Interview with Susan Sloate, co-author of Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition
WHERE WERE YOU THE DAY KENNEDY WAS SAVED?
On the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination comes a new edition of the extraordinary time-travel thriller first published in 2003, now extensively revised and re-edited, and with a new Afterword from the authors.
On November 22, 1963, just hours after President Kennedy’s assassination, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President aboard Air Force One using JFK’s own Bible. Immediately afterward, the Bible disappeared. It has never been recovered. Today, its value would be beyond price.
In the year 2000, actress Cady Cuyler is recruited to return to 1963 for this Bible—while also discovering why her father disappeared in the same city, on the same tragic day. Finding frightening links between them will lead Cady to a far more perilous mission: to somehow prevent the President’s murder, with one unlikely ally: an ex-Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald.
Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition brings together an unlikely trio: a gallant president, the young patriot who risks his own life to save him, and the woman who knows their future, who is desperate to save them both.
History CAN be altered …
Can you please tell us a little about Forward To Camelot?
Forward To Camelot is a thriller that begins as a treasure hunt, when a young woman from the year 2000 is recruited to travel back in time and recover a priceless artifact, John F. Kennedy’s personal, one of a kind Bible. This is the sam Bible that was used to swear in Lyndon Johnson as President aboard Air Force One following Kennedy’s assassination. After the swearing in, the Bible vanished. But Cady Cuyler, our heroine, is on a much more personal mission, out to discover the truth behind her own father’s disappearance on the same day Kennedy was killed. Once she is back in 1963, Cady learns her father’s disappearance and the President’s assassination are undeniably linked, putting her on a far more perilous mission. Can she somehow save JFK from assassination and alter the course of history forever? To succeed, she must recruit the help of one very unlikely ally--a courageous ex-Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald. Forward To Camelot is a unique blend of fact of fiction offers a new, entertaining perspective into the most tragic of days, as well as a glimpse into a world that might have been.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Combining entertaining fiction with the facts of the day proved most challenging. We wanted to stick as close to actual history and fact as possible and let our fiction fit into those parameters. Certain things had to happen at certain times and in certain ways, and in using real, historical people like President and Mrs. Kennedy, we had to make sure they behaved in our novel the way they most likely would in real life. There were many times when we’d write a scene, only to go back and change it because it didn’t fit in with our hard timeline of history. It become very complex and created some bouts of sheer logic madness.
Do you have a favorite excerpt from the book? If so, could you please share it with us?
- This is the scene early in Forward To Camelot, where George is introducing our heroine, Cady, to the mystery surrounding JFK’s Bible.
It was a famous photograph, one I’d seen many times. In the center of the photograph was a tall, burly man, with thinning hair slicked back, a large face, big flappy ears, right hand raised piously, facing a small brisk woman with dark hair and glasses. On the man’s right, crowded next to him, seeming crushed by his vitality, was another small dark woman, her face blank with conflicting emotions.
But the man, for all his bulk and heartiness, was not the magnetic force in the photograph. The woman on his left was. Younger than anyone else, with dark glossy hair, in a bulky light suit, her profile regal even in her anguish, blood spattering her clothes, she stood watching sightlessly. Her beauty and grief drew all eyes. Her pain was almost visible on the photo itself.
“This is the swearing in of Lyndon Johnson as president on Air Force One in Dallas, on November 22, 1963. His wife is on his right. Jacqueline Kennedy stands on his left. Sarah Hughes is the judge administering the oath. John F. Kennedy had been assassinated only a couple of hours before.”
“I know the photograph, George.”
“Good for you. Look here.” He pointed carefully at the almost invisible edges of the book under Johnson’s massive hand. “Johnson, of course, needed to be sworn on a Bible. Here it is, being held by Mrs. Hughes.”
“You want the Bible Johnson took the oath on?”
“I do. That Bible belonged to President Kennedy.”
I looked up in surprise. “It was Kennedy’s Bible? I didn’t know that.”
“It was the only Bible on Air Force One. Kennedy supposedly traveled everywhere with it. When they were scrambling to find a Bible—Johnson insisted on taking the oath before he left Dallas—they remembered Kennedy’s Bible and used that.”
“Well, can’t you buy the Bible from the Kennedy family? Even though I can’t imagine they’d give it up.”
“Well, now, that’s a problem. The Bible disappeared right after this picture was taken.”
I hated to admit it, but that intrigued me. It was getting harder to remember that I’d just lost my job a few hours before. “How could it disappear?”
“Well, the story goes that Sarah Hughes actually had it in her hands when she left Air Force One in Dallas. You have to understand—that day, the whole country was in a state of shock, and people did crazy things without realizing it, half the time. Coming down the ramp, Mrs. Hughes met a man dressed in a suit and tie and sunglasses, a man she believed to be a Secret Service agent. He asked her for the Bible. I don’t think she even realized she still had it in her hand. She gave it to him immediately; she thought he would return it to the Kennedy family.”
He paused. I was riveted. “At least, that’s what she said. But the Bible disappeared that day and was never seen again.” George paused again and gave me a devilish grin. “JFK’s own Bible, used to swear in Lyndon Johnson on Air Force One... what do you think an item like that would be worth?”
I shook my head. I couldn’t imagine.
“Nobody can,” he said softly. “Do you understand now? As a piece of history, part of one of the twentieth century’s most pivotal events… that Bible would be beyond price. And I intend to have it.”
