Author Chat with Norman Westhoff (Stone Fever)!
Today we're excited to chat with Norman Westhoff, author of
Read on for more about Norman Westhoff and his book!
Meet Norman Westoff!
I'm a retired occupational medicine physician. The Erebus Tales series - Stone Fever https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2..., The Color of Greed https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3..., and Gifts of a Dark God (in press) - are my first published fiction, and sprang from a lifetime of travel and immersion in many different cultures. I've traveled to six continents, and lived in Germany and Spain for a year. I earned a Public Health degree, and used it to help improve medical care in Dmitrov, Russia. I play concertina and accordion at traditional music sessions. I've climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and trekked to Everest base camp and the Camino de Santiago. My wife and I have been active in our co-housing community in Lawrence KS. We have three children and five grandchildren, all avid readers.
Meet Stone Fever!
Radical climate change has reshaped human geography by the 24th century. Canadian geologist Keltyn SparrowHawk flies to Antarctica, searching for the strategic mineral iridium. After her plane crash-lands, she and her crew are discovered by two teens from a local tribe of cattle-herders: orphan would-be gaucho Joaquin Beltran and horsewoman Luz Hogarth, who also seeks the elusive iris stone. Keltyn befriends them both, but now she must reckon with the volcano where the stone lies, the tribe's hostile leaders, the hidden agenda of her sponsor back home, and rattling skeletons in her closet. Soon she plunges into an ill-conceived gamble that spirals into free-fall. Her two new friends are the only ones who can help, but each must first survive their own ordeals.
~ Author Chat with Norman Westhoff ~
Stone Fever: Erebus Tales, Part 1
Q1: What got you started writing these books?
A: I’m a glass-half-full type of guy. I started writing this series for the benefit of my then-yet-unborn grandchildren, with the belief that humanity will survive even drastic climate change, though at the huge cost of forced migration.
The first book took nine years, with seemingly innumerable edits, group critiques, writing seminars and conferences, before it felt good enough to publish.
Q2: What is the main theme of your books?
A: The underlying theme of Erebus Tales is a clash of traditional with advanced cultures in a post-apocalyptic world. The book takes place in Antarctica, 300 years in the future, after the ice has melted. Stone Fever takes place over a week’s time. The sequel, The Color of Greed, spans two months. The finale, Gifts of a Dark God, spans two years, for the full narrative arcs of five point-of-view characters to play out.
Q3: Without giving too much away, would you share with us a brief synopsis of your book?
A: In the 24th century, Cree Indian geologist Keltyn SparrowHawk flies to Antarctica to scout for the strategic mineral iridium. After their plane crash-lands, Keltyn and her Canadian crew-mates discover the land is now home to the Onwei, a tribe of nomadic cattle-herders. She befriends two teens: orphan would-be gaucho Joaquin Beltran, and horsewoman Luz Hogarth, who is likewise searching for the elusive iris stone, from which her mother fashions fine jewelry. Despite censure from tribal leaders and Keltyn’s crew, she and Luz soon scramble up the slopes of the nearby Erebus volcano, scouting for iridium ore. Mortal danger awaits.
In its midst, Keltyn learns from her crew-mate, anthropologist Fay Del Campo, that their mission’s sponsor, Sir Oscar Bailey, plans to use the metal to enable transport of Canadian colonists to Antarctica. Keltyn’s loyalties are already in flux. Soon she plunges into an ill-conceived gamble that spirals into free-fall. A scheming bitter shaman and a vindictive new gaucho leader fan suspicion against the “Sky-Bornes.” Luz and Joaquin are the only ones who can help, but each must first survive their own ordeals.
Q4: What age readers would your story appeal to?
A: The three main characters described above are joined by two middle-aged ones as the series progresses. To Joaquin’s great surprise, he discovers he is distantly related to another member of the crew: middle-aged, gushy anthropologist Orfea (Fay) Del Campo, who tries her best to ensnare the adorable orphan into returning home with her and adopting him.
