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An Interview with Author Ken MacLean


Like his protagonist, author Kenneth MacLean served in the U.S. Army in Korea just after World War Two. Previously published as a journalist, poet and critical essayist, The Mind Keepers is his first novel. Retired from University teaching, Dr. MacLean lives in Seattle, with his wife, Verna, also a novelist, near their children and grandchildren.


Q. The topic of your novel is radio-electronic manipulation of the human brain, commonly called “mind control” or MC. What inspired you to write The Mind Keepers?  
A. I have had some mysterious, inexplicable, experiences with a form of electronic harassment that I believe resulted from my close brush with an “intelligence” issue in my early life. That's the basis of my "expert" status—being on the receiving end of a vaguely defined and physical nightmare; but it got me researching and imagining the story of The Mind Keepers. There have been years of research given to the topic of “mind control.” Yet, like hundreds, or even thousands with the same experience, I was originally able only to imagine and to suppose most of the motives and the technical tools behind it.


 Q. Isn’t mind control a myth?


 A. Some have called mind control a popular myth, the "obsession" of "cultists," and while nightmares can become obsessive, this myth can be measured in the growing body of evidence that it is more than midnight hallucination. There are a number of well-known authors who have been writing on the subject for many years, as well as recent ones.


 Q. Who are some of these authors?


 A. Walter Bowart’s “Operation Mind Control,” first issued in 1978 and republished in a researcher’s edition in 1994, is a major source. Dr. Jonathan D. Mareno, a distinguished bio-ethicist and government consultant in his (2006) Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense, calls assertions of government involvement “misguided,” but admits the “irreducible kernel of truth” that relates to such assertions in the rising “interest in understanding and manipulating the brain” by scientists here and elsewhere “who have been supported by the national security establishment.” In sequence with this, the Internet has become the dominant purveyor of opinion and fact, fact usually dependant on only that government information which has been declassified.


 But there are new and able research studies coming out all the time. Thorough and substantially documented, US Electronic Weapons and Human Rights is a new (December, 2006) study not yet reachable on Google. Co-authored by Peter Phillips, Lew Brown and Bridget Thornton, it was conducted under the authority of Sonoma State (California) University and other sponsors. These works are major current sources for detail on what I previously imagined was possible.


 Q. Can you give some examples of what you mean?

A. Yes, take, for example, an electronic flamethrower (my term), which I imagined, circa 2000, being used on my lead character, Michael Neilly [Ch. 20, pp.146-7]. According to a recently declassified comment, this is now termed an "Active Denial System" (ADS), which according to several published accounts, including Moreno’s book, directs a targeted electronic heat beam capable of sending a crowd into panic. If improperly handled, ADS can blind some among such a crowd from a distance of nearly half a mile. Less deadly than a napalm flamethrower? Maybe. I wouldn't count on it.


 Q. Whew, scary stuff. Are there others?


 A. Well, another similar but "foreign" device is attributed to Russian technology. A "bullet" of radio-beam sound from small antenna devices, possibly similar to the satellite TV ones we are familiar with, generates waves of sound that forming in front of a target can kill through the ears. Strobe lights can create similar totally debilitating to lethal effects through the eyes. Moreno says these strobes can be used for crowd control, but also can cause epileptic seizures.  These are the fantasies that are becoming real.


 An Active Denial System of the kind I mentioned before has been deployed in Iraq, according to the Sonoma State report. Called “Project Sheriff,” humvees were fitted out with the devices by Raytheon Corporation. Their specific use is not detailed, but Phillips, Brown and Thornton refer to an Air Force Report that says that people wearing contact lenses and wearing anything metal were more greatly affected. Otherwise the effect was “pain  similar to an intense sunburn.” Oddly enough, uninformed of the specifics, I imagined a medallion burned onto a heart attack victim’s skin in The Mind Keepers, and the U.S. Air Force is referenced as saying that the imprint of a coin was discovered on the skin of one target, and that heart problems can be a result of the weapon.


 Q. Waves of sound, you say? Are there other uses that you tell us about in this regard?


 A. Yes. The even more elusive and ethically dangerous uses of sound “under cover” are the extra-low-frequency possibilities of what we have long heard of as “subliminal suggestion.” In MC research this has recently come to be called "Synthetic Telepathy." In ultimate terms, this means control of the body and mind by inverting the honest aims of familiar and valued self-help and meditation tapes to subliminally affect disruption to body and mind. I use a term here drawn from another Internet source, which seems substantially documented: Richard Allen Miller’s “Synthetic Telepathy and the Early Mind Wars,” (2003).


