This interview highlights the author W. Bradley Phares whose unique voice is brought to life in Celtic Cowhunter – Florida’s Cow Culture in Poetry & Prose, which was published by GenZ Publishing on December 9, 2016.
W. Bradley Phares is something beyond your typical cattleman. He is the author of Celtic Cowhunter. Brad Phares is an 8th generation rancher living in Okeechobee, Florida with his wife, Sam, and children Jacqueline and Jared. This is where he channels his multi-faceted background into his oil paintings and writings to provide a perspective on ranch life unlike any other. Brad has exhibited throughout the southeastern United States, and his paintings are collected by private corporations, public institutions (e.g., the University of Florida), as well as the Seminole Tribe of Florida. His writings have appeared monthly in the Florida Cattleman & Livestock Journal. Brad is also one of the founding members of the Cowboy Artist’s Association of Florida (CAAF) and he participated with other members of CAAF in an exhibit at the Northeastern Nevada Museum as part of the 26th Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which featured the exhibit “Five Centuries of Ranching” from Florida.
The subtitle of Celtic Cowhunter kind of gives the genre away, but how would you classify the book?
As Cowboy Poetry, American Poetry, and Regional History
So it’s part non-fiction, part poetry? Can you describe the book in about one sentence?
Celtic Cowhunter is a collection of short stories, cowboy poetry, art, and photography all woven together depicting the Scots-Irish influence on the birth of American ranching in Florida and the Deep South.
What was the inspiration for this book?
As an 8th generation rancher, one of my aspirations is to share the unique and little-known story of Florida ranching with my urban neighbors, so that they have a better appreciation for how Florida ranches have played an integral role in creating Florida as a mega-state as well as the vital role they play in protecting our natural resources for the future.
How would you define or categorize a mega-state?
Florida is one of a handful of states within America that combines an incredibly broad demographic base with a powerful and diverse socio-economic structure such that its influence reaches well beyond state boundaries to significantly influence our national policy and direction. Florida agriculture, and cattle production in particular, laid the financial foundation on which Florida was built. In fact, cattle trade with Cuba led to Florida’s economic recovery during the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War.
What was your time frame for writing?
I had started a ranch blog online compiling short stories & cowboy poetry and came in contact with GenZ via Kevin Peery [K.W. Peery] after stockpiling three years worth of material. Start to finish on the actual manuscript format was probably a six month period, although it actually took longer due to the fact that my dad passed away during this time, and I had a period of limited writing/editing activity.
Do you talk about anything personal, like the passing of your father, in Celtic Cowhunter?
My dad had long been suffering from complications due to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam and had been on dialysis for just over a year prior to his passing, but still it was completely unexpected. All of that unfolded while I was in the early stages of organizing and formatting the manuscript. Although I wrote a memorial for my dad that I read during his services and published in the Florida Cattleman & Livestock Journal, given the timing and rawness of the emotions I was feeling, I didn’t want to alter the historical timeline and flow of Celtic Cowhunter so I chose not to include anything specifically personal about it. However, there are two other poems included – You’ll Always Remember the Ride and A Cowman’s Angel – that I penned immediately following the passing of my maternal grandparents, who were the roots of my ranching heritage. I’m certain that a future project will focus more heavily on the close relationship I had with my dad and the tremendous influence he had on me.
What were your biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?
That getting published was not as complicated as I had always envisioned/expected, and that authenticity always shines through no matter the subject matter being conveyed. I put a completely foreign subject matter in front of GenZ, and they “got it” right from the start. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity they gave me, because I always expected that I’d have to self-publish to get started as an author.
What would you have done differently (either in the writing process or in the story itself) if you could do it again?
This is tough to answer because I didn’t really have a storyline, although I did weave a common thread throughout my collection of stories and poems. So, setting aside the story, I’m left with the writing process itself, and the only thing I can say went abnormally there was the unexpected passing of my father. It injected a period in which I couldn’t find any creative drive or spark, and that’s not a pleasant place to find yourself.
Do you have any advice for the writers who, for whatever reason, get stuck in that same place of limited creativity or writer’s block?
I think the first step is simply admitting to yourself that you’re in that place, accepting the situation for what it is, and being patient enough to let your work come back to you when you’re ready versus trying to force a product out of yourself. I find that anytime you try to force creativity, you might generate something but it’s typically going to be a pile of garbage and completely disingenuous. Whether due to life events like I faced or for no apparent reason, given a little time and patience, the muse usually pops up again when you least expect her.
How have you built a personal brand and gained readership?
I juggle several responsibilities ranging from duties on the family cattle ranch to my art career (oil painting) and more. With multiple creative outlets all sharing Florida’s cattle heritage as a common denominator, I created www.cowhuntersunlimited.com as a one-stop-shop for people to find all my books, artwork, etc. I also utilize various social media outlets. I’ve relied on Morissa’s [the GenZ founder] experience in these areas as well as our demographic variances to maximize my effectiveness in these marketing efforts.
Brad is the founder of Cowhunters Unlimited
Is there something personal about you people may be surprised to know?
I hold a Juris Doctor (law) degree and study the Japanese martial art of Aikido
What made you transition away from practicing law?
Honestly, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be an attorney when I started law school, but I knew that knowledge is power and that law school probably offered critical and analytical thinking. As I progressed through law school, I began taking note of how the demeanor of my classmates seemed to become much more sour and argumentative over the smallest little things. I also recall a professor saying “The law is a jealous mistress and she will monopolize your time.” Coming from a close knit family and having plans for one of my own, that advice didn’t sound very appealing to me. Obviously, I was accustomed to putting in long hours and hard work coming from an agricultural family, but long hours away from my family working inside versus outside was a deal breaker for me.
Who are your favorite authors and why? Do you think you include elements of their writing in your own work?
Robert Frost, Baxter Black, Red Steagall, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway. I always enjoyed the powerful simplicity of Frost, the relatability of Baxter and Red Steagall, and with Twain and Hemingway, it was the vivid pictures they painted with their words. I like to think of them as indirect mentors and hope that their influence shows up in my work. Actually, aside from the influence of reading his work, there have been numerous times that Baxter has been a direct mentor to me, being kind enough to offer advice to me in person and in writing.
Any music you think would accompany your book well?
“Cowboy Legacy” by Fiddling’ Johnny or “Cowboy Celtic” by David Wilkie
What’s next for you?
Working on a book co-authored by my daughter with a working title of Dreams of a Rancher’s Daughter that will follow a layout/format similar to my first book. Also, I’m currently working on a series of art shows in which a percentage of proceeds will directly benefit veteran/law enforcement non-profit entities.
Connect with Brad via Twitter @WBPhares, Facebook (Brad Phares, Florida Cowboy Artist & Cowhunters Unlimited), or through www.cowhuntersunlimited.com;
Places to Query:
http://www.sundogbooks.com/sundog-book-club → possibly for their social media
http://bookmarkitorlando.com/press/ → for their blog
http://www.macintoshbooks.com/ → for their blog