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Rhody Radio episode transcription has been been made possible by the American Rescue Plan: Humanities Grants for Libraries, which is an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.


David Schoorens, author of REFUGE: A NOVEL OF LOST DEMOCRACY

Dave Bartos: [00:00:00] You are listening to Rhody Radio, Road Island Library Radio Online.

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Dave Bartos: Hello, I'm your host, Dave Bartos, Coordinator of Adult Services at the Cranston Public Library and Rhody Radio crew member. A few weeks ago I spoke with David Schoorens, author of Refuge: a Novel of Lost Democracy. David's book is a dystopian political thriller set in a near future that depicts the United States as a country in chaos following a national election that erupted in political violence. While you might think that this topic feels both all too dark and a bit close to home, I think you'll find our conversation strikes a hopeful tone.

One of the opportunities we all have to choose the path we set with our community and our democracy, as well as hearing David's journey of realizing his dream of writing a book. I hope you enjoy.

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Dave Bartos: Hi. This is Dave from the Cranston Public Library and the Rhody Radio crew. I'm here with author David Schoorens to talk about his book, Refuge: A Novel of Lost Democracy. David, how're you doing this morning?

David Schoorens: I'm doing quite well, Dave. How are you?

Dave Bartos: I'm doing all right. Thank you. We got a plethora of David's. This is great. I guess why don't we start at the very beginning with, tell us a little bit about your book more than I could do reading off the dust jacket here.

David Schoorens: Sure, no problem. It is my first novel and it is a story of perhaps our near future. It would fall under a genre of political thriller, dystopia, along those lines. I like to refer to it as political horror as a tongue-in-cheek approach to it. It is about our current political situation. I take us, take the reader to a time just ahead in time where a far-right government [00:02:00] comes into power in the United States. Already, I already know that yes, there are going to be a few people that are going to not like that part, but anyway, it seems possible.

If I had written this 10 years ago, it would be almost ludicrous. I don't think so much these days that's so implausible. What I do is I try to create a storyline that would seem like this could happen in the United States, but I'm not going to take the reader in through the Pentagon or the Oval Office or anything like that. I set the novel among these characters I've created, and they happen to be in Eastport Maine, which is almost as far east as you can get in the United States, although Lubec, Maine would disagree, and also Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, a lovely little resort town that you find only about 11 kilometers roughly north northeast from Eastport.

They're almost, almost within sight of each other, especially at night when you can see the lights. These are two similar towns, both building on trying to create a tourist industry. I've been to both places. They're lovely little towns and I take some characters and put them first in Saint Andrews. Some people who have decided to, out of fear mostly, out of a sense of wanting to fight back against a now effectively one-party state, and they happen to be in Saint Andrews. They're both retired US Air Force officers. Their family is on the other side of the US-Canadian border, which is now closed for reasons that are political and not having to do with something like a pandemic.

On the other side, in Eastport, I put in a character, a US Coast Guard Lieutenant. He is still a serving officer. He has an unusual mission at the US Coast Guard Station in Eastport, which is an actual Coast Guard station. I went there last December I think it was, and gave them a copy of [00:04:00] my book. They were very gracious. The characters there are acting out their lives in some way, not knowing each other, what's going on, but they do intersect in the end. I try to write this with the idea of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary circumstance. That make sense so far?

Dave Bartos: Yes, absolutely.

David Schoorens: There are other characters, of course, involved. An analyst, Robert McClark, who is with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, a real agency, another with the RCMP. Other characters, a lawyer in Canada, Edward, and my favorite character is in Eastport, Maine, who's actually a minor character but he does play an important role toward the end. I'll just call him the old man and I'll let the reader discover his name. When you're writing, you create these people out of nothing. Some of them you learn to despise and some of them you really feel this guy is really cool and you take it where you need it to go. You either keep them alive or you kill them off. It all depends.

Dave Bartos: Somebody said it once, writing is making up a weird little guy, and then, oh no, now he's in trouble, right?

