The Innovators #14 with…author C.K. Shackleton

Like any other effort, writing has its fun components, but my advice would be to view the activity of writing as work. Actual work. Changing your perspective that writing is actually going to require true, consistent effort from you in the form of real work ethic will lead to more tangible results.

Introduce yourself and your books.

My author name is C.K. Shackleton.  I am the author of 4 books (so far) in the fast-paced and fun Edward Prince Adventure Series.  In publication order, they are “The Mystery of Coronado Cay, “The Bolshevik Ballerina,” “The Lost Idol of Ishtar” and most recently, “Roosevelt’s River.”  I’ve published other fiction and non-fiction books under other names, but the Edward Prince books were by far, the most fun to write.

Tell me about Edward Prince:  who or what inspired him? Is he a hero or an anti-hero?

I believe Edward Prince is a hero.  There are plenty of deconstructed, post-modern anti-heroes in current literature and pop culture right now and plenty more are being created everyday.  I like a lot of their stories, but a character created in our time that fits the mold of a “pre-modern, traditional” hero like Prince could be seen as anachronistic if not ironic.  I’m totally fine with that.
Edward Prince is always searching for the truth and more importantly, he seems to be willing to sacrifice his own comfort and in some cases, risk his life to get to it.  Prince was born in the last quarter of the 19th Century as the Victorian Era in most parts of the world started to make way for the Edwardian Era.  To me, that is probably one of the most fascinating times in history as new technological achievements intersected with humanity’s relentless ambition to explore the vast and mysterious corners and cultures of the Earth.  I wanted to tap into that excitement through the eyes of someone like Edward Prince.  To me, he is the culmination of those explorers, innovators and artists of that time, who kept throwing off the shackles of earlier convention and rigid thinking and pressed forward to discover something new.  
I suppose my inspiration for creating him is an amalgamation of fictional heroes from that era, like Edgar Rice Burroghs’s Tarzan and John Carter and certainly from the lesser-known protagonist, Charles Marlow in two of Joseph Conrad’s books.  The “cool under pressure” approach that Prince occasionally displays was borrowed from Ian Fleming’s James Bond (007).  I finished reading the original series a few years ago and always thought Fleming had an interesting insight into the mind of 007 facing odds greater than what most people would ever know.  As for real life examples, I think Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Shackleton were big influences.  Neither of those men lived to a relatively old age, but both experienced more adventure in their adult lives than most people on the planet.
By no means is Prince perfect.  There are times when he makes mistakes in judgment, drawing the wrong conclusions and losing his cool, like anyone would do under stressful circumstances.  He also seems to be afraid of committing to others in the long-term and that is possibly connected to the loss of a loved one early on in his adult life.  I think the idea of the flawed hero, who is still a hero, was really brought to the forefront by Stan Lee, the visionary behind most Marvel Comics characters, like Spider-man, Iron Man and the Hulk.  These flaws were present, but never inhibited the characters from accomplishing their mission.  
One other fictional inspiration that I drew from for the last Edward Prince book was Idris Elba’s character Detective Chief Inspector John Luther in the excellent British television series “Luther.”  DCI Luther is philosophical, observant, occasionally misunderstood and usually a little ahead of the rest of the pack he’s surrounded by and that seems to be an advantage.  Luther always found himself in difficult situations that required bending the rules and sometimes that meant going off to do his own thing.  I suppose those themes coincided with a slightly older, somewhat more world-weary Edward Prince in “Roosevelt’s River.” 
I’ve had adventures of my own, spending my childhood growing up in two different countries and then in my adult life doing business with people from so many cultures and economic classes.  As an author, you can draw from that area of your life so much when you’re trying to create something that feels authentic and rings true to the reader.

Why historical fiction?  What compels you to write in that genre?

