(Blogger’s Note: I first met Brien Crothers as an “online friend” and because of a mutual interest we have in the pilgrimage of the Way of St. James. Since then, we’ve enjoyed time together personally and he and his wife, Kathey, even hosted me in their beautiful California home a few days. Brien is the author of the non-fiction work, Su Camino, and his newest book, a novel titled The Red Sedan which we discuss here. He publishes The Red Sedan under the pen name Chase Moon.)
SW: You spent quite a bit of time traveling for research on this novel. Tell me about the contribution it made to the story.
BC: The stories, characters and places that sometimes show up in The Red Sedan were experienced before I ever had an idea for writing this book. There are composite characters in there, and there are one or two that are slight exaggerations of people I have met in my travels. Because the Way of St. James has had such a huge impact on my life, because I have met so many wonderful people on The Way, and due to the energy I put into my non-fiction work about my first Camino, it naturally played a big role in this bit of storytelling. And I love to travel around the world and meet new people, so The Red Sedan being international—set in England, Spain, and the U.S.—is a natural extension of that passion.
SW: Ultimately, how did you develop the idea that produced book’s foundation?
BC: The idea for the book appeared, yes, appeared in my mind one day on a drive to do some errands. The title and the first scene just showed up in my head. I have no idea
where it came from. Steven King says “No one knows…” But the foundation you ask about developed over the first few weeks after that vision, if you will, as I jotted down ideas and worked on an outline. I was never a “writer” in this sense of the word. I retired as a project manager, a top-level engineering position for the organization I worked for, and the most I wrote there were proposals and budget narratives. Dry stuff that.
One thing I struggle with is being diligent about writing an outline first. So with The Red Sedan, my Camino book, and my latest WIP, I put down ideas as they come in an outline. But I always want to write, and it tugs at me. Whenever an idea is there, I can pound out 2,000 words in a setting. They’re not always good words, but they will morph into something with some good editing and fleshing out the story.
SW: Tell me about the characters in The Red Sedan and how you developed those personalities.
BC: I’ve told friends that Michael, the protagonist, is someone I would want to be. A truly good guy. I’m no beast, of course, but we want to be better people, don’t we. I let names just pop into my head and characters are driven by the needs of the story. Walter Breem, the mobster in the tale, is no one I have never met or even known of. But I read enough to be able to put someone like him together when needed. Most of the people in this story, The Red Sedan, came about in that way, sort of organic. However, Michael’s friend, Eric, who shows up later in the story, is very close to a Camino friend of mine from Belgium. We met when I did the Via de la Plata in 2016. I did take a little bit of creative license there, though. We have talked, Eric and I, and he is okay with my character in the book that goes by his name.
SW: Your first book was a non-fiction work about your walk on the Way of St. James. The Red Sedan is a much different work of fiction. What was that transition like for you?
BC: As I said earlier, I didn’t really write before retiring. My first Camino, which I walked in 2015, inspired me to say something about that amazing experience. I’m not the only one, I hear. I had been posting about my travels on social media for a while by then, and I was slowly discovering that I liked to tell my stories. Su Camino, my first book, taught me that I could stick with a lengthy project and that I liked writing, really liked it. I still like writing creative non-fiction, but I find it somewhat limiting. We must not break the contract with the reader in such stories. Facts are facts. So that led me to want to explore fiction. My mother is a voracious reader of mysteries, so as an experiment, I wrote a short story for her birthday a couple of years ago. It was called Thud, and is set in England. (I’m an Anglophile, if you haven’t noticed.) She loved the story (she’s a good mom), and I discovered that I liked writing fictional tales where I could make it all up and have some fun. All of the characters in that story came to mind as I needed them.
SW: Your writing is something that you’ve picked up in recent years after a career in the field of renewable geothermal energy. What is it that draws you to storytelling?
BC: Some of the perfunctory aspects of how recreating myself as a writer came about, the timing and opportunities that presented themselves, I’ve covered already. But what draws me to the art, now, is the buzz. It’s sort of a high when I’m in the groove and the story is flying off my fingertips. It’s a thrill when that energy (what I called [Universal] energy) is pulsing through my body. In those moments, I tell my wife, Kathey, “I gotta get this outta my head.” (She usually indulges me.) That flow is intoxicating.
SW: The Red Sedan is a self-published work, so you managed not only the writing but cover design, interior design, etc. Do you enjoy the creative control you have as a self-published author?
BC: I do. I guess it’s kind of a control thing, but I do like the process. However, I have a wonderful mastermind group of friends that do a lot to help me. They educate me, set me back on track when I derail, and quite often introduce me to missing aspects of the world, from the right people and proper software, to perspectives and characters just when I need them.
SW: Do you have a writing routine, or is this something you do as time allows, and what have you learned about your writing over time?
BC: As hard as I try to create rhythm, it hasn’t worked out yet. I see the value of a routine, but I guess I have too many hobbies. I run, bike, hike, and work on philanthropic projects too. So my schedules conflict a lot more in my life than I’d like. But who’s fault is that, huh?
I’ve learned that my writing must have been painful to read years ago. I have learned much in the last few years, so much so I can’t even describe. For the The Red Sedan, I enlisted the help of a young copy editor that I had worked with on my blog, Grandpa’s Gone Again? He happened to be between projects and wanting to hone his skills as an editor, so our timing was perfect. His dedication to The Red Sedan and his professionalism was a blessing. I can’t possibly thank him enough. His name is Kalil, and he lives in Indiana. We’ve never met in person.
SW: What are your aspirations beyond this?
My ultimate thrill in writing will be a series of books written for young people about world travel adventures. Stories to excite young people to see the world in an adventurous setting where a key character must deal with problems that arise while overseas. I want these stories to entertain them, plant a seed for a passion to see the world, and learn from mine and others—not always pleasant—experiences while abroad. My first will be set in Spain and have to do with walking the Way of St. James, of course.
SW: You’ve chosen to take a pen name for your first non-fiction work. Discuss your reasoning for that and what’s the significance behind the name Chase Moon?