Discovering a great book is a beautiful thing. But finding really good books takes some work. If you read the reviews on BN.com, you will see that I’m not the only one crazy about the book “Champion”. If we want to turn kids on to reading, then we need to make good literature available to them. Sometimes we don’t know what our kids like. Younger children may simply enjoy the “lap time”. Kids love spending one on one time with parents. I can read a crummy book to my kids and they would still call it a good time. That is more about them wanting to spend time with me. Our time together is the payoff, not the book.
I lucked out in finding Miles Cobbett’s work. I can give you a guarantee on “Champion”. I know it is great because it passes my “this is awesome” test. That test measures books, movies, music, and other creative products. The challenge is this: would I listen, read, or view this if I were home alone? If the answer is yes, then the work is special. Consider Pixar or Warner Bros. cartoons, Charlotte’s Web, the music of Dan Zanes, etc. Plenty of adults would read, view, and listen to those even without the children. That puts the work into a different league. The great ones work on multiple levels.
I can’t say that this is kid literature just as I can’t say that Harry Potter is for kids only. Cobbett’s intent was to “hook kids, especially reluctant readers, into reading more.” My intent is to tell you about a great book that you and your children will really get into. I was lucky enough to get an interview with Miles Cobbett, so let’s get to it.
DrMarty: You mention that you were inspired by ideas taken from David Mamet’s book True and False. Can you say more about that?
Cobbett.: If you read Mamet’s great book I believe you will notice how he freely offers many suggestions for Actors. I simply replaced the word “Actor” and inserted the word “Writer” and then followed many of his recommendations.
DrMarty: You do a great job of “completing the picture”. You are able to go from the inner world of Roman to the setting. For example, p. 14 you have a vivid description of the walk on the shore of the Salton Sea. That was very real. Can you talk about that a bit? It was almost as if you were describing a photograph.
Cobbett.: I try to use the tools of my trade to the best of my ability. My tools consist of simply the 26 letters of the alphabet, a pen and paper. I use them to “Draw” for the reader a picture of what I see and remember in my mind, much I suppose like the French Impressionist painters did to “Paint” pictures for viewers of the settings the painters saw and remembered.
DrMarty: How conscious are you of using technique? For example, Roman’s throbbing injured hand. Every boxer has physical pain. It comes with the job. It also serves as a metaphor for the pain and obstacles we have to overcome to accomplish hard things and the price we pay. Was that conscious?
Cobbett.: My system or technique for writing is that once I have the idea for my main character, especially their name -and can see them clearly in my mind- I simply trot along behind them and see everything in my mind’s-eye as I take note of each of the people/characters they would meet, and describe the events that happen to them. I suppose that for me writing is much like showing others a movie that has played my mind.
As to your question of metaphors, and to my being conscious of them, is anyone conscious when they get immersed in watching a movie? Or are movie watcher’s conscious of anything else when they are so “into the journey of the characters and the story” that they forget where they are and what they are doing?
DrMarty: You use fiction to deliver real information. There are a lot of facts, such as historical facts and facts about the geography in the book.
Cobbett.: I have my memory as my main tool for drawing information from. When you get right down to it, that’s all an author has. and without a memory they are in-effect mentally bankrupt as an author.
DrMarty: I like that you take on the issue of loss and grieving losses. Roman feels the pain of loss, but uses it to make meaning and find purpose.
Cobbett.: Thank you.
DrMarty: Writing dialog is hard for new writers. The dialog in Champion flows like real conversation.
Cobbett: I heard the comedian Steve Martin say something to the effect that, he has been practicing on a banjo for nearly 40 years and how anyone who practices something for a long, long time can expect to get better at it.
I turned 56 this year, but I declared to myself at age 23, that I was a writer. When I was 26 or so, I met a very well-read 68 year-old man (he had just retired from his service of 23 years in the merchant marines), in Biloxi Mississippi who read some of my work, and then said to me that, ‘no writer of any merit had any juice to share til they turned 50.’ He suggested that I keep honing my skills as a writer, and work at what ever I could find employment at, and to release my stuff after I turned 50.
