Updated: Jul 29, 2020
Question: It Gives You Strength looks like an exciting story. Can you tell us a little about it?
Answer:. When asked that question I usually have a short version and a longer version. So I’ll give you both. The short version is that the book is set in 1926, New York. An alien on the primitive planet Earth is trapped in the middle of a gang war for the NY/Canada rum-running market. “Star-man meets Boardwalk Empire”.
The longer version is as follows: On a rescue mission to the distant planet Earth in 1926, an alien scientist, Tashan Zho, is transported into the dying body of bootlegger Ryan Costello. Upon his death, Costello’s body is reanimated by the alien, and endowed with supernatural powers. Unfortunately, the body is so damaged from years of alcohol abuse that the alien’s memory and his vital files are corrupted. All that remains of his mission plan is one phrase: “Find the one called Mike Kelly.” Complicating matters, the alien soon discovers that Kelly is the leader of a criminal gang of World War veterans, who are battling mobster Jack “Legs” Diamond for control of the lucrative Canada/New York rum-running market. Upon recognizing Costello's enhanced abilities and physical strength, Kelly forces the alien into the mob. Since Kelly is his only chance of discovering and completing his mission, the alien agrees. Costello soon learns his crucial task - to free an alien child from the infamous Craig Colony before his home world dispatches its “rescue armada.” A force so massive that its mere entry into the Earth’s atmosphere would devastate the planet.
The story, a mashup of historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy, is set in upstate New York during prohibition. The fictional characters interact with actual historical figures, including mobster Jack “Legs” Diamond, heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey, and World War heroine Edith Cavell.
Question: As a writer was it easy to mix science fiction, history and fantasy?
Answer: Science Fiction Alternate History is actually a burgeoning genre. Many novels pose ethical and moral questions about humanity. Science fiction alternate history should strive to highlight the injustices of our collective past. I tried to meet this duty by setting several pivotal chapters of the novel in the infamous Craig Colony. As difficult as it is now to believe, New York State institutionalized or ”warehoused” its citizens with seizure disorders at the Craig Colony from 1894 until it was finally closed in 1968. Men and women who had committed no crime were essentially held like prisoners. They were forbidden from having relationships, falling in love, or marrying. Since they were considered too weak and feeble to hold challenging jobs, from childhood, they were taught vocations like brick making and sewing. The physicians at the Craig Colony even lobbied the N.Y. Legislature to make marriage and cohabitation with Epileptics illegal under NY state law.
As a writer, my challenge was to integrate such a miserable point in history into a story that was interesting to the reader. In the novel, the aliens observing the Craig Colony from several light years from Earth, think that it is a prison camp. And when the aliens conclude that their monarch may be held there, they respond with a military option.
Question: What inspired you when writing It Gives You Strength?
Answer: I visited my hometown two years ago, Granville NY. The area is so beautiful and rich with history, I realized that it was the perfect setting for a historical fiction novel. My family legend is that my grandfather was a bootlegger in the area. I honestly don’t know. He passed before I was born. My father was an amateur boxer and I grew up staring at photos of my dad in the boxing ring, and of my grandfather the bootlegger in his World War I uniform. My protagonist in the novel, Major MIke Kelly is World War I hero, turned bootlegger, turned professional prizefighter. Mike Kelly is fictional, but he is an amalgam of my grandfather’s legend and memories of my father. The story itself is a love letter to my hometown and the idyllic region that surrounds it.
Question: Did anything stick out as particularly challenging when writing It Gives You Strength?
Answer: There are several characters in the novel who are based on actual historical figures, however, two stand out. The first is Jack “Legs” Diamond. We tend to look back on prohibition and romanticize bootleggers, thinking that they were only providing a service that all Americans wanted. And I’d like to think that was true of my grandfather. However, there also were people like Diamond. In my historical research for the book, I learned that Diamond was a brutal murderer. In one example, Diamond owned a speakeasy on the upper West side of Manhattan. One night he killed one of his rival gangsters in front of several innocent bystanders. Since he was afraid that they would testify against them he also killed all of the bystanders, all of whom were simply enjoying a night out.
On the extreme opposite, is another major supporting character in the novel is Edith Cavell. Edith Cavell was a British nurse who was living in Belgium when World War I broke out. Since she believed it was her duty to treat soldiers from both sides, she remained in Belgium and continued to treat German soldiers and resistance fighters, even though the German army controlled the country. She is credited with helping two hundred british soldiers escape German occupied Belgium. On October 12, 1915, however, Germany shot Cavell for treason for helping those soldiers escape. Cavell’s execution has come to symbolize the worst and best of humanity. Although the novel occurs in 1926, Cavell plays in important part. How? Through the magic of science fiction alternate history.
Question: What do you like to do when not writing?
Answer: When I’m not writing, I spend almost all my time with my wife and four children. My wife is an internal medicine doctor and she works at a local hospital. She has been treating COVID-19 patients and, during the lockdown, I have been homeschooling our children. When we were not locked down, and I was not working on this novel, I coached my children in basketball and Little League.
Question: Where can readers find out more about your work?
Answer: My website is https//www.philipraymondbrown.com/.