What inspired The History Camp series?
Since I’ve been 14 and read Lord of the Flies I wanted to write futuristic novels that included young people. (I’m 60 now, so it took me awhile, but that’s another story) What further influenced what’s in my books was my deep involvement in the Green Party movement across North America. Then there’s all the science fiction I’ve read and watched over the years. Put them all together and you’ve got the underlying philosophy of my writing. Of course, the philosophy is the undercurrent. Above that is the most colorful and strong characters I could come up with, all mixed together in an exciting adventure.
The Lens and the Looker is just as much as a historical fiction novel as it is science fiction. Did you initially intent to make the book as educational as it was?
Yes, of course. As a young man I studied art and one of the first lessons I remember was the teacher talking about how an artist has to stretch his or herself, not repeating what they or others have done. While history has been the backdrop to many stories in the past, I wanted to make it more than that. I let the story go where it wanted to, so even more genres got mixed in. History, Science Fiction, dystopian worlds, fantasy and more. As an example of pushing the envelope, instead of just creating another dystopian world, where society has fallen apart, I set part of the series in a time after the bad times, to when the world was finally in harmony. I therefore called my new genre, “post-dystopian” fiction. As far as educational, I’ve been very pleased that reviewers have said that the historical accuracy and descriptions of ancient technologies was not overbearing and they got a history lesson without the lesson.
Lens crafting is the trade that Hansum and his friends learn. have you ever worked with glass or ever crafted glasses?
I can’t remember how lens making came into my mind as the ancient technology represented in the book. I do remember I chose it because it was a great example of a craft that turned into an early science, the science of optics. When I did choose it I then joined my local lapidary club and spent several months learning how to grind and polish lenses by hand. I used an electric lathe, of course, whereas, in the books, they characters use human-powered machines. To research the lathes and the techniques, I corresponded with many researchers, university libraries and museums all over the globe.
Would you ever want to travel back in time, and if so, when and where would you like to travel to?
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was in grade three. I wrote plays. That continued throughout my teens, where I became a young professional writer and director of children’s plays . . . till I was about 21. Then I went into business, writing on and off throughout my adulthood, through marriage, kids, business failures, successes, marriage breakdowns, etc. I wrote my first book, unpublished, when I was in my 40s, and actually got the idea for History Camp away back in the late 1980s. It wasn’t until I was about 55 that I could afford to work almost full time, to get my skills up and fulfill my life-long dream.
What are some of your favorite books?
Well, this could be a very long list, but I’ll keep it short. As well, let me break this list down by category;
- Brave New World, Aldous Huxley (If it was written now, it would include gene manipulation, but this was written away before that. It set the pattern for so much that came after it.)
- Unwind, Scott Westerfield (Not for a young, young adult. Mr. Westerfield creeped me out several times in this book. Well done, sir.)
- The Road, Cormac McCarthy (Again, not for a young, young adult. The movie was good, the book was friggin’ fantastic. A great example of story arc and keeping the tension tight.)
- The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (the biggest, current phenom, and well deserved)
- Lord of the Flies, William Golding (The book that made me know I wanted to be a writer.)
- The Percy Jackson Series, Rick Riordan (Middle grade but I love it and you can tell.)
- Ender’s Game (and the series) by Orson Scott Card (It’s got little kids as heroes, and it works.)
- Ringworld, Larry Niven (Mr. Niven thinks big and out of the box. In a circle, really. I loved his kooky characters.)
- 1000 Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (I love this guy’s written voice.)
- The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (One of my top five.)
- For Whom the Bell Toles, Ernest Hemingway (My favorite book of all time. He’s the only writer I’m putting in twice. This book informs all my high adventure sequences.)
- City of Thieves, David Benioff (One of my top five in the last 3 years.)
- The Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman (One of my top five in the last 3 years. I love the way he writes his characters in this book. You really know what they’re thinking. This is one of the most perfectly written books of a living writer that I’ve read.)
In the last five years the challenge really wasn’t to keep going, as I’m a person who, once they start a project, feels compelled to finish it. But finding the right editor and publisher was the really tough part. I sent out over 150 queries to agents, publishers and editors and got over 75 rejections. The others didn’t bother to answer. But it only takes one person to “get you”, and that man was Lou Aronica, one of the most experienced SF editors and publishers in the business.
What kind of research did you do to make the world of The History Camp series possible?
I spent over a year doing heavy research, while I was noodling with the story. Hours at the library, online, following up leads by emailing university libraries and researchers. Books and books and more books. And then . . . after the first draft was about done, I went and spent four days in Verona, Italy. What an amazing, small city. What I experienced there put me in the boots of my characters, as I walked through the streets, by the buildings and in the churches that they would have. It clarified so much of the research, and I think, in a large part, is why I’m getting good reviews on recreating ancient Verona.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on the third book in the Verona Series, entitled The Love and the Lost. It’s the last story in this part of the series, but I’ve already started working on the next series . . . and I think some of the young characters in this series are going to be mid-20s in the next. We’ll see.
Sounds exciting! Now, before we wrap up this interview, is there a specific message you wanted readers to take away from your books?
There’s an old North American Native saying that “Every decision made should be good for society for the next seven generations. That was a stone age philosophy. They knew that they had to live within nature, that they were part of nature. Well, the message I really want to be seen in these books is that, modern humans, with our invasive technologies, must make sure every decision we make is a decision whose repercussions must be neutral for the next 10,000 years. After all, if we don’t plan to last a long, long time, we won’t.