Monday, March 11, 2013

Author Interview Series - PT McHugh

I’d like to welcome debut author PT McHugh to my blog today. 

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.

With a wife, two kids, two dogs, and two cats, and a full-time job, how do you find time to write?

This is a great question, and it’s a perfect of example of turning a negative in one’s life into a positive.  I’ve been a chronic insomniac ever since high school. Instead of hitting the pillow and falling asleep, I’d go to bed and stare at the ceiling, worrying about things that in most cases I couldn’t control. Not a good practice, to be sure.  But I’m sure a lot of people out there can relate. Sometimes your brain gets going, and just won’t stop. Game over – you’re up for the night, and it’s going to be awful.

Then several years ago, a doctor and friend of mine suggested that instead of thinking of this inability to sleep as a curse, I should treat it as a positive. After all, Benjamin Franklin only got three to four hours of sleep a night, and he seemed to do okay.  Maybe it didn’t have to be as bad as I was making it. With those comforting words in mind, I set out to find a hobby. Something I could do quietly at night in the comfort of my own home.  Something that wouldn’t keep my family up or damage them in any way.  Something that would keep my mind busy and – maybe – be fun at the same time. I couldn’t paint worth a lick, but I always had an over active imagination, and I wanted to do something with it. 

So I started writing. A lot of it was bad, and very little of it saw the light of day, but it kept me busy, and it was the beginning of a sometimes beautiful and sometimes terrifying relationship with the written word.

When it comes to Stone Ends and Keeper of the Black Stones, the idea started with the realization that most schools weren’t teaching history anymore. At least not to any serious degree. Reading, writing, and linear Algebra were being treated with more importance, and it rubbed me the wrong way. Now don’t take that wrong– I can certainly see why those things are important, but that didn’t mean I liked it. My daughters didn’t know who Napoleon was, let alone Richard III, and they certainly didn’t understand the impact that our founding fathers had on today’s America. We were slowly losing track of our past, and missing out on some really fantastic stories along the way.

I was fortunate enough to have a father who cared deeply about history, and who enjoyed telling me stories about what happened hundreds of years ago.  Those stories had caught me in their spell when I was young, and I became fascinated with the idea of the men and women who created them. What were they like? Why had they made the decisions they made? What if I was in that situation?  What would I have done?  Would the world we live in today be the same?

From there, it was a quick hop, skip, and jump to forcing Jason into those very situations, and making him – and his friends – decide how they were going to handle it. It allowed me to put myself in those situations, and really live them. Getting to tell kids about history is just icing on the cake.

Why did you choose YA, and who are your inspirations?

“Dad, don’t embarrass us!” Those words are uttered quite frequently by my two daughters, who are both my inspiration and my test subjects in regard to how the younger generation thinks and acts.

To be honest, my girls aren’t quite teenagers. Although my twelve year old believes she is in fact going on eighteen, and should have her own apartment and car by now.  Thanks to her, music, movies, texting etiquette, and a refreshed vocabulary for a modern 21st-century teenager are at my fingertips 24/7, providing me with an excellent reference. I just have to look across the table at her to see how a young adult lives and thinks. 

Even with all the differences, though – technology, the world, the quicker aging of young people – I’ve come to realize that teenagers now are a lot like they were twenty, thirty, and even forty years ago.  They certainly have more now than I ever did … computers, iPhones, Twitter, Facebook, instant information at your fingertips (remember when you actually had to go to the library to do your research?).  But in the end, everybody’s teenage years contain a lot of the same problems and challenges – relationships, fitting in, questioning authority (parents), wondering what they’ll be when the grow up, wondering whether they even want to grow up (I don’t believe I ever did). And many of us never grow out of those questions. In that way, we’re all still teenagers at heart.  

That’s why I chose to YA. I can still identify with so many of those questions, which makes it easier to write. What’s more, I know that those years – the years when you’re so lonely and doubtful about who you are – are also the years when you form yourself. It’s when you have your first love, first heartbreak, dreams, anxiety, fear, euphoria … and all those feelings are compounded by a boatload of testosterone and estrogen. It’s a roller coaster on crack, and we’ve all ridden it. All those ups and downs make for amazing, realistic characters and stories, and I can’t imagine writing about anything else.

Now, I realize that I’m forty years old and a lot of people won’t believe that I can remember those years in my own life. But guess what, I do. In fact, some of the characters, the town, and many of the day-to-day situations in my books come from my own experiences.  That means I get to relive my childhood through my characters, and – even better – put them into situations I never had to deal with.   

Which is your favorite character and why?

Ironically, my favorite character in the book wasn’t even in the first version of the manuscript – the one that was signed to Glass House.  When the publisher, editor, and I met face to face, though, I was given a list of ‘notes.’ Top on the list: create a prominent female character to round out the story, and give both boys and girls someone to follow in the story.

“So you mean I have to write the entire story all over again?” I asked. 

“Yes,” was my curt response. A helpful hint to all of you aspiring writers out there – when you feel like your story is done, you might have to take a deep breath and realize that you might have to write it all again.

I argued a bit, because I thought this should be a book for boys, but eventually I realized that my editor knew what she was talking about. And I started writing Tatiana. When I was done, I realized that she was a combination of my wife and my two daughters – tough, sure minded, willful, and stronger than I could hope to ever be.  I have no doubt that the boys reading the story will fall in love with her, and the girls will cheer for her.  She says things that I could only dream of saying, and of course does things that are far beyond my reach.  She was an absolute kick to write, and quickly became one of the characters I looked forward to in every scene.

Where will she go in the future? I’m not sure even I know the answer to that – Tatiana has a mind of her own, and a way of dictating her scenes for herself. She doesn’t always listen to what I think, and she almost never does what I think she will. No matter what she does, though, I’m sure it’ll shock and delight all of us, myself and my editor included.

A Stone Ends Book

Jason Evans, a shy, introverted high school freshman, thought that his mundane life was all there was - girls, golf, physics, and the occasional bully. Until he found out about the secrets his grandfather had been keeping from him ... a set of stones that allowed him to jump through time ... a maniacal madman who used the stones to shape history to his liking ... and Jason’s role as one of the few people in the world who could stop that man.

Against impossible odds, a fourteen-year-old boy must take up his legacy, learn everything he needs to know within one short day, and travel helter skelter into the Middle Ages, to join Henry VII’s fight against Richard III, end the Dark Ages, and stop the man who now holds his grandfather captive. In this romp through history, Jason and his friends must race against time to accomplish not one, but two missions.

Save his grandfather.

And save the world.

To find out more about PT McHugh, please visit

Until next time,

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