Interview: Arthur Gonzalez

ajgI’m really happy to welcome Arthur Gonzales today to Literary, etc! His book, The Photo Traveler is already available. If you’re a fan of YA or science fiction / time travel, this is a book you’ll enjoy reading. I reviewed it here.


Q. Tell me a little bit about Arthur Gonzalez, other than the standard bio on your website.
I’m someone who wants to make people feel good about themselves. At the core of it all, I am a lover. I live to laugh. I like to be silly and goofy, and tell cheesy jokes. I obsess over those moments where you laugh so hard you feel you may actually die of laughter.

My father passed away, by surprise, of a heart attack, at the age of 48. Ever since, I’ve been on this journey of wanting to leave behind something meaningful. Hypothetically, (and I think of this way too often), if I was destined to leave this Earth at such a ripe age as well, I want to leave behind the memory of someone who inspired. Someone who motivated with love and strength.

I also like to volunteer. The best volunteer experiences I’ve had were helping out in Haiti right after the earthquake, and playing with terminally ill children for weeks at a time in a Paul Newman, called Camp Boggy Creek.

Q. Have you always had an interest in time travel and science fiction?
Science Fiction, yes…but time travel, not so much. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of time travel, but no more than the next person. But after the idea came to me, I was all too inspired. I couldn’t stop thinking of the possibilities.

Q. As a first-time author, how many projects and stories did you discard along the way to The Photo Traveler?
I have files upon files upon files of stories I have started on, and are either midway complete or just needs to be edited. I was initially going to release my children’s book, Monty and the Monsters, first, but my editor and I both felt the timing was right for The Photo Traveler. So I refocused all of my energy into getting it out there.

Q. What type of research did you conduct while preparing to write The Photo Traveler?
I explored countless websites and books on the historical pieces/adventures of The Photo Traveler. I not only wanted to the readers to vividly imagine this past world, but I hope I’d be able to teach them something they didn’t know before. You know, a mix of something educational masked by the entertainment.

Q. You’ve stated in several interviews the inspiration for The Photo Traveler was a friend grieving for his grandmother. Has he read the book and how did he react to the concept?
Absolutely. He’s been someone who I’ve (forced) asked repeatedly to read the manuscript. The idea was inspired by a major loss, and in some intangible way, he feels his grandmother lives on through it. He loves the concept and has the bragging rights to say he inspired the story!

Q. Gavin is attracted to photography. Why did you choose this profession, and how did you prepare to write about it?
It felt like the perfect match. Time traveling through photos- what better way to propel this story, than to make the main character a photography nut. It was a way to link Gavin’s personal passion to his newfound ability. It felt like the right match for a person who’s always felt alone and not in control of their life. It was a way for him to hold on to moments that were otherwise, always taken from him.

Q. History plays an important role in The Photo Traveler. Why did you pick the time periods that you feature (Salem Witch Trials, the Great Depression)?
Before I began scribbling ideas down, I asked myself, “What periods would I personally like to travel to?” The Salem Witch Trials and The Great Depression immediately came to mind. Then I thought- “How can I tie this into a story and make it meaningful and keep the plot moving forward.

Q. The crystal vials associated with Machu Picchu in The Photo Traveler reminded me of the crystal skulls associated with pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. What attracted you to use Machu Picchu as the source of creation for the photo travelers?
Sometimes (or most often, really) I’ll live vicariously through my writing. I’ve dreamt of going to Machu Picchu for a very long time. Integrating it as part of my story was a way to discover it, to deepen my understanding of it. In doing so, I was able to create this alternate reality that revolved around a destination I would love to visit.

There will be a lot more of Machu Picchu and its history to how it relates to Gavin’s ability in book 2, The Peace Hunter. Hopefully, I will be able to visit- ahem- for “research”, of course.

Q. Photo travelers are distinctive because their eyes change to purple. Why did you decide on this trait and where did the idea come from?
When I began outlining the story, I was trying to think of something that would symbolize the story. Something that someone would see and immediately think of The Photo Traveler. Then one night I woke up in the middle of a dream where I had imagined Gavin with these stellar purple/violet eyes. There was no going back from that. I just felt it was perfect.

Q. I’ve always imagined time travel to be hard on the body and maybe painful. Most time travel plots feature a bit of pain for the protagonists. Why did you stay away from this aspect? In your opinion, if time travel was possible, do you do think it would painful?
I wanted to steer away from a lot of the common ideas that had been used already. I tried to completely erase my mind of anything I had ever read about, and push my creativity for something that was different. Time travel (so far) is not physically possible; so who knows if it would hurt.

As for my own person opinion, I think time traveling – if it were possible – would give me a perpetual massive migraine. I would probably be addicted to Excedrine or something. 🙂

Q. Gavin in many ways is sheltered when compared to those in his peer group. Was there a particular reason to keep him innocent? By innocent I mean, Gavin not having set foot in a museum before.
There are several factors that contributed to his innocence. The two major ones being: 1) the abuse from his adoptive family and 2) his own personal guilt. I wanted his experience when venturing across the county to be an eye opening and liberating experience full of new opportunities. I was sending a message to youth, that no matter how horrible things may be at some point in their life, that something greater awaits them if they dare seek it. I wanted to inspire those who feel alone; that they should never, ever, ever give up.

Q. Meesha is an interesting character and one who helps Gavin when he needs it. Why do you think she looks out for him? Will we see more of her character in book 2?
Meesha is by far one of my favorite characters. I wish she were real so I can have a drink with her and laugh. She will most definitely be in book 2, The Peace Hunter. I think Meesha has taken this maternal approach towards Gavin because she understands, or senses, what he’s been through. She can sense that at his core, he is a boy that wants nothing more than to be loved and accepted. Maybe something happened in Meesha’s life- something we have yet to learn- that Gavin reminds her of.

