Saturday 7 September 2013

Author Interview – Michael J. Bowler

Tell us about your new book. What’s it about and why did you write it?
Basically, King Arthur, fulfilling the promise that he would return one day, comes to modern America – Britain’s child – to save LA’s children from a detached, self-absorbed society that has rejected and marginalized and adultified them. I’ve been a volunteer within the juvenile justice system of Los Angeles for almost thirty years and a high school teacher for twenty-five. The idea for this book goes back fifteen or twenty years when I got to know and understand gang members better, as well as other disenfranchised youth I met within the system or at my high school.
Seeing the success of Homeboy Industries here in LA, I began to wonder what might happen if an adult came along and united a lot of these marginalized kids and turned all their collected might toward positive endeavors. That was the genesis. I want to shine a light on how our self-centered adult society is hurting kids and thereby jeopardizing the next generation and the future of the country. I hope to show that these cast-off kids, the ones we want to pretend don’t exist – the gang members, the gay kids, and all those who don’t quite “fit in” – can be inspiring and noble and a catalyst for real change in this society.
Have you started another book yet?
Actually, Children of the Knight is the first of a trilogy. I’ve already completed part II: Running Through a Dark Place and am nearly finished with part III: And the Children Shall Lead. Parts II and III are a LOT longer than part one as the entire story has become rather epic in scope. Part II begins exactly where part I ends and part III where II ends, almost like it’s one big, huge book broken up into three parts. The entire story takes place over a four-year period. Part II seeks to change the entire state of California’s attitude toward kids and part III takes on the whole country!
I don’t know that my publisher will seriously consider releasing the sequels since Harmony Ink generally publishes smaller romance-type books. However, their goal is to release books with strong, positive teen characters and my series is teen empowerment at its best. What other series has teens taking on the president and the U.S. Congress? Ha! In any case, the sequels will get out there somehow.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Actually, there are a number of themes and messages ranging from our society’s insistence that all kids must be the same (hence the one-size-must-fit-all nature of our school system) to the dearth of real human communication between people creating major social problems today, especially for kids and teens who barely know how to talk face to face anymore. Over my lifetime, I’ve worked with every kind of kid, from the rich to the nerdy to the criminally inclined to the emotionally disturbed to the gang affiliated, with gay kids and straight kids and everything in between.
The main message of Children of the Knight and its sequels is that all kids, despite different interests and talents and intellects, are basically the same inside. They’re just kids and none of them should be shoved into a pre-conceived mold, marginalized or discriminated against for any reason, but only encouraged and loved as they are so they can grow up to become good, productive adults. My books celebrate the commonalities of kids, not the differences.
There are a couple of gay boys in the story and they are treated no differently than the gang members or the rich kids. In fact, all three of these groups discover just how much they have in common and come to realize that the prejudices they’d been taught by society were wrong and destructive. So the overriding message of the book is––our outward differences don’t matter because at the end of the day we’re all just human. It’s not about “us versus them,” it’s just about “us.” If more adults would take this message to heart, if they would put the needs of kids above their own wants, this society would be a hundred thousand times better.
How much of the book is realistic?
Sadly, virtually everything that the kids describe is based on real life. The King Arthur hook may make people think this is just a light, fluffy fantasy, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This story is gritty and harsh and deals with very mature themes and edgy material like child abuse, drug addiction, poverty, homelessness, homophobia, gang affiliation, rejection of kids by their own parents, life and death. It is not intended for young kids, but rather high school to adult.
Have you included a lot of your life experiences, even friends, in the plot?
The sections set in a high school are very much based on my real life experiences as a teacher. The characters of the kids are all based on real kids I have known and worked with over the years. Tragically, the horrors they describe about their lives growing up are all true. Of course, they are composites and became their own fictionalized selves as I developed the story, but all are based on real life, which is sad when you consider their lives before they meet the mysterious man who calls himself King Arthur. Do we as a society really treat kids this badly? Unfortunately, the answer is “yes.”
How did you come up with the title?
In my work with disenfranchised and incarcerated youth over the years, I became aware of an organization here in LA called “Children of the Night” that sought to help homeless youth. It’s a great service organization that, sadly, never seems to have enough funding or space to help all the kids who need it (in California we’d rather build more prisons and lock kids up than fund places like this or Homeboy Industries that actually help the youth become better.) I knew a transgendered boy (man, now) who as a teen got a lot of help from this organization when his own family wanted nothing to do with him because of his gender issues, and now as an adult he works for the organization as a counselor. Anyway, since my story involved lost and rejected kids and Arthur was a knight in addition to being a king, Children of the Knight seemed a good play on words.
Can you tell us about your main character?
Actually, there are two main characters who, together, drive this story forward: King Arthur, who initiates this modern children’s crusade, and Lance, the fourteen-year-old homeless boy who becomes his First Knight and has to overcome a harsh and bleak past, not to mention a slew of insecurities, to rise to the occasion and lead the other kids. Arthur is strong and confident and knows how to lead adults, but does not so well understand the minds of teens, nor is he anywhere in his element in 21st century America.
Lance helps him overcome some of these hurdles, but also must, as the teen leader of the movement, find the strength and courage within to face down gang members who’d kill him as soon as look at him, to take on haughty rich girls who put him down for his “pretty boy” looks and small size, to overcoming his past experiences and prejudices so he can work side by side with the gay boys he grew up disliking. As a Latino, he must also free himself of the bigoted attitudes he learned from adults about blacks, Caucasians, Asians, and every other group he must now work with, and even command, on occasion.
Who designed your cover?
Harmony Ink assigned an amazingly talented artist named Reese Dante to work on my cover and she was a dream. I had created my own spec cover in case no one picked up the book and I would need to self-publish, and so I encouraged her to use the “model” I had found amongst stock images for my main character, Lance. She used him, and the sword I sent her a photo of and created a great background to go with these images.
The graffiti-covered wall behind Lance represents the gang members. The “A” symbol over their tagging that is appearing on walls all over LA is what angers the gangs enough to go after the tagger who did it. Lance is a skater who becomes a knight; hence he’s clutching Excalibur close to his heart. His legs are pulled in because he’s a very tightly coiled kid who’s never felt worthy of love and has never let anyone into his heart before Arthur. He also harbors secret fears he doesn’t want the other kids to find out about. This cover was so cool I had it enlarged to poster size to hang in my house.
Children of the Knight

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Genre – Edgy Young Adult
Rating – PG13
More details about the author

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