Author Interview The Checkered War

  • How long have you been writing?

I wrote my first short story while I was in elementary school. When I went to college, I thought I had to do something more noble, like go to medical school or law school. Every time I changed my major I changed it back to English and creative writing. Seven times! I have been writing ever since in various disciplines such as adult fiction novels, illustrated novelettes, biographies, short stories, and screenplays. The Checkered War is the debut of my first book for children.

  • What is your favorite genre to write?

I love to write suspense and thrillers, peppered with a dose of drama, and always humor.

  • Which genre have you never tried before, but would you like to try out?

I’d like to write a historical fiction novel, where I get to make up the story, but all of the historical facts are accurate and true. This of course entails research research research!

  • Please tell us about your book.

The Checkered War is about a feud that is raging between three colonies. Although they had been fighting since the beginning of last summer, this summer, this particular battle, will secure a lasting victory. The Harvesters live near the paved road beside a large and spacious wheat field. Their rival, the Carpenters, live west of where the road splits into a bumpy and dusty path leading into the abandoned forest. And the Blood Red Slave Hunters live wherever they please. Everyone is afraid of them. This is the story of war and feast, and … no not famine… more feast!

And of Willy, our unlikely hero who has been adopted by the Harvesters. He is from the Black-Haired Garden colony and is nothing like them. Small and young, he knows nothing of war. How can he possibly help prepare for the big battle?

Willy learns that some species are parasites who never work, wandering around feeding off other colonies. Others are thieves and robbers, or killers and cannibals. And it’s always about war.

Does Willy merely try to survive, or does he figure out how to be a useful member of the colony? Can an insignificant like Willy help to win an unstoppable war?

  • Which character was your favorite, and why? Which character was your least favorite, and why?

I love Willy because he is faced with enormous challenges, yet never gives up. I admire Ada because although she lacks self-confidence, she is dependable and will do whatever is required. I like Twiggy because she is energetic, corny and funny. And I like Queen Opal because although she is stern and disciplined, she is fair, and wants nothing more than to protect her colony. My least favorite is Queen Dimona because she is vicious and unrelenting in her ability to hurt others.

  • What was the hardest part about writing your book?

The Ant Facts. I wanted them to be correct and precise, so I did an enormous amount of research, reading several books, including a 732-page encyclopedia-like scientific volume entitled The Ants.

  • What is your writing routine? Are there things you absolutely need to start writing?

I write every day for four to six hours. I spend the rest of the day plotting and planning, making outlines, and most of all researching needed information to make sure what I am writing is correct. I make very detailed outlines, carefully plotting the introduction to the characters, the inciting incident, and each turning point. I know the ending before I start writing, and write from start to finish to get there.

  • How long did it take you to write your book from start to finish?

The Checkered War took me one year to write. Half of that time was spent on the illustrations. I knew what I wanted them to look like, but I knew nothing about the art of air brushing. So I bought a couple of books and started practicing until I got the nine illustrations right.

  • Can you tell us about your editing process?

The editing process is a bottomless pit. For most authors, we can nit-pick each sentence and every word, changing some minute detail constantly. I do this to some degree, and I usually edit my book 20 or 30 times. At some point I have to realize that changing one more word is not going to change the story, so I say, “Okay, this is it.” And I move on to the next one. Otherwise I would never move on.

  • Is this book part of a series? If so, how many installments do you have planned?

Another book about ants is not in the works. But similar books that combine fiction with fact are always swimming around in my creative brain… we shall see which one surfaces first.

  • Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

To quote Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up.”

  • Why should everyone read your book?

To quote an Amazon reader:

“Who knew there was so much going on behind the scenes of our annual summer picnics? While we may gripe and complain about ant attacks targeting our watermelons and potato salads, until now, we have been blithely unaware of the battle below. Thank you, Aunt Haggis, for pulling back the corner of our picnic blankets to expose the secret underworld of the ant kingdom.