I enjoy a lot of different genres of fiction, such as science fiction, thrillers, graphic novels, TPBs along with the occasional Steampunk book.  However, in writing my books, I followed the advice to write the book you’ve always wanted to read and I took that to heart.  I’ve loved studying history since I was a kid.  I think people who find history boring or learning about historical events to be dry have never had the right teachers or had it presented in a way that made it relatable.  History is messy, it is sometimes murky and it has lately been controversial, but it is rarely uninteresting.  
In The Edward Prince Adventure Series, I wanted to experiment with putting some real-life historical people with my fictional characters connecting the places and events, but never losing the pace.  I’d like to think I was able to do that with some success in all of the books to one degree or another. 

Why have you chosen to write Edward’s adventures as serialized short stories?  How does that add to the overall theme/vibe/feel of the series?

Serialized fiction has been around for a long time going all the way back to before Dickens.  However, as a fan of Ian Fleming’s 007 series, I’ve always admired how there was this underlying thread that was consistent to Bond’s character throughout the series that reflected on his ongoing relationships with the characters of M and Miss Moneypenny.  In the books, Bond struggles with killing someone and seems to never lose that angst.  He also seems to see himself as a civil servant first and always appears to put hedonistic pleasures such as food, women and alcohol second.  He is even married briefly in my favorite of the books, but even that ends in tragedy.  Unfortunately, the films have never captured that vision fully.  Instead, we’re treated to a Bond that is bedding a woman every 30 minutes, driving expensive luxury cars, shooting everything up in sight and wearing tuxedos.  Don’t get me wrong, they are enjoyable to watch, but most of them divert away from the essence of what I think Fleming was trying to do.  I also like that Bond aged in the books as well.
So my reasons for writing these as serialized stories came from that notion of what I read in Fleming’s books.  Also, I was a big reader of comic books growing up and no one wrote cliffhangers and serialized fiction like some of those comic book creators, who wanted you to come back for more every month.  There was also another little-known series that probably played a role in all of this work called “The Great Brain” by John Fitzgerald.  As a kid, I read every single one of those books and they were based in true-to-life settings, but likely embellished for entertainment purposes.  Serialized fiction is all around us in every medium.
I think in today’s world of distraction and a zillion things competing for a reader’s attention, writing these shorter books seemed to be a natural response to all of that stimulus.  I trust that readers are sophisticated and imaginative enough to fill in the gaps.  My focus in writing these books has always been to keep the reader engaged from start to finish.  Therefore, action first, dialogue second and brief descriptions third.  I try to maintain my allergy to writing a lot of exposition.  You’ll also notice that I don’t spend too much time plumbing the depths of Prince’s soul or any other character for that matter.  The goal has always been to give the reader a satisfying adventure that touches on the lives of real people from history along with places and events connected to them.  

Is there some recent history that you think Edward could / should re-write or be a part of?  What is it?  What would he do? 

I think Edward Prince, a character who is committed to seeing the mission through, but figuring out how to do the right thing at every turn, even if it is to his disadvantage, is a timeless idea.  I think someone like him would always be the kind of person you’d want on your side, whether it was during the Second World War, the Vietnam War or the events of September 11th, 2001.  I think that commitment to doing what is right in the face of fear and loss is one of the prime traits that makes him a hero.  I think he’s also someone who aspires to serve something bigger than himself or his own ego.  There are men and women all around us who are like that.  You don’t have to agree with them or the way they think, but they are real and they are reliable.  That being said, I think if we had more people like that, society wouldn’t quite be in the same chaotic state it is today.  

Who or what inspires your creativity?  What gets in the way of it? 

Anyone who reads the Edward Prince series will see that I love history and I love adventure.  In each Edward Prince story, a germ was taken from an event or real person’s life and then expanded upon.  That means that L. Frank Baum really was staying the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego at the time “The Mystery of Coronado Cay” takes place, Lenin really was hiding out in Paris, licking his figurative wounds from his failed 1905 coup of Russia as “The Bolshevik Ballerina” happens, T.E. Lawrence was investigating cool archeological finds in the Middle East before serving in the First World War alongside a cholera outbreak that had happened at that time and in that area, as depicted in “The Lost Idol of Ishtar” and Theodore Roosevelt did take that crazy trip on the River of Doubt with Colonel Rondon and his son Kermit, as shown in “Roosevelt’s River.”  I wove in other characters into each book that were based on other less-notable people in history.  Of course, each adventure takes a fictional course, but I’d like to think that since we don’t know every moment of each of these people’s lives, the possibilities are endless.  
Modern-day Lebanese-American philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb made a career out of telling the layman about randomness and it can affect us daily.  I remember when I first approached Taleb’s work in “The Black Swan,” it was a real challenge and I found it vexing.  Over time, I discovered that one of the main themes to his writings is that there is so little that is in your control and the sooner you can accept that and prepare for it, the sooner you will be at peace with yourself and the world around you.  He would bristle at that kind of summary.  It takes a lot of work to get to that mental and emotional state though.  In many ways, Taleb was my “gateway drug” into studying philosophy. 

