Author Interview: The Brothers Cheney

As I wandered through the small press area at WonderCon in March of 2018, I discovered a well-organized table for a group of science fiction authors. The intriguing detail I discovered was that they were three brothers who write military SF adventures, mysteries, and fantasy novels – often at the same time or as co-authors!  I felt compelled to invite them to No Wasted Ink.

Authors - Brothers Cheney

We are three of seven brothers who grew up on the north Oregon coast.

Jeff- I am living in Northern Oregon and working in the Computer Manufacturing industry. I have three grown children (one still living at home) and am living with my wife in a small town in the woods. I am brother number 2.

Craig- Though I’m an Oregon native, I’m currently living in Utah with my wife and children. I have a day job as an electrical engineer, which is constantly offering me new challenges. I am brother number 4.

Jared- I am also an Oregon native, and Oregon has been home for most of my life. I have had brief stints elsewhere, and have traveled extensively in my twenty plus year technology career. I have worked as a global technology executive and leader for more than a decade, which has provided some great vignettes for writing. I am brother number 7.

When and why did you begin writing?

Jeff- I had to write a short story for a junior English class in high school and the story never gave itself up inside my mind. I kept expanding it into a novel length story in my head, though I never finished writing it. I kept writing other stories and those I did finish. With that first story, I started to see stories everywhere and wanted to write them.

Craig- My first attempt at writing a novel was in 1992, though it’s always been an interest of mine. I was living in the same city as a different brother (#3), and we had a great idea for a Star Trek story based on Aleksander, Worf’s son, when he grew up. We had quite a bit done, but ST: The Next Generation was still airing episodes, and eventually, Aleksander’s history changed to the point that our story wouldn’t have worked, and we never finished it.

Jared- I actually began writing in high school, with three different stories that I am still working on.  I have always read extensively and have always enjoyed recounting stories. Writing has been a natural extension of that throughout my life.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Jeff- It wasn’t until I finished Dead Reckoning, our first book. Up until then, it had just been a hobby that kept me way too busy. When I was able to stick to the end and finished the project and get it all the way to publication, I truly felt like a writer.

Craig- Writing is still not my principal employment, though I’m trying to move that direction, so I don’t think of myself primarily as a writer, even now. The first time I felt confident in my ability to write was after I entered a writing competition and won the runner-up award. That was my first positive feedback from someone who was neither family nor friend.

Jared- In my college studies, I spent an entire year working on a thesis with a very well published thesis advisor. When I completed it, and he signed off on it as publish worthy work, I began to take confidence in my capability for technical writing as well as storytelling work.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

Dead Reckoning is the first of four books in the Pathfinder Series. We have just finished the series and really enjoyed the process. Dead Reckoning starts the series as a loyal captain is thrown into the void of space with a few of his loyal crew. They are told they can survive by going to a nearby planet, but the captain is obsessed with regaining his ship and decides that he and his crew have the resources to take their small shuttle back to Earth and return with a crew to take back the ship.

The book tells the story of the captain and his small crew trying to survive, overcome immense obstacles and return home safely.

What inspired you to write this book?

Jeff- We had wanted to write a book together for some time and we got together and chose a theme that none of us had already written on. It was an adventure trying to figure out how to write a book with three separate authors, but it was great fun.

Craig- Honestly, it was a combination of lots of things. The main impetus was the desire to work together so we could hold each other accountable to finish what we start. Before this, I had probably started writing a dozen stories, at least. Then the question arose of what to write, and we decided it wasn’t fair to take a story that one of us had started, because that one would feel too possessive of it. So we decided to create a new story. Some of the elements of Dead Reckoning are loosely based on the book Men Against the Sea, which is the story of Captain Bligh and his loyal crew sailing a tiny boat 4,000 miles across the Pacific to reach civilization after The Mutiny on the Bounty.

Jared- Several of us brothers had wanted to write together for a long time before we decided to find a story that we could create together and tell in an interesting way. The opportunity to work with my brothers on something fun and creative was my motivation.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Jeff- I like to plan out the basic plot but write each chapter creatively. I usually have a list of things that need to happen in each chapter but not how they will happen.