Targeted to 7 to 14 year-olds, The Checkered War is sure to captivate and delight its readers with intrigue and suspense. The Harvester, Carpenter, and Blood Red Slave Hunter ant colonies are at war with one another providing the perfect venue for readers to eavesdrop on their secret battle plans and strategy. Will the workers finish their battle assignments in time? Will the soldiers’ conditioning be enough to withstand the coming onslaught? Will the queen be captured? Will the ants in the nursery be carried away to safety in time of the invasion? Which colony will prevail?

The Checkered War is a memorable journey from beginning to end. The watercolor illustrations add not only beauty to the reading experience, but a tangible anchor to those readers who have a more visual learning style. The “Ant Fact” sections brought great joy to this educator’s heart as Aunt Haggis integrated the drama of storytelling with actual scientific knowledge. Bravo!”

  • If you could meet three authors, dead or alive, which authors would you choose?

Agatha Christie, David Baldacci, and Dr. Seuss.

  • What inspired you to write your book?

I became fascinated with ants when I bought an ant farm for one of my kids for Christmas. The idea that my child could view and study these tiny, industrious creatures was intriguing. And I would be teaching him something new and fun.

So I thought.

But the box remained unopened. For two years.

One day while cleaning out his closet, I noticed the ant farm smothered in a pile of clothes on the floor. Apparently, he still wasn’t fascinated, intrigued or mildly interested.

But I was.

So I took the box to my downstairs home office and set up the ant farm. Then with the coupon I found inside, I sent away for my live harvester ants and impatiently waited.

Finally, the ants arrived, and I was elated! I carefully poured the contents of the plastic vile into the ant farm, not letting a single ant escape, and voila! Instant ant farm! After a brief awakening to their new home, the ants set to work.

I watched fascinated as nature’s tiniest engineers dug tunnels, built roads, and erected bridges. They built room after room, segregating their living space, and never quit working! As I excitedly observed them day by day, I began to notice things they do that are just like humans, only better. They work together quietly, quickly and efficiently. Without training, classrooms, or the Internet, the ants figured out how to cooperate with each other, working as a unit to build a colony, find food, and take care of their young.

Simply stated: ants are pure inspiration.

And then I thought: “What if there was a book that readers assumed was about humans, but it was really about ants?”

  • Are you working on something at the moment? If so, can you tell us more about it?

I am currently writing a true adventure novel of a famous river runner who, against all odds, successfully conquered a first ascent of the violent Grijalva River in El Sumidero Canyon in southern Mexico in 1962. Faced with 16 miles of never-ending class five and class six rapids, he and his 15-man crew navigate the treacherous white water from sun up to sun down. With capsized boats, injured men, and weakened by dysentery, how did they get to the takeout? Why weren’t they killed, or why didn’t they abandoned the challenge, like those before them?

About The Checkered War

A feud is raging between three colonies. Although the Harvesters, Carpenters, and Blood Red Slave Hunters have been fighting since last year, this summer will secure a lasting victory for only one of them. This is the story of war and feast and … no, not famine… more feast!

And of Willy, our unlikely hero who has been adopted by the Harvesters. He is from the Black-Haired Garden colony and is nothing like them. Small and young, he knows nothing of war. How can he possibly help prepare for the big battle?

Willy learns that some species are parasites who never work, wandering around feeding off other colonies. Others are thieves and robbers, or killers and cannibals. And it’s always about war.

Does Willy merely try to survive, or does he figure out how to be a useful member of the colony? Can an insignificant like Willy help to win an unstoppable war?

At the end of each chapter, real science information called “Ant Facts” provide fascinating knowledge about the real lives of different species of ants.

And they explain why Willy is going to do what Willy is going to do!

Buy the book on Amazon.

About Aunt Haggis

Aunt Haggis is a published author, photographer, and outdoor enthusiast. She literally grew up on the river studying nature, rafting wild whitewater rapids, basking in the sun, and sleeping under a canopy of brilliant constellations. When she wasn’t looking up to examine the stars at night, she was looking down by day to investigate the most intriguing of creatures… ants. You will find her discoveries in The Checkered War.

Aunt Haggis has previously written seven full-length screenplays, one adult fiction novel, one illustrated novelette (which was a recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award), a biography (of a famous river runner), and numerous magazine articles under a boring name she is required to use for business. The Checkered War is the debut of her first book for children.

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