 These devices of subliminal suggestion, a common term for decades, are not likely to be described in government public service documents, but they have been used. On Manuel Noriega, for example. It wasn't just "Rock Music" that drove him in weeping despair out of his Panama Vatican sanctuary, though it might affect some of us that way. One name I have been given for this device: “Commander Solo.” Jonathan Moreno suggests that targeted sound (“hyper sound”) beamed to a single individual, unheard by anyone near to him, will be common in such places as shopping malls within a few years, carrying startlingly clear personal advertising suggestions. If so, at least this will be open, if offensive to some; I hope many.

 But to answer your first key question another way: equally important, I was driven to write The Mind Keepers in the hope that people would read and think and imagine, as I have done, on the basis of their love of this country and the perception that they might share their thoughts with others…that our country is in serious danger of going off the tracks ethically. Our nation is justly proud of its technological prowess, but as my novel’s introduction says, every good invention of man seems bound to be shadowed by abuse; the more powerful and promising the technical achievement, the greater the potential for corruption by the struggle for power, the motives of greed, the “necessities” of warfare.


 Q. So, you are not an “expert” in such things per se, but based on what you say you have experienced yourself, and your research into such things, you feel you are uniquely qualified to write this fictionalized book?


 A. Yes, as a student of this country through its literature, but also as an ordinary man with an extraordinary message, yet hardly one that hasn't been sent by other writers before. Consider the continuous tension of Technology and what Americans have always conceived of as part of their spiritual cause and being, little as they sometimes honor it: Nature, the process given to us to live in with endurance, dignity and the modicum we can get of Jefferson's third proposal—the legitimate pursuit of happiness.


 As I say elsewhere, Hawthorne based his major tales on such tension. Thoreau thought that the best gift the railway had brought his Walden surroundings was, despite its smoke and noise, a clean pathway through the woods. The 60s and 70s of our recent past century renewed this animosity, but in terms at once more liberating and more troubling: The LSD-hyped bravado and tragedy shadowing the (now renewed) hour of Civil Rights and resistance to government falsehood in conducting war, with violence and assassination. It was the machine of government, its power to dislocate our natural lives that young Americans were struggling to re-define then. And, today, the struggle continues in very different terms: The machinery of our culture is never more ominously present, yet our concern for Nature, now becoming a concern for survival, continues. Perhaps The Mind Keepers, with its puzzled small town citizens fighting something they only partly comprehend, is a qualifier as an American Novel in more than the localized sense of the term.


 Q. Accordingly, there are thousands of people who claim electronic harassment and mind control. Hearing voices can be considered a form of psychosis, can’t it?


 A.  Of course. And in this regard, if what I have suggested is even true in a single instance, suggesting “heard” voices to a person who is unaware of what is happening to him or her and possibly of delicate mental balance, is an instance of the practice of true evil. I have heard such “voices,” as have members of my family. None of us are psychotic. Even knowing what is happening, if the instance of “hearing” is uncertain, as in one member of a family, say, the torture of not knowing the truth of such an instance must be excruciating. In any sense, it’s obvious that if such evil is being done, there should be knowledge (especially psychiatric knowledge) of its sources and serious punishment for the criminal offenders.


 Q. I agree, certainly. That’s a terrible experience even to think about. But I’d like to go back to your novel’s title. It’s interesting—distinctive and different. Was it something that just came to you one day, or does it mean something in particular?


 A. The original working title was "Catch as Catch Can," from no-holds-barred wrestling to suggest the difficulty and possible damage or injury involved in "catching" evil doers. But that didn¹t suggest the more complex possibilities of  "The Mind Keepers" as a title that is purposely ambiguous.
This title suggests both the plotting control group and their victims: In it the controllers are implicitly connected to the common terms for people who govern caged animals, "clean up" public places, bar the entryway to those without status. But it also connects to the plotters¹ resistant targets, targets that "keep" their minds (and those of others) through resistance.
In this way, both characters, protagonist Michael Neilly and his antagonist, Alden Kornwith, are asserting their wills as "Mind Keepers." Neilly and FBI agent Greves spy on Kornwith, just as he spies on them. The fact that Neilly "prevails" in a limited way over Kornwith and the conspiracy makes him what we commonly call the "hero." But, if so, his heroism prevails as an accident of his circumstances, his experience and his ethical perception. Realistically, his ability to influence attitudes, so that his fellow citizens might become resisters against the conspirators¹ government associated criminality, is limited. Still, this limited victory is probably what makes the novel most different from others of its kind.


Q. What is the question at the heart of this book?


 A. Can good men and women, faced with a terrible force of modern technical invention, maintain that which is most necessary to a democracy: trust in the fundamental values that bind them together in mutual welfare? Are there those with the knowledge, the ethical perception and the will to force dangerous secrecy into the open where it can be judged? Doubtless many readers drawn to the topic of The Mind Keepers will quail at the idea of even "renegade" FBI men acting as partisans of open discourse and against the ethical threat that inevitably shadows their function. I can only hope their characterization in the book overcomes this, as I happen to believe, in reality, it can, and does.


