INTERVIEW WITH JAMES STODDARD
Has Texas influenced your writing in any way?
So many ways. I moved to Texas in the ‘80s and it’s been my home since then. I was immediately impressed by its state pride. I’ve often wondered if this is due to Texas having once been a republic. Whatever the case, it creates an atmosphere of optimism and determination. I used that outlook in the characters of both Liberty Bell and Antonio Ice. Also, the book begins in what was Texas before the Great Blackout, so I used our terrain for many of the scenes.
Why did you choose to write in your particular genre?
It often seems like my genre chose me. I was drawn to Science Fiction and Fantasy at an early age. However, I’ve never been interested in books that are all action with little substance. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading for escape, but the books I love most are those that stay with me after I’ve read them, and that’s what I try to write.
Science Fiction and Fantasy gives me the chance to write about matters of substance in ways that can’t be done in regular fiction. I know that sounds very serious, but I also love puns, humor, and the fun of exploring ideas. My favorite Amazon review came from a reader who said something like: ‘After reading Stoddard’s book, I felt I had been taught a valuable lesson. I just wasn’t sure what it was.’
How long have you been writing?
I started in study hall when I was fourteen, just to pass the time, so most of my life. I sold my first short story to a national publication when I was twenty-five but stopped writing for ten years while pursuing a career in music. That led to my teaching Sound Recording for many years, while writing on the side. I now write full-time.
How does your book relate to your beliefs?
I’ve found that every book I’ve written has changed me somewhat. I wrote Liberty Bell and the Last American from 2012 to 2014. The country was just beginning the divisiveness that has since worsened. I wanted to say something positive about our nation but wasn’t sure what. After finishing the first draft, I realized I was asking readers to remember that the United States is more than a country—it’s a Great Experiment in democracy. And it’s an Ideal. Though we’ve often failed to meet that Ideal, we need to remember who we are and where we came from—that America’s very existence is a miracle, and we have to work together and learn to compromise again to maintain it. I wanted to say it with humor, and I wanted it to be non-political.
Why did you decide to self-publish?
My agent attempted to place the book with traditional publishers. Simon and Schuster’s Simon 451 imprint editor, Sophia Jimenz gave me invaluable tips for changes and then wanted to publish it, but her marketing people didn’t think they could market it. I realized that there really isn’t another book quite like it—I don’t say this arrogantly—it’s just that it’s a bit too unique for traditional publishing to pigeonhole. So I decided to self-publish.
How do you decide if your main character(s) will be male or female?
In the case of Liberty Bell, I knew immediately that the book had to be about an intelligent, determined young woman with deep convictions. I wanted to test those convictions and see her come through the trial. My mother and her sisters were loving, resourceful women, who deeply shaped my beliefs and attitudes, and I wanted to reflect their strength in Liberty Bell.
In researching this book, did you learn any unexpected, unusual, or fascinating information?
I hate to admit this, but I didn’t know who Harriet Tubman was. When I read her story, I was deeply moved and a little ashamed of myself. I’m glad they recently released a movie about her life.
I didn’t know that after the Revolutionary War, President Washington wrote to the Jewish colony in Rhode Island, who feared the new government might persecute them. He reassured them, asking only that they offer their support to the emerging nation.
Many of the quotations of famous Americans were inspirational to me.
Are there under-represented groups or ideas featured if your book?
Liberty and Antonio meet a number of famous Americans from the past. I wanted to represent those people who might be remembered as legends if our entire history was lost. Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein (Jewish), Harriet Tubman, and others. Four Navajo warriors join Liberty and Antonio Ice in the latter part of the book. Antonio Ice takes great pride in his Mexican heritage.
I considered putting in an apology for those I couldn’t include without making the book far too long. Some of these receive only a mention. I also had to use characters that most readers would know, which sadly limited my choices. Considering that we’re a nation of immigrants, our knowledge of immigrant history is sadly lacking.
What is your favorite quote?
Much of the dialogue of the historic characters in this book are their actual quotes. There are over 250 quotations in the text. However, the one I like best is from Winston Churchill, who said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
What a terrific interview and I particularly liked this that Stoddard said, “After finishing the first draft, I realized I was asking readers to remember that the United States is more than a country—it’s a Great Experiment in democracy.”
There’s a lot of wisdom and wit in this book and I look forward to reading it.