Interview with Jeff Burton
Drawn to Danger
Jeff Burton (2011)
Reviewed by (age13) for Reader Views (5/11)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview Jeff Burton, who is here to talk about his new children’s book “Drawn to Danger.”
Jeff Burton is a husband and a father of five boys. He lives in northwestern Wisconsin. He is fascinated by Steller Sea Cows and the Lego spaceships his boys make.
Tyler: Welcome, Jeff, and thank you for the opportunity to interview you about your new book “Drawn to Danger.” I’m really quite intrigued by it. To begin, will you tell us about the main character, Andrew, and who he is at the beginning of the book?
Jeff: Andrew is your standard issue middle school boy, with a familiar school and home life. What makes him stand out is his very active imagination. He constructs an entire imaginary world in his head, and then gets his friends interested in it as well. At the beginning of the story, his major problem is that his favorite uncle has gone missing, and Andrew is very concerned about his fate.
Tyler: Andrew likes to draw. What does he like to draw best?
Jeff: He uses his drawing talent to produce maps of his fantasy country, and equips its military with ships and weaponry. Sadly, it’s all about cannons and guns and forts and anything else that can cause mayhem. This is all a game to him and his friends. Andrew’s specialty is ships. He loves the sailing warships of two centuries ago, Horatio Hornblower kind of stuff. Andrew spends more time than he should studying and drawing ships.
Tyler: When Andrew finds the pouch in his uncle’s apartment, what makes him decide to keep it?
Jeff: Are you kidding? It’s a cool old leather pouch with an awesome eagle emblazoned on it! What boy wouldn’t want to keep it? Plus it reminds him of his missing uncle and he can keep his drawings in it, just like real artists do.
Tyler: Of course, the book’s real story begins with what happens to Andrew because of the pouch. I don’t want to give too much away, so will you tell us what you think is important about the pouch?
Jeff: The pouch is actually a link between Andrew’s real world and another, equally real world, called Novamin, and more specifically, with an island in that world called Eagleslea. The pouch allows him to interact with people in that world. Of course, allowing a twelve-year-old boy to communicate with another world via letters is probably not a good idea, and is likely to lead to disaster. It certainly does in this case.
Tyler: Jeff, I love the title, “Drawn to Danger.” Will you tell us why you chose it? I believe it has a double meaning.
Jeff: I wish I could claim credit for it. A good friend of mine, much cleverer than I, came up with it. It is the perfect title for the book because it captures how Andrew’s imagination and talent for drawing pull him closer and closer to real danger.
Tyler: What is the island of Eagleslea like?
Jeff: Novamin is a watery world, dotted with islands. Eagleslea is an island much like one on Earth. There are quite a few minor differences, some of which cause confusion, both on Andrew’s part, and among the Novaminians.
Tyler: Eagleslea then is not the fantasy world Andrew created, but a different world, correct? Does this real world have anything in common with the fantasy one Andrew created, aside from the weapons?
Jeff: At first he thinks it might, but it really doesn’t.
Tyler: Would you say the book has a true villain, or is he a comical one?
Jeff: I would say both. I consciously tried to make the villain a little bit ridiculous, but also tried to retain real menace. It’s not an original thought, but villains without at least a touch of humanity are kind of boring.
Tyler: Jeff, what first gave you the idea for this story?
Jeff: The genesis of the plot is very personal. I still have my own notebooks from Andrew’s age filled with maps and pictures of ships. I did not have the talent for drawing Andrew does (I went for quantity over quality), but I spent as many hours. I also tried to rope unenthusiastic friends into my endeavors. I thought my youthful obsessions were unique to me, but during one web browsing session, I stumbled across a whole bunch of people who did exactly what I did as a kid, except they pursued it into adulthood and took it to a crazy level. So I figured I was not as unusual as I had thought.
I think most kids who like to draw have secretly asked, “What if my pictures came to life?” This story is one answer to that question.
Tyler: I assume then you didn’t take it to a crazy level, but did you ever end up having any seagoing adventures?
Jeff: Not unless you consider the buffet line on a cruise ship a “seagoing adventure.”
Tyler: Do you have any favorite authors or books you would say influenced you in writing “Drawn to Danger”?
Jeff: It’s pretty obvious that the “portal between two worlds” device has been used in many fantasy books, the earliest of which I remember were the Narnia series. As a boy, I loved books with great plots leavened with dry humor. So authors like Roald Dahl, E.B. White, C.S. Lewis. “Drawn to Danger” also has a very obscure reference to an over-the-top romantic incident in one of Wilkie Collins’ novels. I’ll just say it involves kissing and a soda pop can.
