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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Featured Author - Allan R. Shickman! - Part 4

I love all my “children,” but my favorite character is Rydl, as I said before. I like the way he develops, from a frightened runaway child in the first book, to a successful and authoritative man in the third (as yet unpublished) book in the series. Rydl is about ten years old when he is introduced in Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure.

“The terrified child was trying to bite Zan, and it was a long time before Zan could calm the youngster and convince this intruder that there was no danger. Eventually the child slept, exhausted by the powerful emotions it had experienced, and Zan slept too.

“Zan was awakened the next morning by the sound of the waif searching his sack for food….The child, ugly, ragged and dirty, was hungry to the point of starvation.”

In the sequel, Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country, Rydl has become a great friend of Zan-Gah, the book’s hero, and develops an inventive resourcefulness of his own.

“When Rydl was nine years old, Styg’s brutalities sent him running. By sheer accident Zan-Gah in his wanderings became the father and brother Rydl so much needed. Zan had found him under the vines, wretched, terrified, and near starvation, and had taken him into his care. Rydl gratefully followed Zan to the point of being an annoyance—trailing his footsteps, singing, talking to himself, and hopping about….His happiness showed itself in an unusual restlessness of spirit. He was continually playing, climbing, jumping from rock to rock, chasing a chipmunk, shouting to hear his echo, or simply babbling to the empty air.

“But as he grew older, Rydl developed a different restlessness, more of the mind than the body. Now he would shout to the cliffs to see how long it took for his echo to return; and he would wait silently for a chipmunk to appear in order to study its habits. He watched the behavior of ants by the hour—how they moved in predictable ways, or how the red ants instinctively fought the black ones. ‘People are like that too,’ he had commented to Zan, and Zan had thought over and remembered Rydl’s words.”

“What Rydl had that his fellows lacked was a creative imagination. He occupied a separate world as lively as theirs was stolid and dull. While others plodded on in the same old way their fathers had, Rydl, who no longer had a father, was constantly inventing new solutions, or at least asking new questions. Little escaped his notice and his wonder.”

“Rydl had learned to take care of himself. He knew a dozen ways to trip up his enemies, and could quickly invent still more—like the time he gave poison mushrooms to the great louts who tried to kidnap him and ran away while they were vomiting.”

In the third book, Rydl is prosperous and attractive, even though he has sustained a crippling wound. Here’s a preview excerpt from the new, unpublished sequel, Dael and the Painted People.

“As for his charm, probably ten young women regarded him as a marriage prospect. Had not Sparrow adored him? Everybody was the recipient of, and responded to, his innate graciousness. It was extended to the harshest among them, and even as he was getting the best of a hard bargain, he won over his competitors with his unassuming ways, causing them to feel that if they had not gotten all they wanted, they had not been humiliated either. Rydl was not greedy, and indeed he gave away much of what he had. That too was part of his appeal—not merely that he gave, but that he never allowed himself to become acquisitive or proud. Why are some people charming? It is not a matter of natural beauty, although Rydl had that in abundance too.”

Rydl is only a secondary character, but I really like him. I guess he charmed me too.

To learn more about Allan R. Shickman and his books, check out
his website:
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Featured Author - Allan R. Shickman! - Part 3

MLM: Why YA Fiction? What was the draw for you?

ALLAN: Well, I have all of these adorable nieces and nephews, and I want to talk to them and leave them a memory of me. They and their friends are the ones I am speaking to—and I am not always as skilled or warm as I could wish when I am in their presence. My young adult audience is a bright-eyed eager crew, not at all like their jaded elders, that wear indifference in one eye and scorn in the other.

MLM: All of us are influenced and impacted by TV, movies, books and/or authors at different times in our lives. Who, what and which TV, movies, books and/or authors influenced you? When in your life did you discover them and why were they so influential for you? (Don’t be afraid to give us more than one of each kind!)

ALLAN: It is truly said that we are what we eat. I try to “eat” good stuff, and I am almost exclusively drawn to the classics, from Shakespeare and Milton to Fielding, Scott, Emily Bronte, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, Dostoyevsky, Melville, Twain, and Thomas Mann. I get different things from each one, and sometimes they are very little things, sometimes more general. I am particularly interested in the symbolic or metaphoric detail, and in motifs of imagery. Movies get to me too, but it is mainly novels and plays. I have read some of them so many times that the language sticks in my mind. I am still rereading books that I first read in high school. I also suspect that symphonic music has had an effect on my writing, especially the coming book. A symphony can be like a story, and a story can be like a symphony. Right?

MLM: Considering the TV, movies, books and/or authors mentioned, is there one TV, movie, book and/or author in particular that you try to emulate in your writing? Which one(s) and why? Please be as specific as you can! J

ALLAN: One in particular? No. Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov is my favorite; add Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, Scott’s Ivanhoe, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Shakespeare’s great tragedies and histories, e.g., Richard II. I’m afraid it’s a rather gloomly list, but I laughed my head off at Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Melville’s Moby Dick influenced me a lot with its mad hero, Captain Ahab.