 Q. So, does this make The Mind Keepers different from others written about this topic?
A. In this way, yes. The book differs in the topic as it has been so brilliantly handled by others. It is not a dystopia or a fantasy that may in the worst realized nightmare (one thinks here of Rebecca Ore's “Gaia's Toys”) become the ultimate despair realized. It is about resistance to that despair from within the character of human dignity.


 Q. You say your novel is based on research, but how factual is it?


A.  As factual as I could make it under the restricted circumstances of 1995-2000, which are now much better for anyone researching the topic. I tried to be most careful not to sensationalize, but only to draw upon those kinds of incidents that my personal experience and research reading had proven to me were existing or possible. I was complimented by one researcher with the suggestion that I must have had an "inside source." He wanted to know who it was. I might add here that in view of the fact that some of my experienced imaginings (predictions) have turned out to be startlingly accurate, I have considered the possibility of having been aided in my writing by supportive “synthetic telepathy,” myself. If so, it is most heartening (for all of us?), and I am, not forgetting the stated negatives, most grateful for it. But I am entirely without knowledge of any such helpful resource. 


Q. How did you research this book?


A. It was difficult to research when I began in 1995 because authoritative writing about electronic harassment devices and electronic weaponry was hard to find. But Nicola Tesla’s physics are open to anyone willing to read about that remarkable man and his experiments long-distance focused energy. I believe our government, and others, surely the Soviets, began public experimentation in electronic manipulation of human personality well before World War Two, though I have no specific data to support that, other than the general development of Pavlov-based physical behavior theory. Dr. Jose M. Delgado’s experimentation with the manipulation of animal behavior through directed radio and a brain implant were widely discussed and debated in the early 1950s. His work, Physical Control of the Mind, (1969), though it did not specify electronics, treated the promise of a benign, if not utopian result through recognition of the social necessity of planned control. He balanced B. F. Skinner’s psycho-civilized Walden Two against Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate, and George Orwell’s 1984, in his advocacy of psycho-civilized society-to-be, produced through conscious exterior treatment of the human brain from childhood.


I began with ideas like this, available from any good library, my bias and experience being admittedly for Orwell and Condon; against Delgado and anyone who would try to parallel Thoreau’s Walden as a planned society, inviting the tragedy of Hawthorne’s themes that I mentioned in your first question. The chemical mind-control revelations associated with the joint FBI/CIA experimentation of the program coded “MKULTRA” in the 1970s (my hero’s undergraduate years) brought more specific information into the open, much of which can be sampled in books such as those in my novel’s bibliography, especially in the works of Dr. Robert O. Becker whom I quote directly in my novel. The Internet, too, has brought electronic mind control practice to the surface: research in the public files of the U.S. Bureau of Patents can be revealing. Several Internet chat groups and forums on Mind Control subjects are available. Three major ones: The Mind Control Forum, handled by Vicky  Kindhart; Allan Barker's Yahoo Group McActivism, and Cheryl Welsh's Mind Justice.


 Q. What is the most important message in your book? Or, what is it that you want readers to take away with them after reading The Mind Keepers? Or, what should readers be thinking about asking themselves after reading…


A. In troubled times (almost always) freedom is hard to defend, easily lost. Be alert to what is going on around you. Read a sound newspaper every day from cover to cover. That way it takes time and attention. Pay special attention to stories concerning science and technology. But for those who specifically understand the experience of the novel, understand, too, that you are not alone, nor are you helpless.


 Q. Recently, “Mind Games,” a story by Sharon Weinberger, appeared in The Washington Post. It’s posted on your publisher’s Web site. Care to comment on the story?


 A. The interesting thing for me was some participants’ fanatical responses in that publication’s subsequent online discussion. They hated the idea that such a thing as Mind Control should even be discussed in public. Those who accepted or said they had experienced mind control seemed far more confident and calm in their assertions, on the whole. We simply don't want to believe that we cannot be entirely secure in our own most private selves, our thinking. Secrecy is the key. What is open becomes controllable.

Fiction Writers May Be Interested...

 Interviewer: Good books stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. Great ones inspire you to change the way you look at the world or yourself. What are some of the stories that have altered your views or changed your life?

Kenneth MacLean: Good reading does change lives. Imagination is the vital soul of intelligence. Some of my childhood reading and much of my teaching has been related to the New England writers of the early American 19th century: Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, Emerson. In relation to The Mind Keepers, it is not difficult to see the novel sharing the background myth of a tale such as “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” the creation and destruction of beauty in and by a poisoned environment. It is the classic (and American) conflict of soul and science, heart and mind, motive and means, peaceful existence and violent change. It is still very much with us. It is the myth supporting Hawthorne’s brilliant story and part of my background for a story that frames frighteningly real experience.

