A Pankhearst Interview
Who are you?
Someone who would rather watch the Teen Choice Awards than the Oscars. A father of three and a volunteer: Boy Scout leader, baseball coach, and anything else that needs to get done.
Where are you?
Suburban St. Louis, Missouri. Minutes away from woods and fishing ponds, but even closer to every fast food restaurant conceived.
And how the hell are you doing?
Coming to terms with the idea that my only son’s in high school now, soon to leave me home with two girls. Lovely girls, of course, but surrounded by women all the same.
Tell us about your latest book.
In the not too distant future, following a global economic collapse, the government has seized power in a Great Depression-style New Deal gone wrong. In a corrupted take on the old Civilian Conservation Corps, teens are sent to labor camps to provide for the less fortunate.
The newly 18-year-old male lead, Penn, runs a fishing crew in the lakes of northern Minnesota. He’s about to be assigned a new adult job and split up from the others when the prime fishing season comes to a close. Despite the huge risks, he’s convinced his bunkmates, and the girls in the adjacent bunkhouse, to make a run for north of the border.
The challenges compound as they are pursued by ruthless guards, tracking dogs, patrol boats and float planes. It’s a tight thriller story filled with loss and adversity.
Why are you publishing independently?
Because I was once told that beggars can’t be choosers, but mostly as a learning experience. As a complete novice, I was (and still am) thrilled to be signed by Krill Press. Their support has been instrumental in making me even more prepared for my upcoming projects.
How is publishing independently working for you?
I’m still in the “audience building” stage. On the plus side, I was recently notified that Fugitives was nominated for a National Outdoor Book Award. I’ll find out the results of the judging in November. The book obviously hasn’t quite reached bestseller status, nor do I expect to at this point. But the insights into the publishing business have been terrific. I’ve learned loads over the past several months and intend to apply that knowledge toward future projects.
When did know that you were born to be a writer?
Somewhere around the third grade. I always enjoyed writing fiction, but my aptitude was math and science. And my dad was a math teacher. So a pair of engineering degrees came first, where I made it my goal to write my reports as little like a stuffy engineer as possible. Fugitives is my first published story of any kind, and I started working on it in early 2012 – more than 30 years since the third grade.
Where do you get your ideas? Your inspiration?
My love of the outdoors…and maps. It’s the engineer thing, mixed with a bit of boy scout. So far, everything I’ve written is completely outdoorsy in widely different settings. The main characters are all boys, typically running for their lives.
Do you outline or sketch the entire book before you begin writing or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants?
For Fugitives in particular, my outline was the map that I mentioned previously. I was poring over maps of the Boundary Waters trying to pick a canoe route for our scout trip. The book was basically built around creating horrible things for the group to endure as they worked their way northward. I’ve used a similar technique with other projects, though the characters have a way of taking the story off the physical map into make-believe every now and then.
How much of you will a reader find in your writing? If you have a good example, don’t be shy.
All but one of my MCs are self-confident boys. They’re probably the exact opposite of the person I was at their age. But in most cases, they are definitely the person I would’ve wanted to be. Of course, all good characters must be flawed too.
Everyone has visions of where they see themselves in the future, be it a year or five. Where do you see yourself in five years? Where did you see yourself five years ago? Did you make it there?
My five year horizon is planning an early retirement so I can focus exclusively on writing. The one year vision is getting my next novel picked up by a major book publisher. Of course, with the competitive nature of the business, those are as much dreams as realistic goals. Five years ago, I was dreaming of engineering management, and that’s exactly where I am. Writing a book was nowhere in my mind, but presenting a technical paper at a seminar was toward the top of the list.
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration?
In the literary world, libertarian fiction like Atlas Shrugged provides inspiration when I write something a bit more serious. My main character, Penn, is at least half-Randian. He trusts no politicians and doesn’t want to be told what to do. Like most of us, he’d rather go quietly about his business without government meddling in his private affairs. I suppose the non-Randian part would be that he’s not anti-religious, and he’s willing to sacrifice himself for others.
Some of the character names in your book are unusual. How did you come up with those?
Since the story is set in the Boundary Waters, I went with a fishing theme for names. Penn is a brand name of high quality reels and other equipment. Who better to bring in the fugitives than Trokar, a brand name of hooks. Perca and Goby are scientific (genus/species) names for baitfish, hence their weaknesses. Cesswi is special to me. The full derivation of her name comes in the sequel. Hers, and others, are discussed in more detail on my website.
If I was stranded on a deserted island, I would bring….
Actually, I was stranded on a semi-deserted island in the Florida Keys earlier this summer. That was for a week of scout camp, so I wasn’t totally alone. Nothing lets you into the mind of teenagers like spending a week with them. What would I bring besides food and water? A fishing pole, bug spray, and hmmm…plenty of alcohol – for cleaning wounds, of course.