Tour Stop: Finding George Washington by Bill Zarchy - Guest Post - Excerpt - Giveaway!

Finding George Washington (A Time Travel Tale)
By: Bill Zarchy
Genre: Sci-Fi / Alternate History / Baseball Saga / Action Thriller
Publisher: ‎Roving Camera Press
Publication Date: ‎November 19, 2020
Language: ‎English 
Print length: 284 pages

On a freezing night in 1778, General George Washington vanishes. Walking away from the Valley Forge encampment, he takes a fall and is knocked unconscious, only to reappear at a dog park on San Francisco Bay—in the summer of 2014.

Washington befriends two Berkeley twenty-somethings who help him cope with the astonishing—and often comical—surprises of the twenty-first century.

Washington’s absence from Valley Forge, however, is not without serious consequences. As the world rapidly devolves around them—and their beloved Giants fight to salvage a disappointing season—George, Tim, and Matt are catapulted on a race across America to find a way to get George back to 1778.

Equal parts time travel tale, thriller, and baseball saga, Finding George Washington is a gripping, humorous, and entertaining look at what happens when past and present collide in the 9th inning, with the bases loaded and no one warming up in the bullpen.

The book will be $0.99.

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Paranoia Chow stopped and glanced at his watch. He looked stricken. “I have to go.” 

“Go? How can you go now? I have a million questions! Where is the time machine? Can I see it?” 

“In time, Tim, I have no doubt that you’ll see it...

“You can’t show it to me now?” 

“I don’t have it with me,” he said, with careful sarcasm. “It’s not something that fits in your pocket.” 

“What’s in the bag? Did you bring a laptop?” 

“Yes, but it’s not for that. There’s something else I was going to show you, but I’ve spent far too much time explaining and not enough time planning. You’d be surprised to learn how little you really need to know.”

“Really? How could I possibly know how little I need to know, when, as it stands, I don’t know a damn thing?”

Chow shrugged. “You speak in riddles, grasshopper. The point is, for today I’ve run out of time.” 

“What do we do with the General? How much danger is he in? And how about the rest of us?” 

I had told Chow about Aunt Rachel’s hit-and-run “accident” and wondered aloud if it had been intended as an attack on George. I was desperate to resolve something, afraid that after this incredible tale Chow would slip away, and I’d never see him again.

 “We still need to figure out what to do, Tim. The consequences of his not returning to Valley Forge are huge, as you can guess. We must get him back there. And soon.” 

“Frankly, Mr. Chow, I fail to see why this is my problem. Why don’t you take him with you now?” 

He smiled. “That does seem like it would be simple, doesn’t it? But there are dark forces at work, and we must sit tight for right now.”

By Bill Zarchy

Hello and happy summer. My name is Emily and thank you for giving me some of your time.
Was writing your first love? 

I served as managing editor of my college daily newspaper at Dartmouth, but then I went to film school at Stanford, where I was seduced by visual media. I went to work as a cinematographer for over 40 years. My work took me around the world several times and to dozens of countries. About 20 years ago, I got back to writing again, cranking out short pieces about my work and travels. Eventually I collected 18 of these into my first book, titled Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil.

Where do you like to write? 

I am fortunate to have a nice, quiet space to work. In college, I could write anywhere, in front of noisy roommates or in an office surrounded by the din of self-important student journalism. Later I wrote much of my first book in front of ballgames on TV, amidst kids and cacophony. But as I’ve gotten older, my attention has become much more fragmented, and once our kids went out on their own, my wife convinced me to take our small rear bedroom as an office. I’ve made it my own, with comfy chair, desk, laptop plus large monitor, bookcases, and a variety of attractive and comforting objects and artworks to stare at during contemplative moments. There is a TV in there, but it’s not a man cave for watching sports and guzzling beer. It’s a workspace, central HQ for my creative pursuits in writing, photography, and storytelling. 

