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