Interviewer: How long have you been writing?

Kenneth MacLean: I would like to say since I was in my late teens, but that would be both true and in a sense somewhat dishonest. The question seems to suggest writing of the kind involved here, the kind that takes years and concentrated effort. I published poetry and fiction in my undergraduate university magazine; I became a professional newspaperman for several years after graduation; I wrote advertising copy to help pay the freight in graduate school. I wrote literary criticism during my several decades of teaching, much of it published, and along the way I published two small books of poetry. But I was mostly a teacher (and a father of five), not a professional writer. Real concentration did not come until I retired. Then I had both the motive and the time. The Mind Keepers is the product.

Interviewer: What is your writing process like?

Kenneth MacLean: I assume it is like the process of most imaginative writers. I could answer in two seemingly opposed words. First, the process is, for me, rapt. The pure invention process of story telling has to be one of the most exclusive states of self-consciousness known to humanity. It is more conscious and controllable than a dream, though it is dream-like, the world outside the story telling self almost completely obliterated. Secondly, it is often passionately hectic: Damn the contorted sentences you’ve spent hours teaching the young to avoid--full speed ahead! The most difficult task of an author is self-editing. He (or she) must often face the task of what to retain and what to cut from a first, second, or third draft. It is crucial and it needs the scalpel (or the ax) in the writer’s hand before it meets any editor. Through its several drafts, The Mind Keepers was cut by nearly two hundred typed pages.

Interviewer: How long did it take you to write The Mind Keepers ?

Kenneth MacLean: About four and a half years, from August of 1995 until the winter of 2000.

Interviewer: Do the themes come before the characters for you?

Kenneth MacLean: Both are important. I wanted The Mind Keepers to be framed by a readable, believable story. Terrible as some of its described experience may be, it is not a dystopia. It is an attempt in part to give persons who have suffered from electronic harassment the sense of a normal context, a rationale for the “craziness” (sometimes literal) imposed on them; a way of seeing how good men might (can) come together to understand and deal with such instances of terrorism among us.

Interviewer: What methods do you use to keep the critic in your head quiet when writing?

Kenneth MacLean: The critic in my head “comes to” after I’ve written, not during writing. I spend much of the ‘down’ time going over what I’ve done in my head, struggling with narration and plot problems, etc. After years of teaching the best fiction, the critic of my own writing has gotten pretty good, I think.

Interviewer: Have you ever suffered through writer’s block and, if so, did it surprise you?

Kenneth MacLean: Writer’s block for me is not having anything to say combined with not wanting to say it. It happens. I’m too far down the road to worry much about the future. If I don’t want to write on a given day, I let it go until that secret, silent writer inside has stored up enough to force the issue. Once I’m on the page it goes until I feel the well is dry and I have to let it fill again; until I’m not having fun, feeling pleased with what I’m saying. Then it’s time to stop. Am I surprised by not wanting to work on a given day?-never, but there comes a day when I must.

Interviewer: Do you have any advice for writers?

Kenneth MacLean: Read! Read, read, read! Write! Write, write, write! If you have to get up before dawn to do it--that’s a good time. I wish I had always followed this advice.

Interviewer: You write about “mind control.” How is this subject timely in the light of today’s world events?

Kenneth MacLean: That seems obvious. There are many forms of healing and many forms of human abuse potential in the torrentially swift technological advancement we are undergoing. Be aware that nothing subject to power is ever an unmixed blessing.

Interviewer: What are you working on now?

Kenneth MacLean: Depending on how the book is received, I could write a sequel to The Mind Keepers. I have a working title: “The Work of Ravens.” That suggests the ambiguous good/evil character of a figure of Native American myth. But I am not set on that. By my own lights, I would like to write a “serious” children’s book sometime, one on the order of Grahame’s work. With five children, I have had some audience background. I do have one short (22 page) work in this field nearing final draft. I have a third poetry manuscript that I would like to see in print, and the first elements of a fictionalized autobiography, Seattle Snow, begun, and set aside, awaiting that inner author’s plan, if there is one. It is difficult to keep the personal experience engaged in The Mind Keepers from gaining dominance over what otherwise might have been a fine comedy in the autobiography.

Interviewer: What writer, living or dead, would you most like to have a conversation with?

Kenneth MacLean: If I had to limit all the tremendous possibilities down to one, it would be the writer who named himself Mark Twain. I suspect that would not be an infrequent response among Americans who try to re-create on paper some true version of their national identity.

An Interview with Author Verna MacLean


FAREWELL RHILOCHAN:  A Metaphor for Human Life Faced With Disaster?