Because my debut novel, Finding George Washington: A Time Travel Tale, was a pandemic publication, all the book launch and author chat events to date have been on Zoom. So my desk also holds a good quality microphone, an upgraded webcam, and a number of lights to illuminate me and my office behind me.

Is writing everything you thought it would be?

My dad was a writer, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect. He wrote and published over 30 books on hobbies, crafts, and the outdoors, while working full time as a teacher in the New York City schools. He did it to supplement his income as a teacher and spent all his extra time working on various books. Every evening, every weekend, every vacation. What a work ethic! So I understood from an early age that, to succeed as a writer, on any level, you had to put in a lot of time — sitting, thinking, typing, erasing, revising, tearing one’s hair, and occasionally starting a sentence, a paragraph, or a chapter over from scratch. This thing won’t write itself, as they say. Often the ideas you’re working on only exist in your head as scraps of notions, unless you write them down and flesh them out. It’s a very solo profession, and not everyone can stand being alone with their thoughts for that long. I got into oral storytelling a few years ago and discovered it’s a lot like writing — you still create and polish fictional or nonfiction stories — but with storytelling, the output is a live performance, with real people, not a Word doc.

Who is/was your favorite character to write about?

My favorite character by far has been George Washington. Not the marble-faced old guy on the dollar bill, but a powerful, vigorous, mid-40s George, as he was during the Revolutionary War. He was an amazing amalgam of intense feeling and stringent self-control; a leader of men, but an uninspiring orator; a rugged outdoorsman who suffered terrible dental pain, a slave owner with at least a dawning awareness that slavery was evil and immoral. I have found him to be a fascinating character, full of surprises and contradictions, from a pre-industrial horse-and-buggy age.

How do you form your story ideas? 

Tough question for me, as Finding George Washington is my first and only work of fiction. I used to think about GW a lot when I was a kid. I liked to wonder how I would explain mid-century technology (cars, cameras, planes, trains) to George, if he were to appear suddenly in front of me. Much later, when I was looking for an idea for a novel, I remembered that old mental game I used to play and decided to see if I could figure out a way to craft a story around it. About that time, our beloved San Francisco Giants had a fantastic season, and I decided to add a baseball theme and metaphor to my story of George’s appearance in California in 2014. Because he comes to the present (time travel!), the book is genre-fied as sci-fi, but it’s also alternate history and an action thriller.

Do you keep notes during the day? (In case something inspires you or, if you had a lively conversation and thought, “Hey that would be great in a book.)

I actually do carry a notebook, but I rarely use it! When I was working and traveling extensively, I usually schlepped a laptop along on the plane. I spent many evenings on the road writing short pieces about my shoots, meals, flights, bus rides, foreign crews, hotel personnel, scientists, doctors, and patients in a variety of cultures. Many of the work stories in my first book, Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil, originated as blog posts from faraway hotels. 

Do you write in one sitting or in bursts? 

I’m most productive, I think, working on my writing in two-to-four-hour bursts, with a pit stop and stretch every 60-90 minutes.

What was the last book you read? Did it live up to your expectations? 

Right now, I’m reading A Promised Land, by Barack Obama. It’s wonderful. Very personal, very behind-the-scenes. He doesn’t dwell on his old speeches or historical events, doesn’t glory in his own glorious prose. Instead, he talks about the motivations, the complications, and the back story behind each event, and then his view of the aftermath, or the effect on his family. Well written and well edited, even if it’s 600 pages just for Volume 1.

What are some of your most difficult parts to write? 

Early in the development of Finding George Washington, I faced some difficult decisions in how I plotted the story. I knew I wanted my characters to take a long trip from California back East, to try to return George to his own time. But I came up against one difficulty right away: George had no picture ID, no passport or driver’s license, so there was no way to get him on a commercial plane flight. And he was carrying his battle sword. I considered having his new friends drive him the whole way and began to write, using that approach. But then I thought of Amtrak. Their security is very light. No luggage x-rays, no metal detectors, no shoe checks. And I couldn’t remember ever being asked for an ID on a train. That still left one problem: though I had ridden Amtrak on short, city-to-city runs, I had never been on an overnight train. I considered taking an overnight train to Oregon from my home near Berkeley, just to get a feel for it. But my wife suggested I ride the train all the way to the East Coast, duplicating the trip taken by George and friends. 

