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Books in the Hall chats with Mark Duncan, author of BRINGING UP MIKE. Why Young Adult fiction? What draws you to it?
Bringing Up Mike is about raising an artificial intelligence that is developing as a child. Many of the same coming of age issues faced by both Joe (the teenage developer of Mike) and Mike (the artificial intelligence), are the same as for any young adult. Young adult fiction provided a great setting to examine why we do things.
What’s your favorite sweet treat?
I love both ice cream and gelato. I live just north of Palo Alto, about a mile from Tin Pot Creamery, Gelataio, Scoop Microcreamery, Cream, Friche Yogurt, Palo Alto Creamery and Rick’s Ice Cream. While I particularly like Burgundy Cherry and Jamaican Almond Fudge, many of the new stores have unique flavors: Salted Butterscotch, Bourbon Vanilla with Salted Caramel, as well as a very intense Dark Chocolate.
What candy do you give out at Halloween?
Justin’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups! They come twenty-eight wrapped cups per 14 oz. box. They’re simply wonderful—creamy and delicious. It’s hard to eat a Reese’s peanut butter cup after having experienced Justin’s. Fortunate for me, the local Costco sells them!
What superpower would you love to have? Why?
The power to read woman’s minds! Sorry, this is actually a question that April poses to Joe when they go on a date to have pizza, followed by a movie, in Bringing Up Mike. But speaking as a man, won’t it be great?
Speaking of pizza, what are your favorite pizza toppings?
I love deep-dish Chicago style pizzas topped with extra tomatoes, artichoke and anchovies. It’s a great combination! The acidity of the tomatoes balances nicely with the bitterness of the anchovies, and sets off the artichoke hearts. Patxi’s Chicago Pizza in Palo Alto is my favorite place for this.
What book is on your nightstand currently?
At the moment, I’m reading Fire by Kristin Cashore. It’s the prequel to Graceling that I just finished. Other books I’ve read in the past few weeks: All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Red Rising by Pierce Brown, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Poor Man’s Fight and Rich Man’s War by Elliott Kay, A Sword into Darkness by Thomas Mays, Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos. And of course, there’s a pile of non-fiction books, the most recent of which is The Intel Trinity by Michael Malone.
Hunger Games or Twilight? Why?
Hunger Games. I read The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay during one week. I’ve seen the first two Hunger Games movies as well. I never could get into any of the Twilight novels, they just didn’t have any appeal for me.
What was your favorite childhood TV show?
I loved Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. It always had something significant to say about the human condition—gender roles, racial relations, and other social views. Subsequently, I was quite fond of the first two seasons of Star Trek with William Shatner and Leonard Nemoy.
What’s your favorite hot beverage. Why?
I love hot chocolate! Particularly Mexican hot chocolate—that’s with cayenne pepper and cinnamon added to. It has a real kick to it. I like coffee, but it doesn’t like me—I can’t sleep at night after drinking it, so I only drink it occasionally, early in the morning when I need to stay awake.
Ideal summer vacation
Flying somewhere I’ve never been before, exploring the area, then renting a car or taking the train to the next nearby destination. No specific, particular plan—rather an open-ended exploration. Of course, this means avoiding peak travel or tourist times when accommodations become scarce. I’ve done this traveling to Europe and the Hawaiian islands.
Which of your characters would you most like to meet in real life? Why?
George’s father, Allen Barber is a professor emeritus at an East Coast university. He’s 82 and is a very sharp and insightful person. Martha’s father, Ed Alexander is a former U.S. Army Colonel. At age 75, he has traveled all over the world. He has an prosthesis on his lower leg, due to an IED having blown it off. Both of them have great stories and experiences to share.
You’re stranded on a desert island—which character from your book do you want with you? Why?
Martha Barber, age 49, was a military brat. She’s expert with animals, handy with a gun, gardens and cooks. She makes quick, correct, decisive decisions under pressure. In a paintball battle, you want to be on her side.
You’ve just won a million dollars and you’re not allowed to save any of it. What do you spend it on?
Art, travel, education and gifts. I love art, my walls are covered with paintings, weavings and artwork. Travel expands my view and understanding of the world; it is incredibly stimulating. With money being no object, there are many university led tours around the world that lecture on their history and culture. In terms of helping people, helping them get a better education is very much like the difference between giving poor people fish, or teaching them how to fish. I’ve always felt good about the times and places where I was able to help someone.
Bringing Up Mike is a tapestry of intertwined stories over the course of a school year: A teen genius who has grown up too fast, a neglected former racehorse, a bereaved couple morning the death of their son, a girl struggling to attend college, and a former mobster determined to be top dog.
Bringing Up Mike is about people given a second chance at happiness and success and how they become better people and mature.
Enjoy an excerpt:
Martha walked to the barn, the shotgun stock tucked firmly against her side, then stopped fifteen feet from the back of the horse trailer.
“Any reason why I shouldn’t shoot you trespassers?”
Three men who were struggling to get the stallion into the trailer froze. The fourth, a big burly man, stood in front of Martha, the horse directly behind him.
“This isn’t what you think. We’re retrieving our lost stallion,” said Sly.
“At dawn? Without asking permission?”
“It didn’t seem polite to wake you up so early.”
“Seems to me you sold him for four thousand dollars.”
“It was a joke to teach the kid a lesson. That horse is worth twenty thousand, I knew the contract wasn’t valid, because he’s a minor.”
“There’s no way I’d let that stallion go back to someone who starved him.”
“He had plenty of pasture! Once he learned not to bite the hand that fed him, he’d get his grain.”
As they talked, Sly edged closer to Martha, then tried to grab her shotgun. Martha pivoted, pointed the gun at the wheel on the horse trailer, and shot.
There was a CRACK-BANG as a burst of birdshot exploded the tire. Startled and frightened, Comanche reared up and dragged Reuben and Sam, who had wrapped lead ropes around their hands. Martha threw herself flat on the ground, followed by the crack of a bullet that stopped Sly in mid-step.
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