On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, YA author Peter Aronson talks about his climate change inspired adventure book, Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed YA author Peter Aronson about his life and journalism career, what inspired him to start writing fiction, and the work that went into his new book Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States Of Anthropocene.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I live in New York City with my wife, Emily, and two teenage daughters. Writing books is my third career.
For about 20 years, I was a journalist, mostly covering legal affairs, including such trials as OJ Simpson, the Rodney King police beating case and Bush v. Gore, which decided the 2000 U.S. presidential election. Soon after, I began practicing law in New York City, focusing on representing senior citizens with their legal issues. At the end of 2018, I closed my law practice and decided to write children’s books full-time.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I think my desire to write a book first emerged in 2015. I saw my then-middle-grade daughters reading Harry Potter and I thought, perhaps it would be good if they were reading books that focused on real-world problems. So I began to think about it. After all, I had been a journalist for a long time and I felt confident that I could write a book.
When did you take a step to start writing?
So in 2015, after thinking about it a bit, I decided to write a book about the biggest problem in the world – global warming. I decided I would write a middle-grade novel about kids fighting climate change – about kids trying to do the right thing against all the odds. I made this decision BEFORE Greta Thunberg became a household name. But as I was doing my research and began to write the book, my fiction ran into what was happening in the real world. Teenagers were making world headlines fighting global warming. I decided to keep going with my project – a fictional book – even though fiction was becoming reality.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It took me six years to complete this book, MANDALAY HAWK’S DILEMMA: THE UNITED STATES OF ANTHROPOCENE.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
I began Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma as my first book but finished it after I started and completed two other much shorter middle-grade books. I wrote and had published two biographies as the first two entrants in my Groundbreaker Series – biographies about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things. The first book is about Bronislaw Huberman, a famous violinist who saved Jewish musicians from the Holocaust by starting an orchestra in Palestine. The second book is about Jeannette Rankin, America’s first congresswoman.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States Of Anthropocene?
Global warming is the biggest problem humankind has ever faced and the world is not doing nearly enough to stop it. I decided to write a book about young teens tackling the issue, because I think young teens need to – and can – play a leading role in forcing change.
What were your biggest challenges with writing Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States Of Anthropocene?
I was writing a book about a constantly moving topic. Everything was changing. The impact of global warming was getting constantly worse – warmer temperatures, more extreme weather and continuously more dire predictions. And the political actors in the U.S. were changing – from Obama, to Trump to Biden.
These changes lead to different policies, it was a roller coaster ride of uncertainty, unpredictability and, ultimately, mostly inaction, or certainly not enough action, caused by stalemates.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Believe it or not (as I said earlier), I actually thought of Mandalay Hawk before the incredible Greta Thunberg made youth climate activism front-page news. I know I wanted to create a character – a young girl who would stand up to the powers that be and try to do what’s right. My daughters always inspire me – so I create fictional characters inspired by them.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
Well, in my book, the antagonist is really a composite of billions people – of politicians, business leaders and adults unwilling or unable to take the necessary action to thwart climate change.
What is the inciting incident in Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States Of Anthropocene?
There are actually several, but if I had to pick one it is when Mandalay and her friends are on a stalled underground subway in New York City and it is well over 100 degrees on the train – because of the extreme heat outside and no AC – and an old doomsday professor begins ranting about the Big Heat. The Big Heat is upon us now, he bellows: it is 2030, and winter will feel like summer and summer will feel like a blast furnace and it’s gonna get really hot and really bad, unlike anything before. And it does.
What is the main conflict of Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States Of Anthropocene?
Can young teens overcome the great odds against them by conquering the extreme heat and adults (and the powers that be) and force the change that’s needed?
Did you plot Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States Of Anthropocene in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
I wrote about 25 drafts, first a very long one, almost 400 pages, and kept revising, shortening and sharpening to get to about 220 pages by publication.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma: The United States Of Anthropocene need?
About midway through the project I hired a professional editor. She helped me somewhat, as did my wife, Emily, who probably read about 10 drafts. Ultimately, I edited myself. I found that letting a draft sit for a while allows me to revisit the draft with a fresh perspective, a critical eye. I am not afraid to cut my own writing.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
I will give two pieces of advice. If you want to write a story, well, then, sit down and start writing. Everyone has a great story to tell – you just need to sit down and write it. The second piece of advice. Embrace the rewrite process. Every writer has to rewrite ad nauseam. Embrace it, get used to it. Dread it (and don’t do it) at your own peril.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
Along with soccer legend Shep Messing (former U.S Olympian), we have written a trilogy of soccer novels for middle-grade readers. The books are about 12-year-old Teresa Rodriguez, a soccer-crazed girl who is forced, as events unfold, to grapple with the real world around her – family responsibility, racial bias, immigrant despair, and then, ultimately, the strength and spirit of the human soul. The books are just being completed now and we hope to have a publisher in place soon.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Oh, very proud of Mandalay Hawk’s Dilemma. It was well worth my six-year effort. I am thrilled that scores of libraries all across America are buying the book for their young readers.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
My author’s website: https://peteraronsonbooks.com
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