My guest today is Scott Walters, author of the young adult novel Woman Too Young of Panther Cave, which is set in the Lower Pecos and available at http://www.archaicindians.us. More information for teachers and students is available at his companion website www.archaicindians.net.
Hi Scott. Tell us a little about Woman Too Young of Panther Cave.
I wanted the novel to appeal to both boys and girls. Consequently, the story is told through the eyes of a boy while a girl figures prominently in the decisions he makes. Had he not met her, his life would have been radically different.
The story begins when Lizard Boy, who is tired of being treated like a child, sets out to prove to his father that he is ready to enter manhood. At the same time, Woman Too Young, a girl from a rock shelter believed by Lizard Boy’s people to be an evil place, sets out to save her people from starvation. When their paths collide, Lizard Boy is thrust into a world of chaos and danger. In this world, he must become a man or die.
In my attempt to make the characters relevant to modern readers, I utilized many elements of human emotion and experience. Readers of Woman Too Young of Panther Cave will find adventure, mystery, fear, bravery, humor, uncertainty, folly, the sacred, evil, and, of course, love.
The setting is about 3,500 years ago in the Lower Pecos where three surviving paintings provide key components in the plot.
Who is the intended audience?
My initial audience was the class of fifth graders I was teaching at the time I wrote Woman Too Young of Panther Cave. I wanted to create a compelling story that would engage reluctant readers while including enough depth to challenge the more advanced students. While writing the novel, however, I decided to set my sights a little higher by crafting a story that would appeal to as many age groups as possible. Much to my surprise, I have received more comments and notes of appreciation from adults than students.
Why did you decide to write for this age group?
During a time in my life when I had taught at the university level and was about to wrap up my doctoral studies, I developed a passion for teaching children. Learning to make worthwhile content relevant to young minds turned out to be one of the greatest and most rewarding challenges of my life. I quickly learned that kids responded with great enthusiasm to truly good stories (not the politically correct stuff in basal readers). When lessons were accentuated with stories, comprehension and retention went way up. Over the years, I discovered numerous books that excited kids while teaching them valuable lessons. While I had written for adults all of my publishing career, I discovered that stimulating the minds of children intrigued me more.
The writings of Mark Twain served as a model for me and, in turn, had considerable impact on my writing and teaching. In fact, I used The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to foster a love for reading and to improve comprehension.
What inspired you to write about the people who lived 3,000 to 4,000 years ago in the Lower Pecos?
Thank you for asking, because I love to tell this story. My wife Cassie has been a catalyst for so many of the pivotal points in my life, including this novel. In her fourth grade history classes, she used Texas Studies Weekly to make the subject more interesting to her students. In one of the editions, the Archaic Indians of the Lower Pecos and their paintings were discussed. One of the articles noted that some of their paintings could still be seen at Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site. Cassie knew of my interest in Native American culture and history and suggested that we travel to Comstock to take the tour. Over the years, we had passed by there several times and I never thought of it as anything more than a place to camp in the desert. How wrong I was!
During our tour of the Fate Bell Shelter I was hooked by what I saw and what I heard from Billie Foster, our tour guide. As soon as I returned home, I started writing. In less than a year, the novel had undergone eight rewrites and was completed.
There is a real irony in this story, however. American Legacy Publishing, the company that publishes Texas Studies Weekly, contacted me because of the novel. They wanted to update their curriculum and asked that I write their fourth grade lessons. The publication responsible for introducing Cassie and me to the rock art in the Lower Pecos became my next major writing assignment.
What do you want your readers to learn or feel after reading your book?
Above all, I want them to think that reading my novel was time well spent. I also hope that my book will help the paintings and archeological discoveries in the Lower Pecos come to life for them. I think it is vital to remember that the images and artifacts were created by real people who experienced life in ways very familiar to us.
Personally, I think we miss something when our discussion of an ancient people is purely academic. It’s like reading the label of ingredients on a food product but never bothering to taste it. In short, the Archaic Indians of the Lower Pecos were much more than the sum total of what they left behind. While it is impossible to know any of their individual stories, we can easily imagine what life must have been like in their world. Doing so establishes a commonality that enriches our appreciation for these ancient people and their art.
How did you go about researching your book?
In addition to reading everything about the Lower Pecos I could find, I spent many hours visiting rock shelters and literally walking the land that serves as the setting for the story. One moment of tremendous satisfaction came shortly after the book was published. An archeologist who had worked in the Lower Pecos wrote to tell me that he knew the places I described in many of the scenes and complimented me for my accuracy. I was humbled, though, when he thanked me for writing a book that appealed to one in his profession. For that, I have Mark Twain to thank, because his style of writing often appealed to a wide range of ages.
Tell us a little about the workshops you conduct on indigenous archaic life?
Oddly enough, it has been the science community in education that has shown the most interest in my book. One would naturally expect the social studies teachers to be first in line. I was initially asked by an innovative consultant at a regional service center if I could introduce teachers to the science employed by ancient people in their quest for survival. As I prepared for the workshop, I decided to include a discussion of the science employed by archeologists to learn more about how early people lived. Consequently, my workshops consist of these two approaches.
Since my first workshop nearly a decade ago, I have made presentations at service centers, school districts, and state-wide conventions. In the all-day events, we do a lot of activities that teachers can take back to their classrooms. Some of my workshops include a trip to the Lower Pecos to tour several rock shelters.
What other books have you written? What is your next project?
My first break in publishing came years ago when I was hired as a television and movie critic for a national journal. This, however, is where I must admit to a flaw in writing. When I grew weary of spending hours in movie theaters and on the sofa in front of the television, I began writing novels. When one was finished, I threw it in the closet and started the next one. Once again, Cassie saved me from myself by encouraging me to seek a publisher for Woman Too Young of Panther Cave. To date, it is the only one that has been published. I received an offer to publish Beyond the Shadow, a time travel novel for young adult readers, but the contract was not a good one, so I turned it down. My other novels are about the demise of public education in our country. As for my next project, I am deep into a sequel for Woman Too Young of Panther Cave. I am also on the verge of seeing if I can find a better contract for Beyond the Shadow.
Thanks for being my guest today, Scott. See you in the desert!