MLM: If you could describe your writing with a word or phrase, what would it be? Please look beyond words like mysterious, suspenseful, creative, unique etc., and delve into the core of your writing to tell us what word or phrase you want readers to take with them when they've finished reading your story.

ALLAN: I want my young readers, and the older ones too, to finish my book feeling moved and changed by the intensity of what they have experienced. I want them to dream of Zan-Gah at night. Short phrase? “It harrows me with fear and wonder.” (That’s what Horatio said when he saw King Hamlet’s ghost.)

MLM: In Part 2 we asked if you believe in mystical Irish lore such as Leprechauns. Have you ever used any type of Irish lore in one of your stories? If so, which lore and what was the situation?

ALLAN: I can’t claim to have used, or much thought about Irish lore. There was a time when the people of Eire were primitive too, struggling for survival and believing in spirits and numerous gods. Some of that animism survives today in stories of faeries and unseen little critters. Actually, I have been touched by Old Testament lore: David with his sling, twins Jacob and Esau, the Beautiful Country as a “Promised Land” and the object of contention between warring tribes.

MLM: Also in Part 2 we asked you about your views on March. Does this show through in your writing? If so, give some examples how, please!

ALLAN: I think it does. Writing about prehistoric people in the Zan-Gah books, I tried to be as sensitive to weather changes as they would have been. How they would have welcomed March, the first month of spring, having endured and hopefully survived the horrors of winter! What explanation would prehistoric people have given for a tree that remained green all winter, a cave that stayed at 58 degrees the year around, or for March’s miracle of the land’s renewing fertility?

MLM: Who decides what characters/creatures you write about, you or your muse? What kind of influence do you have over their actions and the plot, or is the muse always the one deciding the journey the characters take?

ALLAN: Milton had a “heavenly muse.” Me, I just dream and collect ideas at random. Then I organize, structure, articulate, and embellish my dreams. In the process, my characters take on lives of their own, and surprise me. The character Rydl was such a surprise. I invented him in the middle of the first Zan-Gah book, and his development through three books thrust itself at me without any planning. It must be a muse, I don’t know.

MLM: Of all the stories you’ve written please tell us:
a.)Which character/creature did you have the most fun creating and why? What about this character/creature makes it stand out above all the others?

ALLAN: I think Rydl also was the most fun in creating. He kept on developing! He was a frightened child when he first appeared, but by the end of the first Zan-Gah book he had begun to take on maturity and stature. In the sequel of the book series, he showed his budding genius, and in the third book, which I will call Dael and the Painted People, he develops even further and becomes a still richer character.

b.)If you had the opportunity to meet just one of your characters/creatures in real life, who would it be and why?

ALLAN: Zan’s lovely, delicate, and intelligent wife Pax would be nice to talk to.

c.)Which of your characters/creatures would you never want to meet under any circumstance and why?

ALLAN: I hope there is no such character. My meanest developed character is the shaman in the not yet published third novel. He is a real stinker; I don’t have much good to say on his behalf. But it is an important point of my books that the worst of us has some good in him and is redeemable. Of course there is the man-eating lioness. I would never want to meet her!

d.)If you could choose to visit one setting/world you’ve created which one is it, where is it and why this destination over all the others? What makes it stand out over all the others?

ALLAN: The landscape of the land of the red rocks is described at length in the first book, and more briefly in the other two. It is dramatic and frightening, and stunningly displays nature’s power and vitality—more than any other in the Zan-Gah stories. I’ve seen such places in Utah and Colorado, and was definitely inspired by them. However, the fictional region I describe in the book series is not necessarily meant to be in the United States. It could be in Asia Minor, Europe, or Morocco, for example. I also have to mention the cave of the Na women. It was modeled after Onondaga Cavern in Missouri, to which I made a pilgrimage for research purposes. What a wonder! I strongly recommend a visit. March would be a good time.

MLM: On that note, we’ll end our interview for this week. Thank you so much for joining us this week!

ALLAN: Thank you for allowing me to talk so extensively about myself and my book series.

MLM: Be sure to check back for Part 4 when we take a closer look at Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Featured Author - Allan R. Shickman! - Part 2

Thanks for joining us this week!

MLM: Mardi Gras is Tuesday March 8th this year. Will you be celebrating it this year? Why or why not? If so, what are your plans this year? Care to share any stories of past Mardi Gras celebrations?

ALLAN: Here in St. Louis, our Mardi Gras parade, which we try to get to every year, is a humdinger. We’ll go if the weather isn’t just awful, and if our out-of-town guests don’t say that they want to go to our zoo—also a humdinger. I can’t think of any special Mardi Gras stories of my own, so I will mention one of my favorite old movies, Black Orpheus. It is set in Rio in the midst of the riotous Mardi Gras celebration—a story of love and death. Not especially Irish, but a great movie.

