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This interview was conducted by Douglas R. Cobb on September 18, 2011.
The author of this excellent novel has graciously agreed to do an interview with me. Read on, to learn more about this talented author, and The Last Seer and the Tomb of Enoch!
Douglas R. Cobb: Ashland, I loved reading your novel. Who/what were some of your influences and inspirations growing up?
Ashland Menshouse: Thank you, Doug. I really appreciate you reading it.
Iíve always been a huge science fiction fan. Star Wars, Star Trek, I couldnít get enough as a kid. I grew up reading Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card and Greg Bear, but when I was in college, I became a little more intrigued with spiritual fiction, like the works of Frank Peretti. Those interests, combined with a fascination for the unexplained, like ghosts and the Loch Ness monster, created a compost heap of thoughts and ideas from which this novel grew.
Douglas R. Cobb: Right off the bat, I thought the cover of your novel looked very cool! Who was the artist for it, and who is depicted and what are they doing?
Ashland Menshouse: Eric Losh is the illustrator. Heís an incredibly talented artist, who did an amazing job of taking excerpts from the book to create the cover. I couldnít have been more pleased with the job he did, and Iím looking forward to working with him more in the future. For some more examples of his work, readers can visit www.elsoh.com. He has a great exhibition of his talent on his blog.
Douglas R. Cobb: Aubrey Taylor, the main character of your novel, The Last Seer and the Tomb of Enoch, has a difficult time fitting in at his new high school, doesn't he? But one of his best friends, Buzz, is much more optimistic and looks forward to the new year. Would you say your experiences in high school were more like Aubrey's, or Buzz's?
Ashland Menshouse: I think I felt like Aubrey on the inside, but wanted to be like Buzz on the outside. Buzz has very little social awareness sometimes, so he just does his thing, geeky, weird or whatever, regardless of consequence. Aubrey is a lot more self-conscious, and it was easy to draw on my own rigors of adolescence to create some of his feelings.
Douglas R. Cobb: Your chapter titles are pretty funny, and I enjoyed reading them and wondering then how the chapter would relate to the title. A few examples are: "Friday Night Football Strife," It's My Party But I'll Spy If I want To," and "Pride and Precedence."
Did you think of the titles first and then write the chapters, or write the chapters and then come up with the titles?
Ashland Menshouse: Creating the chapter titles and names of the characters were an enjoyable part of the creative fun for me. Since these are a less complex thought than a plot line or a section of dialogue, itís easier to be a little more flippant or whimsical about them. Most of the chapter titles came to me in the middle of writing the chapter. A few came before and a few after, but I definitely did sit and giggle to myself when I thought about them.
Douglas R. Cobb: It's how three-dimensional characters are depicted that often makes a novel fantastic, mediocre, or poor. I really thought you did a great job making your characters come to life for the readers. Aubrey's friends try to do what they can to help him survive high school.
Was it fun to come up with these characters?
Ashland Menshouse: I really enjoy the character creation aspect to writing. Oftentimes Iíll take a single unique quality and embellish it in unusual ways to form a characterís personality. Iíve thought so much about the main characters of this story and all their details and histories that they feel real. I call it my Ďnovel psychosisí because there is part of me that has to believe they are really there in order to make them seem real to the reader.
Douglas R. Cobb: Why does Aubrey have a hard time sleeping at the beginning of your novel? Who introduces him to his new friend, Jordana, and in what ways is she similar to him?
Ashland Menshouse: This probably stems from a personal angst of my own adolescence that has seeped through in my writing. Iím a terrible sleeper and always had so much anxiety about trying to get to sleep to get up early. When I was thinking about stressful aspects of high school this one really stood out in my mind. So when Aubrey and Jordana both have unwanted nightly visitors, portraying their insomnia was a natural byproduct.
Rodriqa, Aubreyís oldest friend, introduces him to the new girl, Jordana, who he has a less than auspicious first impression with.
Douglas R. Cobb: Who, or what, is a Tsul'kalu? What happens to some mining blueprints that Jordana's father has?
Ashland Menshouse: Tsulíkalu is the Cherokee name for Bigfoot, or Sasquatch. In the Cherokee tradition, the Tsulíkalu is a great hunter and highly respected. I used Native American legends to create the Bigfoot for my story. But my Bigfoot is more than just a North American ape. There is a spiritual twist to its existence.
Douglas R. Cobb: : Who/what is the Widow Wizenblatt?
