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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.
read an excerpt...
The General sat back, bone-weary, enjoying the rest. He then examined his drink.
“Beer, you say?” he grinned tightly. “Very watery, isn’t it?”
We quickly ran out of things to say. He marveled at the cans.
“Such bright, beautiful metal! They appear to be made of gold and silver.”
After a while, inevitability reared its ugly head. “Young man?”
“Please call me Tim, General.”
“Timothy. Could you kindly direct me to the privy?”
“Sure. But I’d better show you how to use it. It’s all changed since your day.”
“That won’t be necessary.”
“Well, there are plumbing devices to learn.”
I took him on a tour of the bathroom. I was sure that, even in wartime, the General had always washed from a basin filled with warm water by servants. He had probably never seen running water in a sink, much less a shower.
At the basin, he gleefully grasped the left lever and twisted, then stuck his hand under the tap.
“Oh my! It’s warm. No, it’s hot! Who heats this water and puts it into this pipe?”
“The water comes from a tank, where it’s kept hot by burning a fuel. Here’s where you sit, General.” I showed him how to lift the lid and the seat and mentioned the protocol of closing the seat after use. He eyed the toilet suspiciously.
“And this little magic lever on the side blows water through and makes it all go away,” I added.
“Where does it go?”
“Just … away.”
“Is it magic, Timothy? Like the cold box?”
“No sir, just technology.”
He was curious, yet his shoulders slumped with each new revelation, his apparent displacement in time and space beginning to weigh on him. He needed help.
He looked at me with a tight smile. “I fear I must rest. I hate to impose, but is there somewhere I could lay my weary head?”
I smiled. “I know just the place.”
“And perhaps something to wear that is a bit less formal than my current attire?” He looked down at his high boots and filthy wartime clothing.
about Bill Zarchy...
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.
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Does this book have a special meaning to you? i.e. where you found the idea, its symbolism, its meaning, who you dedicated it to, what made you want to write it?
** Finding George Washington: A Time Travel Tale, has special meaning for me on a number of levels. First, it’s my debut novel, my first attempt at fiction, and that’s a memorable transition for me, as I had only written nonfiction and personal essay, memoir, and travel pieces before. The story is based on an idea I had as a boy growing up in mid-century, enamored by the technology I struggled to understand around me — cars, planes, rockets, trains, cameras, movies, etc. I often played a mental game to test my comprehension: If George Washington suddenly appeared here in front of me, could I explain how things worked, in terms he could understand?
Many years later, when I was trying to write fiction, I remembered that idea and decided to bring George back to life. Also, most meaningfully, I dedicated the book to my dear wife Susan, who has supported me in all my endeavors for nearly half a century.
Where do you get your storylines from?
** Since Finding George Washington: A Time Travel Tale is my first work of fiction, I can’t generalize too much. When I began to tackle this project several years ago, I didn’t have much more than the idea of bringing George to the present. I was aware that the “conventional wisdom” about writing fiction involved starting with a full outline of the plot and the action. “You’ve gotta know where you’re going before you start out,” someone told me, depressing advice indeed for a rookie novelist who’s just starting the journey, with no idea of the destination. “Write an outline of the whole thing. That’s the only way to do it.”
Well, it turns out there’s more than one “only way to do it.” In his book on writing, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King maintains that he rarely knows where a book is going when he starts to write. Instead, he says, he needs characters and a situation. From there, he can write a few chapters and get a feel for the story, see where the characters lead him. The more he writes, the more the story begins to fill in.
That was the case for me with Finding George. I knew I wanted to have George come to the present, but not much more than that. As I researched Washington and his period, I decided that his birthday in 1778 would be a good time for him to leave his own era. It was a pivotal time. His army was bogged down for the winter in Valley Forge, which would become a turning point in the Revolutionary War, and thus a bad time for him to disappear. Once George left his own time and then met Tim, I had characters and a situation. I just had to make up ways for him to travel through time and space and end up in California more than two centuries later. One nice thing about fiction, though: You can just make stuff up. Bravo!
Was this book easier or more difficult to write than others? Why?
** The only other book I’ve written is my memoir, Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil, a collection of 18 personal essays about my work and travels as a cinematographer. During my long career, I shot film and video projects on six continents. As a rule, the projects we filmed, which were often about dry technical subjects, did not reflect the experience of being abroad, working with foreign crews, and dealing with different procedures, equipment, and work habits.
