Wednesday, May 6, 2015

PUYB Virtual Book Club Chats with 'Escape Through the Wilderness' Gary Rodriguez

My name is Gary Rodriguez, and I live in California. I'm the president of LeaderMetrix Inc., a consulting company that specializes in senior-level executive coaching, organizational development, and conflict resolution. 

Previously, I worked for eighteen years in the radio business as an executive where I spent several years as one of the original managers of Infinity Broadcasting.

Following a successful radio career I became the president of a non-profit organization for a season. 

As a young man, I spent a tour of duty in the U.S. Army where I was recognized as the youngest Drill Instructor in the Army's history at age 18 years. I was also awarded the Silver Star (the nation's third highest award for valor) while serving in a combat zone.

Over the past few years, I've written three non-fiction books and then I decided to write a novel.

My first book, Purpose-Centered Public Speaking, was published in 2009 and was re-published this summer (2014). Then I wrote a companion workbook designed to help people implement the principles taught in my first book. Next, I wrote Overcoming The Fear Of Public Speaking. And this past year, I wrote my first novel, Escape Through The Wilderness. 

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About the Book:

Sixteen-year-old Savannah Evans walks with a slight limp thanks to a gymnastics’ accident that dashed her Olympic dreams, but didn’t stop her from attending an adventure camp in Idaho. At Camp Arrowhead, she quickly befriends Jade Chang and Rico Cruz, but Conner Swift taunts Savi because of her injury.

When the four are teamed together for an overnight white-water river rafting adventure, Savi refuses to get in the same raft with Conner. Unfortunately, the director will not reassign her.

A fun expedition down the river turns into a nightmare when their raft slams into a huge rock and their adult guide disappears down the river.

Without their guide and desperately trying to steer an out-of-control raft, they pass the “last chance” marker and enter the larger rapids. With Jade pinned between the raft and a rock, and Rico clinging to a lifeline, Savi must cut the raft free.

When the four drag themselves out of the river, they’re bruised, beaten, lost, and twenty-five miles from camp. Because of late-night campfire tales of Vexel, a vicious animal that roams the nearby woods, Savi and the others are terrified.

Savi becomes the unlikely leader who tries to guide the group back to Camp Arrowhead. Limited supplies, injuries, and the constant threat of Vexel—who Savi fears is stalking them, complicate the harrowing return trip.

Readers will enjoy dramatic survival scenes and the group working together, solving problems, and learning to overcome adversity.

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Thanks for joining us at the book club, Gary.  Can we begin by having you tell us how you got started writing for teens?

Gary: Our schools are filled with young emerging leaders looking for insight and guidance related to leadership. Learning leadership principles can be boring but it doesn’t have to be. My hope is that Escape Through the Wilderness, its sequel, and other books like this can fan the flame of leadership in today’s youth.

Is that genre hard to write in your own experience and how do you – as an adult - get into the voice of a young teen?

GaryEscape Through the Wilderness gave me a distinctive opportunity to write to today’s youth about leadership and teach key principles in the context of a wilderness survival adventure. Honestly, writing the book was fairly easy for me. My confidence in writing was piqued by the fact that I have experience in survival, the wilderness, white-water rafting, hunting, fishing, hiking, evasion, and navigating the wild. All these are woven into this thrilling survival story. I’ve spend a lot of time
around teens and enjoy studying the way they think, act, and talk. As an adult, I tried to mimic what I’ve seen and heard when hanging out with teens. It was a lot of fun to create four vastly different type of teen characters from various parts of the country.

Can you tell us about your main character, Savannah Evans?

Gary: Savi is a strong and compassionate person who values friendships and holds deep spiritual convictions.  The book does a good job of showing her inclination toward leadership, her passion for faith, and her strong feelings about friendships.  The story also revealed why she's been carrying some deep hurt inside for the last several months.

Can you tell us a little about the supporting characters?

Gary: Although Savi Evans is the main character in the story, Rico, Jade, and Conner also attend the summer camp and become key characters in the story. Each of them is from a different part of the country and unique in their own way. But through a series of circumstances they are thrust into a situation that forces them to learn to get along, work together as a team, and deal with what looks like insurmountable obstacles in order to survive. Each character has their own personal challenges that eventually surface exposing their struggles back at home.

Now away at an adventure camp they find themselves stranded in the wildness twenty-five miles from Camp Arrowhead following a freak river rafting accident. Against all odds, they must survive the wild and make their way back to the camp.In some ways, the story is an analogy about life and the challenges we all must learn to conquer. Throughout the story, Savi, Rico, Jade, and Conner demonstrate a positive example of both healthy personal and team development.

My hope is that readers will see themselves in each of the characters portrayed in the story. One more character I've not mentioned yet. His name is Luke, and he's a very special part of the story. I can't go into any detail about him, or I'd give the story away. But I know readers will find him a vital character in the story. 

Vexel seems to be a mean creature.  Can you tell us what part Vexel plays in the book and why the teens seem to be fearful of him?

Gary: Vexel is a mysterious and vicious animal that stalks the teens following their river rafting accident. Vexel is responsible for several brutal deaths in the wilderness area where the teens have crashed their raft. No one that has seen Vexel has survived. Therefore, no one is quite sure what kind of animal it is. Not only does the foursome have to find their way back to camp through a challenging wilderness but they also have to evade Vexel who continues to prowl the area they are stranded in.

They say all books of fiction have pivotal points where the reader just can’t put the book down.  What’s one of the pivotal points in your book, Escape Through the Wilderness?

Gary: Once the group has their river rafting accident it become a page turner if I don’t say so myself. Here’s what one reviewer said about the story:

"Masterfully crafted by Gary Rodriguez, Escape Through the Wilderness tells the gripping story of four teenagers whose rafting accident forces them to fight for their survival and defy all odds to come out alive. Taking the book’s premise directly from his own military experiences, Rodriguez constructed the narrative to turn young readers into admirable leaders and explore issues related to faith, abuse and forgiveness."

What’s next for you, Gary?

Gary: I’m one-third of the way through writing the sequel to Escape Through the Wilderness. Finishing that book is my current focus and priority. Please allow me to say thanks for taking the time to interview me. I sincerely hope your readers enjoy my adventure story. All the best.

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