Outside of history and Taleb’s work, I enjoy watching movies and television when I can, listening to music, reading fiction and non-fiction and studying the ethical side of philosophy.  After all is said and done though, I think my biggest inspiration for creativity comes from looking at the world around me.  Relationships with family and friends, interactions with nature and just pondering the universe around me are very important and can be an endless source for creativity.  

What is your biggest challenge in being an indie author? How do you overcome it?

For every indie author, I think there are always a number of challenges, such as time management, motivation and organization.  To me, the one that loomed as large as those I just mentioned has always been self-doubt. The way I overcame that self-doubt was to dig deeper into myself and rediscover why I started writing in the first place.  Of course, it was about writing stories I wanted to read, but it also had to do with letting go of the results and expectations tied to the results.  I can’t force people to like my work or even to read my work in the first place.  This became a more dominant thought as I wrote more fiction and each book was published.  It became about writing for myself and in a way that ultimately, I was satisfied with the outcome. If a reader feels the results of my work are satisfactory too, then I consider it a win.  

Best piece of advice for up-and-coming writers? 

Film Director Kevin Smith once said that after “Clerks” premiered at Sundance he had received quite a bit of praise, but the most poignant was when someone came up to him and congratulated him on “finishing it.”  That’s always stuck with him and I’ve always remembered it too.
So many writer projects remain unfinished in their various forms and if this happens too frequently, the writer will likely develop the habit of not finishing any projects.  Like any other effort, writing has its fun components, but my advice would be to view the activity of writing as work.  Actual work.  Changing your perspective that writing is actually going to require true, consistent effort from you in the form of real work ethic will lead to more tangible results.  This will require some planning from the writer, some research and writing outlines.  My ultimate message is to never give up and to figure out how to finish your projects, even the ones you ultimately decide no one will see.  
I believe that you should never let perfect be the enemy of good and never let good be the enemy of done.  

What do you most want for readers to take away from your work?

Honestly, with the Edward Prince books and my other works of fiction, I like to keep some of the areas of prose sparse for a simple reason.  I like the idea that subtext is all around the story and that I don’t have to explain every single thing to my readers.  They get to use their imagination and their own reasoning abilities to put some things together.  Therefore, what they take away from each book and each story is theirs to keep.  
I hope they feel inspired to go out and do something good for other people.  True heroism is found in simple service.  I write characters who are trying to do the right thing for a reason.  Even more, I hope readers just enjoy the adventure!

Upcoming projects?  Where can readers find you?

If people read the books in The Edward Prince Adventure Series in the order published, starting with “The Mystery of Coronado Cay,” they will find Edward Prince avoided certain making choices that he ultimately began to resolve at the end of “Roosevelt’s River” and it seemed to mark the end of his adventures and his career as a roving, globe-trotting newspaper reporter.  However, I have been loosely outlining book 5 in the series (which would take place only a couple years later) and I have another one planned thereafter.  Both of those books will feature prominent people from history and will follow the same format.  Prince will be a few years older, but hopefully a bit wiser.  I also have plans to publish work under other author names in both the fiction and non-fiction category.  

I have limited time in my day for social media and updates, so I don’t maintain a website as C.K. Shackleton or a Twitter account, but people can find me on Instagram and Facebook where I share updates and news on projects I am putting out there: 
Instagram – @ckshackletonauthor    Facebook – @C.K. Shackleton
They are always welcome to reach out to me through those mediums.