David Schoorens: Yes, and try to figure out how to put him into further trouble or get him out of trouble.

Dave Bartos: Exactly.

David Schoorens: In some ways, I think I've heard an author say, your job is to paint yourself in a corner and find your way out. It's, again, my first novel and I had a really nice time, a lot of fun writing it. Just a couple hours a day, blah, blah, blah, type out a few things, and then go back. Throw it out, keep it, move on, try to catch everything that's wrong in it. I hired an editor and then I went to a Rhode Island firm to help me get it out there. Stillwater River Publications who are now in Warwick. I figure [00:06:00] I might as well plug them since they were of great help to me.

Dave Bartos: Absolutely. We're huge fans of Stillwater River here.

David Schoorens: Oh, good. Good. Well, I found that with everything they said they were going to do, they were on time and on target.

Dave Bartos: Excellent.

David Schoorens: It didn't turn me off to writing, working on another one right now.

Dave Bartos: That's fantastic.

David Schoorens: I did have a lot of fun creating that world. I took a very peaceful area. If you've never been up there, you should go. I took a very peaceful area and introduced conflict. What could be better?


Dave Bartos: Let me ask, with this being your first novel, what are the life experiences that brought you to writing this type of story as your first novel? What informed this situation?

David Schoorens: One of the characters is a lieutenant in the Coast Guard, and I served in the Coast Guard too. I reached back into some of my own experiences and then also some of the people I met along the course of my service. There's also the two main characters who were called Michael and Deborah Whynot, see I put in my mother's name. They're both Air Force, well, my wife was Air Force physician, retired from the Air Force. I chose Canada as a major setting of it, especially in my generation. What did your parents do when you were 12 years old? Put everybody in the station wagon if you're from New England, and they drove you to the Maritimes for a vacation.

I remember we went and visited, my wife and I, Saint Andrews before COVID happened. I looked down the waterfront and there is the blockhouse fortification that they've restored that I remember going to when I was 12. It was that, and then when we were overseas in Germany, we served, my wife, served alongside a bunch of Canadians at this multinational NATO bay. You just start picking snippets from people and your experiences and putting in there and you develop the characters and the places along the way. I even worked [00:08:00] in at least one search and rescue case we had as a side part of the plot line, so lots of fun.

Dave Bartos: That's great. Were the characters in place and then you looked for the plot to put them in, or did the plot come first and then you found places to put in these characters that you've met throughout your life?

David Schoorens: I think in author circles, I've heard these two words, a planner or a pantser. A planner is someone who outlines the whole thing, beginning to end. Not me. I had an idea of the premise, the opening, some things I wanted to put in it. I'm typing along, I won't spoil the diversion, but I did divert from one of my intentions all of a sudden. Just, oh, this'll be fun. Boom. Did it and changed the plot completely. I guess, in a way, I suppose allowing the setting, allowing the characters to tell you where it should go. A negotiation between the two. Ultimately, I wound up at the place where you write the end.

Dave Bartos: Yes. That's got to be satisfying to come to an ending and feel like it's found a logical ending. Yes, absolutely.

David Schoorens: Yes, and it was typing, "The end," no one was more shocked than me, so it was a good feeling. Just generally, I started this during 2021 and we were in the throes of the pandemic. I had retired from teaching science at an area high school and I just needed something to do. Now, I've told people, I could have taken the time and resources I used toward the book and probably played a lot of golf. Well, all I'd be left with would be a memory of walking off the 18th hole and cursing myself for a poorly played game.

With this, oh, I can hold this in my hand, my own creation. It's just I [00:10:00] don't expect it to be some famous novel or anything like that, it's for a very personal reason. I did this and that's nice.

Dave Bartos: Sure.

David Schoorens: That's very powerful, too. You can always point to that on the shelf. I keep my golf clubs in the garage where they belong.

Dave Bartos: [laughs]

David Schoorens: "A good walk spoiled", I think that was Mark Twain. Yes, yes. It was just nice to hold in your hand.

