The mind’s conspiracy – an interview with Eric Penz (20 August 2006)

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Introduction

“A cryptid? What on earth is that?” were the questions I asked when I read the bio of one of the authors for some articles I posted. I clicked on the link and read about Eric Penz’s new book (see below). Fascinated by the story and the author’s journey, I requested an interview and Eric agreed. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you, Eric Penz …


Aneeta: Eric, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Eric: You’re more than welcome. I appreciate the opportunity.

Aneeta: Let’s begin with a little about you. Please tell me a little about where you were raised, where you live and what you do.

Eric: I’ve lived most of my life in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. For the past twenty years I’ve remained primarily in the suburbs of Seattle. It’s true that I’ve seen a great deal of rain in those twenty years, but I’ve got a secret for your viewers: It doesn’t rain in Seattle as much as we Washingtonians would like the rest of the world to believe. If everyone knew how much sun we get paradise would quickly be overrun.

Aside from my writing career I own an insurance and financial services agency in the small town of Redmond, home of the not so small corporation of Microsoft. We handle such financial needs as auto and home insurance, life insurance, retirement planning, and long term care insurance. All boring stuff compared to creating your own adventures on the page.

Aneeta: How did you first get into writing and what kind of stories do you write?

Eric: I’ve been writing since 1997. Being a lover of a good story since a young boy, I finally decided, just after I was married, that there were stories rattling around I my head that were as good as those I was reading. So I jumped in headfirst and tried my hand at the craft. As a reader, my tastes gravitate toward the thriller genre. I read Michael Crichton, Dan Brown, Preston and Childs, James Rollins, John Darnton, etc. So it’s not surprising that thrillers are what I write. For me thrillers represent a perfect form of storytelling. The genre combines the four primary sources of reader enjoyment: intriguing ideas, strong reader emotion, high character stakes, and clear moral themes.

Aneeta: It says, on your website, that you are an amateur adventure athlete. What is an adventure athlete?

Eric: An adventure athlete is typically one who participates in multiple outdoor sports such as kayaking, cycling—both on and off road, mountain climbing, rock climbing, skiing, surfing, etc. My loves are cycling, kayaking, skiing, and mountain climbing. In my heart I am an adventurer. I crave new adventures. Alas, today’s world, unlike the world of Lewis & Clark during the age of exploration, holds few true adventures left for us. So I compensate by participating in adventure sports and telling my own adventures. I’m an amateur because no one pays me to get out their on my bike or on the slopes of some Northwest volcano. I do it out of love of the experience. On my website, www.ericpenz.com, you can see varies photos taken of me participating in my favorite sports. I also post an adventure log. The latest describes my first ascent of Mt. Rainier, a 14,000 ft volcano in my home state of Washington.


Aneeta: Let’s get down to the book you wrote, Cryptid: The Lost Legacy of Lewis & Clark. Please describe the story for us.

Eric: is my debut novel, the story I began writing in 1997. Let me begin by defining the term cryptid. The term comes from a self-styled field of science known as cryptozoology. Cryptozoologists study cryptids, or animals of unexplained occurrence in time or space. They study animals such as the Loch Ness monster, yeti, bigfoot, giant squids, and the ivory-billed woodpecker.

The cryptid in my story is known as Sasquatch or bigfoot. Let me also remind your viewers who Lewis and Clark are.

In American history there may be no greater heroes. Meriwether Lewis and William Clark are legendary in every sense of the word. And they are so because in 1803 they led a small military party of explorers across the then unexplored, undiscovered, and untamed American west. They traveled from St. Louis, Missouri in the eastern United States (then the western frontier) thousands of miles west to the Pacific coast in what is now Oregon and Washington states. And their entire journey was recorded for us in their daily journals. No other human adventure that we have record of compares with that of Lewis & Clark’s.

The premise of my story is that President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis & Clark to the Pacific with a covert agenda. As such, much of what was written in their journals then concerned matters of national security. On top of that, their journals describe their encounter and discovery of a giant, bipedal primate known to the Native Americans as Sasquatch. For matters of both government and corporate concerns, Thomas Jefferson censored their journals, hiding several volumes of sensitive material. Now two hundred years later, his descendant, Mason Thomas Jefferson, is following cryptic clues left behind by Jefferson to finally uncover these fabled lost journals of Lewis & Clark.

Meanwhile, in the Olympic rainforest on the Pacific coast of Washington State, a pharmaceutical company is hunting the mythic Sasquatch in hopes, as native lore suggests, of finding a cure for cancer in its genes. Samantha Russell, a paleoanthropologist and expert on the giant, extinct ape know as Gigantopithecus, is following her own trail of cryptic clues sent to her by way of FedEx by one infamous cryptozoologist, Jon Ostman. Jon sent her actual bones nearly identical to the Gigantopithecus fossils she had been digging up in China. These bones, however, were found in Washington State. Driven by a toxic mix of curiosity and skepticism (Giganto had been extinct for 125,000 years after all, and it had inhabited southern Asia, not the American northwest) Samantha tracks Jon down in the remote Olympic rainforest as part of this pharmaceutical project.

