Author Interview: Scott Eric Barrett (The Guttersnipes)

Scott Eric Barrett has published more than fifty articles for various newspapers, history magazines, and educational publications -and the author of time travel novel “The Guttersnipes”. how did he manage it?

Scott Eric Barrett is the creator behind “The Guttersnipes” – a fun and fast-paced read which has a time travel component that involves a biological and technological component.

Scott Eric Barrett
Guttersnipes author Scott Eric Barrett

The time machine is a black box mechanism – albeit one which works with a purple beam which takes Charlie and his friend Arty back to New York city in 1865. In this setting there’s a light educational element which makes The Guttersnipes an especially good novel for teenagers.

In his own words, Scott loves History, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and any work of fiction that has strong characters and a subtle message. In this author interview Scott reveals how his love of Star Wars influenced parts of The Guttersnipes – as well as laying down his limits!

The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett

The Guttersnipes is your first novel, but not your first publication. How did you find the transition from writing articles for newspapers and magazines to a full blown novel?

Scott: I stammered into the writing world in a somewhat nontraditional way. I always wanted to be a storyteller, but my first dream was to write and direct movies. I studied film production in college and went to work (and I do mean work) in the industry as a production assistant. My path from dragging cables and moving key lights to directing the next Harrison Ford blockbuster seemed daunting to say the least. I dabbled in screenwriting a bit, but found much more creative freedom in fiction. The problem was that screenwriting and fiction were extremely different disciplines so I made the painful decision to go back to school to study creative writing. That led me to working as a professional writer and editor to pay the bills. The transition from writing stories (my early screenwriting days) to nonfiction stuff like company profiles and product reviews was actually tougher than going from magazine articles to novels.

The Guttersnipes is aimed at younger readers but has some quite gruesome sections. Were these gory sections a deliberate ‘addition’ to the novel, or are they a necessary part of Charlie’s story?

Scott: I wanted to make sure the ugliness and grossness of mid-19th century America was on full display. I remember the differences between Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns and the glossy western TV shows from the same time period. The Eastwood films painted a very grim, gritty picture of 19th century life that left a lasting impression. I loved watching Eastwood’s characters do battle, but I knew even when I was 10 that I wanted no part of that sweaty, stinky world. I wanted both the character of Charlie and the reader himself/herself to realize that New York City in 1865 was a very dangerous place. It helps prepare Charlie for his future adventures/destinations and helps him appreciate home a bit like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”.

How did you find the balance between education for younger readers and progressing the story line?

Scott: When it came to the historical elements, I didn’t want to come across as too preachy or explain too much. It would sound awkward and clunky to have characters talking too much about the Civil War, Lincoln assassination, slavery, etc. I needed to trust that my readers would know some basic facts about the time period. My hope is that they will come away entertained and perhaps with a curiosity about P.T. Barnum or the American Museum or the awful plight of the 1860s street kids.

Charlie describes the story of finding Trike as “…really long”. Will we ever hear more about this story?

Scott: I don’t want to sound like I’m keeping secrets, but I will say for certain that Charlie’s experiences with dinosaurs don’t end with the death of Trike. As far as Charlie talking about Trike (and how he “found” a dinosaur in the first place), it will be a subject he bottles up for years and years. The loss was and is significant and when we meet up with Charlie again (only a few months will have passed), he is trying to cope with feelings by never talking about Trike openly. He even tries to avoid thinking about him.

Is your passion for history instrumental in incorporating time travel in The Guttersnipes?

Scott: Absolutely. I devour history books and magazines in my leisure time. I don’t think a day has passed since I was five that I didn’t imagine, at some point in each day, what it would be like to visit Egypt in 2560 BCE, Athens in 490 BCE, etc. I wanted to incorporate a time travel element to The Guttersnipes rather than simply set the story in the past because fish-out of-water type tales provide limitless opportunities for adventure.

Your time travel mechanism is black box and there’s not much in the way of time travel paradoxes. What techniques did you use to keep the reader aware that time travel is a key element of The Guttersnipes?

Scott: I wanted the technical aspects of the time travelling to be mysterious and almost magical for the first adventure. The key turns out to be the purple “energy” rather than a fancy device/gadget. I tried use Charlie’s (and Arty’s) overwhelming sense of wonder to keep the readers aware of the time travelling element. The strange sights and people, odd clothing, and even some of the words people used needed to be “out of time.” I also focused on the pace and the idea that travelling through the time isn’t simply like a road trip. Charlie and Arty have to find Trike and get back to their own time before seven days pass or they will be stuck in 1865 permanently. I think adding a physical danger element and the idea that people aren’t meant to make these kinds of journeys helped make the time travel aspect a critical part to the story.

