Monday, August 26, 2013

I'm Shelf-ish: A Conversation with 'Children of the Knight' Michael J. Bowler

Michael Bowler is an award-winning author who grew up in San Rafael, California. He majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University and earned a master’s in film production and a second master’s in Special Education. He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several films, most notably “Fatal Images,” “Dead Girls,” “Hell Spa” (later re-edited and titled “Club Dead”), “Things” and “Things II.” ”A Boy and His Dragon, published in 2011, is an urban fantasy about a lonely boy in 1970 who discovers both a living dragon and his own true nature, a nature that makes him the most dangerous boy on earth. “A Matter of Time,” a Silver Award winner from Reader’s Favorite, was published in 2012. It is a real-world-grounded story of an almost impossible loop in time that leads to undying love and unforgettable heartache. He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to seven different boys over 29 years with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles for 28 years.  He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, something that is sorely lacking in this state. “Children of the Knight,” his most current novel, is likely to be controversial in its themes and conclusions. Those children society tends to reject or ignore or abuse or marginalize, who come in all shapes and sizes – black and white and brown and Asian and Pacific Islander and gang affiliated and gay and straight and those who are confused about their sexuality – are the subject of this book, and the story depicts an adult society that tells these kids, in various ways, that they are of no real value.

You can visit Michael’s website at

Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

I read as much as I can, but unfortunately not as much as I’d like because it interferes with the writing. Ha! I go to the gym daily and exercise with weights and cardio equipment. I like going to movies, but not as often as in the past. Ticket prices and mediocre quality have taken their toll on even me, a lifelong movie buff. I volunteer at a local juvenile detention facility and have been involved with juvenile justice issues most of my life. I also have been part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program for most of my life and may soon have another “little” brother to mentor. I have my own family that I spend time with, as well. However, since I’ve been focusing on getting the two sequels to “Knight” finished, I limit my non-writing time these days to a minimum. After this trilogy is complete, who knows?

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing stories my whole life, even as a kid, and have always been heavily into reading. My first two books were actually written and re-written off and on throughout the 1980s and 90s before finally being published in 2011 and 2012. Teaching high school, as I did for so many years, limited my quality writing time to a minimum. Children of the Knight was conceived and outlined maybe fifteen years ago, but only when I stopped teaching full time was I able to complete it and get it out to the public.

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

I think knowing a publisher was interested in putting out my work was pivotal because, obviously, they felt readers would connect with the story and characters (and they could make money, too.) That’s why I write, after all, in the hopes of touching readers with my work the way I was so often touched and moved by other writers growing up. Oh, and hopefully make some money doing it, of course. Ha!

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

Nowhere in particular, but given my fascination with Arthurian stories and the possibility of a second “Children of the Knight” trilogy down the line, I’d love to spend time in the British Isles. Someday.

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do?

If there were a movie out there I wanted to see, I’d dash out and watch it. These movies are all so long nowadays that would probably take up the whole four hours. Ha!

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

I don’t think location when I’m plotting a story. I think characters and situations. Locations come into play as needed.

Back to your present book, Children of the Knight, how did you publish it?

I self-published my first two books, and that is one way to go, but it has its drawbacks. I enjoyed the experience, but found it difficult because I don’t really have anyone who will read my stuff for errors or typos or just continuity problems, and thus mistakes found their way into the final product. Also, the marketing is all on me because there is no company that will benefit financially from marketing it themselves. This book, Children of the Knight, was released by a real YA publisher, Harmony Ink, and it’s been an amazingly positive and joyful experience. These people have been fantastic and creative and incredibly helpful all along the way and I can’t say enough good things about the company or the people. I happened to find them through another writer on Goodreads. I read his book and thought it outstanding. I reviewed the book and then he and I got to chatting on the Goodreads site about his experience with Harmony Ink. He said they were amazing to work with so I checked out their requirements for YA submissions and my manuscript seemed to fit those requirements, so I submitted it. The rest is, as they say, history.

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

No travel, per se, since it’s set in Los Angeles where I live. But I did go to certain locations to get enough details right to make each setting seem real to the reader. Since many of the characters are gang members, I did not specifically name any gangs or “turf” areas. I definitely didn’t want to stir up any trouble in that arena.

Why was writing Children of the Knight so important to you?

Children of the Knight raises many provocative questions about how our society treats its young, and it’s my hope readers will not merely take these questions to heart, but actually act on the need for change that is depicted. This trilogy of books tells the story of King Arthur and a remarkable group of cast-off kids who create fundamental, systemic change for good throughout the entire city, state, and country. Yes, it is a fable, but it might not have to be pure fiction if enough adults and kids eventually joined together to make it happen for real. I dedicated Children of the Knight to all of the amazing kids I’ve worked with over the years because they are the inspiration for this story, especially those incarcerated kids who clued me into a world of almost impossible-to-believe degradations perpetrated against children in this society. Sadly, every terrible act committed against kids in my book is one I’ve heard from someone in real life. And yet these same abused, abandoned, neglected, tortured kids who likely should have given up years before, inspired me through their undaunted ability to rise above their pasts and still possess hope for a better future. Who knows, maybe my book can jumpstart a children’s revolution. As main characters Lance or Jack would say, “wouldn’t that be epic?”

Is the book always better than the movie?

I don’t want to disrespect other writers, but I’ve read some terrible books that had good premises, and some of these were turned into great movies. As a rule, however, if a book is great, the movie usually pales in comparison. Most of the problem with filmmakers is ego. They think they can make something that’s already great and works perfectly, even better if they put their own “stamp” on it. Doesn’t work. I especially hate adaptations of YA books involving young kids or teens that Hollywood casts with adult actors “playing” kids, even though it’s obvious to anyone in the audience that said actor hasn’t seen a high school in years, let alone a middle school except maybe driving past one in his or her car. Most of these lousy adaptations fare poorly at the box office. I guess Hollywood still hasn’t learned from the Harry Potter adaptations – cast kids to play kids and stick to the original material and don’t try to change it and you have a hit.

Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

I get my ideas from real life experience. I have worked with such a variety of people, especially kids. I’ve worked with every kind of kid over the years, from the rich to the nerdy to the criminally inclined to the emotionally disturbed to the gang affiliated, with gay kids and straight kids and everything in between. Just listening to them, or to adults, and observing their lives gives me ideas. My own past life has given me ideas, as well. I guess I consider myself an observer of life and try to capture important issues and interesting characters in my work.

Any final words?

As a child growing up I was hearing impaired and rather introverted and didn’t have a huge number of friends. Books gave me somewhere to go, places I knew I’d never be able to go in real life, and they sparked my already fertile imagination. Sometimes they made me laugh and sometimes cry, but well-written books always got me caught up with the characters and situations. I love the idea of touching someone else’s heart and mind through my writing the same way my heart and mind were so often touched, and even influenced, as a kid growing up, and I hope I’ve achieved that goal with Children of the Knight. Thanks for your time.


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