Sam, Jon, and Mason soon learn they themselves are being hunted, as has been Sasquatch to near extinction, by a shadowy government agency intent on keeping Lewis & Clark’s discovery and mission a secret, even two hundred years later. And it is this hunt for the three conspiracy theorists, the mythic Sasquatch, and the fabled lost journals of Lewis & Clark then that takes the reader on an adventure through remote rainforests of the American northwest as well as the secret passageways of Washington D.C. Part thriller, part historical mystery, Cryptid is hopefully as entertaining as it is educational.

Aneeta: My Goodness, just reading that explanation makes it sound exciting. Where can my readers purchase a copy of this book if they so choose?

Eric: Certainly readers can purchase directly at my site, www.cryptid.com. Or they can go to amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com, or my publisher, www.iuniverse.com. Any local bookseller can also order the book if they don’t already carry it in stock.

Aneeta: Eric, you write about a ‘conspiracy within our own minds’. This is very interesting. What do you mean by this?

Eric: As you mention, I write about this conspiracy on my site, www.cryptid.com. Your viewers are welcome to read more there. In short, I believe there is an innate human trait that many of us are unaware of. A conspiracy against the truth that resides hidden within our own minds. You see human thought subliminally tends to create a blind spot for certain truths that may threaten deeply held beliefs about our world/universe. For example, most people believe on some level that they themselves and all of humanity are uniquely created in the universe, superior to all other forms of life. Any challenge to that belief is either ignored, rationalized away, oppressed, hidden, mocked, etc. The possibility then of another intelligent, bipedal primate inhabiting our world cannot be allowed. And thus the animal know as Sasquatch is relegated to myth and any one who claims otherwise is no more sane than one who believes in elves, fairies, aliens, and the boogeyman. I find this human phenomenon very interesting, and believe Sasquatch is a classic example of how it works.

Aneeta: Pardon my ignorance here but, what is a Sasquatch?

Eric: Sasquatch is the American equivalent of Asia’s yeti (some believe they are both descendent subspecies of the believed extinct ape know as Gigantopithecus). The animal has been known by Native American’s for thousands of years and by many, many names. Sasquatch is just the most popular name and actually comes from Canada. In the 1950’s, in northern California, the term bigfoot became popular as well (due to the large, humanlike footprints discovered at a logging site in Willow Creek). Most eyewitnesses describe the animal to be a large, hairy ape that walks erect as humans do. It stands maybe 7-10 feet tall, smells horrible, and is extremely elusive. Sasquatch may be the most famous of all cryptids.

Aneeta: After reading about the fact that you have a bachelor of science degree in environmental biology, I would hazard a guess that this has had an impact on what you write. Am I correct in so saying?

Eric: Absolutely. Science is intended as a pure method for learning truth, and as such I will always be a closet scientist. I was drawn to the field of environmental biology for its broad study of the world at large, unlike most disciplines which are quite narrow in their study. Cryptid touches on many environmental concerns, specifically the debate between conservation interests and resource management interests. Such debates usually have no clear winner and so it is the exercise of the debate that is of value. I suspect that the search for truth and the search for adventure go hand-in-hand, and therefore I’m sure my writing will always be influenced by science in some way.

Aneeta: As you may know, this website caters for storytellers. I’ve already added to my database of articles a very good article you wrote. What advice would you give storytellers?

Eric: Yes, and thank you for doing so, Aneeta. Succeeding at writing in any financial way is perhaps more difficult than in any other career. So any dreams of writing full time and living as we might imagine authors like Stephen King or John Grisham do needs to be put in proper context. Such dreams have their value in a motivational sense—plopping down in front of the computer and writing for hours on end for days and years at a time requires a great deal of motivation and we should take it in any form that it comes. But such a dream should not be WHY we write. Many of us, though, may be unsure of why it is that we write. There’s one way to find out. Quit. And if can quit, you should quit. It means you were writing for the wrong reasons. But if you find that you can’t quit, that you are just not happy, just not right in the mind and body if you don’t write, then you know you are writing for the right reasons. You are writing because it is who you are, not what you are. Once you know that, it’s then a matter of studying the craft. And since you are a writer you will find a way to learn the craft. All writers do.

Aneeta: This is all I have to ask you Eric. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Eric: A big thank you to your viewers for spending a few minutes with me. On my site, www.ericpenz.com, I keep a calendar of events. If any of my events bring me into the hometown of your viewers, I hope they will come out and say hello. It’s always a treat and a joy to meet fellow readers and craftsmen of stories.

Aneeta: Eric, once again, thank you for participating in the interview.

Eric: And thank you, Aneeta. Much success to you and your viewers.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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