I admit being totally transfixed by this photo of a bald eagle. I saw one some years ago, alive and defiant, perched a few feet away at a library fundraiser for our new Environmental Center. The raptor had been injured and was brought by caregivers who were restoring it to health. They kept misting its eyes to keep it calm. I couldn’t look away.
This is the symbol of America. Ben Franklin preferred the turkey. In a letter to his daughter in 1784, he said the eagle was of bad moral character and the turkey far more respectable and “a true original Native of America.” Personally, I’m glad he lost on that issue. A turkey face is just not the same.
For democracy to work, Franklin knew, people have to be able to vote freely and have the capacity to understand the issues and the candidates. Impediments should be minimal. And those elected should address issues in good faith for the common good if people are to have confidence in government.
As I watch the current Presidential campaign and the politics of the last decade (including voter suppression), my novel feels more predictive than fantasy. Today, many elected officials seem gleeful that government has become dysfunctional. Some historians say it has not been this bad since the founding of the nation. And those guys were mean (remember the 1804 duel when Vice President Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton). But despite their differences, the founders wanted government to work.
As I began writing The Chronicles of Spartak two years ago, I wondered if current trends could become incrementally lethal? Election by election, could freedom diminish?
What will 2115 be like for an average teen? Many factors to consider: climate change, pollution of the oceans, vanishing species, health care, wealth concentration, freedom, voter suppression, a shrinking middle class, privatization of government services, sexual norms, slavery, unlimited campaign spending. And the issues needed to be part of the story but not in the way of the adventure.
I also wanted a main character outside the norm, someone whose choices might make some people squirm, a young man forced to live in a miserable reality of our creation but resilient and clever; a survivor. The teenager, a handsome athlete and musician, tells the story of his life and struggles in the new America.
Not another boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds her again in a dystopian future. There are plenty of those books.
I wanted a novel that might provoke re-thinking role models, even create a hero for a historically repressed minority and a love story flipped on its head. And I wanted to raise some serious issues.
My protagonist had to be someone readers would see as human, vulnerable, likeable, forced to make impossible decisions and living in the world we created for him. Sort of like Hunger Games only the backstory is one you can relate to in today’s mixed up world.
Can one do evil for the greater good? Answer that question at sixteen.
As a boy, I learned to love reading with the C.S. Forester seafaring saga about Horatio Hornblower. It starts when Hornblower is a seasick teenage midshipman in the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars and suddenly has to take command of his own ship. I was hooked on the series (and books) and learned about life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
My goal for The Chronicles was a fun read, Hornblower-ian, lots of action, twists in plot, characters you care about and a backstory that might make you think about today’s actions impacting your great grand children.
And I wanted a different romantic dimension, a male protagonist who is sexually fluid. And I wanted him to face punishing odds in this tomorrowland, the loss of his own freedom, pride and honor, using his wits, muscle and sexuality to triumph.
A 22nd century LGBT action hero who will make you cheer! His sexual orientation is not an issue in his time. Just in ours.
So, meet Spartak Jones and enter Spartak’s world.