Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Author Interview: Robert Bresloff
When the army of the new emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Di had invaded neighboring Annam, Chen, a thirteen year old boy was saved by a mysterious old man as the invading Chinese destroyed his village and killed his family. The old man turned out to be, Master Waan, a Ship's Wizard in the service of the great Chinese admiral Zheng He. Though Chen thought the old man odd, he knew that his only chance for survival-to accompany Master Waan to China. As the wizard's apprentice, Chen sailed with the fleet, a gigantic armada made up of great Chinese Treasure Ships in search of what Chen believed to be magical place referred to only as Wanderland. He soon learned that it was no coincidence Master Waan had appeared at the village just in time to save his life. It was Chen's destiny to find Wanderland. -- From Diversion Press
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The novel takes place during the 1400s in China during the Ming Dynasty: what drew you to this particular time period and this particular legend?
Actually, I read a short news story about Gavin Menzies’ book 1421 The Year China Discovered the World. I was very intrigued by the possibility of the Chinese discovering the Americas before Columbus. After reading the book, I decided to tell the story in terms that children could understand. I made the protagonist a young teen named Chen, whose life is saved by and taken under the wing of a master wizard. Together, they sail the seas in search of a mysterious place called Wanderland. I don’t actually write that they discover America, but I definitely give hints to where they travel.
What sort of research did you do for the book? Did you do extensive research for the book or was this a subject you were already familiar with?
To be honest, there really isn’t much material out there besides Menzies’ book, Louise Levathes’ book, When China Ruled The Seas, and J.A.G Roberts’ A Concise History of China in researching the Chinese armada of the 1400’s. I really wasn’t at all familiar with the subject, but the internet was extremely helpful in providing drawings and information on Chinese vessels of that period, as well as descriptions of the ships and ports they traveled to. I really know more about Chinese Junks then I ever would have thought any one would need to know, but it was necessary to describe as much detail as possible to make the reader familiar with the character’s surroundings.
I really liked the short Prologue and Epilogues that take place in present day. What made you decide to add these elements, rather than just presenting a straight historical fiction novel?
I wanted the reader to feel that there are always new horizons to see, new frontiers to discover and that there is no limit to the imagination, so never give up. It could also make a very interesting sequel that focuses on the present day boy and his connections to Chen. Hmmm.
It's so important for historical fiction novels to feel true to their depicted time period, and Wanderland felt like a true glimpse into the Ming Dynasty: what tips do you have for writers in creating dialog and situations that fit with a completely different time period with different slang and societal norms?
It takes enormous amounts of research, but the time is well worth it. There are many ways to bring realism to a story. In the case of Wanderland, I studied Confucius and Tao philosophy (every chapter starts with a Chinese proverb or philosophical thought that relates to the chapter). I even hired a Tai Chi instructor to experience the grace of the culture. Movies are a great resource, not so much Hollywood films, but historic films made in the country you’re writing about. The subtitles are tough but the mannerisms and costumes are truer to life. I literally immersed myself into Chinese culture for the year that I wrote the book. The best part was the food. I love Chinese food so that was easy.
What made you decide to include the magical elements? I really enjoyed them and felt it added to the story without making it feel like a "wizard novel."
As a historical novel Wanderland would probably stand without the wizardry, but I felt that with the magical element I could expand the character development to a higher level. Chen had to deal with his new situation and the other characters had to play off his being different. It also made the book more fun to write. I wanted a magical feel, but still be somewhat believable. Chen doesn’t fly on a broom or wave a magic wand, but he is still a wizard.
Were you an avid reader as a kid/teen, and what were your favorite books?
I loved the classics, Verne, Dumas, H.G. Wells, Doyle and Stevenson. I couldn’t get enough. While my friends were reading Superman and Batman comics, I was reading The Three Musketeers, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Even when I did read comics, my favorites were Classics Illustrated. Some of my all time favorites were Treasure Island, Cyrano de Bergerac and The Three Musketeers. I still love swashbuckling tales and I tried to bring that to Wanderland.
What made you want to become a writer, and what drew you historical fiction for YA and Middle Grade readers?
I’m not really sure why writers write. I guess it’s just something inside. I started writing short mysteries in the 70’s but never got published. Then about 10 years ago I wrote something for a friend as a joke. It actually turned out pretty well so I tried my hand at a novel.
Actually, the YA, middle school thing happened by chance. The first book I wrote was The Fifth Codex, an Indiana Jones type adventure for adults. Since it was my first attempt at writing a novel, I decided to have it critiqued. I hired a well known professional editor in New York. She loved the writing but didn’t think the story merited an adult audience. She suggested that I rewrite the book with one of the characters as a teen ager. I know of writers who would refuse to change a single word, but not this guy. I actually loved the idea and rewrote the manuscript. Bingo, I was hooked. It was great; I could write about adventures that I would have loved to read as a kid. I really enjoy writing for kids because in some ways, I never really grew up.
What are you reading now?
Currently I’m reading a book titled Blue Gold by Clive Cussler. It’s a modern day swashbuckler so it’s right up my alley.
Thank you for joining me today Robert, and best wishes!
Thank you for taking the time and your interest in Wanderland.