This was a great idea and gave the book a huge boost. First, it gave me tons of visual material to use in my narrative. I shot dozens of videos and hundreds of photos, which I consulted over and over in writing descriptions of the train interior, action scenes, and the lands we passed through. Second, because my sleeper car ticket included all my meals in the dining car, I was always seated with two or three other passengers, to make efficient use of the four-person tables. This made it easy to meet and chat up my fellow travelers. After each meal, I headed back to my compartment and wrote copious notes about the folks I’d just met. Many of them (with altered names and backstories) became characters in my story, some innocent, some villainous. Most of all, taking that trip was a huge commitment to this book project. Once I rode Amtrak, there was no turning back on writing the story. I was all in.

Did this book follow your original plan? Or did it turn into something completely different?

When I started out, I thought of this as a fish-out-of-water story. GW comes to the present, is confounded by flush toilets and horseless carriages. Ha ha. I realized quickly, though, that I needed research. As I learned more about him, I started to appreciate him as a transformative figure. Without General Washington, the success of the Revolution was not at all certain. Then, during the early development of this story, my beloved San Francisco Giants had a memorable season. And I began to wonder if I could write a fish-out-of-water, time-travel, alternate-history novel with a baseball theme and metaphor. And a sense of humor. Here it is.

Did your characters ever stop talking to you at any point in your writing? 

Interesting question, but no, I can’t remember them giving me the silent treatment. When I start a writing session, I usually go back and read aloud the last thing that I wrote. It’s a good kickstart to get my brain re-engaged with my writing, especially if I haven’t been at it for a while. Hearing my words is so important. I always want them to please the ear, to sound conversational, to resemble the way real people would talk. Reading aloud, sometimes repeating over and over, is an essential tool for me at all stages of a writing project.

Was it hard to stay motivated during your writing process? What were some of your go-to strategies to stay on point? 

It wasn’t always easy to stay upbeat about this project. I was a total rookie at fiction and Finding George Washington: A Time Travel Tale was destined to be a long slog. I came up with the basic idea of writing about George coming to the present and started writing chapters in 2013, then took the train trip in the story myself in 2014, the same summer as the Giants’ great season. That’s when I decided to try to combine all those elements (plus humor) into one novel. I wrote several versions over the next few years (the final is version 4.2C) and got extensive feedback from friends and colleagues and family, as well from the writers group I belonged to for years. The group liked my book, but that process — submitting two chapters at a time, every other month — was much too slow for my 80-chapter magnum opus!

I also took my book idea three times to the Mystery Writers Conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA, near my home. Though Finding George isn’t a mystery, it is a thriller and has many similar elements. I was able to talk about my book with a number of writers and agents who appeared at the conference, in both formal consultations and informal chats. Most of them liked my odd and rather unique story idea and encouraged me to keep going. Over the next four years, I submitted query letters to over 130 literary agents. The response: crickets. That’s when I decided to self-publish, and I’m so glad I did. I am very grateful for the support of the folks at the Book Passage Conference and so many others who loved the idea of the book from the beginning. That sustained me during the years of development and discouragement.

Do you have a playlist for this book? Or any song that helped you develop a perticital (particular?) scene? 

Yes, there’s a playlist! Thanks for asking.

Early versions of Finding George Washington contained lyrics to a number of songs the characters are listening to or singing. I eliminated all the song lyrics from the book before publication, in part to avoid having to pay royalties for quoting copyrighted songs. But I can add them to this post, along with some instrumental music references from the book!

