters pretty quickly as a team. Most of the time, working in this partnership, we can produce a chapter a week, which gives us lots of great revisional time on the back-end.
Brad: And then there’s the blessing of being able to just talk out the book on the phone with someone who loves your story as much as you do. I can’t tell you the number of hours Louis and I have spent just gabbing on the phone about Keech and the gang. We had a two-hour conversation just yesterday, in fact.
Louis: True. We work through so many plot issues together.
Brad: OH so many. I’ll be like, “Dang, I think I’m stuck.” And Louis is like, “Hold my Pepsi …”
Kester: I really love hearing you both talk about your friendship and your collaboration so much! It’s great! What inspired you to incorporate Native American—specifically the Osage—culture and mythology in your novel? What was your research process like?
Brad: Great question!
Louis: Brad will give you the details about our research, but we included Native American’s in our story because the old west included all sorts of people and cultures.
Brad: So, back on the very first day that we started, Louis and I knew we wanted to tell a magical story of the Old West, but one that didn’t just see the world, or the region, from one particular angle. We wanted to incorporate as much of the real region of our novel as possible, and for us, that meant exploring the cultures of 1855 Missouri. Since the Osage held a very prominent role in that region at the time, we felt it was absolutely crucial that we brought them into the story somehow. So we started about how to do that.
Louis: To leave out Native characters would have been ignoring a vital aspect of the history of the West.
Brad: As it turns out, I live only 45 minutes away or so from the Osage Heritage Center–which is made up of the Osage Cultural Center and Language Departments. So on my end, I consulted with the Heritage Center and showed them what we were doing, and carefully explained how we wanted to incorporate the Osage into our magical system, and I was so surprised and elated when the Osage folks at the Center welcomed me and Louis and welcomed our project.
Louis: They were amazing.
Brad: Obviously, writing characters outside your own perspective can be extremely challenging, so we made sure to go out of our way to make sure the Osage vetted every word of the cultural content. They still work with us to this day. They’re just wonderful people, and I’m proud to say that I’ve made great friends with them.
Kester: It must have been a great experience working with them!
Brad: Oh it was. To know that you have experts of the culture you’re wanting to give representation to vetting the material, it’s a good feeling.
Louis: Brad has spent a lot of hours at the cultural center.
Brad: Yep, I visit the Center frequently, and have sat for hours out there visiting with the Cultural Center director and the language specialists. They really have been life-savers in this regard.
Louis: Right. We’ve done our best to show proper respect to the various cultures mentioned in our story.
Brad: Representation is important. But you also have to do it right and do it well and do it respectfully. And we’re taking that task very seriously and asking ourselves questions about it every day and every time we get into Google Docs to work. Of course, we have other sensitivity readers looking carefully over our content as well. I can’t give away spoilers for Book 2, but one new sensitivity reader came aboard for the second book, and his guidance and wisdom for the story has just been wonderful.
Kester: I definitely commend all the work you’ve done to make sure your representation of the Osage is accurate and respectful!
Brad: Thank you! All the thanks and appreciation goes to the Osage Heritage Center and everyone there. They’re extremely patient with us, and so very supportive.
Louis: We’re doing our best, but we realize that we always have room to grow.
Kester: Definitely! The illustrations in your novel are gorgeous, and they certainly do bring the book to life! Who designed them? How did the idea of including these depictions come about?
Brad: We LOVE our illustrations and cover. The whole series is being illustrated by the incredible Alexandria Neonakis.
Louis: She’s the best!
Brad: You should look up her portfolio. She’s simply amazing, and she’s capturing the spirit of The Lost Causes so perfectly it’s almost scary.
Louis: And, of course, we’re excited that she is doing the art for the upcoming books as well.
Brad: Alexandria works a concept artist at Naughty Dog, and does freelancing work for publishers. So she’s a busy, busy lady. But she’s giving the Legends series such tender loving care. I’m so happy that Macmillan is working with her for our series.
Kester: That’s so awesome! She definitely does an awesome job with them! I was very captivated by all of her art!
Brad: We’ll pass that along!
Kester: Before we end this LILbooKtalk, would you like to share any advice to young readers and writers?
Louis: My advice is two points:
First, keep an open mind to constructive comments from other readers. Be willing to consider suggestions.
Second, writing is a process. Your first draft will not be good enough. Period. You have to rewrite and rewrite. Don’t be afraid of the revision process.
Brad: Amen, Louis. I would say first and foremost, don’t expect the first draft to write itself. It’s a lot of work to get a book on the page, so be patient with the process. And secondly, be patient with the process of revision. It’s the most important aspect of writing a book, in my opinion. Also, definitely listen to the criticism you get, even if you don’t feel it’s exactly “constructive” because one day you might be working with an editor who will be FULL of critical ideas for your work, and you’ll have to listen and be humble. I would say humility is the bread and butter of this profession.
Kester: Thank you so much, Brad and Louis, for joining me today in this LILbooKtalk! It was so great talking with the both of you!
Louis: It’s been great talking with you, Kester!
Brad: It was wonderful talking to you as well, Kester! Thank you so much!
Thanks so much to Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester for joining me in this month’s edition of our LILbooKtalks! Please go out and support them by checking out and reading their books!
Born and raised in Arkansas, Brad McLelland spent several years working as a crime journalist in the South before earning his MFA in creative writing from Oklahoma State University. A part-time drummer and singer, Brad lives in Oklahoma with his wife, stepdaughter, a mini-Aussie who gives hugs, and a chubby cat who begs for ham.
Photo by Connie West
Louis Sylvester is a professor at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. He and his wife spend their free time playing tabletop games from his collection of over 1,000 card and board games. Louis enjoys watching Western films and reading fantasy novels. He has two dogs that go wild when they hear the word treats.
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