Could you tell us a little bit about your novel?
Misfits and Heroes: West from Africa follows a group of people fleeing warfare on the west coast of what is now Senegal across the Atlantic to the Antilles Islands and finally to the east coast of what is now southern Mexico, in 12,000 BC.
The two characters who begin the journey are Naaba and Asha, best described as unlikely heroes. Naaba was thrown out of his village for being a troublemaker and wandered alone in the bush for a long time. When he meets Asha, she’s bound, hand and foot, because the man who bought her doesn’t like her wandering off, but she’s wandering off anyway, following the path of the river she can feel moving through the ground below her feet. Unable to leave her there, Naaba cuts her bonds, forcing Asha to decide what she really wants. It’s the beginning of their journey together, but their path is never easy.
At the same time that Naaba and Asha are finding their way down the river toward the sea, a brilliant, brutal man known as The Black Rhino is trying to establish a whole civilization as he thinks it should be: a united network of villages along the river, controlled by his forces. The Rhino concludes, after his efforts run into resistance, that people are too lazy and selfish to build a glorious civilization, so most of them need to be eradicated, leaving only the best to survive. On the coast, at a gathering of people from three villages, he turns one group against the other, turning what was supposed to be a festival into chaos.
Naaba and Asha are among those who manage to get into a boat, planning to escape by heading south down the coast, but instead, they’re swept north and west into the open sea. With them are five friends, including two children they met on their way down the river, two injured ball players from the festival, the chief’s daughter, a storyteller, and a hot-headed ball player. None of them planned on the trip. None of them had ever been away from sight of land before.
They were plunged into a world they knew nothing about and had to figure out how to live in it.
How did you create your prehistoric world?
About ten years of research went into creating this world’s geography, weather, flora and fauna, technology, art, music, storytelling, and social structure. For language, I had no reference, so I used modern English, without slang.
Some of the details are based on archaeological research, particularly in southern Africa, where recent finds indicate that as early as 80,000 years ago, people were stringing dyed and pierced shells on a woven rope. The oldest known people in the area, The San (also called Bushmen, which is generally considered a pejorative term), lived in a very wide area, from southern Africa up to central Africa, usually in groups of about thirty people, hunting and gathering. They left extensive rock art images all through the area. About the time the story is set, other groups of people were moving in, taking over parts of San land, making new settlements along the rivers, which were the highways of the time.
I also looked for echoes of the past in present-day items, such as wild foods, basket making, rituals, masks, drumming styles, sand drawings, leather-tanning, tool-making, boat-building, ways of hunting and processing game. The plants and animals in the story either exist today or, according to my sources, existed back then.
The land forms would not have been the same as they are today, especially along the coast. Sea levels are thought to have been 60’ lower than they are today because the huge glacial sheets that covered the northern and southern extremes of the globe tied up so much of the water.
What led you to write Misfits and Heroes: West from Africa?
I wanted to write an adventure story. Since I’m fascinated by all things ancient, the time frame was easy. Seeing some of the very old, massive Olmec sculptures in southern Mexico was an inspiration in itself.
It’s never made much sense to me to say everyone came to the Americas across the land bridge from Siberia and then walked the length and breadth of North and South America – during the Ice Age! I’m sure some did. I’m also sure some came from other places. The oldest human remains found in the Americas are in Brazil. It seems a lot easier for someone to get to Brazil from Africa than from Alaska. A young woman rowed a boat from West Africa to South America, solo, in 44 days a couple of years ago. (I have a whole entry on this question and the Clovis-first theory in my blog, misfitsandheroes.wordpress.com)
So this novel is the first of a series. The second, which is under revision, follows a group of explorers from what is now Indonesia across the Pacific. The third, which is still in progress, has the first two groups meet across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico, and adds a third group that comes from what is now northern Spain.
What was the most important lesson you learned from writing this novel?
Any novel you write better be a labor of love. It will take an enormous amount of time to do it well and you may never get any recognition for it. You better do it because, in some deep, complicated way, working on it makes you happy. That’s what I’ve learned.
I spent 35 years teaching composition and literature at Mott College, as well as writing technical manuals, business reports, advertisements, magazine articles, and newsletters, so when I got the chance to write my story, my way, I jumped at it. I wrote the story I wanted to write, and it got good reviews, but like so many other writers, I thought that as soon as the book appeared, I would be offered “The Standard Rich and Famous Contract,” as they say in The Muppet Movie. That’s not what happened. However, I have met lots of interesting people on the Indie side of publishing, including Rachel, who’s keeping this blog and giving folks a chance to talk about their books.
Which authors inspired you?
I have a long list of books I love and writers who inspired me! Here are a few:
Albert Camus, especially for The Plague, perhaps my favorite book
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness
Thanks for the chance to talk about the novel! Its supporting blog is at http://misfitsandheroes.wordpress.com
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