first book in the Verona trilogy, a YA science fiction trilogy in which three teens from the 24th century are sent back to 14th century Verona. We asked:
“We're always interested in how dystopian authors go about creating the 'new' world. And since the story goes back in time, what type of research was involved and what about melding the future technology with 1347 Italy?”
I’ve taken the liberty of breaking this into three separate, though related, questions.
Q-1: We're always interested in how dystopian authors go about creating the 'new' world.
I have been heard to say that the question is often more important than the answer. My theory is, once you can pose a question clearly, the answer is usually not far behind (and often staring you in the face.) In the case of the History Camp stories, my aim was not to write a dystopian story. Quite the opposite, I wanted to write a series of linked stories about the human experience after society is “perfected”. That’s why I ended up calling my genre “post-dystopian”.
Of course, the problem with writing a story about a world in balance is there is no conflict in such a place, and a compelling story, by definition, is all about conflict. So, at least I had my question, which I articulated as, “What type of exciting stories and adventures could come from a world that was at peace?” Unfortunately, the answer to this conundrum definitely wasn’t staring me in the face, so I filed it deliberately in my subconscious and ordered my brain to work on it while I got on with life. It took about a month.
I was visiting a fantastic local tourist attraction in my home town of Kingston, Ontario. Old Fort Henry is a large limestone fort built in the 1840’s on the north side of Lake Ontario. I was watching the summer students dressed in their mid-19th century British army uniforms, marching around the parade grounds, lighting off cannons and talking to the tourists about life way back when. It came to me with a BANG . . . and it wasn’t a cannon. It was the answer to what I should write about.
My story would take place three or four hundred years into our future. The world would be at peace. Populations would be much smaller, so as not to encroach on the rest of the world’s ecosystems. In order to make sure humans didn’t repeat the mistakes of the past, they were made them experience it. How? At the beginning of my story, time travel wouldn’t have been invented yet, so the planetary elders had to devise a way for kids to experience the past without travelling back in time. They did this by recreating whole cities from the past, exact replica and from many eras. Unlike Fort Henry, or the hundreds of historical theme parks in our time, where the re-enactors dress in period costume and just talk to visitors about the past, these “History Camp” cities would be just that. Whole cities where children and teenagers would go, not just to watch the goings on, but be put into situations where they had to spend weeks or months living like a person from the past, with absolutely no modern comforts. They would have to work, at being an apprentice, for example, eat very different food, participate in producing the food, sleep in conditions much rougher than they were used to, etc. But what about the conflict? Fortunately, my subconscious had done its work on this issue too.
Most teens that go to History Camps would learn their lessons well. But there were those “hard cases” who continued to rage against the machine. I would have some kids seriously disrupt their History Camp experience and then – poof – another History Camp elder, this one from the future, would kidnap them back in time to the same era of the History Camp, but this would be in the REAL city of the past. Now their spoiled butts would be in real trouble if they acted out. And that’s how History Camp came to be.
Q-2: Since you take your characters back in time, what type of research you do for that?
The most familiar type of history is about individuals who were the movers and the shakers of their times. But I am always suspect about these stories. Much of these histories are propaganda, written at the time these people were alive or in later years, by politicos who want to mold heroes from the past. These modern mythologies then allow the people in power to manipulate the public to support certain things . . . a certain war is just, their country is the best, that another political system is bad, etc.
I prefer reading about regional, and not so archetypal characters, who made real impressions on their surroundings, whether they were good guys, bad guys, or just creatures of their time. A good example of that, in The Lens and the Looker, who is reprised in The Bronze and the Brimstone, would be Mastino II della Scalla, a real person whom I fictionalized.
Then there is technical research. For me, it was important that the characters who got sent back in time had to experience ancient technologies. In The Lens and the Looker, I chose the early days of the optical industry, when crafts people were just starting to make eye glasses. It was a craft that turned into a science, it was very labor intensive, and it took a high degree of self-discipline. Thus it would be a big challenge for the spoiled trouble makers from the future. As for research on this, very little was available. Back in those days craftsmen didn’t share information. Everything was a family secret. However, I found an excellent researcher in Holland who helped enormously, and I also found several sources in the states, (university researchers in libraries) who generously sent me what they had. Plus there’s a great site called antiquespectacles.com. It’s an online museum. The moving force is Dr. David Fleishman, but there are over 1300 contributors to the site.
After a good year of researching and writing the first drafts of the story . . . I WENT TO VERONA, ITALY! I spent four glorious days there. It’s a relatively small city, so I could see almost everything.
I learned something very important on that trip, something I would recommend to everyone, writers or not. Before you travel to an ancient city, spend some months reading a few histories on the place. It really makes a difference to your enjoyment of the time you spend there. The other thing I did was cancel my group tour and hire a private guide. I really lucked out when I met Katia Galvetto (firstname.lastname@example.org). The people and places I had researched for a year really came to life for me then. Now when I wrote a passage, I could feel myself walking through the streets with my characters. The churches, the palaces, the squares, the markets, all took on a new glow of reality.
I put many of my pictures from this 2005 trip on my History Camp Facebook page. You can go there and see them by just searching History Camp.
Q-3: What about melding the future technology with 1347 Italy?
Well, this is where the fun comes in for me . . . and hopefully the reader. Part of the premise of the story is the three spoiled protagonists from the future are abandoned in the past. To make things interesting, I had them sneak in a genie in with them. Not a mythological creature, oh no. Genies in the 24th century are artificial life forms, made to be mischievous trouble makers for their young makers. In their time they are considered toys. Like a laptop computer in our times can hold libraries of information, these artificial life forms have in them the whole canon of human writing and research. So, you can imagine how, in the 14th century, these toys are anything but. In an effort to survive, the teens use their genie’s knowledge of the future to introduce modern inventions ahead of their time. It could save them, it could get them into more trouble or . . . it could change history. ~Lory
The Lens and the Looker, the first book in the History Camp trilogy, is being released March 16th, 2011. You can find out more about it by going to www.history-camp.com . You can also “like” the History Camp Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/historycamptrilogy?v=info.
It’s the 24th century and humans, with the help of artificial intelligences (A.I.s) have finally created the perfect post-dystopian society. To make equally perfect citizens for this world, the elders have created History Camps, full sized recreations of cities from Earth’s distant pasts. Here teens live the way their ancestors did, doing the same dirty jobs and experiencing the same degradations. History Camps teach youths not to repeat the mistakes that almost caused the planet to die. But not everything goes to plan.Three teen “hard cases” refuse the valuable lessons History Camps teach. But when they are kidnapped and taken back in time to 1347 Verona, Italy, they only have two choices; adapt to the harsh medieval ways or die. The dangers are many, their enemies are powerful, and safety is a long way away. It’s hardly the ideal environment to fall in love – but that’s exactly what happens. In an attempt to survive, the trio risks introducing technology from the future. It could save them – or it could change history
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