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Author Interview: Mark Cheverton

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Katie Specht is talking with Mark Cheverton, author of Cameron and the Shadow-wraiths: A Battle of Anxiety vs. Trust (The Order of the Stones Book 2).

FQ: This is book two in your Order of the Stones series. It is rather unique not only with its cast of monsters and demons, but also that the main character struggles with anxiety. Can you explain where you derived the inspiration behind this series?

CHEVERTON: I wrote the Order of the Stones series because of the challenges my son faced with anxiety. It hit him when he was in 2nd grade and only grew worse over the years. We tried everything to help him, but noting seemed to work, so we pulled him out of school, I quit my job, and I homeschooled him. Today, he is thriving, studying computer science in college. A few years ago, I asked him what the daily panic attacks felt like to him, in his head and in his body. What he explained to me, the level of dread and hopelessness, was shocking. I knew I had to share this so other kids wouldn’t feel alone.

FQ: Your background is in teaching and research. What prompted you to make the shift from academia to writing novels?

CHEVERTON: As an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy, I foolishly decided one day to write a novel, though I knew nothing of the craft of writing. I wrote for science fiction novels and received hundreds of rejections from literary agents. I was ready to give up when my son was cyberbullied while playing Minecraft. To teach him that it wasn’t his fault, I wrote my first Minecraft novel, Invasion of the Overworld. When it was finished, we read it at bedtime, and he got it: the bullying wasn’t about him, it was about these kids needing to feel powerful at another’s expense. I self-published Invasion of the Overworld on Amazon just for fun. I didn’t expect it to sell, after all, I’d written four novels that were catastrophic failures. To my surprise, it sold 50,000 that year and made it to #29 on Amazon’s top! Now, I had a publisher and agent approaching me to traditionally publish my books. I ended up writing 24 Minecraft-inspired novels with Sky Pony Press.

FQ: To date, you have published 28 books, which have been published in 31 countries. Can you explain how the process was for you when you realized that your book(s) were impactful, and how has this changed your professional life? Do you still teach or conduct any research?

Author Mark Cheverton

CHEVERTON: It has truly been a remarkable experience. Everyone of my books has a theme to it, be it bullying, facing fears, sibling relationships, parent-child relationships, being the real you...and I’d receive countless emails from kids telling me how my books have helped them. It’s been fantastic. I was lucky enough to write full time for a while, just cranking out the Minecraft books - that was a lot of fun. But I found sitting at home, alone, writing all week very isolating. I eventually returned to my engineering job after COVID just to be around people. Now, I work 1/2 time as an engineer and write the rest of the time.

FQ: Having written that many books, are you able to claim one as your favorite, either based on the story itself, or how it was to write for you?

CHEVERTON: I think my favorite, without a doubt, is Book 1 in the Order of the Stones series, Facing the Beast Within: The Anxiety of Cameron Stone. This was the book that I wrote because of my son’s anxiety, and I feel it is my best writing to date. It is a fun and exciting fantasy story with a main character that you can’t help to root for because of his anxiety, with a battle scene at the end of the story that would make Tom Clancy proud, and a final chapter that will bring a tear to your eye. When I finished Facing the Beast Within, I gave it to a team of child psychologists. They read the book, then gave me all of their anxiety coping strategies, breathing exercises, and terminologies they use with their patients. I wove all these strategies throughout the story. When a child with anxiety reads the book, they’ll not only see practical coping strategies modeled by the main character, but also hear the teachings of their therapists echoed from the pages. I feel like I got that story right and said what I needed to say, hoping it will help kids who also struggle with anxiety.

FQ: Book three in the Order of the Stones series, Cameron and the Gargoyles’ Revenge, will be released in 2025. What can you share with your readers about the adventures you have in store for Cameron and his friends in this story?

CHEVERTON: Cameron’s enemy, the Demon Lord of Agartha, Malphas, will finally escape the Void and he has plans for his revenge against Cameron and humanity. Cameron and his friends must travel to New York City to stop Malphas before he can start another invasion of mythical creatures. But what Cameron doesn’t know is there’s a gargoyle army waiting for Malphas, and has been waiting for their freedom on the campus of the City College of New York for over a century. Check out their website and you can see all the gargoyles on their campus, they’re spectacular. But before the army of gargoyles is unleashed, Malphas plans to go back in time to destroy Cameron when he was a baby. How can Cameron save his baby-self when his lack of confidence and inner Beast makes it impossible to use his Earth-magic. I think it’s over for Cameron...or is it?

