Most of you are aware of the reason I have been so long absent from the woodworking magazines and from this space. I have spent the last six years writing an eight-book fantasy/adventure series for young adults, called the Castleton Series. I completed the final book last June. This April 22 the first volume will be available; in the current jargon, it will launch. You can acquire either the eBook or bound edition from Amazon.com or other sellers. It is titled The Hampton Summit and is written under my name.
During these past six years I researched, I wrote, rewrote, polished and edited more than a half million words. I determined the subject matter and the posing for the artwork, and spent many hours with the artist. The project was a monumental task.
The Castleton Series is kid friendly. The main characters are admirable and likeable. They are loyal, courageous, and compassionate. They are smart, innovative, and resourceful. While the characters struggle with ethical problems and other circumstances that arise from the human condition, there is no sex, no drugs, and no foul language. Your sainted grandmother could read these books without offense. In fact, I bet she would enjoy them. Whatever you do, don’t tell any kids this, but I snuck in a lot of knowledge. While being entertained and challenged, young readers are going to be exposed to diverse subjects: history, math, science, geography, music, art, archeology, etc.
The first book, The Hampton Summit, introduces three 12-year old boys, Mike Castleton and his friends Patrick Weaver and Nick Pope. The boys are recruited to prevent a murder that never happened, although now, it may. The assassins are renegade time travelers. They return to the present, intent on killing a scientist to prevent him from sharing the most important discovery in history. Their crime will destroy the peaceful future and golden age that will result from that discovery. The boys are brought into the future to be trained for the mission. There, they are befriended by two girls, Allie Tymoshenko and her roommate, Jen Cann. Together, the five take on the job of stopping the would-be killers. Our feisty band is armed only with audacity and innovativeness.
In each succeeding book the characters age a year and advance a grade in school. The series parallels their growth. The danger and the complexity of their adventures are constant, as what can kill you at 12 will still kill you at 19. However, the characters’ responses and understanding of events reflect their increasing maturity. At 19, one can analyze and separate cause, result, and meaning in a more nuanced way that at 12. The characters’ growing maturity intensifies their struggles with ethics as they increasingly see the world in shades of gray, rather than the black and white of youth.
In each book the friendship between Mike and Allie deepens, until it develops into love. However, the pair is star crossed, in that Allie was born seven generations after Mike. They can only get together on time travel adventures. That results in a saga that takes the reader back to the dawn of human history and forward to the end of time.
The pair’s growing love and yearning to be together as much as possible permits me to explore time travel’s weirder possibilities. This weirdness prompted the series’ subtitle; Time travel messes with your mind, and with your love life. Think about these situations. If you go into the future it is possible to visit your own grave, to read your own obituary. You can hold the hand of a dying person who held your hand when you died. As a kid, you can meet your older self, without recognizing him/you. You will be at a disadvantage because the older self remembers the meeting and can toy with you. If you go back in time, you can work there ten years and return to the moment you left. You eat supper that evening with your family, who asks if you had a nice day. People who travel a lot often wake up unsure where they are. Time travelers wake up unsure where or when they are.
If you have the misfortune to fall in love with someone from the future, you face a terrible choice. You can never spend your lives together. You sacrifice marriage, a home, a family. You have to accept the occasional opportunity you and your lover have to be together in time. If you are a girl from the future and the boy you love will become famous in his time, you know much about his later life that you can never share. You can only watch events unfold, messing with your mind as it happens.
Time travel has limitations and must occur within an established frame work. Violate those limitations and the consequences are dire. These realities require a unique set of ethics and code of conduct. The right thing is not always as obvious as it is for those of us that stick to our own time. Dealing with the new right and wrong also messes with your mind.
I hope you will choose to read the Castleton series and perhaps turn young people in your family on to it. I plan to release all eight volumes this year so there will be no long waits between books. As you read The Hampton Summit pay close attention to detail. This book is the foundation for the rest of the saga. Nothing is accidental or frivolous. Everything I tell you is important and will play its part later on. In the first volume I establish the pattern for an elaborate fabric that will be woven through seven books and neatly wrapped up in the last one.
As I wrote the Castleton Series I became aware of something else I want to discuss with fellow woodworkers. The people who read my manuscripts for me often said, “It’s like reading a movie.” This caused me to ponder my writing style and point of view. I realized that I was writing novels the way I write woodworking articles and books. When conveying a woodworking technique to you, the ideal perspective would be to show the method through my eyes, so you see how the tool acts and the wood responds for the user. You miss all that if you are standing to my side watching. Unfortunately, in illustrating a woodworking article, that is where the photographer’s camera usually is located. So, if I am to effectively convey a technique to you, the woodworker, I have to use words to give you the experience of seeing through my eyes. That’s how I learned to write, using words to show the reader what I see.
