Q: What is your latest book about?
A: The 25th Hour is the first book in a Young Adult science fiction trilogy. It’s a very exciting project. The protagonist is a 13-year-old boy who finds a pocket watch that allows him to freeze time. It’s a coming-of-age story told over three books, each with a different cast of supporting characters and different settings.
Q: What was your inspiration for the series?
A: If you think about young adult literature, one of the great creators would have to be Stan Lee. Stan didn’t invent comic books but he did revolutionize the medium in 1962 with Spider-Man. Before then, comic book superheroes were adults and the epitome of perfection. Spider-Man was a high school student, just like many comic book readers themselves. And Spider-Man was far from perfect. Beneath the mask, he was bespectacled teenager Peter Parker — penniless, the foil of bully Flash Thompson, and invisible to the attractive girls he dreamed of dating. Stan Lee capitalized on teenage angst, creating a character to whom teenage readers could relate. I think fans of the early Spider-Man comic will immediately recognize Stan’s influence in The 25th Hour.
In many ways, 13-year-old Mackenzie Mortimer is Peter Parker, just as bully Tucker Bryant has his roots in Flash Thompson. But the characterizations go much deeper and recall another comics legend. The redheaded teenager Archie has been one of the most successful comic book characters, appealing to kids and teenagers for the past 75 years. Just as Archie juggled plain-Jane Betty and socialite Veronica, Mackenzie Mortimer is infatuated with rich girl Vanessa Carlyle while oblivious to the crush his best friend, tomboy Marlene Prentice, has on him. In The 25th Hour there’s plenty of teenage angst to go around.
Q: The 25th Hour is hardly an Archie comic book. Some of the topics…
A: It’s meant to be relevant to today’s teenagers and young adults. The 25th Hour includes subjects like school shootings, alcoholism, drug abuse, bullying, depression, suicide, date rape, peer pressure, friendship, love, divorce, puberty, dating, and simply growing up. After all, it’s a coming-of-age story.
Q: Growing up, what was your favorite Young Adult science fiction novel?
A: Well, we didn’t really have a separate category for Young Adult science fiction back then. I read tons of science fiction as a kid, beginning with Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov. When I’d read all their books, I moved on to sampling Arthur C. Clarke, Piers Anthony, Joe Haldeman, Robert Bloch, Theodore Sturgeon, and Jack Williamson. Of course, in school we studied H. G. Wells, George Orwell, Karel Capek, Aldous Huxley, Pat Frank, and Kurt Vonnegut. In high school, I became a huge fan of Harlan Ellison and continue to be to this day. In college, I was fortunate enough to interview many of the great science fiction and fantasy authors such as Leigh Brackett, Lin Carter, L. Sprague deCamp, Alan Dean Foster, R.A. Lafferty, Gene Roddenberry, and Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz. That was a thrill. I was in awe of them. I was in awe of all writers, but especially science fiction authors because that was the genre that most captivated me as a child. But if I had to pick one childhood science fiction book it would be Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time.
Q: So science fiction was a big part of your childhood. Did that extend to movies?
A: There weren’t as many science fiction films when I was a kid. Hollywood was under the mistaken impression that science fiction wouldn’t sell. But I did enjoy The Day the Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet, Planet of the Apes, The Andromeda Strain, and the Flash Gordon serials. However, television was where I got my science fiction fix: Star Trek; all the Irwin Allen shows – Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; The Immortal; The Starlost; The Twilight Zone; The Outer Limits; The Invaders; The Fantastic Journey; and even the Planet of the Apes TV show.
Q: When did you begin writing science fiction?
A: I wrote science fiction stories as a kid, influenced by everything I was reading and viewing. Very, very bad stories, as I suppose all kids write. Fortunately, I don’t think any of them have survived. But I believe children should be encouraged to write and to stretch their imaginations. By the time I hit college I was writing award-winning nonfiction and I discussed an idea for a fiction story with my writing mentor, someone whose opinion I respected immensely. She thought it was awful and told me to stick to nonfiction, which I did for several years until my career and other pursuits took me away from writing. Two decades passed before I would write another piece of fiction.
Q: Wow. You gave up writing because of her comments?
A: Just writing fiction. I continued writing news stories and earned my degree in journalism. But journalism is a completely different kind of writing from fiction writing. Journalism is about reporting, and in some cases interpreting, facts and events. To write fiction well, one must be able to draw on diverse life experience and knowledge. At its heart, fiction is about the human condition and it takes years for a writer to be able to understand that and to express it. Fiction writing is not merely coming up with a plot and sticking some fungible characters into it. Characterization is essential, as is verisimilitude. The characters need to be well formed to the extent that they will act a certain way based on their fictionalized life experiences. If the same dialogue could come out of either character’s mouth in a scene, then the writer has not done a good job of defining each character. The characters also have to be unique individuals and not merely reflections of the writer. The author has to understand human nature and what life is like beyond his or her backyard. It helps to have traveled throughout the world and to have learned about different cultures to gain a broad enough perspective. My mentor was right; at 17, I wasn’t mature enough to write fiction.
Q: Getting back to The 25th Hour, why a trilogy?
A: Growing up doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an evolution: events and circumstances force the character to evolve from immaturity to responsibility. Each of the three books in The Adventures of Mackenzie Mortimer takes Mackenzie outside of his comfort zone and challenges him to accept the great responsibility that comes with great power, and ultimately to determine the moral parameters of that responsibility. A lot of so-called coming-of-age stories really don’t change the protagonist, but I think readers will be shocked when they reach the third book.
Q: You’re referring to All the Time in the World?
A: Right. The 25th Hour is followed by The Tomorrow Paradox and then All the Time in the World. One of the things I loved as a kid was the cliffhanger endings of Flash Gordon and Lost in Space. The trilogy allows me to do a complete story arc yet incorporate some exciting cliffhangers. All of the books are packed with action and adventure, but the tone and mood of the third book is much darker, similar to the final Harry Potter book in that series. It was most difficult book I’ve ever written but I think readers will find it to be a powerful story.