Dave Bartos: Yes, the satisfaction of a job well done and feeling satisfied with it, whatever you're making, whether it's a book, or a deck, or other things that end with the letter K.

David Schoorens: Yes, it's just something I've always thought about doing, but I find reasons not to start it. Well, retirement and a pandemic, and the opportunity came all together.

Dave Bartos: Yes, absolutely. Retirement, pandemic, what would you say was the final push in 2021 to get started with it? It was like, okay, I've got the time to do it, and now I've got this idea that I can't let go of. What was that inspiration, where did that spring from?

David Schoorens: The idea that was difficult to let go of probably is current events. That inspired the storyline in general terms. That, some research, some feedback from a couple of people I know who are creatives themselves, should I continue with this? They said yes, and off I went. Okay, something had popped in my mind and I try a little something, and just keep going at it, so that it became fun and not a drudgery like, "I got to get this done," that kind of thing. Like I said, no one was more shocked that I finished it than me.

Dave Bartos: [chuckles]

David Schoorens: I guess I had something to say and I said it.

Dave Bartos: I guess it puts to mind, and I wonder if there were any, maybe this question won't go anywhere, but I'm curious because the description of the book, it puts to mind the Sinclair Lewis book, It Can't Happen Here.

David Schoorens: I've read that, yes.

Dave Bartos: That was another one where I had read that-- I had started reading it, I want to say [00:12:00] in like 2015. I was like, oh, I remember reading this book and finding it interesting, and feeling like it was almost too real and I had to put it down. It ends with, not to spoil a hundred-year-old book, it ends with him escaping to Canada, right? Yes.

David Schoorens: Yes, I think so. I know Sinclair Lewis wrote that in 19-- He had it published in 1936. I read the book prior to starting Refuge. There was some inspiration from that, too. I know that when he was writing it, in 1936, you don't have to be a PhD in History to know what was going on at that time. Fascism was on the ascendancy. Germany, Italy, militaristic Japan, pretty vocal Nazi movement in the United States. German American Bund had their own versions of Hitler youth camps in Long Island, openly. They played on rampant anti-Semitism that existed in those days, and Lewis presents a novel of it.

This is where this kind of far-right populism could take us, so that's still relevant today. What I do with mine, which is a warning also, Sinclair Lewis created characters of a president by name, Winthrop I think was his name, the character's name, and so forth. I think that was the case. I can stand to be corrected if I was wrong, but in my story, I don't name a president. I don't name a political party.

In some ways, Lewis's book worked for those few years, and then it starts to be more, say, some aspects of it, perishable to some readers, even though its message is still relevant. I tried to, at least in my perception, tried to avoid that. Just, okay, is my book Refuge about the next election, or is it the election after that? Leave that kind of mysterious, let the reader put it in their mind.

Dave Bartos: I'm curious, you know, with it being set in a near future, are [00:14:00] there any sci-fi elements? Did you play at all with the setting in terms of time like that?

David Schoorens: No sci-fi.

Dave Bartos: No? Okay.

David Schoorens: Just advanced the characters to a situation in a few years. I do take pains in one chapter to, the main character, Michael Whynot, gets asked by his friend and immediate neighbor in Saint Andrews, a border security officer by the name of George Le Blanc, and gets asked, "Well, what happened? What happened in the United States?" Michael, the character, couldn't answer that, and it really wears on him until finally, he writes out an essay to himself what he thinks happened. It's almost an unbearable thing for him to write. I give the reader, okay, this is the pathway to where we are. I didn't have to look any further than the news basically, to find a way.

I really enjoy dystopian fiction and all that kind of stuff, but often it's not the author's, and I take away nothing from them, introduce some sort of large event. Margaret Atworth, Canadian author with Handmaid's Tale, introduced a global fertility crisis. Orwell, in 1984, introduced the post-atomic war. I don't put in some sort of cataclysm like that. There's no economic Great Depression number two, there's no sort of military cataclysm or anything like that. I just, how about a national election? That should be enough, and hope that the reader would find that more plausible, and therefore more scary. We've had that word used in connection with the book, scary.