FQ: In your professional life, you have taught high school physics and math, researched planetary atmospherics, and worked as an engineer before beginning your journey of writing novels. Which one of these careers have you enjoyed the most, and which one would say has brought you the most challenges?

CHEVERTON: I’ve loved all of these careers. When I taught high school physics, I lived education. I created materials, developed hands-on experiments, and grew programs. But teaching is a hard job to sustain. To do a good job, you spend a lot of hours for not a lot of money. After earning a Master’s Degree in Physics, I decided I wanted a new challenge, and moved into engineering. This gave me a different challenge. Instead of trying to motivate kids, I had to find clever solutions to difficult technical problems. I loved that part of my life, and started writing while still working as an engineer. I applied many of the skills I developed while doing research to my books in how I outline the story, outline the character plots, develop the settings and themes. I think all of these careers have been equally has challenge and enriching, though writing was certainly filled with more rejection than the others. Querying agents with a new book is not fun!!!

FQ: What advice can you give to a young reader of yours who is interested in one day writing and publishing a book?

CHEVERTON: The one piece of advice I’d give a young writer is - commit to learning the craft. The rejections I received on my first four novels sucked, but I kept writing. With every book, my writing became better and better. After every rejected novel, I bought more books on writing and read, read, read. Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder were by far my favorites, but I read dozens of these pedagogical books. In my opinion, this is a necessary step to learning in learning the craft of writing. Write...query...if rejected, start a new book!

FQ: The settings and the monsters in your stories are quite specific and described so vividly. How do you develop such interesting and unique attributes in your narratives and subsequently bring them to life so well for your readers?

CHEVERTON: I spend a lot of time outlining the plot, character arc, characters, and settings. I make it a point to inject a lot of sensory details into the story, to draw the reader in so they feel like they’re actually in the story with the characters. I’ve put together some mini-tutorials for young writers, showing how I do this. You can find them on my website here: I try to write my stories with as much visual imagery as I can create to make the story feel immersive, and the detailed description of specific characteristics of the monsters and characters helps me do this. If you want to see a great example of visual imagery, go read Melissa Alberts fantastic novel, The Hazel Wood. I guess this is a long answer to the question, the short answer is...outline everything in more detail than you would use in the story, then pick the good stuff and use it.

FQ: It is obvious that you have done research into strategies for dealing with anxiety, which you incorporated into the story whenever Cameron’s anxiety would peak. What advice would you give to a reader who is struggling with anxiety and has never sought help for it before?

CHEVERTON: I know there is a terrible stigma around anxiety, and those who suffer from anxiety don’t want to ask for help because they think they’ll look weak, or will be shamed, or ??? I can only tell you this, when we found the solution for our son, which was homeschooling, it was remarkable to see the difference in him. He would smile again. He could relax. He could be him. If you’re struggling with anxiety, know that people want to help, but they don’t know how. You need to teach them how to help, because people who don’t have anxiety cannot understand. You must teach them. Pick one person you trust, and just tell that one person so you won’t be alone. It’s impossible to confront anxiety by yourself; you need others at your side to lean on. In Cameron and the Shadow-wraiths, there is a saying amongst: “In the Order of the Stones, no one walks alone.” In the story, that means people help each other, but it meant to mean more. If you have anxiety, you shouldn’t walk alone. You need someone at your side who understands, so find that person, confide in them, and teach them how they can help you. You’ll be surprised how much your friends want to help you if you let them in.

FQ: You are very clearly the epitome of a successful author. Can you share with your readers one aspect of being an author that you love, as well as one aspect of it that you don’t love quite as much?

CHEVERTON: I can say with absolute certainty that querying agents is a terrible process. You get a lot of rejections with no feedback on what you could do to make your story or query letter better. It’s just a very polite and respectful “no” or you just get response. I also found, as I mentioned above, that being a full time author is very lonely and isolating. I got to know the servers at my local Panera Bread very well, because I’d go there to write every day, but you’re still alone. I don’t know how the big authors, like Robert Dugani or David Baldacci do it. They’re certainly making lots of money, as they should; they’re great writers. But you’re still sitting alone in your corner table at Panera or in your office or at home, alone...I found this difficult to sustain. The best part are the comments from the readers. I’ve received hundred and hundreds of emails from kids telling me how much they like my books. Right now, I’m sorta getting 2nd generation emails; kids who are graduating from high school or entering college are emailing me, telling me the impact my books had on them during their childhood. It can be very heartwarming and make me feel like I did something that’ll keep helping kids...what’s better than that?

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