Ashland Menshouse: The Old Widow Wizenblatt is a local beggar woman, who seems better at causing trouble than actually living as a hobo. The kids arenít sure if sheís just crazy or partly responsible, but they figure out she knows a little more than anyone should about whatís going on around Lake Julian.
Douglas R. Cobb: Ditto for Ms. Thistlewood, and why doesn't she get along well with the Widow Wizenblatt? Did you have in mind the witch from the C.S. Lewis novel, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when you thought up the character of Ms. Thistlewood?
Ashland Menshouse: Magnolia Thistlewood is a wayward soul whose defiant choices have led her to a very dark place. She has been around a very long time, and her and the Widow have a very long history, but you wonít read about that in this novel. Who they are will become clearer as I continue the series.
Iíve always been fascinated by C.S. Lewis and he is definitely one of my favorite authors, and Ms. Thistlewood certainly has a witch-like quality to her but she will eventually have more of a historical significance. Thatís all Iíll say for now.
Douglas R. Cobb: Who are the three main bullies at school that make Aubrey's life miserable? What happens to Magnos Strumgarten after a football game?
Ashland Menshouse: Magnos Strumgarten and Lenny and Benny Van Zenny are the tyrannical trio that torture Buzz and Aubrey early in the story. Magnos, however, becomes a favorite of Ms. Thistlewood, and that experience is life-altering for him.
Douglas R. Cobb: If this question won't have you give up any "spoilers," could you please tell us who the "Last Seer," is? If it will, just say "Pass." Why is the Tomb of Enoch so important to the plot?
Ashland Menshouse: The Tomb of Enoch holds a battalion of angels, which were imprisoned at the time of Noahís flood. Some want to open the tomb in hopes of allying them. Others are trying to keep it closed. Its presence in Lake Julian shakes up everything.
Douglas R. Cobb: Buzz's inventions are pretty cool, Ashland, but sometimes they don't work exactly as planned, and instead of helping Aubrey, they end up making things worse for him. Could you please give us a couple of examples of the inventions backfiring and getting Aubrey into more trouble than he was in before?
Ashland Menshouse: The Weeding Laser or WASER was definitely something I wish I had as a kid. I hate mowing the lawn. So when Aubrey has to mow his yard, Buzz tries to help him out with the WASER. Problem is extreme heat and plant life donít really mesh well, so even though Buzzís failed invention gets Aubrey in trouble, it ultimately allows him to best Ms. Thistlewood later in the story.
The cyclevator enables a lot of mischief in the story as well, and who wouldnít want to be able to scale a house as easy as riding a bicycle.
Douglas R. Cobb: I just have a couple more questions for you, Ashland! Great answers so far! Can you tell us what happened to Jordana's mother, and why does Jordana always try to keep at least one pair of spare glasses around the house?
Ashland Menshouse: Jordanaís mother has recently died due to some rather untoward personal circumstances. Jordanaís biggest fear is that she is just like her mother, and her motherís fate will also be her own.
Each of the kids has unusual abilities, which theyíre fumbling with throughout story. However, Jordana is keenly aware of her ability to coerce others and has been for some time, since her mother had the same ability, and her glasses help her keep it under control.
Douglas R. Cobb: You wrote four chapters about "The Paddling Pumpkin Race," Ashland. They were some of my favorite chapters, but could you set up for our readers why there was a race in the first place, and who was involved in it, and why you decided to write four chapters about it?
Ashland Menshouse: The Paddling Pumpkin Raft Race and Parade are a bit of an out-pouching of the main story. I grew up in northeastern Kentucky and have lived all over the Southeastern US. The Appalachian locale of the story is important to me and I try to flavor it with aspects of Appalachian culture.
Festivals are a big part of that culture, apple festivals, sorghum festivals, and as a kid I went to a lot of those, and itís a unique experience. I created a bizarre twist on these festivals to add some local color.
Douglas R. Cobb: Here, at last, is the final question of the interview, Ashland! I was wondering if you're currently writing another novel, and if you plan to do a sequel to The Last Seer and the Tomb of Enoch?
Ashland Menshouse: Iím about halfway down with the first draft of the second novel, The Last Seer and the Keeper of the Magi. I hope to be finished with it by the end of the year.
Douglas R. Cobb: Thanks again for taking the time out of your busy schedule, Ashland, to answer these questions! I really enjoyed reading your debut novel, The Last Seer and the Tomb of Enoch, and I look forward to reading/reviewing more of your novels in the future! If you love reading Middle grade or Young Adult novels combining the supernatural and a keen sense of wit and humor, I highly recommend that you check out The Last Seer and the Tomb of Enoch!
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