Q. What inspired you to write Farewell Rhilochan?

A. I had always wanted to see Scotland. When I married into a family that was of Scottish descent, I was determined to see the country and meet my husband’s cousins. I knew I had to write the family history for our children, and began to do so when we returned home, but was unable to get very far because there seemed to be no trace of one set of great grandparents. I began imagining where they might have come from (Sutherland rather than the Hebrides where the family lived), and suddenly I was writing a novel that had nothing to do with the family. At the same time, I had learned about the Highland Clearances, that sad chapter in Scottish history, and, almost without thinking, began incorporating that into the story.

Q. Do you see yourself as uniquely qualified to write this book?

A. Yes. I love Scotland, I love writing, and when I learned about the Clearances, I wanted to tell the story of what happened to so many of those who came before us. The reality of the crofter’s lives is not always pictured correctly. Too many of us see them as happy Highland folk living in picturesque cottages among the fields, spinning wool and tending their herds, while waiting for night to come so they can enjoy a ceilidh at a neighbor’s cottage.

 Q. What is a ceilidh?

 A. It's a gathering for music, story telling and celebration.

 But while the ceilidhs were enjoyable with their story telling and dancing, they didn’t take away the reality of the famines that sometimes occurred after a bad winter, or the dropping prices for wool, or too many children and not enough land to go around. And sometimes the lairds weren’t as kind as they were portrayed. Living conditions could be primitive. There were no toilets or sewers. Fresh food wasn’t available in the winter and electricity was unknown. After hearing too many times about happy Highlanders dancing a reel, or picnicking beside a rushing waterfall, I wanted to more accurately portray life as it was lived. I did not want to write a bodice ripper! As I already mentioned, I spent many hours in the library of the University of Washington reading old books on Highland life that hadn’t been looked at in years.

 Q. The cover of Farewell Rhilochan is quite interesting and one assumes it is symbolic. Can you explain it?

 A. Fiction editor Lesley Kellas Payne wrote about the symbolism: So that the bigger, more wool-productive “big sheep” of the commercial empire and the castle can graze where the Highlanders live, the crofter’s world is turned upside down when they are driven from their ancestral village homes. Like the “small sheep” they had grazed, these simple, honest people are abandoned and scattered.

 I asked myself, what happens to people caught in a disaster, natural or otherwise, when they are forced into unfamiliar territory, with homes gone and families forced apart? What happens to the children? Farewell Rhilochan is about such a severed connection.

 Q. So, it’s about losing connections to a known world and loss of identity?

 A. Exactly. It is a study of the early 19th century Highland Clearances when wealthy landowners drove their longtime tenants off ancestral lands to make room for moneymaking sheep.  It wasn’t until I had completed the writing of the book and was reading more and more about global warming and other disasters, natural or manmade, that I realized the book could be read as a metaphor for human life faced with disaster.

 Emotions numbed, people are forced into an unfamiliar life without any idea of who they may come to be. The “heroine” of Farewell Rhilochan, is Catherine MacFarlane whose family endured cruelty and several deaths in their enforced journey from their ancestral village to an unfamiliar land at the sea’s edge. She and her lover, Euan, are strong enough to survive and be absorbed into the community of strangers in the small Lowland city of Wick, their Gaelic tongue lost among English speakers. Most of their friends are scattered to unknown lives in faraway places, unwilling to learn to live among a people long considered hostile. Even now, two centuries later, the Highlands remain largely unpopulated.

 Q. What is the theme running through the book?

 A. I would say it is one common to all mankind, since humans first began recording their history.  In this case, I mean mass relocation and the effect it has on the victims.  For Catherine, her tragedy forces her to grow, to mature, to grasp what she desires most: to learn to read. Maggie isn’t as strong and her children and husband become burdened with a demented wife and mother.

 When the villagers of Rhilochan are forced to leave their village and move to an alien world, they face an environment almost totally unknown to this able, intelligent and Gaelic-literate (but barely English-literate) community. They followed an ages old experience forced upon millions of people due to wars, natural disasters, or, as in Catherine MacFarlane’s village, human greed.

 Q. Can you think of other examples of mass relocation?

 A. In the United States and in nearly the same decade, the Cherokee Trail of Tears displaced the Cherokees from their ancestral homelands in North Carolina and Georgia, to what is now Oklahoma, a thousand miles away, a journey accomplished almost entirely on foot.

 Q. Is there an upside to this? 

 A. Consider Canada from the European, not the “First Nation” (North American Native) point of view. It is an industrialized nation that rose from the thick forests along the eastern coast of North America, peopled in large part by refugees from wars and privation. Like Catherine’s people, they were a multitude of Scots and Irish folk fleeing nearly impossible lives in their homelands. For them, freedom was hard won and it was on their hard labor that Canada (and other “new” countries) became strong and industrialized.