Dave Bartos: Yes, and one thing I like about fiction personally is how, basically, when you boil anything down, it's all a story that we tell ourselves, whether we're talking about reality or we're talking about fiction. Imagining a story that we don't want to have happen can help us, as people living our day-to-day life, imagine the kinds of stories we would like to create in our reality. [00:16:00] I guess that's a highfalutin way for me to ask, what do you feel are some key takeaways and changes that readers can make to perhaps avoid the kind of dystopia, political terror that you've created? What can the individual take away from that, or what would you like them to take away from that?

David Schoorens: My novel story does not become our history. I would say, just be engaged. Pay attention to what's going on. Be engaged with your local community, whatever, school boards, or whatever. Just be kind to your neighbors and all that kind of stuff. At the same time, when you see something that is totally un-American, make sure your opinion's heard. We've had this group in New England, this NSC-131. They've showed up at, I think the Pawtucket Library not too long ago, and in Fall River, a neo-Nazi group that's active throughout New England. You may have heard of them.

Dave Bartos: Yes.

David Schoorens: If you see them, tell people that these Nazis were here, that's who they are, and make your displeasure known. If you make your pleasure known about them appearing, then there's other issues you have, but we're supposed to stand for something so that we stand for the republic that we do have. I think sometimes people have the American flag, good for you, but remember that's a symbol for the Constitutional republic that we have. It's mentioned in the pledge, so you should stand in support of that. People should vote. We're not asking a lot for America. Vote, just vote.

I'm not asking anybody to join the military, that's up to them. I'm not asking they run for office, that's up to them. At least meet minimum standards and cast your vote to safeguard this democracy that we do have. I understand that some people will look at my book and maybe object to it. Especially, I envision a far-right kind of a success in an election, and then, well, it gets bad. That would reflect people choosing the votes. [00:18:00] However, just think about where you might be wanting to take us.

I don't like extremes on either side, but the research I've done, the data seems to show from the Department of Homeland Security, that you look at political violence, which is part of this novel too, it does come from the right-wing more often than not, roughly three out of four incidents. That's from the Department of Homeland Security in 2017, I don't think it's changed much since then. Try to be engaged, that would be nice. If you'd be engaged, this story won't become our history.

Dave Bartos: Right, that's impactful.

David Schoorens: I don't know. Just me talking.

Dave Bartos: Yes. Shifting gears to what you're working on now, do you want to give any kind of preview of what's happening, what you're thinking of?

David Schoorens: Yes. The working title so far is Captive. This one, the setting is much more focused. It'll take place in Rhode Island, little Rhody, the state that always hits above its weight.

Dave Bartos: [chuckles]

David Schoorens: Oh, it does.

Dave Bartos: Yes, absolutely.

David Schoorens: In this book, an author writes something that some people are supportive of, but a number of other people are not supportive. The author is taken through a lot of harassment, which is easy for people to do these days, anonymously online, that evolves into death threats. That doesn't seem so outlandish. After all, a meteorologist from Iowa who was talking about climate change on air received death threats, of all things.

The book will open with the author, the main character, discovering he's just been kidnapped, or waking up in a basement. Then I go back in time a few months, four months, and take him through his journey through all that. Then I also introduce his captor, and I'm working on fleshing him out. Then I have to take these two characters and imagine their final interaction, so we'll see how that goes.

Dave Bartos: Yes, definitely. Sounds like another [00:20:00] sort of thinking about a thriller. You've got that lane picked out, that's cool.

David Schoorens: Yes. That's where I'm leaning toward right now.

Dave Bartos: Yes.

David Schoorens: I got to finish it now because I'm 80 full pages of Microsoft Word into it. I'm not going to just delete.

Dave Bartos: No turning back.

David Schoorens: No. Pretty much, yes. There does come a point, I discovered, that you're so far into it, you got to finish it.

Dave Bartos: Sure.

David Schoorens: That's where I'm headed with that one. We'll see what happens.

