Catskill Daily Mail article
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From Mongo the Magnificent to Garth Fugue:
Mystery author examines the craft of writing
The Catskill Daily Mail
January 24, 2002

An article by Antonoio D'Arcangelis

Copyright © 2002 by The Catskill Daily Mail. All rights reserved.
This article is reprinted here with permission from the author.
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Picture of the Chesbros


After working as a successful mystery author for about 20 years, local author George C. Chesbro has ventured towards autobiography in his latest book, Prism.

Using experiences gained from working with troubled children at the Rockland Children Psychiatric Center and navigating a successful course as an author, Chesbro wrote Prism through an autobiographical lens. The protagonist, struggling mystery author Garth Fugue, learns that his own problems and life pale in comparison to those of the dangerous patients he must instruct.

"The hospital becomes a prism through which he views his life," Chesbro said of the character. Prism is an ambitious work in that Chesbro seeks impact equal to his trademark "Mongo" stories, which star an impressively educated and peculiar private detective. The Mongo mystery series hero, Dr. Robert Frederickson, is also known as Mongo the Magnificent, a criminologist, ex-circus headliner, martial arts expert and private eye. The character, who Chesbro created during a brainstorm three decades ago, also happens to be a dwarf.

The Mongo series has been characterized by mystery book critics as a blend of mystery, suspense, science fiction, and the supernatural; this combination has earned Chesbro a significant cult following. Many of Chesbro's fans are younger readers, and he does have a following abroad---he has published books in France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Japan.

An original hardcover copy of The Beasts of Valhalla, the fourth novel in the Mongo series, sold for $400 in an online trading auction.

With the success of his out-of-print novels and a growing demand for lost editions, Chesbro and his wife, Robin, formed Apache Beach Publications, a publishing house that began as a venue to reproduce the novelist's backlist. The company has since published 20 novels by Chesbro, with Robin designing the unique bookcovers. And along with Prism and The Keeper, a 2001 Apache Beach publication with a female heroine, they plan on producing more originals.

Chesbro, a graduate of Bethlehem High School in Delmar, has worked in a handful of different fields while building his writing career and harnessing what he calls the "controlled madness" of creating fiction. At one point, he worked as night-time security guard and used the down time to hash out story ideas.

He taught special education for about 17 years and began to write full-time after his fourth novel, titled The Beasts of Valhalla. He now lives and works on a steep, meandering riverside road in New Baltimore with his wife Robin, also a writer.

When Chesbro attended high school in Delmar, he did not stand out academically, by his own admission. He carried a C or average and was not yet attuned to writing.

"The kids getting As for essays and writing in high school don't become writers," Chesbro said. "They go on to become lawyers and doctors. It's the kid with the greasy hair in the back of the classroom picking his or her nose---daydreaming."

For seven years, Chesbro wrote without getting anything published, until a poem earned him $1.00.

While Chesbro has no formula by which the characters and ideas in his novels and short stories spring to life, he does admit to outlining stories and establishing a clear path at the outset.

"For every novelist, there is a different process," Chesbro said. "Some people just begin. I must have an outline before I start going on what I call controlled madness."

Chesbro said that once he enters the alternate worlds of science fiction, mystery and fantasy, he follows the themes by making a clear decision as to where they are headed.

Although Chesbro maintains that you can't teach writing, he has lectured on writing fiction to audiences all over the country. Chesbro believes there are four major components to a writer.

First is talent, although he said that writing talent is not as easily recognizable as talent in other fields of art like painting and dancing. Prodigious writing talent, he said, does not appear in children. "Some writing talent does not emerge until middle age," Chesbro said.

Discipline, according to Chesbro, is also an important ingredient for success. "Most writers have other jobs," Chesbro said. "So you have to show up at the office."

Third, Chesbro identified "perverse perseverance" as a crucial trait. "You can't give up," Chesbro said. "It takes a while to learn your chops, and you have to be willing to go through rejections."

And without having "your neuroses lined up right," as Chesbro put it, the other traits won't mean anything. "I allow myself one totally crazy idea per day."

Chesbro said that writing is the hardest job there is, because it requires a strange combination of ability, desire and need. "It's the toughest work, the darkest and most mysterious of the arts," he said. "It's a blue collar job."


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