Craig- I am mostly a planner, which is really a necessary thing when writing as a group. There are lots of instances of me sitting down to write according to plan and coming away with something very different, however.

Jared- In order to work closely with my brothers, it requires us to plan closely together. My style leans more towards creative flow, and I tend to see and hear the story playing out as I write in order to make sure it flows well.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

Craig- Dead Reckoning refers to a means of navigating without having any landmarks to work with, where you keep track of your heading and speed to deduce where you are. It was used frequently in Men Against the Sea, and it seemed to fit our book as well.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Jeff- There wasn’t one when we started, but we wanted it to be a survival story, so the persistence and overcoming obstacles was a big part of the story.

Craig- I think the overall message is to keep moving forward. Bad things happen, but if you persevere, you can still find success.

Jared- For me, it also resonates that you can’t just allow things to happen to you, no matter the circumstances, you have choices and you have to take whatever opportunities you can.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know or events in your own life?

Jeff- Not any of the stories, but some of the characters have a basis in some of the people that I know. Things that I like and things that I don’t like.

Craig- Not really, though one of the stories the crew tells to pass the time actually originated in that Aleksander story I wrote years before. (Never throw your writing away!)

Jared- Nothing specific, although one of the very frustrated engineers experiences a series of events that drive an outburst I have felt brewing in a few engineering situations before.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

Jeff- Robert Heinlein is probably the biggest in my early life. Also, Anne McCaffrey. They turned me into a reader at an early age and turned me into a SciFi/Fantasy reader and into science as a profession.

Craig- Robert A. Heinlein’s juveniles were my favorites as a kid, especially The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Sixth Column. The most impactful books I have read are The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Pirsig. The former is not about revenge, as most people think, but about justice. The latter just has tons of little tidbits of wisdom about how to interact with the world. Also, Shakespeare’s plays are great reference material for studying how and why humans behave the way they do.

Jared- As a very young reader, J.R.R. Tolkien and some of the classic Sci-Fi authors, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, Anne McCaffrey were what introduced me to untold worlds. McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern brought me back around to a thirst for great stories that I found in fantasy fiction, including tragedy and heartbreak, along with the soaring human (and dragon) spirit. I continued to read Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Historical Fiction, Environmental Fiction, traditional western civ classics, along with a lot of business and engineering books over the years. I will forever be grateful to my college Honors professors for interweaving so many classic stories & novels into my education. I will have a bit of nostalgia for those early influential authors.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

Jeff- There are a few that I would name. Michael Stackpole has taught a class at ASU for novelists that I have taken and he has been a great help, answering questions and making comments on my work. Robert Vardeman has also been a part of that program as has Joe Nassise. All three have been helpful in mentoring my writing. There have also been numerous critical readers along the way.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

Craig- My brother-in-law, Mark McCormick, did a marvelous job on the original Dead Reckoning cover. When we decided to create a boxed set for the series, I created the covers to match each other. I think it’s a good design, but definitely more sterile than the original.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Jeff- Keep writing! Believe in yourself. Study what you are doing and keep working at it. If you don’t have success with your first effort, start again!

Craig- I’ve heard lots of good advice over the years, but the best was this: “Be married to your book while you’re writing it, but be divorced from it while editing.” You have to be emotionally invested for your writing to be any good, but when it comes time to trim and fix, if you’re too emotionally invested, it can blind you to its flaws and keep you from cutting out what really needs to go.

Jared- Plan your outline carefully to make sure you have all of the nuances the story will need. Then, as you write, don’t be afraid to change the plan when the story needs to evolve, but don’t lose your direction. Let the story come to life, and let inspiration come when it can, but don’t feel like it has to be there all the time. Keep writing no matter what.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Jared- We really appreciate our readers. I have actually been thrilled to find people we don’t know who have read our work and have great things to say about it. I actually appreciate those that buy it and have anything to say about it at all, but we like the positive ones better.

deadreckoning_lowresJeffery L., Craig J., and Jared L. Cheney
Portland, Oregon and Ogden, Utah


Dead Reckoning

Cover Artists: Mark McCormick & Craig J. Cheney
Publisher: 7Cs Books, LLC


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