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Monday, June 7, 2010

Author Interview - Gary Petras

Today, I'm interviewing Gary Petras, author of "Thorndancer", an intriguing children's chapter book about a white skunk who longs to know what lies beyond the borders of the field where the skunks live.

Welcome to the Far Edge of Normal, Gary. How can we find you?

A: -- --  you can also find me on the: (Toy Box Books Icon) - and at: -- or just google: books by gary petras. -- I do not have a blog or twitter. Except for the occasional meal order from a local restaurant I find I do not have all that much to say.

How did you come up with the idea for Thorndancer? You mentioned a forest preserve near your house. Please tell us about it.

A:  I walk about ten to twelve miles a day through this huge Forest Preserve/Reservoir near my home in Hellertown,Pa. A great place to walk and dream. Most of my stories somehow find there roots up in these woods. There is a large field up there and when the grass is high and the weeds take hold, the imagination tends to run wild as well, and one can just conjure up all kinds of creatures living in that field and the surrounding woods.  I once thought to myself: If I saw an elephant standing in that field right now, would I believe it was really there? (No, there was no elephant, but that's what being a writer's all about).

Why a white skunk?

A:  When I was first thinking about writing a story about animals, I thought about what would be the least likely of creatures to try to turn into a sympathetic hero: a skunk.Could I really make people like him? Follow his adventures, and most of all, have feelings for a skunk? When I started researching them, I found that what we know about them are mostly 'old wives tales'. Skunks are sweet, friendly, timid creatures. Family oriented. They are losing their habitats, that's why you find them in your towns, searching through the garbage cans for food. But they only 'spray' when they feel threatened.   Why a white skunk? All the ones I see in the woods and town are the black ones with a white stripe--so, I thought, what if there was a white one around. The outcast. The wanderer. The dreamer.

I love the gentle nature of your main character, it's so refreshing that he doesn't fight unless he has to. What inspired you to write him that way?

A: When I did the research about skunks, they seemed to be just shy and timid creatures. I think they would just prefer to stay in the shadows and peek out once and awhile to see what life was all about. But hunger and loss of home has other plans for them. I wanted to try to convey this gentleness of spirit and nature into Thorndancer. He's just a dreamer, really, he wants so much to learn about the world outside...and to find himself. But, of course, the world is not always on friendly terms with the kind and gentle. But he, and we, just have to learn to live within it all. It's not easy...but it's been done.

Your characters are such individuals. How did you come up with the fox and her kits, or the hares, or the duck and the frog?

A: The fox and her kits are actually based on real people. My friend Jan and her three kids: Tom, Josh and Shannon. A great mom and three great kids. Good people. The duck and the frog...up the Reservoir is a huge pond, filled with ducks and frogs.I wanted the first animal that Thorndancer to meet out in the 'real' world to be someone that didn't even believe that skunks were real. And I think the frog is his first 'friend'.

The rabbits, too, are based on real people: Sayer: My brother Mike, Rynwise: my nephew Ryan. Charisma: My nieces Amber and Samantha. The Raccoon, Shadowstar, is my brother Phil ( a collector of Tarzan/Edgar Rice Burroughs memorabilia).  I am not always sure how they feel about me using them as the basis for some of my characters, but I tell them it's their spirits that I try to capture most of all in my writing. I don't know if they always believe me...but I think they like me writing about them.

Are you working on anything new? Do you want to share?

A: I just finished the third book in my other Fantasy Series: Farrow and Blackstorm ( from Trytium Publishing) ,and I am working on the second book to: 'Thorndancer'.I also write songs and screenplays. I am always walking and writing...working on something. A song or a story.  I also have written and created a Graphic novel: The Snowmen.  And some comic books. (All have been published).

What's the best fan mail you've ever received?

A: I kind of like it when people are sort of caught off guard or think they know what the books are about but then they are surprised to find that they're a little be more than what they thought. All my books are a bit, bittersweet, I guess. Characters get hurt, they laugh, they cry, they feel lonely. Sorrow and pain but also joy...main characters even die. But it's all part of life. I tell them, I am trying to connect to you, as the reader, on a level we can both understand and feel something for the characters you're reading about...and hopefully, come to love.

Any fun stories involving signings or author appearances?

A: The comic book cons are the best. When you have someone dressed as Spider-man or The Hulk coming up to your table and asking what the books are about...or for an autograph. I had one young man, dressed as the Joker, have me sign it to: The Joker. It's a bit surreal...but I'm a writer, and a bit surreal myself, I guess.  And the young kids are great. They have a million questions...they want to know all about the book before they ask mom or dad to buy it. And they stare wide-eyed when mom explains that I am the writer of the book and I will sign it for them.

Anything else you'd like to add?

A: I hope everyone that gets the opportunity to read my books have a great time in the worlds and characters I have created. It's one thing to have them all living in your head...but quite another to have others actually bring themselves along for the ride.  I have always figured about writing and life: If you're in it for a minute--you're in it for life.           Read. Wonder. Dream.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Gary. I really enjoyed hearing about your experiences. For those of you with children, my nine-year-old son endorses "Thorndancer" as a "totally great book!"

To buy "Thorndancer": Thorndancer from Toy Box Books or Thorndancer on


  1. My niece would probably love this book ... and her b-day is around the corner. One of my old college buds lives in Hellertown. I've been there.

    Keep writing!

  2. I read it, not expecting to care much for it since it is a kids' book, but I ended up loving it, too. I've read Redwall, very reminiscent of that except not as violent. Thorndancer is a great adventure with gentle heroes. I need to get the review written and posted.

    I'd recommend it for any child ages 7 - 12, and their parents.


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