The purple colour of the light sabres in the Star Wars follow up movies created a lot of debate regarding whether or not it carried any significance. Is there any significance to the purple light in your time travel orb and the fire at the museum?

Scott: Nice catch! The color is important for each of those elements (I don’t want to reveal its true nature yet…lol). As far as the aesthetic element. It was my mom’s favorite color and is definitely an ode to Star Wars. In Star Wars, the “good” guys have blue lightsabers and the “bad” guys have red lightsabers. A purple lightsaber represents shades of both good and bad, light and dark. It’s an important concept I plan to explore even more in the follow up adventures.

Would you rather have a piggy back on a dinosaur or ride a tauntaun?

Would Scott Eric Barrett ride a tauntaun?
Tauntaun from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Image credit: www.starwars.com/databank/tauntaun

Scott: Tough one. If I love Star Wars as a whole, then I practically worship The Empire Strikes Back. I don’t; however, worship cold weather and since riding a tauntaun would probably place me somewhere in the arctic I’m going to go with a dinosaur ride. Hook me up with a good T-Rex whisperer and I will be in Cretaceous heaven!

And a couple of questions from my daughter:

How do you know about dinosaurs?

Scott: I have a strange brain. I don’t know a ton about a lot of things (especially math…lol), but certain subjects intrigue me to such an extent that I embark on obsessive research extremes. Dinosaurs may have been my very first obsession. They are giant monsters from a bygone era that disappeared in a geological instant. The mystery, wonder, and tragedy still give me goose bumps to this day. Paleontologists teach us more every year and I still read about every new discovery with the same curiosity I had as a boy. From Tyrannosaurus Rex to the nasty raptors and, of course, triceratops, I have always dreamed about visiting the Age of Dinosaurs.

How did you think about the people in the American Museum?

Scott: The American Museum was really the spark for the whole adventure! I knew Charlie Daniels was a “different” character and I knew, as an adolescent, he was naturally very uncomfortable about his differences so I wanted him to interact with others who were as odd, and some far odder than him. My moment of inspiration came when I happened to catch a documentary on History about P.T. Barnum and the so-called “circus freaks” and “human curiosities” of the 19th century. I always assumed they were a travelling group like some of today’s carnivals. When the program showcased the American Museum smack dab in the middle of New York City, I knew I had my setting. Barnum was really an amazing historical figure. His American Museum was THE place to go for the average 1860s New Yorker. Most of the museum characters in the novel are based on real people. Their stories are sad, oftentimes tragic, and very inspiring.

Author bio:

Scott Eric Barrett is an award-winning freelance writer and full-time editor from Glendale, Arizona. Scott has published more than fifty articles for various newspapers, history magazines, and educational publications. He completed his first novel, The Guttersnipes, in early 2015, and recently finished his second book, A Christmas Wish. Both fantasy adventures are fast-paced rides with twists and turns galore aimed at young and middle-grade readers. Scott’s wife and daughter inspire him to work hard every day and stay resilient in a fiercely competitive industry that often forces young writers to give up on their dreams.

You can follow Scott on his website, on Facebook and on Goodreads).

The Guttersnipes is available from Amazon.com in both paperback and kindle format.

Review: The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett

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Review: The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett

The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett is a fun and fast-paced read which has a time travel component that involves a biological and technological component.

Review: The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett

My Our Approach

The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett

I was very interested when I received a request to read and review The Guttersnipes. It’s aimed at children so I had big plans to read this to my 7 year old daughter. I’m sick to death of Roald Dahl with his “Charlie and the Chocolate factory” and the “BFG”. Read: Big Freakin’ Grammar problems, more like – made up words and disordered sentences. In a galaxy far far away, maybe Yoda learnt his English from reading a few Roald Dahl novels.

I wasn’t up for reading this nonsense to my daughter in Holland, where English is a second language for her. So a happy cue to The Guttersnipes where Scott uses English words with the right spelling and in the right order. What a relief!

To balance first impressions up a bit, I should mention that at first I didn’t like the title – though this is out of my own ignorance because I was afraid it was a made up word. Not something nonsensical like Dahl’s snozcumbers etc., but more along the lines of Stephen Kings “Langoliers” (a novella in “Four Past Midnight” – which incidentally has a time related theme).

By the time page 70 came around I learned that a “guttersnipe” is actually a noun and means something! OK, so I learn something, and where younger readers learn this word early in their life, I’m learning it now at the ripe old age of 45. This old dog is learning new tricks! (Well,words!)

