Monday, March 16, 2015

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Preston Fleming


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Preston.  Welcome to The Gal.  It's great having you here!!  Let's start off with something easy - Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Preston Fleming:
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio and left home at age fourteen to attend a New England boarding school.  I went on to a liberal arts college in the Midwest known for its writing program and then went to graduate school for an MBA.  Not long after, I joined the U.S. Foreign Service and served in U.S. Embassies around the Middle East for nearly a decade.  I resigned to attend an Ivy League law school and since them have pursued a career in law and business.  I have written five novels.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are 5 things about you that most people don't know?

Preston Fleming:
I crossed the Alps in winter on a motorcycle.  I played the cello in my youth.  I have achieved fluency in German, French, Russian and Arabic, though they are all buried under a layer of dust at the moment.  I grew up in an ethnic neighborhood where I learned to identify nearly every conceivable Eastern European surname on sight, and to enjoy most of the cuisines associated with them.  I watch very little television, but follow several series on the SyFy Channel that I binge-watch on airlines and during idle moments on the road.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Preston Fleming:
McGuffey's Reader.  I had a very traditional upbringing.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide to begin writing?

Preston Fleming:
I was inspired by the classic American novels that we read in 9th grade in boarding school.  My English instructor, a World War II combat veteran, advised those of us who wanted to follow the path of Melville, Conrad and Hemingway to first go out and live some adventures so that we would have stories that people might want to read.  And that's what I did.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Preston Fleming:
I usually check out a couple of news websites on my computer and, finding nothing new there, turn to my manuscript to resume writing where I left off the day before.  I work from an outline that I divide into chapters and then start composing one chapter at a time.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Preston Fleming:
In my home office, though I write wherever I have a computer and often do so when I'm on the road.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Preston Fleming:
With each new novel, the greatest challenge is keeping the length down to a manageable level.  There is always too much background and too many scenes to fit in.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Preston Fleming:
At this point in my writing career, I follow my intuition.  If it's a story that inspires me, I do my best to make it resonate with the kind of reader I write for.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most influenced you?

Preston Fleming:
There have been many over the years.  A few that come to mind are Dersu the Trapper by K. Arseniev, a vivid and touching memoir.  The Egyptian and The Roman by Mike Waltari, who had an ability to bring historical novels to life.  And The Gormenghast Trilogy by Melvyn Peake, one of the great English prose stylists of the 20th century.  One more is Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry, one of the most original and insightful novels I have come across.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What inspires you most?

Preston Fleming:
Men and women who have overcome adversity in a positive, life affirming way, and transformed themselves in so doing.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where do the ideas for your books come from?

Preston Fleming:
Forty Days at Kamas was inspired by a chapter in Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, Volume III.  I took the historical events described in the chapter, populated them with Americans instead of Russians, and set it in a future dystopian America of 2024.  And yes, I did read all three volumes of Gulag Archipelago.  My favorite is Volume III, which contains many touching and inspiring stories of ordinary Russians caught up in the Gulag.  By the way, I have visited the city of Magadan, former gateway to the gulag in the Russian Far East, and the experience left a deep impression on me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which of your characters do you think is the most like you?

Preston Fleming:
Each of the protagonists in my novels is much like me in the stage of life that I portray.  Thus, the older characters tend to be more fully developed than the younger ones.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What have you learned creating this book?

Preston Fleming:
I learned to appreciate how human history is cyclical and the same themes and situations repeat themselves among many people across times and places.  I believe that the events taking place before us today are reaching a cyclical climax whose outcome will become apparent within the next decade or so.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think readers will take away from this book?

Preston Fleming:
That Americans are not immune from the kind of mistakes that other societies have made in the past, and that, as Benjamin Franklin has said, if we value our security above liberty, we will deserve neither and likely lose both.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your book different than others that fall under this genre?

Preston Fleming:
The major characters and plot features in Forty Days at Kamas are based on actual events that took place in Russia during the summer of 1953.  That, and the novel's understated, realist prose style, tend to make the reader feel as if the events described in the book, and the situations faced, could really happen to those of us alive today.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your 'trunk'?

Preston Fleming:
I have a concept for a fourth novel set in the same dystopian American future as the Kamas Trilogy, and a third Middle Eastern spy novel to complete my Beirut Trilogy.  And quite a few other ideas are still maturing in my subconscious (supported by cryptic notes in my files).

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Preston Fleming:
I am halfway through the first draft of my next novel, set in an entirely different time and place than my other five novels, though it also belongs in the suspense/thriller/espionage genre.  I believe it will have a much broader appeal than any of my other books and have enjoyed every day of writing it.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by, Preston.  It's been nice having you.  I look forward to reading this book (I purchased it before I found out about the blog tour) and your other Beirut Trilogy sounds fascinating as well.
            Before you leave, one more thing: Where can we find you?

Preston Fleming:
Check out my reader reviews on Amazon.  There is some additional material on my website.  I post news from time to time on my Facebook, but rarely tweet,


About the book:
Inspired by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's account of a Soviet labor camp revolt in Gulag Archipelago, Volume III, the story of Forty Days at Kamas follows political prisoners and security officials at a corrective labor camp in Kamas, Utah, where inmates seize control during the summer of 2024.
            Kamas, Utah.  2024.  In the totalitarian dystopia that America has become after the Unionist Party's rise to power, the American West contains vast Restricted Zones dotted with ghost towns, scattered military garrisons and corrective labor camps where the regime disposes of its real and suspected enemies.  Kamas is one such camp.

On a frigid March night, a former businessman from Pittsburgh, Paul Wagner, arrives at a labor camp in Utah's Kamas Valley, a dozen miles east of the deserted resort town of Park City, which prisoners are dismantling as part of a massive recycling project.
            When Wagner arrives, he is unaware that his eleven-year-old daughter, Claire, has set off to Utah to find him after becoming separated from her mother at the Philadelphia Airport.  By an odd quirk of fate, Claire has traveled on the same train that carried her father into internal exile.
            Only after Wagner has renounced all hope of survival, cast his lot with anti-regime hard-liners and joined them in an unprecedented and suicidal revolt does he discover that Claire has become a servant in the home of the camp's Deputy Warden.  Wagner is torn between his devotion not family and loyalty to his fellow rebels until, on the eve of the armored assault intended to crush the revolt, he faces an agonizing choice between a hero's death and a coward's freedom.

In Forty Days at Kamas, author Preston Fleming offers a stirring portrait of a man determined to survive under the bleakest of conditions and against formidable odds.  Fleming's gift for evocative prose brings the characters and events to life in a way that arouses emotional tension while also engaging the reader's intellect with fundamental questions about the future of American society.

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