I began to write short pieces about the back stories of my shoots. The experience of travel, the numbing jet lag, the funny or bizarre things people will say and do to get a shot, the occasional class of cultures with our crews or subjects. I hadn’t done much writing since my college days editing and writing for the campus daily newspaper. It took me about ten years to get my writing chops back, have a few articles published, and eventually think about accumulating enough stories for a book.
Finding George Washington: A Time Travel Tale, was a different experience entirely. I had joined a writers group and swapped work with the other members monthly for many years. Eventually many of us began writing fiction, and when I cast about for a novel idea, my old fantasy about bringing GW back to life popped up, and I spent the next seven years researching, writing, rewriting, polishing, editing, searching (to no avail) for an agent, and eventually publishing it myself.
In general, I would say that George has been “easier” than Showdown, because I began George with the knowledge that I knew how to write. When I started Showdown years earlier, that wasn’t the case at all. My prose wasn’t too bad, but I didn’t feel that I knew what I was doing. After getting a good reaction to my short pieces and the compilation in that first book, however, I was able to attack George, the second book, with confidence. On the other hand, I realize now, I didn’t know when I started if I could tell this story skillfully in a first novel. Could I master this long-form medium? Read the book and let me know what you think. Regardless, I had fun doing it!
Do you only write one genre?
** Uh, sure, and what genre is that? Finding George Washington is a fine sci-fi blend, with notes of baseball saga, action thriller, and alternate history. It’s only sci-fi because there’s time travel. I usually think of sci-fi having futuristic stories with space travel and bug-like alien species, but that’s not the case here. In fact, there’s not much sci with the fi.
During the early stages of developing this story, a writer friend advised me to avoid explaining just how the time travel works. “Instead, describe how it’s used and what it does,” he said. “Because people will pick apart your science, and you don’t need it.” There’s not much futuristic in Finding George. In fact, much of it, including the time travel technology, is vintage.
Give us a picture of where you write, where you compose these words…is it Starbucks, a den, a garden…we want to know your inner sanctum?
** And speaking of alien species … those people who can write in a Starbucks are clearly from another planet. How can they do that? How can anyone concentrate on writing when surrounded by such lush, intense people-watching opportunities? Doesn’t work for me. But it doesn’t have to. I’m the luckiest guy in the world. I have an office in our home (formerly my son’s room), a small back bedroom with a door onto our deck and garden. We’re about a mile from San Francisco Bay, and I can hear the whistles of the trains down near the water. I use a Mac laptop plus a large screen, keyboard in a tray, comfy chair. Surrounded by several globes, numerous clocks, SF Giants paraphernalia, side desk, subdued lighting, file cabinets, bookcases with glass doors, wooden blinds, pictures of Washington and FDR, and travel mementos like little Buddhas and carved elephants. It’s a sacred place for me. Though there’s a TV in here, it’s not a man cave or place to hang out, drink beer, and watch sports. Rather, it’s a lovely, efficient space to indulge my favorite pursuits in writing, photography, and storytelling.
And finally, of course…was there any specific event or circumstance that made you want to be a writer?
** I have always been a writer. My dad was a writer, and I emulated him. He had an amazing work ethic, writing and publishing over thirty books on the outdoors and hobbies and crafts, while working full time as a teacher in the New York City schools. When I was very young, he gave me an ancient portable typewriter, a Monarch Pioneer, which came in a beat-up wooden case. I taught myself to type pretty fast with my index fingers. Occasionally I extorted quarters from visiting cousins for a special subscription to a supposed family newspaper, which I produced a few times with mild gossip and four sheets of carbon paper.
I wrote a column for my high school newspaper and served as managing editor of the daily paper when I was an undergrad at Dartmouth. But when I went to film school at Stanford, I began to concentrate on the visual part of the medium and didn’t get back to writing for decades.
When I did, I was dismayed to admit that my index-finger methodology had become slower and much less precise, so I finally taught myself how to touch-type with all 10 fingers, using Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. I started taking a laptop on trips with me and began to write about my work and travels.
Despite the long hiatus, in my mind, I never stopped thinking of myself as a writer.
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