Friday, May 10, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Steven Harper on Havoc In The Family

Can you keep a secret?  I totally based one of the characters from THE HAVOC MACHINE on a real person.  Truth!

They tell you at Author School never to do that.  It results in hurt feelings or even lawsuits.  Kathryn Stockett, author of THE HELP, was embroiled in a legal battle over this very issue, in fact.  But me--I'll get away with it.

The character in question is Nikolai, a boy of about nine years, and the person he's based on is my son Maksim.

I first met Maksim at an orphanage in Ukraine nearly nine years ago.  He was three, but looked two.  My wife and I talked to him and played with him every day for two weeks, and he always cried silently when it was time for us to leave.  That soundless weeping was a dagger in my heart every time.  One of the greatest joys of my life was when we told him he was saying good-bye to everyone else and coming home with us.

Maksim did everything firmly.  When you asked him a yes-no question, he nodded his head once, firmly, or shook his head once, firmly.  He ran firmly.  He pointed firmly.  When he learned enough English to make himself understood, he had firm ideas about what a family should be like, and he voiced them firmly.

"We need to do a family activity," he would say.  "We have to go to the park."  Or, "A papa is supposed to show his son how to ride a bike," or "Brothers are supposed to help each other."

Maksim wrapped me around all ten of his fingers.  I would do anything he said, and the slightest hint

In some ways, being a father to Maksim was easy--he was perfectly willing to tell me exactly what he needed and when.  On the other hand, the ferocious attachment between us complicated a number of things.  Sometimes a parent has to say no, and a child does have to learn independence.

Maksim has handed me a number of surprises over the years, and I don't mean the "Guess what I found in the woods, I have it in this box" sort of surprise.  Like many orphanage children, he turned out to have a penchant for hoarding--including a stash of ice cream sandwiches in his toy box.  He was violently afraid of thunderstorms and of bathing, but swam through deep water like an eel and learned to ride a bike in ten minutes.  He recognized the McDonald's sign but hated french fries.  He struggled with math for years, then suddenly tore through it like Einstein.

One of the main themes from THE HAVOC MACHINE is father-son relationships, and how such relationships never quite turn out the way you expect.  Thad, the protagonist, doesn't want to be a father, but the boy Nikolai forces him into it.  Even before I started writing about him, I knew that Nikolai would be quite a lot like Maksim and his relationship with Thad would be firm and filled with surprises.  And I knew that as the book progressed, Thad would be forced to confront what it means to be a father, whether he wanted to or not.

And Nikolai tells him what it means to be a father.  Firmly.

Maksim, now eleven, has so far shown no interest in reading my books.  I'm wondering if, one day, he'll pick up THE HAVOC MACHINE and say, "Wait . . . "  Or if I'll hear from his lawyer.

Don't tell him yet.

THE HAVOC MACHINE, by Steven Harper, is the fourth novel in the Clockwork Empire series. 

In a world riddled with the destruction of men and machines alike, Thaddeus Sharpe takes to the streets of St. Petersburg, geared toward the hunt of his life….

Thaddeus Sharpe’s life is dedicated to the hunting and killing of clockworkers. When a mysterious young woman named Sofiya Ekk approaches him with a proposition from a powerful employer, he cannot refuse. A man who calls himself Mr. Griffin seeks Thad’s help with mad clockwork scientist Lord Havoc, who has molded a dangerous machine. Mr. Griffin cares little if the evil Lord lives or dies; all he desires is Havoc’s invention.

Upon Thad’s arrival at Havoc’s laboratory, he is met with a chilling discovery. Havoc is not only concealing his precious machine; he has been using a young child by the name of Nikolai for cruel experiments. Locked into a clockwork web of intrigue, Thad must decipher the dangerous truth surrounding Nikolai and the chaos contraption before havoc reigns….

of tears sent me back to those days in the orphanage and turned me into a helpless blob of protoplasm.  It was hell keeping this fact from him.

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