Perhaps the ease you find at reading the dialog in Champion comes from years of practicing my craft, and the real-life experiences of working in all kinds of trades.
DrMarty: When Serby and Roman are hill climbing, Serby says, “I’ve always thought going downhill was tougher than going up.” That line stuck with me. The story uses metaphor the mountain as people and the mountain as trials. I get the idea that you have spent some time outdoors.
Cobbett.: Growing-up I was outdoors all the time. My family and I lived in Southern California and so every weekend we were either at the beach, desert or up in the mountains. After my father died when I was a freshman in college, I dropped out of school and traveled across the country looking for ways to earn money. In 1980 I was working and living in Hawaii, I got the chance to talk to a couple of tourists from Alaska, who told me about how Alaska offered young people lots of work opportunities… I made the journey to Alaska in 1982 in search of character and story ideas, and to find enough work to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly while I honed my craft as a writer.
DrMarty: You really get into the psychology behind the behavior of the characters. You tell us how the characters think in order to accomplish something. We often think of fiction as simply entertainment. Can you say something about that?
I believe that when a reader reads a work of fiction -particularly one that really grabs them- the experience of reading it, and of taking that magical journey, becomes a part of them, and changes them forever. My background happens to include a couple of college degrees in psychology and sociology. As a middle and elementary school teacher I used every tool I had to “sell” the students on the idea that reading, writing, and math were good for them. As an author I use everything I can to help the readers of my stories take a fun and magical life-changing journey as well.
DrMarty: The fight scenes were very realistic. I think people are used to the “Rocky” fight scenes, which are impossible. Are you a fight fan? Did you study a lot of film while you were writing?
Cobbett: I was born in Pomona Ca and grew-up in Azusa and Redlands. I am related to a professional boxing trainer, and my older brothers and I grew up watching all the big fights and sometime even participating in a few fights of our own. As far as studying film, I don’t remember watching any films of fights “while” I was writing Champion, but I still remember watching every world championship fight as a kid growing up, as well as the championship fights I have watched as an adult.
DrMarty: I’ll be honest with you. I couldn’t put the book down. How do we promote good literature for young people?
Cobbett: Happy to hear that you couldn’t put the book down. I hear similar responses from every reader who gets a chance to read the book Champion…
To promote good literature maybe the challenge is that we just need to get good literature into the hands of our young people.
DrMarty: I do a lot of reading on the Internet. I notice that I just feel different when I read on-line. For one thing, it isn’t as much work. Also, reading literature is a deep, almost contemplative state of mind. Can you say something about that?
Cobbett: I agree with you about reading on the Internet is not quite the same. Since E-book viewers can change the font size— it changes the appearance of each and every page, and rearranges what the last word is on every page.
I have resisted any attempts to E-publish Champion
mainly due to the fact that as the author of a physical book, I was in-charge of, and responsible for, what every page would look like. I was the one to choose each and every last word to leave the reader hanging-on, so to speak, as they hurriedly turned the page to see, “what would happen next?”
DrMarty: Finally, I have to ask this. Was the broken hand inspired by the Arturro Gatti v. Micky Ward fight, where Gatti overcame a broken hand to win the fight? Everybody respected Gatti after that fight. I think that represented something that people really identified with.
Cobbett: Darn, sorry to say the Gatti-Ward fight is one that I somehow missed watching, or hearing, or even reading about. Now, had you had asked me if Roman’s injured hand was inspired partly by an injured hand on the old man in Ernest Hemingway’s book, Old Man and the Sea, I would have answered you differently.
You can purchase copies of Champion by Miles Cobbett at www.BN.com
. Moms Inspire Learning is my most trusted site for book reviews: http://www.momsinspirelearning.com/ Dawn Morris, M.A. puts a lot of thought and a lot of heart into reading and reviewing great literature for children. What if we promoted great books with the same enthusiasm and effort that toys, junk food, and Justin Beiber are promoted? What if?