Welcome to my Blog! Hello, my name is MaryLouise and I am a Special Education Language Arts Teacher. I have utilized my lesson plans and other original teaching material to create picture books, workbooks, nonfiction and fiction articles and teacher's guides for educational resources.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Today's Topic: Co-Authors and Historical Fiction


Today's interview is with co-authors John P. Calu and Dave A. Hart authors of the novel Trenton and the New Jersey Shoreline Mystery Series.

John P. Calu who was born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey, left as a young man to pursue his muse in Santa Barbara, California, where he established SongFactory—a workshop funded by Jane Fonda which led to a critically acclaimed children's album. In addition to performing as a jazz singer and traveling throughout the Americas, he has been a California Artist in Residence, a Dramatic Arts Director for La Casa de la Raza, and a New Jersey Playwright through the Arts Council of Princeton. He currently resides in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

A lifelong Trenton area resident, David A. Hart received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Political Science from Rider College (now Rider University) where he also earned a Masters Degree in the school's Graduate Program for Administrators. A published author and poet, he has won several national songwriting awards and other honors. In 1985 he organized the highly successful JAM For Hunger benefit concert held at Trenton's City Gardens with all proceeds going to famine relief. He lives in West Trenton.

Calu and Hart have enjoyed a productive collaboration as novelists since 2003. Their published work includes a contemporary adventure series featuring enigmatic Garden State sites, obscure local legends, and everyday mysteries along the Jersey Shore and in the Pine Barrens. They are currently at work on a novel set in historic Princeton, New Jersey.
MLAC: How did you both meet and decide to write together?
DAH: We've known each other for almost 30 years now. We got together through a mutual friend. A local rock musician named Ernie White introduced us.  We had both worked with him on different events. He said we had the same temperament and the same interests and suggested we try working together.
JPC: We started out in very different roles. Dave was a serious historian and I was a dramatist, playwright and a musician. But, over 30 years of writing together has made me a more serious researcher and made Dave much more of a dramatist. 
MLAC: Please explain how you would co-author a book.
DAH: When John was living in Florida we did a lot by telephone and fax.
JPC: We get together at the beginning of a project to hash out ideas and know where we are going with it. Then we go off to our separate corners to work on sections, but we still spend a lot of time together. It helps that we've been friends for so long and that we're close to each other's family.
MLAC: Do you each write different chapters? How does that work?
JPC: We don't even know any more. If you gave us a story from a few years back...we wouldn't  remember who wrote what line of anything. We've fought over a line if it wasn't right, but both of our egos go out the door when we write. So it's all about getting the best story between us until we're both satisfied and that's tough at times. Dave might have a point of view that I just don't agree with and I might have a point of view that he doesn't agree with. But by the time the book comes out we agree with every word. We will tear apart a sentence 16 different ways until we're satisfied. It has to be true historically to satisfy Dave and it has to have its own rhythm and poetry to make me happy. It's a long process and a great collaboration. We have tremendous respect for each other and we build on each other's strengths. Dave and I have completely different interests to draw upon, but we also share a good variety of interests to unify our ideas.
DAH: We consider ourselves a creative writing team and this is like breaking new ground except in television and movies, where you've got creative writing teams sitting down doing  scripts all the time. We're just applying it to novellas, novels and other things. It works for us. The best part is the shared experience. We have a laugh and we have a cry over these things. We keep learning from each other too. He will go off on his tangent and I'll go off on mine and then we come back together to share ideas. So it's kind of like splitting yourself in half and rejoining yourself.
MLAC: What's the time frame for writing one of your books?
JPC: The Trenton book went through 7 rewrites. Seven complete drafts...it took over three and a half years to write. The novellas take us less than a year...if we are working on them full time and without interruption, we could do a couple per year.
DAH: The publishing process from traditional houses...from proposal to publication is a long one. They have a story editor, a content editor, a managing editor, and a grammar editor. It really goes through the mill and at every point, they stop the process and hand it back to the author.
MLAC: How would you describe your writing.
DAH: Our writing is kind of like Dan Brown meets weird New Jersey. It's got some of the same components. The weird mysteries of life in New Jersey and all those arcane, mythological, historical, and factual things that are present and we make them fit into a story. It's what excites us. You take those components and infuse them into several dynamic characters to bring those elements forward.
JPC: We try to stay contemporary with our characters. They may go through historical experiences but they are living in today's world. Hopefully, people can relate to them and if they can't, then we are not doing justice to the story. In our Series, we have 3 young protagonists. They started in their mid teens and now they are in their early 20's dealing with adult issues. We could take any one of them and run with them in a spin off, but as they are, they would be perfect for the after-school-special audience. They are 3 normal kids who have their problems and their issues, but they've also got their strengths and their interests. One is very scientific, one is a talented musical and surfer and the third one is a young woman finding herself in the business world as well as in sports.
MLAC: What was your first book that you wrote together?
JPC: The first one was one of the novellas in the New Jersey Mystery Series. It was called The Treasure of Tucker's Island. Originally, it had started out as a screenplay. We had some connections at Disney at the time. They read it and liked it a lot but thought it was a better fit for a book. We had written quite a few screenplays, songs, short stories, and plays together, but found that the novella is a great format for us.
