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Charles Ray has been writing fiction since his teens. A native of Texas, he left home and joined the U.S. Army when he was 17. After 20 years in uniform, he joined the U.S. Foreign Service, serving as an American diplomat in Africa and Asia until his retirement in 2012.
He now lives in Maryland where he is a fulltime writer/photographer. Ray has worked as a newspaper and magazine journalist and has written more than 50 works of fiction and nonfiction, including a popular series about the famed Buffalo Soldiers of the Ninth U.S. Cavalry in the period after the Civil War. His most popular books are Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal and Mountain Man. He also writes westerns for Rusty Spurs Publications.
He has been a book reviewer for various print publications since the 1970s and does regular book reviews on his writer’s blog titled Charles Ray’s Ramblings. http://charlieray45.wordpress.com. His author page can be seen at http://charlesray-author.com.
He runs a workshop in professional writing for Rangel Scholars at Howard University every summer.
What makes you proud to be a writer from North Potomac, MD? I’m proud to be a writer from anywhere. Being in the Washington, DC area, though, I can, through my writing, introduce readers to the reality of the nation’s capital, and show them the incredible diversity and beauty of the region.
What or who inspired you to become a writer? My mother taught me to read when I was four. My first few years of school were boring, because I started first grade reading at a third or fourth grade level. The teachers in my country school, however, allowed me access to the school’s meager library, and I discovered the works of Arthur Conan Doyle. From that point, I was hooked on reading, and that naturally led to writing. I wrote and published my first short story in a national Sunday school magazine when I was 12 or 13 – that’s been nearly 60 years ago, so forgive me if I no longer remember.
Did your environment or upbringing play a major role in your writing and did you use it to your advantage? Everything I’ve ever experiences plays a role in my writing, from growing up in a small East Texas town of 700 people to spending 20 years in the US Army, with assignments in Europe and Asia (including wartime service). Having lived in many cultures (Africa, Asia, and all over the US), I have a diverse view of the world, and can see things through multifaceted cultural lenses. I think that brings a measure of diversity to my writing that might not be the case if I’d grown up exposed to only one culture.
When did you begin writing with the intention of becoming published? As I said, my first publication was at the age of 12 or 13. During the 1960s and 1970s, when I was in the army, I worked part-time (moonlighting) for a number of newspapers and magazines. Until 1999, I only did short stuff; articles, poems, etc., but in 2007, I decided to take a shot at a book-length work. I spent 8 years writing my first fiction project, Color Me Dead, the first book in my Al Pennyback mystery series. I also did a book on leadership, Things I Learned from My Grandmother About Leadership and Life, which took two years to write. I’ve never aspired to be a literary writer—I prefer telling a good, entertaining story. With more practice and experience, I can now complete a book-length project in two months.
What has been your most rewarding experience with your writing process? My most rewarding experience was when I lived in Zimbabwe. Working with my public affairs staff, I published a book of essays I’d written for local newspapers on leadership, democracy, and human rights, which we distributed to schools and youth organizations. We titled it Where You Come Matters Less Than Where You’re Going. A few months after it was released, I received an email from a lady who said she’d given it to her teenaged son to read. The boy, who had been bordering on delinquency, she said, completely turned his life around after reading the book. You can’t ask for a more rewarding experience than having what you write impact someone’s life like that.
What has been your most rewarding experience in your publishing journey? Having people come up to me in public and inform me that they’ve read and enjoyed one or more of my books – or even better, ask me to autograph one of my books.
How many published books do you have? To date, I’ve published 62 books.
Where we can find your books? All of my books, with Amazon purchase links, can be found on my Amazon author page. http://www.amazon.com/Charles-Ray/e/B006WMLEZK
Do you come up with your title(s) before or after you write the manuscript? Usually, I come up with the title before I write the manuscript. In one or two cases, I’ve changed the title after completing the manuscript because the story suggested a better title—this is rare, though.