Strong supporting roles are played by:
- Gaucho leader Aldo Correon, just and even-tempered, but whose weak heart spells doom for the future of Joaquin, whom he had mentored, and for the gaucho band’s relationship with the “Sky-Borne” crew.
- tribal shaman Yoka Sutu, a crafty, embittered Black crone who promotes the ritual hallucinogen Venga as a way of cementing her power in the tribe, by stirring antipathy against the Sky-Bornes.
Though the main characters and themes definitely have Y.A. appeal, there’s also plenty for thoughtful readers of all ages, as they try to imagine what our not-too-distant future might look like. What I’m saying is that it may look a lot like our not-too-distant past.
Q5: Your bio says you travel on 6 continents. Did that include Antarctica, which is the setting for your story line, or is that the 7th you did not visit, and in that case how did you conduct your research?
A: I didn’t make it to Antarctica, but got pretty close: a stone’s throw from Tierra del Fuego in southern Patagonia. I imagined the terrain of 24th-century ice-free Antarctica as a semi-arid land like the American High Plains, good for cattle grazing, but with fertile soil for farming only in selected spots like the foothills of Mt. Erebus. Scientists know that the landmass under the West Antarctic ice sheet is mostly islands, including the real Erebus. Given current rates of global warming, that part of the continent might well be ice-free in three hundred years, yet the much larger and thicker East Antarctic ice sheet, miles thick in some parts, will definitely still be intact. One of my sources is a geophysicist friend who has overwintered at the South Pole.
Nonetheless, for the sake of the story, I’ve imagined the whole continent as ice-free. By the way, Lake Tal, the site of the annual all-tribes midsummer Rendezvous (fully developed in the third book), really does exist now. It’s just buried under the ice sheet. During the Antarctic winters, whose months of total darkness will be unaffected by global warming, tribes retreat to towns and villages along the coast, each of them infused with the ethnicities of that tribe’s ancestors who first settled there hundreds of years prior.
Q6: Can each book be read independently or does one need to read them in chronological order?
A: Best read in chronological order.
Q7: Any plot details that might entice potential readers?
A: I’ve drawn on my background as a physician to spice up the plot. A mysterious but entirely plausible disease affects this nomadic tribe, the Onwei. Keltyn unwittingly becomes implicated in the assumed cause of this disease, and must scramble to discover its real cause in order to clear her name. Too late. A group of vengeful gauchos form a self-styled posse, kidnap her and force a Western-style gun battle, leaving our heroine critically wounded.
The gaucho chief and the tribe’s crone shaman both use traditional herbs, he as a curandero, or healer, and she to summon sessions of group channeling with dead ancestors when the tribe faces a crisis. These rituals are parsed by another crew member, a cultural anthropologist who discovers that she may be a distant blood relation to the orphan Joaquin, in turn triggering her motherly instincts.
When Joaquin’s real-life mentor dies unexpectedly, a beneficent imaginary uncle takes over, offering unsolicited and often inscrutable advice on how Joaquin should play his cards.
Q8: What benefits will your readers get from reading your book?
Guaranteed to enlarge your world-view.
To describe the local Onwei tribes, descended from present day inhabitants of the Southern Hemisphere, I tried to draw on life 300 years in the past, in order to imagine how people could survive in a post-industrial nomadic society, without factories, printing presses, large-scale agriculture. Cottage industries predominate: weaving hemp cloth with a hand loom; crafting jewelry by lamplight during the long, dark polar winter; a bootmaker using tanned hides; a blacksmith; a mason.
Artisans in other villages elsewhere on the continent have progressed to resurrecting the blowing of glass and viticulture. A few rifles, brought along during these forced migrations and dating back hundreds of years, are prized possessions.
Entertainment during the interminably dark polar winters is limited to occasional barn dances, but in midsummer, all the tribes, at least those strong enough to accompany their village’s migrating cattle herd, gather at Lake Tal in the center of the continent for a week of festivities and trading called the Rendezvous. I patterned that on reenactments of colonial and frontier life in this country.
Q9: Other than of course selling your book, what do you hope to accomplish with it?
