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Author Interview: David Towner

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Lily Andrews is talking with David Towner, author of Robbie Larson's Legendary Snow Day.

FQ: Your new novel, Robbie Larson's Legal Snow Day, is a pirate-themed high-fantasy novel. Is there anything in particular that inspired this topic? Were you mesmerized by pirates and pirate adventures as a child?

TOWNER: I think most young boys have a fascination with pirates and high seas adventures. Classics like Peter Pan, Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island keep that fascination alive from generation to generation. The continued success of the Pirates of The Caribbean franchise is proof that the genre is as strong as ever. My book is written for a younger audience, but I have been getting a lot of feedback from adult readers who really enjoy it as well.

FQ: The protagonist, Robbie, has been portrayed as an underdog who turns out to be an unlikely hero by the end of the tale. Is there any particular reason why you chose to go with a nine-year-old as the protagonist instead of a character like Davey, who is older and more skilled?

TOWNER: I think everybody can relate to being under-appreciated or under-estimated at some point in their life and I really like stories that feature unexpected heroes. It is a tricky story element to make plausible which is why I think more writers don’t approach it. Whenever I can find a plausible, organic way to make it happen, I like to do it.

FQ: Robbie's discovery of the doors hidden beneath the tunnels and subsequent exploration of what was behind those doors will surely ignite readers' imaginations. What child hasn't dreamed of such discoveries? Was it fun to create this "hidden treasure"? Did you have the whole scene planned out before you wrote it, or did it write itself as you clicked those letters on your keyboard?

TOWNER: I spent my early childhood in Alaska and the snow tunnels are based on my actual experiences. We would dig into the snow mounds created by the plows along the road. I changed the story from Alaska to Minnesota to make it more relatable. I tend to write chronologically and let the story develop as I go. I knew the destination was a pirate ship, but I had to put myself in Robbie’s mind and write from his perspective. How would he see the situation? What would he expect to happen when he arrives on a pirate ship? That is why I chose a famous pirate like Blackbeard as opposed to some lesser-known pirate. I thought it was more plausible that Robbie would be aware of Blackbeard.

FQ: Robbie's discovery of a valuable gift in his pocket is a suspenseful ending that hints at a possible continuation of the tale. Do you plan to continue Robbie's adventures in one (or more!) new books?

TOWNER: That is a pretty astute observation. In fact, the original concept was episodic and written for television. The boys would travel to different points in history, like a children’s version of Quantum Leap. Following the advice of a Producer who optioned the original screenplay, I divided the stories out into individual scripts. Depending on how well this book does, I may continue the series.

FQ: The novel has a somewhat different depiction of pirates. Without giving too much of the story away, what led you in this direction?

TOWNER: I have always had that concept in the back of my mind but I just couldn’t find a way to make it stand alone. Once I conceived the time traveling series, I found the perfect opportunity to introduce it into Robbie’s adventures. The characterization of Blackbeard reflects the innocent and hopeful mind of a child. It is possible that Blackbeard wasn’t as he seems. Perhaps Robbie romanticized this character to fill a void and then later re-imagined him as inspiration to be a hero. Or maybe he was exactly as he was depicted, and Robbie was just duped. I like to let readers make up their own minds about character motivations in my stories. I have been criticized for that by some professional reviewers but overall, I think most readers like to take ownership of a story and not be spoon fed every detail.

FQ: Rather than just a pirate adventure story, your book cleverly inserts lessons about getting along and working together to solve problems. How important was it for you to include that? Was it hard to work it into the plot without getting preachy and/or it being too obvious to kids?

TOWNER: Most of my books have life lessons but I always respect the intelligence of the reader. I never want to come off like an after school special with overt, blatant messaging. I think that’s a reflection of lazy writing and alienates cerebral readers. If I cannot find a way to let the story deliver its own message, I will avoid it.

FQ: The cover of Robbie Larson's Legendary Snow Day is very cool. There's Robbie as a pirate, with the mandatory parrot on his shoulder, as he sails away on a pirate ship with snow falling all around him. How closely did you work with the artist when coming up with the artwork? Was it all your idea, or did the artist/designer make suggestions?

TOWNER: I'm sure kids will love it and imagine themselves in Robbie's place! The artists who design my covers are also my artists for the Aztec Warrior God series. They are so busy that they don’t have time to read my other material especially now that they are contributing writers on the Aztec series. I give them every detail to make their life easier and to avoid revisions. We work so well together that they have never had to make more than 1-2 corrections.

FQ: I'm fascinated by your Aztec Warrior God series - and the fact that you're the head writer for the series. How hard is it to share writing duties/how do you keep track of events/character development, etc. with other writers working on the books? Would you tell our readers a little about the series and where they can learn more about it?

TOWNER: Aztec Warrior God is a graphic novel series that features indigenous characters from around the world. It is a superhero series, but my characters call on their ancestral teachings to solve modern problems. The series is super successful, and we have over seven million active readers and distribution in tens of thousands of schools and libraries. That number will grow exponentially this year since we are discussing international distribution options with some major players in the publishing industry. We did a 2D animation of the first novel with major actors like Lou Diamond Phillips, Keith David, and Alfonso Herrera and it has almost 200 million views. It has always been my intention to bring more Latino and indigenous people to the creative team. We just released our fourth novel, and I was the third credited writer. I still oversee all the creative elements and I edit the stories to make sure we have a balance of representation, but I let me team run with the latest title and only contributed some minor components to the story. This arrangement is the only reason I was able to get Robbie Larson’s story edited and released this year.

FQ: Last question that I just have to ask - you are the dad to triplet girls, so how are you able to find any time to write? It has to be a challenge!

TOWNER: Fortunately, I am a night owl. 90% of everything I have ever written has been between 9:00pm-1:00am. The other 10% pops into my head during the day and I write it down. I have hundreds of pages of notes for my stories.

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