Interview: P.T. McHugh on Keeper of the Black Stones

PT McHugh didn't start out as a storyteller. He was, however, born into a family that encouraged imagination. He became a fan of history in school and then went to college to become a construction engineer, to build a world of straight lines, angles, and equations. He was just as surprised as everyone else when he realized that he believed in magic, and might just know the secret of how to jump through time. Since then, he’s been researching the possibility and learning everything he can about history. Just in case the opportunity arises. PT was born and raised in New Hampshire and currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife, two daughters, and a dog named Bob, daring to dream of alternate worlds and cheering for his beloved New England Patriots.

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1. So, I just wanted to start off by saying, I loved Keeper of the Black Stones. My first question would be, how long have you been a writer and do you have any advice for aspiring authors? Thank you for the kind words up front, I’m humbled and a little overwhelmed. I've been writing for fun for years, ever since college. I never really tried to get published, but with a lot of support from my family (especially my wife), I finally decided to give it a try. The result is the book you have in front of you. In regard to advice, the best I can give is “Just go for it.” I know it’s been said to death, but it’s true – the only way you can learn is to do it. Try to find time (for me it was always at night after everyone went to bed because I'm a chronic insomniac). Sit down and “find your own voice.” And don’t let detractors get you down. Even your own family and friends may be less enthusiastic than you would like, when it comes to your passion for writing. But that’s not the important thing. It’s up to you to keep pushing, keep learning, and improving. And enjoy the process. Don’t assume you’re going to complete your manuscript, sign a seven-figure deal, and retire on the beach somewhere. That’s not going to happen. Instead, be proud of your “hobby” and continue to improve on your skills. In the end, you never know!

2. Tell me about how you came up with the idea for Keeper of the Black Stones. What made you want to write a time travel story? Did any time travel stories (books, films or tv) inspire you? I simply love history. One day I asked myself a question: what would I do in that situation if I was there? Better yet, what would I have done if I was there when I was only fourteen? As a boy I loved A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court, so I guess you could say that in some sense that particular book may have influenced me.

3. I was very impressed with you how handled the mechanics of time travel in your book. Was it challenging coming up with the idea of the stones and how they would work? It’s funny that you mentioned that, because honestly my editor and I (Carrie White, who was and is still of course amazing) spent several nights playing with the concept of how time travel would work. See, I wanted to make several hours in our time last weeks or months in the past, as far as a conversion goes, but we didn't exactly have a standard ratio. Carrie kept telling me, “Look, you have to KNOW that kind of thing, even if you never tell the reader, because at some point it will become important.” So in the diary sequence I spell out a formula I put together, knowing full well that in some cases it didn't quite work. And if you remember, Doc even states as much by saying, “The equation should work, but I'm missing a variable I can’t quit figure out.” It means we’re working on it. Carrie and I have a rough idea of what the translation is, but we've left plenty of room for it NOT to work. In the end, we have to be open to the idea that there’s NOT an exact formula. Jason might know, but he’s certainly not telling.

4. I really enjoyed Jason and his journey throughout the book. He was just a regular kid in the beginning but by the end, it's fair to say his life is never going to be the same. Did anyone in particular inspire Jason's character? Jason is a mixture of several of my friends growing up, and someone who I wished I could have been. I wanted Jason to be someone you could easily cheer for, but at the same time I didn't want him to be the stereotypical low kid on the totem poll – that’s been done to death. I wanted him to be full of doubt, curiosity, and wonder, just like most all teenagers. I started with a basic idea of who he was, and he grew from there to become who he is. Honestly, though, he wasn't that person when we first started writing the book. I guess all characters are probably like that.

5. I really LOVED the group dynamic in the book. It's refreshing because I don't see that enough in Young Adult Fiction. Besides Jason, what other characters did you enjoy writing the most? Tatiana was by far my favorite character to write. Ironically, she wasn't even in the original manuscript. Carrie told me up front that I needed a prominent female character, no buts about it. I argued, but I ended up writing her, and now she’s the girl I wish I knew in high school. Her personality and physical beauty is a composite of my wife and my two daughters. Beautiful, intelligent, stubborn, courageous, and terrifying if you cross her. She’s a riot to write.

6. Tell me a little bit about your writing process during Keeper of the Black Stones and what it was like having your story published. Honestly it was nothing like I thought it would be. In the movies you see a writer zip off the last page of his manuscript before lighting a cigar and pouring himself a glass of champaign. That wasn’t my experience, not by a long shot. First I wrote the first manuscript, was lucky enough to get it signed, and went into the editing process. You know when I knew I was done editing? (Long pause). My editor told me right, that’s enough, we’re ready, and sent the manuscript to the formatter. There were still a lot of things I would have changed, though I like what we came up with, but editing could have gone on forever. Seriously it’s a lot of hard work and dedication on all sides (publisher, editor, and author), and you could kill yourself going over it again and again. You learn quickly that it’s a team process; your editor is just as tied in to the story as you are. And lastly, you learn to keep writing, reshaping the story and writing it all over again … and again … and again. You’re not done when you think you are ,and when your editor finally says that you ARE done, it kind of catches you by surprise.

7. If you could summarize what Keeper of the Black Stones is about to you, what would you say? What would you like readers to get out of it ultimately? The story to me is about friendship, coming of age, and adventure. I wanted the reader to be engaged with the characters, and I wanted a story that was enjoyable to read for both adults and kids. I always wanted to create a story – or in this case a series – that made you think. I’m by no means a historian, but I am a very big fan of history, so that was a natural place for me to start. There’s just so much material there to work with – so many what ifs! I’m hoping that people learn to enjoy history a little more and perhaps go out on their own and learn more about a particular time period that interests them.
8. The ending made me want the next book RIGHT AWAY. The time period the story seems to be heading to next will be absolutely make a compelling read. Can you give readers out there any teases about what to expect with book number 2? Hm… well the plot’s much bigger in the second book, because it can be, now that we know the characters. They’re learning to work as a team now, and that brings both challenges and rewards. And Jason is getting even … well, bigger. He’s going to face tougher choices this time, and risk a whole lot more. I’m afraid that’s all I can give you right now.

9. How many books are there going to be? Is it going to be a trilogy? Currently we’re under contract for a trilogy. We’re knee-deep into the second book and outlining the third. Between you and me, though, there’s talk of seven books, perhaps even more.

10. Lastly, if time travel was possible, where/when would you go and why? Great question and a tough one. There are so many times and places that I’m crazy about experiencing, so it’s tough to select one. If I had too, I would say early 18th century. For some reason, the Napoleonic wars fascinated me. Of course if I lived through them I’m sure I would feel differently. But in the early 18th century so much changed throughout the world… it would be fascinating to take a simple glimpse up close. Maybe Jason will get that chance, which will give me the opportunity to live through him!

Thank you Patrick for that fantastic interview! Don't forget everyone, Keeper of the Black Stones comes out TODAY, so head on over to Amazon, etc and buy it, or request it at your library asap!
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Once upon a time, there were two sisters -Susan and Shauna - who were moved and mesmerized by stories through any medium, since they were teeny tiny. This passion stayed with them throughout adulthood, and after becoming even more enthralled with Young Adult fiction in recent times (and some Adult & MG!) they decided they just had to open up their own book blog and share their enthusiasm with the world, or well, to anyone who would listen.

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