Tyler: Jeff, I understand you’re a Software Developer. Would you say that’s a similar or vastly different interest from being an author, and why?
Jeff: More similar than I would have thought. As a software designer, I simultaneously have to hold more than one perspective at once. As I deal with details, I have to keep the big picture continuously in mind. In that respect, writing a novel is the same. Before I begin, I plan the plot, much like a software architect plans a software system. As I am writing, I am asking myself, “How does this dialog or narrative contribute to the overall story?”
But let’s get real here. They are pretty different.
Tyler: Have you thought about the possibility of a film for “Drawn to Danger” and would you see it as a cartoon, or Animation, or live people? What medium do you think would best suit it?
Jeff: The challenge is that the first half of the book is partly an “epistolary novel,” which is a fancy way of saying it consists of letters back and forth between Andrew and Eagleslea. That’s a challenge for film, because scenes of characters reading letters is not exactly gripping cinema, though it’s a fun way to tell a story in book form.
Tyler: “Drawn to Danger” is your second book. Will you tell us a little about your first?
Jeff: My first book, “The Round Red Stone,” is the story of an orphan boy who goes on a kind of quest when he discovers a mysterious stone. It takes place in a different world, with a medieval feel to it. Though the genre is technically fantasy, there isn’t a great deal of emphasis on things like magic. The target audience is the same as “Drawn to Danger.”
Tyler: What age group do you think most enjoys your books?
Jeff: The best thing about writing a book like this is that I get to read it to my family. The ages of my boys are from seven to sixteen, and they all enjoyed it. I’m also surprised at how many adults read my books and enjoy them. So I guess though I had middle schools boys in mind when writing it, it works for a much wider range.
Tyler: How does being the father of five boys influence your writing?
Jeff: It helps to remind me what the everyday concerns of boys are, what they care about, how they talk, and how funny they are. It also keeps me up-to-date on more than I ever want to know about popular culture targeted at kids, though the only use I found for that was to parody it.
Tyler: I have to ask you about your author bio. I know what Legos are—I played with them all the time as a kid—but what exactly are Steller Sea Cows?
Jeff: As a child, I was very interested in animals that have become extinct in historical times. The Steller Sea Cow was a very large salt water manatee that lived on the coasts of the northwestern Pacific. It was first described scientifically by Georg Steller, the German naturalist who accompanied Vitus Bering’s expedition to eastern Siberia in the 1700’s. It was hunted to extinction shortly thereafter. I have always seen something sad and mysterious about extinct animals, and the Steller Sea Cow is my favorite. A creature very much like it plays a minor role in “Drawn to Danger.”
Tyler: The description for your first book states “There is absolutely no kissing of any kind. I hope this does not discourage anyone.” Is romance out of bounds for all your books? Why is that?
Jeff: Absolutely not! “Pride and Prejudice” is one of my favorite books, so that should give me some romance cred. That blurb is my way of teasing the girls who read my books. There is even a romantic sub-plot in “Drawn to Danger.” I threw that in there to keep the females interested (I’m kidding!)
Tyler: Do you have a plan for another book and would you give us a hint of what your next book might be about?
Jeff: I am a great fan of Charles Dickens, and have an idea for a Dickensian youth novel. It’s just at the outline stage right now, but I’m excited about it.
Then I’m going to write a book about a young boy who tames a Steller Sea Cow and rides it into battle against Russian sea otter hunters. Or maybe not.
Tyler: Dickens is one of my favorite authors as well, so I’ll be looking forward to that first book, both really. One last question. Would you describe “Drawn to Danger” as pure escapist pleasure reading, or is there something you hope readers will also learn from it?
Jeff: Readers can approach the book with fear of any moral purpose. It’s hard enough for me to get the trains to run on time, so to speak, without worrying about that. Maybe someday I’ll be confident enough to impart some wisdom with the prose, but not yet.
Tyler: Thank you again, Jeff, for the opportunity to interview you today. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what additional information readers can find there about “Drawn to Danger”?
Jeff: I don’t have a website dedicated to my work, but I have an incipient author’s page at Amazon.
Tyler: Thank you, Jeff, for the interesting interview and for writing the kinds of books I personally loved to read as a boy. Best wishes for their and your continued success.