Chapter 22 — “The Star Spangled Banner” (sung at the Giants ballpark. George recognizes the tune as identical to a British drinking song)

And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there

Chapter 23 — Frank Sinatra, “Strangers in the Night” (George and Tim’s Aunt Rachel appear on the Kiss Cam at the ballpark. George is mortified)

Strangers in the night exchanging glances

Wondering in the night, what were the chances?

We'd be sharing love before the night was through

Chapter 24 — Tony Bennett, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” (The tune they play when the Giants win, but here, after his Giants lose to the hated Dodgers, Tim hums it to himself for comfort,)

The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly gay

The glory that was Rome is of another day

I've been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan

I'm going home to my city by the Bay

Chapter 30 — Charlie Parker, “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” (Tim is hearing about Einstein and time travel) — cool jazz instrumental

Chapter 30 — Lady Gaga, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (General Washington is missing his wife Martha)

Every time we say goodbye I die a little

Every time we say goodbye I wonder why a little

Why the gods above me who must be in the know

Think so little of me

They allow you to go.

Chapter 31 — Miles Davis, “Bitches Brew” (Tim is stunned by what he’s heard) — discordant jazz instrumental

Chapter 45 — Grateful Dead, “Dark Star” (the name of the sailboat Hank wants to drag uphill to his mountain top home)

Dark star crashes

Pouring its light

Into ashes

Reason tatters

The forces tear loose

From the axis

Chapter 52 — Rolling Stones, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” (remembering the ominous upriver scenes in the movie Apocalypse Now)

I can't get no satisfaction

I can't get no satisfaction

'Cause I try, and I try, and I try, and I try

Chapter 55 — Lord, “Royals” (the Giants are playing the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. Also, George is leading the colonies in a revolt against the British royalty)

And we'll never be royals (Royals)

It don't run in our blood

That kind of luxe just ain't for us

We crave a different kind of buzz

Lastly, what is one key piece of advice you would give to anyone wishing to go down the writing path? 

It’s a lot of work. Writing, rewriting, editing, rewriting, getting feedback, rewriting, editing. If you feel a strong desire to write, by all means do so, but understand going in that it is the most solitary of occupations, not necessarily good for your health, and difficult to make a living. Unless you’re in some amazing, successful writing collaboration, you can expect to spend a lot of time alone, sitting in one place for hours at a time, nothing moving but your fingers … but with all synapses firing! If you’re okay with that and you’re dying to write, work on tamping down your ego, keeping a good attitude, lowering your expectations, and learning how to accept constructive criticism — and go for it! 

Thank you for your time today :) 

Thanks so much for hosting me. This has been a lot of fun!

Bill Zarchy filmed projects on six continents during his 40 years as a cinematographer, captured in his first book, Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil. Now he writes novels, takes photos, and talks of many things.

Bill’s career includes filming three former presidents for the Emmy-winning West Wing Documentary Special, the Grammy-winning Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, feature films Conceiving Ada and Read You Like A Book, PBS science series Closer to Truth, musical performances as diverse as the Grateful Dead, Weird Al Yankovic, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and countless high-end projects for technology and medical companies.

His tales from the road, personal essays, and technical articles have appeared in Travelers’ Tales and Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, the San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers, and American Cinematographer, Emmy, and other trade magazines.

Bill has a BA in Government from Dartmouth and an MA in Film from Stanford. He taught Advanced Cinematography at San Francisco State for twelve years. He is a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area and a graduate of the EPIC Storytelling Program at Stagebridge in Oakland. This is his first novel.

Website  | Blog | Author Page | Facebook | Twitter

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  1. Thanks very much for hosting me today!

  2. Thanks very much for hosting me today!

  3. I like the Q and A--getting to know the author. Thanks!

    1. Thanks. The questions were quite thought provoking. Fun to do this!

  4. Sounds like such a good book.

    1. It's fun to read and a bit educational as well. Lots of research!


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