 Q. How did you research the book?

A. I spent many hours in the library of the University of Washington reading old books on Highland life that hadn’t been looked at in years. During one delightful session, I came across a book that even mentioned my husband’s late grandfather, the Rev. Roderick MacLean of Canada’s Prince Edward Island, but a Presbyterian minister in the Hebrides when the book was written. Not all of my research was done among dusty books, however. I have much appreciated the works of Professor Eric Richards of Australia’s Flinders University, and also James Hunter’s books on the Highland Clearances. I also spent time in Scotland traveling along the highway that leads from Golspie to Wick, walking through Wick, looking at old maps and then trying to imagine how it must have been in 1807.

 Q. Did you uncover anything that stands out in your mind?

 A. Many tourists visit Scotland’s northeast coast and tour Dunrobin Castle and its grounds. But most never see the statue of the First Duke of Sutherland, erected on top of a high hill outside of Golspie (about a mile from Dunrobin). At the base of the immense statue, engraved words tell visitors that it has been paid for by the grateful tenants of the Duke’s estate in recognition of his generosity toward his people. This is interesting because it was the Duke’s factor who was largely responsible for seeing that the longtime tenants were evicted from the ancestral lands to make way for grazing of money making sheep. 

 Several old stories accuse the son of the First Duke of demanding money to pay for the statue from the very people he evicted. According to books written some years after the clearances, carrying out the evictions was not done gently. The characters in Farewell Rhilochan and their stories are based on these accounts of cruelty suffered by the people, though there are revisionist theories about the Sutherland policies arguing that the ideas of the Duke and his factor were not meant to be cruel, but were meant to improve the lives of the evicted Highlanders. The fact of recent Crown payments to descendents argues support for wrong doing during the Clearances.

 Q. So what is the one most important message in your book?

A. When the desire for power and more and more material things becomes more important than our regard for humanity, the downfall of a community or a nation is just steps away.

Q. How is the dispossession of the Highland Gaels during the early years of the industrial revolution timely in light of today’s world events?

A. Think back ten years or so to Kosovo, or, to the many dispossessed people in some of the African countries today. The people in Darfur are not so far removed, except by time, from those in Rhilochan. The village women who were so badly beaten are no different than the women of today who are suffering in Darfur.

Q. As human history continues, it changes, correct? 

A. Yes, and as changes occur, mankind will hopefully continue. What will happen in the future when global warming forces the seas to rise three to six feet? What will happen to people living along the coasts of the world’s countries? Where will they go? Will the demands of those who flee the rising waters make war with those living farther inland who to not intend to give up what they own and have worked so hard for. The Jews and Palestinians have been fighting this battle for decades.

In the book, the people of the village of Arduie, the first Lowlanders to be met by the straggling wanderers from Rhilochan, not able to understand the ways of the Highlanders, were wary of the strangers and offered no help or hospitality. The two groups were small and managed to avoid a fight, but both were victims of human power beyond their control. With millions fleeing global warming, a disaster in the making almost unrecognizable in previous existence, mankind may be facing a problem for which human history has no answer.

Q. Whew! You just gave me goosebumps. What is the one most compelling reason for people to read Farewell Rhilochan and what do you want readers to take away with them after reading it?

A. First, I would like people to enjoy it as “a good read,” but beyond that, I hope readers will look at the terrible problems that happen when the desire for power and money trumps concern for humanity. I seriously hope they take away a sense of some of the history of Scotland. For many readers in the U.S., Canada and other English speaking countries, perhaps they will make a discovery of their Scottish roots, why their great-great-great grandparents emigrated, and what it has meant for their new countries.


Fiction Writers May Be Interested...

Interviewer: How long have you been writing?

Verna MacLean: I have been writing since I was eight or nine years old.

Interviewer: What got you started?

Verna MacLean: World War 2 had begun and one of my uncles in the Naval Reserve was transferred from the west coast to Ohio. I created a family oriented “newspaper” that I sent to my cousins every few weeks so they could keep up with what was happening to family members back home. The “newspaper” was a rather pathetic creation, but that effort was the beginning.

Interviewer: What’s your writing process like?

Verna MacLean: I’ve never thought of my writing as a process, although I suppose it is. I simply feel the need to put down on paper some vague ideas that have been kicking around in my head. As I write, the story becomes clear and I go from there.

Interviewer: How long did it take you to write Farewell Rhilochan?

Verna MacLean: I’m not sure! I remember writing to Prof. Richards sometime in the mid-1980s, but I’m not sure if I was actually writing at that time. My memory is somewhat clouded by the fact that I was working full time at the U.W., raising a houseful of children and helping my busy husband. I do know that I finally finished the book around 2003

Interviewer: Do the themes come before the character for you?

Verna MacLean: Yes. I think the themes do come before the characters, but somewhere in the back of my mind the characters begin to form themselves without my having to consciously imagine them. I don’t remember thinking about Catherine before I began to write. She was simply there.

Interviewer: What methods to you use to keep the critic in your head quiet when writing?