Dave Bartos: All right, so we're talking here to introduce our audience to your book. I'm curious because you're a local author, do you have any local events coming up that you want to tell people about?

David Schoorens: Let's see. I have to double-check, but I think there was an opening for a book signing at the Narragansett Brewery in December. Of course, there's the big Rhode Island Association of Authors event in Warwick that will happen on December 2nd and that's where you have a big book expo, so when I can get to be part of that, I'll do that. That's where you-- you know, usual thing. Get the table out, put out the books, and see if anybody is attracted to that. The Brewery thing follows the line-- well, get people liquored up and they'll buy anything, so there you go.

Dave Bartos: [laughs] Fantastic.

David Schoorens: Someday I'd like to also have-- there's a brewery around the corner here in Portsmouth at Ragged Island. Someday I'd like to get some other authors and hold an event there maybe when Captive is finished.

Dave Bartos: There you go.

David Schoorens: Maybe for next summer.

Dave Bartos: If somebody wanted to get a copy of the book, obviously, we've got it at the public libraries in Rhode Island, the Ocean State Libraries, but where else can people find a copy of the book?

David Schoorens: Well, it's available on Amazon, paperback, or Kindle.

Dave Bartos: Okay.

David Schoorens: Like everything else in our lives.

Dave Bartos: Yes. All right.

David Schoorens: In addition to Amazon, this can be purchased through Stillwater River Publications, but also Island Books in Middletown.

Dave Bartos: Oh, Yes.

David Schoorens: They [00:22:00] have half a dozen copies of the book so you can go buy it there.

Dave Bartos: Excellent. Go support your indie. Absolutely.

David Schoorens: Yes. Buy local, and yes, it's in a few libraries like Pawtucket Library.

Dave Bartos: Yes.

David Schoorens: Upton, Mass library because I did a community cable channel interview in Upton, Mass. The Portsmouth library has a copy and the library in Saint Andrews in New Brunswick has a copy.

Dave Bartos: Cool.

David Schoorens: Yes. One of the neatest things was the book opens in Saint Andrews at a scene at a restaurant that I've actually gone to. I just changed the name a little bit. The actual name is the Sea Breeze Restaurant & Cafe. I sent them a copy last December. Said, "Hey, you inspired part of this novel, so here you go, your own copy." They reopened, it was in January, got back from their vacation, and they said some nice things on their Facebook page. Surprised that, "Oh, my God. Look at this. My restaurant inspired a novel." Okay, fine.

Dave Bartos: That's awesome.

David Schoorens: Yes, it was. I did get an interview connected with the Saint Croix Courier, a newspaper up there, covers the local stuff.

Dave Bartos: Cool. Yes.

David Schoorens: That was nice.

Dave Bartos: Fantastic. Well, I appreciate you taking the time and chatting with me, David. Again, the novel is Refuge by David Schoorens. A political dystopian horror that I think we would all do well to avoid, but not the book. Don't avoid the book. [laughs]

David Schoorens: Don't avoid the book. Avoid the outcome.

Dave Bartos: The outcomes of the book, yes.

David Schoorens: Yes. Let's avoid that.

Dave Bartos: Available in libraries and find online retailers near you. Awesome. Thank you so much for your time, David.

David Schoorens: Thank you, Dave. It's a wonderful thing. Thank you.

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Dave Bartos: Thank you so much for listening. Refuge by David Schoorens is available from Stillwater River Publications and at an Ocean State Library near you. I'll put links to both in the show notes. [00:24:00] The theme music for this episode is Cinematic Action Trailer by Paul Yudin. Rhody Radio is proud to be a resident partner of the Rhode Island Center for the Book and is brought to you by library staff and community members all around the Ocean State.

This episode was made possible in part by a grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities seeds, supports, and strengthens public history, cultural heritage, civic education, and community engagement by and for all Rhode Islanders. You can find more from Rhody Radio on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you enjoyed today's episode, subscribe to Rhody Radio and rate or review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify to help us reach more Rhode Islanders.

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