A: I have always admired writers who seem to get the big picture, and I’ve tried to emulate that in these books, while at the same time developing characters that readers can relate to, and above all, telling a story. Having said that, as I progressed in writing the first book, I discovered two things:
First, these characters were too much fun to leave after just a week of action. It seemed like too small a slice of their lives. So, there had to be a sequel, and then the sequel led to a finale, i.e. a trilogy. And, to do my five point-of-view characters the justice they deserved, I had to interweave their five separate narrative arcs, and to resolve their conflicts in a satisfying way.
How good a job I’ve done is, of course, up to the reader.
Q10: Please include a short excerpt.
(Preface: Keltyn is scrambling to devalue the horde of iridium she has discovered on the mountain, now convinced that her sponsor back home will use it for malign purposes. She claims it is radioactive, but then her crew chief insists that she share this finding with the tribespeople, since many of the women sport jewelry fashioned by Luz’s mother. Neither Keltyn nor Harry are aware that many in the tribe are dying of a mysterious disease whose symptoms overlap radiation poisoning.)
Perched across from me, Harry leans forward to get my attention. He wiggles his fingers, palm up, signaling that now is my time. I waver, squeeze my fist again, and grab a deep breath before arising.
Standing up, that’s all it takes to hush the crowd. Fay hovers beside me, ready to translate my words. But what words will they be? I’ve never been any good at speeches; hell, I could be the poster child for stage fright. Plus, I’m still pissed at Harry for making me do this. Oh well, here goes nothing.
I try to keep my voice measured, since that seemed to work with the media back home. First, I focus on a spot in the distance. I lean forward as if reading a message, etched across the sky in cloud formations. I’m afraid that if I engage anyone in eye contact they’ll see through me and the whole thing will blow.
I try to convey how Luz and I discovered each other’s fascination with the iris stone, how I willingly assumed the risks involved with scouting the mountain, how we found the stone, more than we could dream of, how the mountain rumbled, raining down giant boulders. Out of the corner of my eye, I detect faces hardening or weeping.
I gulp and stand straighter, ready to deliver the coup-de-grace. “It gets worse. I discovered more bad news this morning.” I light on the girl. Her face registers surprise, probably wondering what else could go wrong. My eyes jump away once more, now unable to come to rest on anyone.
“Radioactive.” I stretch the word out, leaving Fay slack-jawed, unable to come up with any way to translate this. “There is no word for it in your tongue. It is a poison that seeps out from the stone, forever. It will kill you if you are close to it, but slowly, without any clue. It gives no warning that you can see or hear or smell or taste. In your hand, it feels the same as any other rock.”
I reach into the bag by my stool and hold up the yellow meter. Its red needle wavers to and fro. “This device measures the poison.”
As I pick out a sample, there’s the sound of women sucking their breath through clenched teeth. I flip the meter’s switches on. The needle jumps, and the box emits a noise like a crow’s caw, squawking loud enough to startle even those sitting in the rear.
A lot of the women sport jewelry made from the iris stone, but I’m hoping they are confused enough by the whole premise so that they don’t connect the dots. No such luck. The ones wearing jewelry spring up and tug at their dresses, their ears, necks, and wrists, ripping off their pieces in a tortured frenzy, elbowing each other aside to thrust them at my meter. Most of their gems light it up, and their owners throw them on the ground in disgust. They storm off, howling, but not before several of them pause to scowl and spit at me, the bearer of bad tidings.
The good news is that I seem to have convinced the two people who matter. Harry’s Adam’s apple bobs up and down as he surveys the crowd. Buck keeps his eye on the needle of the yellow meter, engrossed in the Chinese technology more than its implications.
Now with the tribeswomen and my chief pissed, I cast around, looking for my own private hole to crawl into. How am I going to get out of this mess?
Q11: Where can readers purchase your book?
A: Both e-book and print versions are available from Amazon, Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Apple Books.
By: Norman Westhoff
Release Date: November 23rd, 2020
Publisher: Iguana Books