Gradually during the past six years, I became aware that my perspective as a woodworking writer is similar to a 21st century technological development - the helmet cam. I recently watched helmet cam footage of a firefight in Afghanistan. It was completely different from any war movie, from any documentary you have seen about combat. In a movie or a documentary the director controls what you see and how the information is conveyed. The director has the ability to focus your attention on details he deems important. For example, he can throw the background or foreground out of focus, or change the lighting. He can provide additional orientation to the setting by splicing in scenes from others point of view, such as showing the enemy and its location as it fires. The viewer of helmet cam footage sees exactly what the soldier sees, nothing additional. You see the wall pass before you as the soldier ducks behind it. You hear enemy gun fire, but only see a distant tree line as the warrior scans it for the concealed Taliban. He doesn’t see the bad guys firing, and neither do you. You do see the face of the adjacent soldier as he hands ammunition to the helmet cam guy, but only because our guy turned his head. Through a helmet cam you get a better sense of the confusion of battle because you are deprived of information a director would include. The helmet cam never pulls back for a long shot, or elevates for an overhead view. Your experience is limited to what the helmet cams sees, but that view is the closest thing possible to the soldier’s experience. Until technology provides us a Star Trek holodeck, the helmet cam experience is the next best thing to reality.
The helmet cam is the new way of seeing. It wasn’t available when we were growing up. However, if you were born in the 21st century it is the way you are used to observing events. It is not going away, and the perspectives we grew up with are never coming back. In fact, the impetus in technology will be to intensify the experience. When I was a 19-year old cub reporter my editor taught me to begin an article with a summary lead. The purpose was to grab the reader’s attention right away by focusing him on the most important fact. An elderly pedestrian was severely injured yesterday afternoon in a hit and run accident while crossing Main Street at the intersection of Central Avenue. Today, kids don’t read newspapers. They don’t even watch the evening news. For them, the hit and run accident only becomes a reality when it is watched on Youtube. If the event was not recorded by a traffic cam so it can be viewed, for a 21st century kid, it did not occur. Today, young people encounter events through omnipresent helmet cams, traffic cams, dashboard cams, and critter cams that monitor our lives.
As I wrote the Castleton Series (presenting the action the way I write woodworking articles) I became aware that I was doing something different. I was showing the reader events like they were being seen through a helmet cam. If a character enters a room, a writer usually conveys that action. If instead, the narrator was wearing a helmet cam, the reader sees that the room has a window with – count them – six panes. To the right of the character is a round, wicker table with a bentwood chair pushed up to it. A thin, red book is on the table. If the character walks down a corridor wearing a helmet cam the reader will see the ceiling, the doors, what’s at the end of the corridor, how long it is. Just like watching our soldier’s experience in the fire fight, the helmet cam perspective in a novel allows the reader to share the character’s experience with a deeper sense of reality.
While I hardly think of myself as a literary writer, in the Castleton Series I tried something comparable to the efforts of notable authors. Here is an analogy. Along with contemporaries like Juan Gris and Georges Braque, the avant guarde painter Pablo Picasso developed Cubism in the early 20th century. You know these paintings, the distorted woman with a nose on the side of her face. Through Cubism, artists tried to show an object, a scene, or a person from multiple perspectives, but in a two-dimensional view; the canvas. Their success with Cubism influenced contemporary writers who attempted to do the same thing with words. Faulkner did it in As I Lay Dying; Hemingway did it in The Sun Also Rises; Woolf did it in To the Lighthouse. Gertrude Stein, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Cocteau, and others even wrote Cubist poetry. These writers wanted to provide their readers with a more reading intense experience by using Cubism to create different perspectives and points of view.
In a similar way, I used the skills I developed as a woodworking writer to attempt to give the reader a more intense experience of my story - the helmet cam experience. In my musings I have even wondered if words could stimulate the visual cortex. It’s probably not possible, but it’s an intriguing prospect for a writer to try to engage that part of the reader’s brain. Young people have grown up with the helmet cam and if my imaginings are possible, it will be most successful with them. So, it is my hope that presenting the events in a novel in the style I developed as a woodworking writer will work for young readers. Time will tell whether or not I succeeded. In the meanwhile, I have jokingly told my English major son that I have coined an impressive sounding name for my style of fiction writing, a term that will establish my bona fides with the espresso drinkers. I have dubbed it Cammism. To the extent it worked, I have woodworkers to thank.
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