MLM: Are you Irish? Do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day…why or why not?

ALLAN: Of course I’m Irish, but only on St. Patrick’s Day. I love ethnic celebrations. If the Czechs sponsor a kolache day, I’ll be there. I like Irish plays. Playboy of the Western World is a marvelous, witty one. Wit and fancy combine in Irish literature in a unique, characteristically Irish way. On St. Patrick’s day, I try to think Irish.

MLM: In some areas, St. Patty’s Day is celebrated with green beer and all sorts of other green things, like green eggs and ham, have even been given a spotlight this time of year. What kind of activities will be going on in your area?

ALLAN: Mobs of people go to the parade. It’s in an area with lots of pub restaurants, and the green beer flows. Far from getting the spotlight, I delight in getting lost in the crowd, so I wear green like everybody else.

MLM: One of the greatest things about the Internet is that we can connect with writers of all kinds from all over the globe so we want to know:
a.)What area of the country/world are you from?

ALLAN: St. Louis, MO is now my home. I grew up here before I went to Iowa for a few years.

b.) What are the average temperatures of your area?

ALLAN: On Mardi Gras, we have known freezing rain on some occasions, and 75 degree delightful weather on others. Usually it is in the early 50s. St. Louis has nice, moderate weather most of the time.

c.)What type of clothing would most residents be wearing today?

ALLAN: T-shirts, shorts, and open shirts that show the hair, or lack of it, on their chests. Those of us who have any sense wear our heavy coats, hats, and gloves.

d.)What tips do you have for people to “survive” the weather where you are?

ALLAN: Dress warm. You can always loosen (or remove) your garments. On the whole, it is better to be a little warm than a little cold.

MLM: March has strong connections with Ireland, which is steeped in mysticism. What about you, are you steeped in mysticism? Do you believe in leprechauns and the like, or at least enjoy the tales of them? Why or why not? Are there any mystical beings with ties to Ireland that you really enjoy?

ALLAN: I suspect that leprechauns may be an English invention. My understanding is that the Irish believe in faeries. Me, I’m not much of a mystic. I observe the mystery of life, and that’s about it. Life is a mystery, you know. We are nothing but atoms and molecules. Out of hundreds of billions of years, and infinite space, how is it that our molecules—yours and mine—happened to be meeting? Cool!

MLM: What is your view on March? Does it come in like a lion and exit like a lamb? Do you feel that March is really the time of rebirth, even though many flowers and trees might not start budding until April in northern parts of the world? Why or why not?

ALLAN: Here in St. Louis March does indeed come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. My daffodils are already sprouting mightily, and may be blooming in two weeks. That means spring to me—that and the blooming of the forsythias. Those things really signal rebirth and a new start to me. There is one other harbinger of spring worth mentioning because I think it is the first. That is when the weeping willows take on a yellowish tinge even before budding. But it is spring because I want it to be spring. I really, really want it to be spring!

MLM: If you could go anywhere in Ireland, where would you go and why?

ALLAN: Trinity College, Dublin. I’m a city man, although the Irish countryside is 100 shades of lovely. The Book of Kells and a number of other Hiberno-Saxon manuscripts are in their library. And everybody talks with that lovely Irish accent.

MLM: On that note, we’ll end our interview for this week. Thank you so much for joining us this week!

ALLAN: Thank you too. Once the old word processor gets going, it is hard to stop it. Happy March.

Readers, thanks for joining us!
Any questions? Please ask!
Don't forget to check back for Part 3!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Featured Author - Allan R. Shickman! - Part 1

Please help me welcome Allan Shickman!

What makes a writer anyway? From what I can see, writers are coming in the windows. Any time I mention my Zan-Gahbooks, the person I’m talking to is apt to say “I’m writing a book too.” Armed with a word processor (I’m old enough to remember when typewriter ribbons and grit erasers made writing difficult.), we all envision ourselves receiving the accolades of an admiring and richly rewarding book-reading world. Besides, which of us does not have something to say, or long to be listened to? Love of words, a surplus of creative energy, and constantly goading dreams of outrageous success lead us to the fatal step of writing that first paragraph.

I was born to a lower middle class family, went to the public schools, and was encouraged by my teachers (curse them!) to become an artist. Eventually I became an art historian, taught for three decades at the University of Northern Iowa, and took the early retirement deal. Along the way, I published in some very distinguished art history and English literature journals. So upon retirement I took the next step upward and began writing prehistoric adventure books for young adults. I have written two, and have just about finished the third—all part of the same book series.

When I hit it big, I plan to buy the castle next door to Ms. Rowling’s. Will you visit me once I get moved in?