Monday, December 15, 2008

An Interview with Roland Smith

I just read and reviewed a book by Roland Smith called I, Q. It is the first title in a new series and if you are acquainted with some young people who like thrillers, then you should definitely tell them about this book.

1. Where did the idea for I, Q come from?
I grew up on the periphery of the music business. My brother Mike was a professional musician for over thirty years, and although I don’t play or sing, he took me under his wing and I hung out with his musician friends and in that venue for decades. I’ve always wanted to write about the music business for young people. It can be a brutal art…and like many of my books I like to peel away the glitz and take a look at what lays beneath. Fame and celebrity are not always what they appear to be and both are fleeting. And people who are celebrities work a lot harder than most people know.

I also wanted to write about international terrorism…but I waited, hoping the current mess we are in would go away. Sadly, I don’t think it is going to go away for a very long time. It is something my readers will still be dealing with when they become adults. I’d been researching Islamic terrorism long before 9/11. One of the things I hope to do in the series is to explain where this all came from and how it happened. We are all responsible for it, and the issues are complex. Perhaps in the I,Q series I’ll be able to unravel some of this complexity. We can’t resolve a problem until we understand the problem.

Another reason for writing the series is that I wanted my readers to know that there is a lot more going on than is reported in the news. There is secret war being fought everyday that is not being reported in the media.

2. Did you always know that this book was going to be part of a series?
Yes, but at this point I’m not sure how many books there are going to be. Hopefully several. The first book: Independence Hall, took longer to write than I expected because I had to set up a strong foundation for the other books to follow.

3. Did you have to do a lot of research into the spy world in order to write the book?
Yes…I have been research spies and covert ops for many, many years. Again, I’m very interested in what lies beneath. And I’m still doing research.

4. Were you at all inspired by adult spy books?
I grew up reading thrillers, adventure, and mysteries. Writer’s tend to write the kind of books they like to read.

5. Why do you think we are attracted to books of this kind?
When I was growing there wasn’t much for me to read (today’s YA literature has changed that), so I quickly started reading the books my parents were reading, which were in this genre.

6. I have read and reviewed Elephant Run. What inspired you to write this marvelous book?
First, thank you! It took me ten years to get Elephant Run. I trained elephants here in the states and have worked with them in the wild in Africa and Asia. My first novel was Thunder Cave, which was about African elephants. I want to write a novel about Asian elephants. I also wanted to write about the Pacific theater of WW2. There are many books about the European theater, but very little about what happened in the Pacific for young people. The war on that front started first, lasted longer, was more brutal than the European theater, and was a bigger direct threat to the U.S.

7. What did you think of the working elephants that you saw in Myanmar?
I actually wrote two books about my experience there. Prior to Elephant Run I co-wrote a non-fiction book with Michael Schmidt called “In the Forest with Elephant” and took the photographs for the book. This book is no longer in print, sadly, because it was a beautiful book and story. For me as an elephant lover the trip, despite the very rough conditions in the jungle with elephants, was incredible.

8. Many of your books are about animals either directly or indirectly. Have you always liked animals or was that something that developed because you worked in a zoo for a time?
I fell into the animals at the ripe age of 18. I was majoring in English at Portland State University and go a part-time work/study job at the Portland Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo). I was not raised with animals, and frankly hadn’t thought much about them. But it turned out that I was actually very good with animals. A talent I didn’t know I had until I actually had the job. Of course I became fascinated and worked with animals all over the world for 22 years. But during those years I wrote everyday and eventually got a book published called “Sea Otter Rescue” (which is still in print). My career culminated with helping to get the red wolf back into the wild as the Species Coordinator for the U.S. and helping to get the gray wolves back into the wild in Yellowstone National Park. Helping to get an animal back into the wild was the peak of a long career. By this time I had seven books published and felt it was best to leave the animals behind and return to my original dream of becoming a full-time author.

9. Do you share your life with any animals at the moment?
My wife, Marie, and I have a farm just south of Portland and there are cows, goats, and a horse, but I’m afraid because of my travel schedule these days we don’t have any close animal companions because it would not be fair to our friends.

10. Do you think that you might write a book for children about your zoo experiences? I hope you do!
It’s on the “long” list. I would like to write an autobiography. I have a lot of stories, but I’m not sure it would be for young people. But I bet a lot of them would read and enjoy it.

11.What role do you think zoos have to play in today’s world?
I worked in zoos for over twenty years, but the truth is that I’m uncomfortable with animals in captivity. When I hired a keep (and I hired a lot of them) I always picked people who were a little uncomfortable with zoos as well. They took better care of the animals. 99.9% found in zoos today were actually born in zoos. It’s all they’ve known, and they are not going to be put back into the wild. And they wouldn’t know what to do if they were put back into the wild. Having said that, I believe that if a zoo doesn’t have a very strong educational component connected with the animal they are holding in captivity, then they have no right to keep that animal. I know for a fact that if there hadn’t been zoos the wolf would have gone extinct a long time ago. So, zoos do good work and it gives people a chance to learn about environmental issues and our wild brethren in an urban environment.

12. You have written several alphabet books for Sleeping Bear Press. What do you like about books of this kind?
The picture books with Sleeping Bear are wonderful because they work on two levels for younger and older readers. I am actually the “junior” author on these books. My wife, Marie, writes these books and I help her when I can. This is why her name is first on the cover. She’s a wonderful writer and she is writing several more picture books for Sleeping Bear.
Sleeping Bear Press has given me several copies of this book to share with you. If you would like a copy please drop me a line.

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