Please introduce your genre and why you prefer to write in that genre? I write in multiple genres, fiction and nonfiction. My main fiction genres are mystery and western/historical fiction. I love mystery stories, and that will always be my first love. I began doing the western/historical stories after noticing that many of the young people I worked with during my time in the U.S. Foreign Service had a totally distorted understanding of American history, especially the role played by minorities in the Old West. I also do the occasional fantasy or urban fantasy story just for fun.
What was your inspiration, spark or light bulb moment that inspired you to write the book (one book) that you are seeking promotion for? Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, grew out of my research for my Buffalo Soldier western/historical series. I ran across documents relating to this African-American who was one of the first deputy marshals of his race west of the Mississippi shortly after the Civil War. Even though I’m something of a history wonk, I’d never encountered his name before in my research, and became fascinated by his exploits, and a bit dismayed that so little had ever been written about him. I did about a year of research and then did a fictionalized account of his life. This is the book that I’m most proud of, and surprisingly, it has been my best seller, which I guess just shows that there are many readers out there who want to know more about our country’s past.
What one positive piece of advice would you give to other authors? Never let self-doubt or discouraging words from others keep you from writing. The more you write, the more your confidence in your ability will grow, and the more your writing will improve. Writing is a journey – it doesn’t matter where you come from, it only matters where you’re going.
Who is your favorite author and why? That’s a hard question to answer, because I like so many writers. If I just have to pick one, though, I guess it would be Robert B. Parker. I have been profoundly affected by his Spenser series, and while I don’t try to copy his style, I do try to say as much with as few words as possible like he did.
Which book title would you like featured in this interview? Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal
If you are a multi-book author please tell me three of YOUR favorite (published) book titles:
In 1875, Indian Territory, in what is now the state of Oklahoma, was a haven for thieves, swindlers, and murderers, all trying to escape the reach of the law. When President U.S. Grant appointed Judge Isaac Parker judge of the Western District of Arkansas, which included the territory, Parker was intent upon bringing fugitives to justice. He authorized U.S. Marshal James Fagan to hire 200 deputy marshals to help police the 4,500 square mile lawless territory. Among those deputies was Bass Reeves. Born a slave in 1838, Reeves had spent the Civil War as a runaway in Indian Territory, and spoke five tribal languages. He was an expert tracker and an accomplished marksman, and at 6'2" and 180 pounds in an era when the average male height was 5'6", was an imposing figure. During his 32 year tenure as a deputy marshal, Reeves brought in over 3,000 fugitives. Unable to either read or write, he had someone read warrants to him and memorized every detail - never making a mistake. In this fictional account of his first two years, ride along with one of the most famous U.S. Deputy Marshals in American history.
Henry Waylon spent ten years on death row, before finally being executed. A day after his death by lethal injection, DNA evidence shows that he was innocent of the crime for which he’d been convicted. The judge who sentenced him to die receives a threatening note, and hires Al Pennyback to find out who is threatening him. As Al digs into the background of the crime, he finds that there’s more to the case than meets the eye, and, when people associated with it start to die, he finds himself in a race against time to catch a ruthless killer. Please List All Purchase Links:
First Sergeant Ben Carter and his detachment are dispatched to the western part of New Mexico Territory to track down a band of renegade Apache who have bolted the reservation. After days on the renegades’ trail, they’ve come up dry, until they encounter them in the mountains south of Santa Fe. After a brief skirmish, the renegades elude Ben once again. Hot on their tail, Ben and his men are faced with life and death decisions – they discover a grisly scene indicating that the Apache are not the only deadly perils awaiting them in the shadow of the mountain.
Nor are they only ones in danger. At Dead Man’s Gulch, they come upon a small detachment of the Sixth Cavalry, a white unit stationed in Arizona Territory that has been chasing its own band of renegades, only to find itself trapped and in danger of being annihilated until the Buffalo Soldiers of the Ninth Cavalry come to their rescue.
Ride along with the Buffalo Soldiers as they face death, danger and discrimination on the western frontier.