Our My Approach

Two things happened when we started reading this. The first is that time dilated to the point that the further we progressed, the slower it took. Mass increases as we approach the speed of light; estimation of time required to complete this novel increases exponentially with the time we spent reading together. Two pages took two weeks. No, don’t ask how, because I don’t know.

So with this in mind the “we” became “I” and I read the remaining pages on my own – but admittedly still from from the perspective of a (slightly over-) protective father (albeit with the caveat that if you’ve seen the movie “Finding Nemo”, Nemo’s neurotic father actually had a good point.)

Children or teenager?
“Children’s / Teenage” on back cover

I think the “Children’s / Teenage” ‘rating’ here is confusing. I’d come in at the children angle. I don’t think it would be fair to call a teenager a child in this sense, but I do think it would be unfair to let a child (here I’m talking about my 7 year old – though this is subjective to any child) near this novel. There are some pretty gruesome parts – plucking eyes out, pulling teeth out (not in a dentist – as a means of roughing a child up), boys being paralysed from being kicked by horses…

I’m glad I stopped with my daughter when I did – this is an education that think she can wait with. But yeah, every child (and parent) is different, so ultimately this decision will be up to you.

On the educational note, The Guttersnipes does have a few snippets of relevant and contextual information. It’s not as full on as Making it Home and Stumbling on a Tale by Suzanne Roche, though at times I wondered whether the background research had got a little over enthusiastic!

The characters

The main character is Charlie. Thankfully Charlie has no chocolate factory, but what he does have is a pet dinosaur. Specifically, Trike – a dwarf triceratops. The story behind how Charlie finds Trike is “…really long” and I wonder if there’s a novel in the making here!

Triceratops toothbrush
My youngest daughter’s toothbrush – with a triceratops!

Trike is a silent but important part of The Guttersnipes because essentially he’s the trigger for Charlie and his friend Arty to go back in time. But Trike doesn’t really get much of a mention, and certainly the relationship that Charlie has with him is barely touched so personally I didn’t empathise with the mission to rescue the poor dwarf triceratops.

The beginning of the the novel shows Charlie to be a crap friend to Arty who seems to bend over backwards to help Charlie. I think Arty is the unsung hero of this novel. He suffers the most, receives minimal support but does what he can to help Charlie and Trike.

I don’t really know who Charlie is. Indeed, at times he almost becomes a minor character in comparison to many other stronger characters which Scott has written into the novel. The blurb states that Charlie is “…more than six feet tall” and “…allergic to almost everything” though neither of these ‘attributes’ come into play. Conversely it’s Arty who seems to have a history behind him. He’s the guy who I’m rooting to get back home!

Writing style

The Guttersnipes is most definitely a very fun read! It’s fast paced with interesting characters and cross links between them and it’s easy to see how this will appeal to the YA audience. That said, whether it was the writing style or the historical setting, I was reminded at times of the more adult level The Anubis Gates (Tim Powers) and The Map of Time (Felix J. Palma), two novels which I also thought were very good!

There’s only one thing which wound me up about The Guttersnipes, and that was the overuse of a couple of phrases – Charlie repeatedly “Chomped down on his bottom lip”, and other characters “gimped off”. Perhaps it’s not that bad, but you know how it is once you notice something…

The time travel element

The time travel mechanism is black box – albeit with a purple beam which takes Charlie and Arty back to New York city in 1865.

I was interested to note that the trip back in time also involved a change in location – Charlie and Arty were no longer in the same location as the house in which they’d left. Because there’s no repeated time travel I wasn’t able to see whether this was a specific feature of this method.

Towards the end of the novel Charlie and Arty meet another time traveller who reveals something more about the time travel ‘process’ – the body of the time traveller reconstitutes itself to adapt to the new time to which it’s transported. This can only be done once – so after 7 days the time traveller is stuck in his new temporal destination (because presumably that’s how long reconstitution takes).

I think there’s something missing here, because if a return time travel trip is possible within 7 days then it’s possible with a partially reconstituted body. On day 7 the body reconstruction reaches 100% and time travel at that point becomes impossible. I struggle to accept that a biological mechanism / limitation would have such a clear threshold.

Still. I welcome biological aspects of time travel (I suspect that this is how it’s going to be done if time travel ever becomes a reality) so I was very happy to read this, especially as it worked in combination with a more traditional technological transportation mechanism –
though painted black with purple light! 😉

Rating * * * *

The Guttersnipes by Scott Eric Barrett is a fun and fast-paced read! Whilst the main character (and his pet triceratops) is weak, a raft of other well developed characters and multiple plot lines more than compensate.

I’d caution parents of younger and / or sensitive children as there are some gruesome sections which may be unsuitable.

Paul

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