“You want me to find the Bible?”
“Not exactly. I know where it was on November 22, 1963. Sarah Hughes had it at Love Field.”
“Well, a fat lot of good that’s going to do!” I exclaimed. “Unless you’re somehow going to travel back in time and pick it up—”
“I’m not,” George said reasonably. “You are.”
What do you hope readers will take away after reading the book?
I’d like our readers to understand what we truly lost the day Kennedy was killed, and how things could’ve have been so different for the nation, the world and the culture. This was truly the death of our innocence as a people, a singular moment where we collectively lost hope. JFK forced us to look to the future and what it promised. Now, we look back to the glory days and wonder how we can recapture them. I’d like people to read this book and come away with a fresh perspective on what may have happened, and why. I’m not out to change anyone’s mind, but rather bring them history in a different while they form their own truth into what happened that day.
What was your writing process while writing this book?
While there may be two writers on a project, there can only be one voice. So we determined early on that Susan would be that voice, since we had a female protagonist. Susan focused on writing the characters and emotional moments, and I worked out the bigger, more action-oriented sequences. Eventually Susan re-wrote every scene from her perspective, so it had that singular voice that is so important. When it came to editing the novel, we switched positions. I have more experience as an editor through screenwriting and film work, so I was able to pare down the narrative without losing any of the core elements of the story or character. Sometimes we’d argue or debate about the best creative choice, but we were always mindful that the story had to come first. Every creative choice we made was for the benefit of the story, and that’s the way it has to be.
Who or what was the inspiration for the book?
Susan was inspired by Oliver Stone’s film ‘JFK’. After seeing it, she began to wonder how the assassination could’ve been prevented, and what would’ve happened if it had been prevented. For me, I’d grown up in a house that revered JFK, and I looked up to him as a larger-than-life, mythical figure. The opportunity to write about him and continue his legacy, even in a fictional way, was powerful and alluring. In a way, I guess we were trying to rebuild and re-imagine the hope we once had.
Have you had a mentor? If so, can you talk about them a little?
The first screenwriting project I ever began was a martial-arts film, but I didn’t want it to be the typical bland chop ‘em up movie. So I studied martial arts and after two years I discovered my instructor was actually a budding film director. He was the first person I ever trusted my screen writing to, and he shared with me his ‘secret’ film projects. I’ve kept his first notes to this day and often to refer back to them when I’m struggling with a page. His mantra was always ‘I can, I will, I did.’ Though he and I have lost personal touch, he’s gone on to work with some of Hollywood’s best actors and continues to follow his passion. I’m waiting for the day when we unexpectedly reconnect, and I can thank him in person for providing the inspiration and passion every young writer needs.
I have heard it said in order to be a good writer, you have to be a reader as well? Do you find this to be true? And if you are a reader, do you have a favorite genre and/or author?
Oh, naturally, a writer should be a reader and a voracious reader at that. First off, it’s good to know what your contemporaries are doing and how they’re doing it. Reading the work of others can only enhance your own voice and style. It’s no secret that most writer’s styles are a blend of those who’ve influenced them, whether classic or contemporary and regardless of genre. Reading a work you’re not fond of can also be very helpful in creating a style, as you can discover what you don’t want to do. My favorite classical authors are Hemingway, Cervantes and Rostand (though mainly a playwright). I love Cyrano d’Bergerac and Heller’s Catch-22. I love a good thriller, so my favorite modern authors are Tom Clancy and Ryne Douglas Pearson. Three great new voices that inspire me are Ryan David Jahn, Nancy Bilyeau and Robert K. Lewis.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I’ve been writing professionally since I was eighteen, just six months out of high school. I literally walked into a local television studio and told them I wanted to be a writer. The next day I was writing for television news and it’s gone on from there. Whatever passion you have, whatever dream you’re pursuing, you can’t do it timidly. Ultimately, the only person responsible for your happiness is you, so why waste time indulging anything that doesn’t truly make you happy? Don’t ever do anything just for the money, do it for the love and passion of the endeavor.
SUSAN SLOATE is the author of 20 previous books, including the recent bestseller Stealing Fire and Realizing You (with Ron Doades), for which she invented a new genre: the self-help novel. The original 2003 edition of Forward to Camelot became a #6 Amazon bestseller, took honors in three literary competitions and was optioned by a Hollywood company for film production.
Susan has also written young-adult fiction and non-fiction, including the children’s biography Ray Charles: Find Another Way!, which won the silver medal in the 2007 Children’s Moonbeam Awards. Mysteries Unwrapped: The Secrets of Alcatraz led to her 2009 appearance on the TV series MysteryQuest on The History Channel. Amelia Earhart: Challenging the Skies is a perennial young-adult Amazon bestseller. She has also been a sportswriter and a screenwriter, managed two recent political campaigns and founded an author’s festival in her hometown outside Charleston, SC.
ABOUT KEVIN FINN
After beginning his career as a television news and sports writer-producer, KEVIN FINN moved on to screenwriting and has authored more than a dozen screenplays. He is a freelance script analyst and has worked for the prestigious American Film Institute Writer’s Workshop Program. He now produces promotional trailers, independent film projects including the 2012 documentary SETTING THE STAGE: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, and local content for Princeton Community Television.
His next novel, Banners Over Brooklyn, will be released in 2014.
For updates and more information about Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition, please visit http://susansloate.com.