Verna MacLean: I am not conscious of having any method. I write a page, or a couple of paragraphs, and when I am done I put them away for several hours or overnight. When I pick them up again I am often aware of changes that need to be made. Sometimes I put things aside for a week or more and I can see the changes that need to be made even more clearly.

Interviewer: Have you ever suffered through writer’s block and, if so, did it surprise you?

Verna MacLean: I never suffered through writer’s block when writing Farewell Rhilochan. The entire story seemed to flow naturally. I am now working on something else and I have had writer’s block several times. It is as if the characters aren’t at all interested in appearing.

Interviewer: Do you have any advice for other writers?

Verna MacLean: If what you are writing doesn’t seem to be working, look at your material from another angle and try again. Writing is a process of writing and then rewriting and then rewriting again. And don’t neglect to read constantly.

Interviewer: You write about the dispossession of the Highland Gaels during the early years of the industrial revolution. How is this timely in light of today’s world events?

Verna MacLean: Think back ten years or so to Kosovo, or, to the many dispossessed people in some of the African countries today. The people in Darfur are not so far removed, except by time, from those in Rhilochan. The village women who were so badly beaten are no different than the women of today who are suffering in Darfur.

Interviewer: What is the one most compelling reason for people to read your book?

Verna MacLean: I would like people to enjoy it as “a good read,” but beyond that, I would hope readers would look at the terrible problems that happen when the desire for power and money trumps concern for humanity.

Interviewer: What do you want readers to take away with them after reading Farewell Rhilochan?

Verna MacLean: A sense of some of the history of Scotland, and for many readers in the U.S., Canada and other English speaking countries, a discovery of their Scottish roots, why their great-great-great grandparents emigrated, and what it has meant for their new countries.

Interviewer: What are you working on now?

Verna MacLean: Did I mention writer’s block? I’m trying to work on true stories of some of the pioneers of my home town in western Washington. The stories begin in the 1880s and continue to about 1915. It is the hardest thing I have ever worked on.


An Interview with Author Hal Schweig


Good books stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. Great ones inspire you to change the way you look at the world or yourself.


Interviewer: What got you started in writing? (What made you decide to become a writer?)

Schweig: From the time when I was a child, I liked making up stories, and finally, I started writing then down. I found I got great pleasure out of doing this. I also found that I had a natural affinity for writing, both fiction and all kinds of prose.

Interviewer: Who or what has had a major influence in your writing life?

Schweig: Many of the modern writers, although I can’t point to any one in particular.

Interviewer: What are some of the stories that have altered your views or changed your life?

Schweig: I can’t think of any stories that have literally changed my life, and everything I read, fiction and non fiction, goes into the mix. I guess, that makes up my views.

Interviewer: What do you think sets you apart from other writers?

Schweig: I don’t know if anything sets me apart, except my writing is clear and easy to read, for the most part, at least my commercial fiction, which has been my conscious intent, so that the reader has an easy time of it.

Interviewer: What has had a major impact or influence in helping you create your own style? Who has most influenced your writing style?


Schweig: I did a stint as a news writer for a wire service and, at times I had to write the stories as fast as I could type, no time for embellishments. That was a big influence in developing my style.

Interviewer: How long have you been writing and do you write every day?

Schweig: As I said, I started writing in childhood, but no, I don’t write every day, unless I’m working on a particular story or novel at the time. However, I think it’s a good idea for a writer to write something every day.

nterviewer: What is the “ultimate” book on your current reading list and why?

Schweig: At the moment I’m reading a suspense/mystery titled, The Chemistry of Death, by Simon Beckett, which is far more than its genre would suggest. A very well written book.

Interviewer: What book has given you the most pleasure in the past year?

Schweig: A two-volume biography of Elvis Presley. I’m not a fan of rock and roll, but this is a truly fascinating human-interest story. He led one of the most unusual lives of the 20th Century.

nterviewer: What inspired you to write The Strange Odyssey of Peter Sampson?

Schweig: I had a very powerful dream, which I mention in a kind of preface to the book. This provided me with the answer I’d long sought about why, if there is a loving God, there is so much misery and cruelty in the world. A day or so after this dream, I began to feel I had a mission to write this book and, in a weird way, the writing just seemed to flow, as if – not to make it sound corny – it was being dictated by another source.

Interviewer: Do the themes come before the characters for you, and how did you bring the characters to life?

Schweig: In this case, the theme came first. But sometimes there isn’t a theme at all. In fact, a short story of mine published in a literary quarterly, which subsequently won an award from the quarterly as the best prose they published that year, actually began with a flash image in my mind, and I just started writing, having no idea where it was going.

Interviewer: Are your characters based on real people as told within a narrative structure?

Schweig: No, not in this book at least. But no one can live a number of years without picking up a zillion characteristics about a large variety of people, which, in my case, get blended into one character or another.