MLAC: How did your Shoreline Series lead to the Trenton Novel? 
 JPC: After writing The Lost Mission of Captain Carranza, we hooked a traditional publisher (Plexus Publishing, Inc.) to do the Trenton novel. He wanted a full length book  and we had researched Trenton for years. 
DAH: He read Carranza and loved it. He wanted us to expand it, but we convinced him to go another way. He had just signed Boardwalk Empire which is a story about Atlantic City, with HBO. He asked if we could give them another story about some town in New Jersey that's got crime, corruption, sex.
JPC: So we figured we could throw sex into Trenton
MLAC: It seems like your novella, The Lost Mission of Captain Carranza was a turning point in your writing careers.
DAH: Carranza was the 4th book in the Shoreline Mystery Series and also the one that got us reading the Prologue at Reenactments in the Pine Barrens.
JPC: The story is about a Mexican pilot (Carranza) who was the contemporary of Lindbergh. He crash landed in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. He is a Mexican Folk Hero. Latinos come from all over to pay their respects at the monument in the heart of the pines. There's an awful lot of mystery surrounding his death... possible espionage....why he would fly in his bedroom slippers, into a storm, without a parachute and when he was told not to go out. When they do the dedication each year, we are really honored that they choose to read our prologue. We put you in the cockpit with the pilot. We want to breathe life into history, not just have a dry retelling of it.
DAH: The characters are real people, real events, real locations which we have researched comprehensively. We explain it, we educate, we entertain and we describe it. Historically they are real people and the events all took place. It's historical fiction, but not having lived through it, the best thing you can do is try to fantasize what it was like and that hopefully  brings it to life for our readers.
JPC: We research thoroughly and one of our people we count on to review our books is Sally Lane, a preeminent historian of Revolutionary War History. Government figures turn to her to make sure everything is accurate.
MLAC: Why did you decide to write about Trenton? 
JPC: Dave's ancestor was John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, so Dave had done a whole lot of research into the history of his family. John Hart may have been unsung, but he knew Washington well, was friends with Franklin and was a Patriot, worthy of being remembered. 
I had a different story to tell about Trenton. I come from an Italian American background, and when I was a kid we shopped in Chambersburg. I would go with my dad to speak Italian, buy the eels at Christmas time and visit the old relatives. I started studying Spanish when I was 13, and fell in love with that language. I traveled throughout Latin America for years and when I came back to Trenton, I realized that the Latin American story was the same as the Italian American journey and they spoke Spanish in Chambersburg now. That was the story I wanted to tell. There were several years when Dave and I fought about doing either one of those stories and couldn't see how to do them together until our research pointed out something that blew us both away....There is a serious and viable connection between Dave's story and mine. History showed a legitimate potential connection between the actual Hart family and the Latino community of Trenton, so we were finally able to create a two part story. The first part is colonial Trenton with a mystery that ties it to modern day Trenton in the second part.
MLAC: Please tell us about some of the cover art for your novels.
JPC: The cover of Spirits of Cedar Bridge was done by Louis S. Glanzman, world renowned painter from Medford, New Jersey. Unfortunately he recently passed away at 92. His work hangs in the Philadelphia Constitution Center and the Smithsonian. He did 80 Times Magazine covers including the Bicentenial one and the Space Landing. He was a very prolific painter and at 92 he still was very sharp.
DAH: He let us have that painting for our book cover, gratis. That's how much he believed in our work and spreading the information that's in this particular volume. We've noticed (at signings and other events) that this picture really grabs people's attention...even if they don't know where it is. The building (on the cover) still exists and it is the oldest standing tavern in New Jersey. It's located in Barnegat Township where 539 meets 72. This place is right behind Clayton's Cabin, off in the woods but there's no marker. It's the site of the last land battle of the Revolution.  www.ch-artworks.com
MLAC: What messages are you trying to convey in your stories? 
JPC: Number one, it's meant to be entertainment. If it's not entertaining then we didn't do our job. It should also be educational. It should offer something new for personal growth. The one thing that is at the core of every one of our books is a positive and hopeful message, because that's the way we see the world. We're optimists. We don't ignore the negative, but our characters and stories strive to rise above it. The message is that life is hopeful. It's interesting and entertaining to understand the past and it gives us a basis for how to look forward to the future. There are a lot of different messages in the Series...but environmental protection  and environmental awareness are central themes and important to both of us. The Trenton novel's message is human potential; the potential for good ideas and good people to build a critical mass for positive ideas to flourish.
DAH: The 2 Battles of Trenton changed the World, not just the country, and yet look what shape this city is in. Look at the preservation that's not going on in these places. There are a whole lot of people who don't know what happened here in 1776 and 1777 and that's really a shame. Our goal was to introduce really huge global events to a whole new audience and to present it in a fresh way so that they would get the education and be entertained at the same time.
MLAC: What's in the works?
JPC: Our next novel is based on a strong female character. It's both challenging and exciting for us. We've interviewed countless people to try to understand because we can't write from a female's perspective without understanding the female. We want to create a character that's rich and vibrant and not cheated by stereotype. 
To contact the authors:       davehart13@msn.com        jcalu@comcast.net
 All books by John and Dave are available on-line in print or ebook format at www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com 
All Titles are also available through book distributor Northeastern Books, LLC www.northeasternbooks.com
    Promotional Video for the book series by John P. Calu and Dave A. Hart:

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