Zan-Gah is an adventure story about a young boy. Pressed by a bad conscience and love for Dael, his missing brother, the hero undertakes a quest which leads to suffering, captivity, conflict, love, and triumph. In three years, Zan-Gah passes from an uncertain boyhood to a tried and proven manhood and a role of leadership among his people. The adventure continues in the sequel, Zan-Gah and the Beautiful Country.
Being an art history professor for most of your career, what made you become an author?
Nothing remarkable about it. As a professor, I did lots of scholarly writing. A retired professor needs to keep busy, and I happen to have a very active imagination. Ideas kept coming, I kept writing them down on note cards, and one day I started writing. I must say that my background in art history was fertile soil for my ideas to grow in. I have looked at and studied prehistoric art and the lives of the people who made it.
2) Both books seem to have an equally complex yet action-packed storyline. Where did you get the inspiration and ideas for these books?
Ideas come from all sorts of unlikely places. Geography had a lot to do with it. My travels through the fantastic landscape of the western United States gave me the idea of a story of survival in an arid land. How did early travelers survive there? That's a question that can set the imagination roiling. Later I visited one of Missouri's great caves, Onondaga, where I got more ideas and took scads of notes. (I was the only guy in the cave who was taking notes.) There really were eyeless salamanders which spent their entire lives in absolute darkness and needed no sight, and a very quiet stream that could take a rod right out of your hand. Inspiration! In my own neighborhood a group meets every Sunday to beat their drums and other instruments of percussion—twenty musicians thumping away. When, in the initial chapter of the first book, I describe the thunder of drums, I had my local experience of them in mind. Of course I mixed all these experiences, and a great many more, with action and conflict. There has to be conflict.
3) Zan-Gah: Prehistoric Adventure centers around Zan-Gah's quest to find his brother. Do you yourself have any close siblings that perhaps inspired Zan-Gah's devotion to Dael?
Maybe I do. Maybe I have a close brother who moved off to California soon after I retired and settled in St. Louis, where he lived. Maybe I have to cross the whole darned country to see him and his family. But I swear that I was not thinking of him when I wrote of Zan and his twin brother Dael. I would rather say that Zan's search for his twin in a strange, wild world parallels his search for himself and his manhood. So put away your "Freud for Dummies." You might uncover more than I want you to.
4) Are the characters, setting and culture in the books based upon actual civilizations or are they purely fictional?
The settings and cultures owe a good deal to some that I have studied or become acquainted with. I have seen petroglyphs (etchings in stone) like the one I describe in the desert, and cave paintings like the ones in Lissa-Na's cave, and a ceremony of tribal union like the one at the end of the first Zan-Gah book. But I have not seen them all in the same place. I borrowed real prehistoric things and used them rather freely, and with a lot of imagined stuff in addition. The truth is, I am not expecting people to read my Zan-Gah books for accurate archaeological/anthropological information. I am writing stories about human beings, their conflicts, their hurts, and their passions.
5) Both books in this series have multiple themes, such as brotherhood, gender roles, and bravery. Is there a certain message you wanted to convey?
There are a number of humanistic messages. I urge integrity, self-reliance, self-discipline, and courage, but I think my main message is that when people become violent and cruel it is not always their fault, and that there is nobility in caring and feeling for others when they are at their worst. If prehistoric cave people could do it, so can we.
6) In terms of characterization, plot development and writing, what was most challenging for you?
Plot problems were challenging. I myself did not always know where I was going with the story, and the plot worked itself out in both books by fits and starts. My main character, Zan-Gah, presented some problems too. He is such a good guy, and good guys are not always interesting. I couldn't have him chopping up his enemies just to entertain the reader. That was what his twin brother was good for. Dael may be read as Zan's violent alter ego. Get out your "Freud" again, will ya.
7) Being an author, what is the most rewarding aspect?
Easy question. When a twelve or thirteen year old kid tells me that he/she loved my book, felt its emotions, and could "read it over and over," I have my reward.
Thanks so much for your time, Allan. Make sure you check out the Zan-Gah series if you're into adventure novels with lots of substance!
Artist, teacher, author, and historian Allan Richard Shickman was an art history professor at the University of Northern Iowa for three decades. His first novel, Zan-Gah: A Prehistoric Adventure, won an Eric Hoffer Notable Book Award, and was a Finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award.The series received the Mom's Choice Gold Seal for Excellence. Shickman has published articles in English Literary Renaissance, Studies in English Literature, Notes and Queries, Colby Quarterly, Art Bulletin, Art History.