Eric Bower Discusses ‘The Magnificent Flying Baron Estate’
Interview sponsored by Amberjack Publishing
The Children’s Book Review | May 1, 2017
The Magnificent Flying Baron Estate is a Western at heart with some steampunk influences. What inspired you to write a novel using the Western and steampunk genres?
I have a special place in my heart for “old timey America”, an admittedly vague designation that I’m using to define the sixty plus years that followed the conclusion of the American Civil War. I often draw from that period of time when I write, because I find subjects like the Wild West, the early days of flight, baseball, vaudeville, barbershop quartets, prohibition, and hobos riding the rails with bindles on sticks, to be endlessly entertaining. I also think those subjects lend themselves exceptionally well to comedy, because there is nothing muted or understated about them. Everything is loud and colorful and fast paced and exciting. As a writer with a tendency towards absurdism and slapstick, I find that it’s a perfect vehicle for me.
The steampunk influence comes from the fact that I’ve always enjoyed the works of Jules Verne, whose brilliant imagination must have been strong enough to power a small village. Many steampunk novels that I’ve read take place in Victorian England, which of course is an excellent setting for most stories (I’ll read just about anything that has at least one scene set in a drawing room in Victorian England). But I believe that the Wild West is an excellent setting for steampunk as well, with the added “grit” of gunfights, bandits, and horseraces in the desert.
Waldo Baron, a.k.a. W.B., is the main protagonist and he struggles with his parents’ unique interests and ways of life. It seems that most kids go through a stage in which they feel embarrassed by their parents. Is this something that you wanted to highlight or was it just a part of the story that developed as you wrote?
I think it just developed as I wrote the story. I also believe that W.B. is more exasperated and confused by his parents than he is embarrassed by them -apart from their celebratory dances. He is a pretty self-aware kid, and realizes that he has the potential to be just as embarrassing. A person doesn’t regularly find themselves in situations where they’re hanging out of a bedroom window while dressed in their aunt’s pajamas without learning a bit about themselves in the process.
Let’s talk about the character Iris, also known as Shorty. She’s quite bullish, a bit rude, but totally well meaning. Why did you write her this particular way?
Her character is based on a girl that I liked when I was very young. She was pleasant and bright, and she seemed to have an infinite amount of energy. But she also spoke without a filter, and would often hurt people’s feelings, quite by accident. When I attended her birthday party and met her parents for the first time, I learned that she spoke so bluntly because that’s the way her parents’ spoke to her. It wasn’t meant to be insulting. It was simply the way she thought people communicated with each another. On a side note, she is also the first girl who ever kissed me on the cheek, which must have embarrassed her, because she shoved me into a hedge afterwards.
There are a few geographical places of interest in the book. Can you talk to us about Pitchfork, AZ; Chicago; and the Rocky Mountains, CO., and their importance to the story, the characters, and yourself?
Pitchfork, Arizona is a fictional place that is very, very loosely based on Tombstone, Arizona, where the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral (involving Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday) took place. I didn’t want to use that exact location, for a lot of silly reasons, so I made one up instead.
I used Chicago as a location because of the World’s Fair that took place there in 1893 –a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. It was one of the greatest events ever hosted by the United States, and drew many American luminaries, like Alexander Graham Bell. Since the story is driven by science and innovation, it seemed like a great place for the characters to visit on their journey.
The Rocky Mountains . . . well, I’ve always wanted to visit them, but I never have. I used to daydream about staying in a remote cabin, surrounded by snow, at the top of a towering mountain peak in the Rockies. I’ll refrain from giving my own, clumsy analysis of what mountains represent in literature, so instead I’ll just say that I think they’re neat. W.B. does too.
How did you decide on the names given to each chapter? They are very fun and kid-centric.
The name of each chapter is the last line of that chapter. I thought it would be fun for young readers to read an oblique chapter title, and then wonder what sort of twists and turns the chapter would have to take in order to end with that line.
Where did you learn to spin a yarn like The Magnificent Flying Baron Estate?