Q. Let’s talk for a moment without giving spoilers about Gavin falling in love with Alanna. Some readers won’t be able to associate with it and the consequences of an encounter with her. What was your initial reaction to Gavin falling for a girl who only exists in the past and would the initial plot for book 2 still be possible without the implication of what Gavin did?
There will always be a consequence for the decisions Gavin makes in the past; the extent, however, will always vary.

I really wanted Gavin to experience the emotion of that first love, but also realize that everything has its consequences. It was a means to the dramatic impact I wanted for him to experience.
I wanted readers to think, “Wow. What would I do in this situation?”

Q. Given the opportunity, which time period would you travel to and why?
Like Gavin, I would (hands down) time travel to the prehistoric era. I need me some dinosaurs in my life!

Q. You’re writing a children’s novel, how difficult is it to write for children versus a young adult?
It’s different. The content is different, but I think the message is always there. You can ice a chocolate cake with vanilla or strawberry frosting, but it’ll always be chocolate cake. At the end of the day, it’s about understanding who you are writing for and knowing what is and is not appropriate for that demographic.

Q. Finally, what can we anticipate for book 2, The Peace Hunter?
I am crossing my fingers to have it done by the end of this year/early 2014! I’m about a third of the way done. Lets just say….Gavin will be visiting a lot more than the past, through pictures. (Hint: Peru, Paris, Future, Flinstones) 😉

Epilogue

1. Favorite museum?
Natural Museum of National History (D.C.)

2. Beach or Mountain?
Beach (I’m from Miami- come on, now!) 😉

3. Favorite Song?
Amber- 311; Hotel California- Eagles; Come What May- Moulin Rouge version; Doo Wop (That Thing)- Lauryn Hill

4. Mister Rogers or Sesame Street?
Mister Rogers

5. Favorite Sport?
Not a huge sports buff, but I’d go with basketball.

6. Favorite City?
Paris is my love.

7. Favorite Superhero?
Ice Man or Gambit

Book Review: Arthur Gonzalez’s The Photo Traveler

phototravelTitle: The Photo Traveler
Author: Arthur Gonzalez
Genre: YA / Science Fiction
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

I’m a fan of science fiction and as a historian, time travel plots can leave me rolling my eyes. When I came across Arthur Gonzalez’s The Photo Traveler, I was a bit unsure of how to proceed, but within the first three chapters, I was hooked and didn’t want to stop reading.

Life hasn’t been easy for seventeen-year-old Gavin Hillstone. His adopted father is a drunk and beats him and his adopted sister lies to get her way. They both blame Gavin for the death of his adopted mother and he lives with the guilt knowing he caused her death. One night after a beating, he’s had enough. Finding his original adoption papers, Gavin decides to look for the grandparents who gave him up for adoption. One the way to Washington D.C., he encounters some unsavory characters who ask him for the glass vials and he has no idea what they are talking about. He eludes them and when he arrives in DC, he finds his grandparents are alive. Gavin confronts them and they admit to giving him up to protect him. They then tell him a secret…he’s a photo traveler and as one, he’s able to travel anywhere in the world as long as there’s a physical photograph or a drawing of an event as it occurred. Gavin goes on a journey to find the truth of what happened to his parents and along the way discovers how vital it is not to change the past because of the way it affects the future.

The writing is engaging and Gonzalez definitely is able to put the reader into the mindset of a seventeen-year-old boy. It’s quite easy for a YA science fiction centered book to be filled with clichés, but Gonzales does an excellent job keeping things fresh. The Photo Traveler is also well researched and incorporates aspects of history in the narrative. At one point Gavin travels to 17th century America and the Salem Witch Trials. I cringed when I read where he was going because anyone from the 21st century would stand out and instead of brushing that tidbit aside, Gonzalez addresses it. What’s a 17th century person suppose to think at the height of the witch trials when they see a teenage boy dressed in jeans? I won’t say what happens, but I appreciated the reaction to the incident.

In terms of character development, it’s not thorough, but since this is part of a trilogy, it makes sense to draw the characters over the course of the series. Without a doubt, this book is about Gavin and the journey to find out who he is. We find out how Gavin’s adopted mother died and it will be interesting to see if by chance a picture of the events of that day exists and if it does, will Gavin travel to that specific day? Also I have a feeling there’s more to Gavin’s photography teacher. He took an early interest in Gavin and something just doesn’t sit well with me. I think all readers will be able to associate with Gavin and his need for acceptance. Here’s a teenage boy on the cusp on being an adult who doesn’t know why he was given up. One moment he had parents and a loving home and the in the next instant he has nothing. The heartache he experiences will sadden you and make you want to reach out to hug him.

My favorite quotes:

But since I suck at lying, I was probably as believable as that girl, Cynthia, in our class who constantly shows up with hickies on her neck but keeps swearing she’s still a virgin.

When I open my eyes, a twelve-ton elephant is staring right back at me. It gives me the creeps.

With all works of fiction, especially science fiction, the ability to suspend disbelief is needed and The Photo Traveler is no exception. There are a lot of unanswered questions mostly with regards to Gavin’s mistake and inadvertently changing history. I expected a bit more drawn out discussion pertaining to the subject, but there wasn’t one. Book 2, The Peace Hunter, should touch upon this and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Arthur Gonzalez has done an excellent job with his debut novel and he’s an author to watch.