Interviewer: What is your writing process like?

Schweig: Initially, I write with a pen on yellow lined pads and then transcribe that into the computer. But after that it takes a lot of rewriting. I try not to polish anything in the beginning, knowing I might not even keep those pages in the final text. So I write without worrying about spelling or anything else. All the good technique is saved for the rewriting. Also, I’ve found, if I worry too much about the little things while I’m writing the first draft, it will inhibit the flow of the writing. As a famous writer once said, “You have to write something before you can write something good.” So I don’t worry if the initial draft is “good” or not. That’s for the rewriting and I mean as many drafts as It takes.

Interviewer: What, if any, research did you do to write this book and why?

Schweig: I did a great deal of research. A large segment of the book takes place in Greece, so my wife and I went to Greece. There I took pictures, wrote diagrams, took notes, etc. Every place in the book, not only in Greece, but all the locations where major scenes take place, I was there. I don’t know how else to make a location credible, unless your location is a fictional town you’ve invented. Besides this kind of research, I spent time with a pediatric oncologist, because one of the characters is stricken with leukemia. And I talked to other people, read books, etc.

Interviewer: How long did it take you to write The Strange Odyssey of Peter Sampson?

Schweig: Ten years. I won’t say I worked like a dog every day of those 10 years, but most of the time. At the time, I had two kids at home, a wife, a dog, a house and a full-time job, so I had to squeeze the writing into the cracks and crevices of a daily life.

Interviewer: What methods do you use to keep the critic in your head quiet when writing?

Schweig: As I’ve already mentioned, I don’t worry about it while in the early stages of the writing. After the first draft of this book, I was depressed, because it just didn’t move me.  So I had to find a way to make it better, which, over time, I did. It’s a wonderful feeling to transform something that is dead on the page into something that really is alive. In a few scenes in this book, tears will come to the readers’ eyes.

Interviewer: Have you ever suffered through writer’s block and, if so, how did you handle it?

Schweig: The way to handle it is to just write something, even if it’s absolutely no good, or even meaningless; just put words on paper. After something appears on the page, no matter how bad, you can start to fiddle with it, and, usually, lo and behold, something is coming to life. If it doesn’t, then its best to go onto to something else.

Interviewer: What do you most want to say to other first time authors/novelists?

Schweig: This is probably cliché, but I’d say keep at it, as long as it is more or less fulfilling. I’d also say don’t take rejections from editors too seriously, if you believe in what you have written. That doesn’t mean editors are always wrong. But enough bestsellers have been rejected by many publishers, including the Harry Potter series of books, The Godfather, and on and on, to make it clear that publishers don’t always know what they are doing. It is just so subjective. Of course, you can’t just keep sending out the one work over and over. Keep writing other works, if you can.
Interviewer: You write about the continuation of life after death and how people should not fear the afterlife. How is this timely in light of today’s world events?

Schweig: Its been timely, in my opinion, since the dawn of the human race. But in past centuries, religion held a greater power over people and there was less questioning of religious beliefs. Today there is more doubt.

Interviewer: Your position about immortality is provocative to say the least and is certain to stir up controversy, just as Dan Brown’s book, The Da Vinci Code, did. Are you prepared for this and how will you respond to detractors?

Schweig: I’ll have to see when they start detracting. All I can say, however, is this is what I believe. No one can really say for sure what happens after death. What I believe, and what I state in the book, is the idea that God has nothing to do with what happens here on earth, but grants immortality to everyone. This at least makes more sense to me than the idea that a loving God could wreck all of the terrible tragedies on us that we see happening every day.  

Interviewer: What is the one most important message in your book?

Schweig:  Live life the way you want to, without worrying about rewards or punishments in the afterlife. That, of course, is not a license to live immorally.

Interviewer: What is the one most compelling reason for people to read your book?

Schweig:  It has larger-than-life characters, whom I believe will appeal to readers, and a unique story that is far from predictable, but continues to surprise.  

Interviewer: What do you want readers to take away with them after reading The Strange Odyssey of Peter Sampson?

Schweig: I hope it makes readers think about these things; I hope it gives them a new point of reference on these age-old questions.

Interviewer: What writer, living or dead, would you most like to have a conversation with and why?

Schweig: Abraham Lincoln. One of the most fascinating characters in human history.

Interviewer: What do you believe in most?

Schweig: Don’t accept anything hook, line and sinker. Keep an open mind, keep being skeptical, keep thinking for yourself, and take with a grain of salt anything the authorities tell you, whether it is your doctor, lawyer, merchant chief, or your president.

Interviewer: How would you best like to be remembered?

Schweig: As a writer who entertained people and made them think, as well.

Interviewer: What do you do for relaxation?

Schweig: Read, read, read.

Interviewer: What writing project are you working on now?

Schweig: Some short stories.