First of all, I absolutely love the phrase “spin a yarn”.
Secondly, I don’t know.
If it turns out that reincarnation is real, then I’m pretty certain that I worked as some sort of huckster in a past life -which I suppose goes back to my obsession with “old timey America”. I love the flimflammers and snake oil salesmen from the turn of the century, the oily and cartoonish conmen who would sell you gutter water and claim that it’s from some mystical fountain of youth. Not that I’m particularly dishonest or evil; I just like the rapid-fire sales patter they would employ to sell their crummy wares. There’s an urgency and musicality to their pitches, which has always amused me, and factored into my writing. I think the origin of that is when I first watched the musical The Music Man as a kid, and would run around my parents’ home while singing about ‘Trouble in River City’.
How long did it take you to write this novel?
I wrote the first three chapters in about a week, and then abandoned the book for almost a year, before returning to it. I don’t know why I did this. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this writing process to others. In total, I spent about four weeks on the first draft. The subsequent rewrites and edits took another month.
What was your experience in seeking a publishing house to publish it?
It was surprisingly good. This was the third book that I’d formally submitted to publishers, and the first to generate serious interest. In the past, a few publishing houses had requested to see full manuscripts after reading samples of my work (ultimately rejecting it), but this time, I found myself with multiple offers for publication. I could actually choose my publisher, which is a baffling luxury for an unestablished writer. And I’m very happy with the choice I made.
Can we expect to see a second book with the same characters?
You can expect to see three more. I recently finished working with my very talented editor, Cherrita, on book three of the series, and I’m currently writing the last few chapters of book four. That will probably be the last book in the series, not only because it’s the last book I’m contractually obligated to write, but also because I believe the story has come to its natural conclusion. We’ll see, though. It’s certainly a fun series to write.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about yourself or The Magnificent Flying Baron Estate?
Like W.B., I wasn’t a particularly good student when I was young, and I often doubted my own intelligence and self-worth. People develop skills at different times, at different rates, and in different ways, and it’s very easy to lose sight of that when you’re young. I’m not saying that writing this book was therapeutic, but it allowed me to revisit a lot of my childhood insecurities, and put a silly twist on them, which made me smile. I hope it makes readers smile as well.
Written by Eric Bower
Publisher’s Synopsis: Waldo Baron awakes one morning to find his inventor parents have turned their house into a flying machine, and they intend to enter into a race across the country in the hopes of winning the $500 prize. His parents’ plans go astray when they are kidnapped by Rose Blackwood, the sister of notorious villain Benedict Blackwood, who intends to use the prize money to free her brother from prison. But Rose is not what she seems to be, and Waldo finds himself becoming friends with their kindly kidnapper as they race across the country in the magnificent flying Baron estate!
Praise: “The Magnificent Flying Baron Estate is an enjoyable old-school Western with a contemporary feel, thanks to the steampunk addition of Ma and Pa’s inventions. Including a scene with flying horse poop, kids ages 9-12 are bound to enjoy this topsy-turvy tale with its funny moments of slapstick comedy.” —The Children’s Book Review
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Amberjack Publishing | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1944995133
About Eric Bower
Eric Bower and his lovely wife, Laura, live in utter terror of their cat, who rules their small cottage in Pasadena, California with an iron paw. Eric can’t quite recall when the cat took over the house, or what life was like before he became a slave to the “Furry Empress,” but he imagines he used to spend some time working as a playwright. His plays have been produced in Southern California and New York City, and have been described as “quirky and fun,” and “containing a disappointingly small number of strong feline characters.” His hobbies include reading, cleaning kitty litter from the soles of his shoes, painting, brushing cat hair from his sweaters, playing guitar, and desperately trying to escape. If you see him, please say hello, and please send help. All hail the Furry Empress.
The Author Showcase is a place for authors and illustrators to gain visibility for their works. This interview with Eric Bower, the author of The Magnificent Flying Baron Estate,’ was sponsored by Amberjack Publishing. Discover more great writing and illustrating artists in our Showcase.