Interview: Michael Lenio, author of Walk Away Dreaming


  1. What does “superversive” mean to you?

It used to be that we had a variety of opinions in this world, but we had a consensus on what constituted right and wrong. Somewhere along the way, something came undone. Now our media, including our fiction, is dominated by gatekeepers who promote a skewed sense of right and wrong and attempt to silence all voices who would dissent. Out here in the wilderness, we’re trying to restore to fiction that sense of genuine right and wrong, along with the notion that a truly good story is just that and not a framing mechanism for a political screed; and that if you DO have something to say about the world at large in your story, that something should be not another dreary tract about the political cause du jour but about the genuinely big stuff; eternal truths, what is common to all of us, what will not die. We’re not subverters, we’re restorers – we’re “superversive.”

  1. In what way is your work “superversive?

WALK AWAY DREAMING is an alternate history story around the question “What if the Beatles had stayed together?” I suspect that most people who try to answer that question approach it from the mainstream, which is to say “progressive,” side, and depict a world where all the acid-soaked dreams of the most radical elements of the 1960s come true; everyone is “free” in absolutely the worst and most self-destructive ways.

Yet the very best of the 60s dream – the part that is truly indelible – reaches our deepest hopes and wishes. “Peace and love,” after all, wasn’t just a slogan. A lot of people, if only for a brief moment, really believed it was possible in the here and now. The irony is that, for all of the later rejection of Judeo-Christian values that arose out of the time period, the hope of “peace and love” is one that has strong connections to faith. I remember reading an interview somewhere with Ray Manzarek, the Doors’ keyboard player, where he said that when he first heard around 1965 or so the things the “flower power” people were saying – love everyone, don’t judge others on the basis of their skin color, peace is better than war – they sounded to him like nothing so much as the lessons of his nuns and teachers at his old Catholic elementary school back in Chicago.

So, my idea in writing the book was: What if that dream hadn’t been derailed and gone in the directions it has taken since the 1960s? What if it had really remained about true “peace and love” – taking, in other words, the germ of the idea that the slogan “peace and love” represents and expanding it fully, exploring it, and realizing its implications, especially at the spiritual level? I could only see one way that could lead a sincere person, and that one Way would be – upward….

  1. Tell me about your book. How did you come up with that (story, angle, idea)?

Much of the alternate history out there has to do with either military scenarios (Civil War, World War II) or political ones (JFK survives, Lincoln survives). I was interested in a more cultural path, and as a longtime Beatles fanatic I wanted to explore the notion of what would have happened had they stayed together. This notion has become more common in recent years, but it wasn’t common when I first starting toying around with the “timeline” scenarios that would eventually grow into WALK AWAY DREAMING (I’m aware that other books involving the Beatles staying together have appeared in the interim; I purposely did not read any of them because I wanted to avoid picking up other people’s ideas, even inadvertently).

At first the sheer idea of the Beatles staying together, and even performing live again, was exciting in and of itself. But when I began to think about making what was just a scenario into an honest-to-goodness story, I found myself confronted with a question that surprised even me: So what?

I found that simply writing about a universe where things turned out differently in the past in a neutral sense was dull and uninspiring, except maybe as a strictly intellectual enterprise. That sort of alternate history tends not to go anywhere. Many t alternate history writers, therefore, depict either utopian or dystopian results from the changes they depict. It’s fairly easy to imagine a happier world resulting from Adolf Hitler dying in the First World War (although the resulting world might be more complicated than you were expecting), but what, really, would change for the better – or worse – in a world where the Beatles stayed together, aside from a few more albums and maybe some concerts?

The answer came when I reframed the question in a larger way: what if the whole 60s movement had gone a different way, not into drugs and radical politics but in the direction of the spiritual fulfillment it had first promised? Now, THAT was something that I could chew on!

  1. How did you get interested in writing this particular genre (historical novels, mysteries, sci-fi, children’s books, etc.)?

Alternate history is fascinating to me, since I’m a history buff, and the Beatles are fascinating to me, because I’ve been a fan since childhood. But I think everyone is fascinated by alternate history to some extent, whether they call it “alternate history” or not, and whether or not they are even fans of history. Who among us has not speculated about questions like “what if this thing had happened differently, instead of that thing?” We may not all conduct such speculation at the esoteric level of “what if the Japanese Privy Council had stood up to the Japanese navy in 1912 when the naval minister threatened to resign, and thus reasserted the principle of civilian control over the Japanese military,” but nearly every one of us has to have thought about what turns our individual lives would have taken had we followed through on that plan to move to a different city, or if we had not met our spouses, or if we had chosen to go to a different college, and so forth. History is just the sum of all those little individual decisions, really.

  1. Tell us about your story/series:

WALK AWAY DREAMING starts out with a major figure from the 1950s surviving to become the Beatles’ new manager. They also add a fifth member from among the pantheon of 1960s rock stars. And they do go back out onto the road, staying together into the 1970s. But the part of the book that matters most to me is what happens to John Lennon: what he learns about life, about what is important and valuable and what isn’t, about God and our relation to him. I think of him as the symbolic character in the book for what happens to the entire 60s generation and the ones that come after it.

WALK AWAY DREAMING is a stand-alone book and not part of a series, but I’m thinking about following it up with a series that would take place in a parallel universe where things have turned out happier for the world in general, tentatively called “Ootland” (very much a working title at this point).

  

  1. What’s the best thing about being an author?

The best part is the opportunity to express my ideas about what a better world would look like; one happier, healthier, more honest, and closer to God. It’s partly a form of escapism, but I also would like to try to inspire people to help make the world that we have better in whatever ways they can.

  1. What was your second dog’s name?

His name, I guess, is I Don’t Exist, since I’ve never owned a dog. We have a very sweet three-year-old Siamese cat named Sasha.

  1. Where are you from?

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a blue-collar town where – at least when I was a kid – people held solid blue-collar values. Today Wilkes-Barre and neighboring Scranton are overrun with drugs and crime, just like so many similar ex-industrial towns.

  1. A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).

I was born in 1965 (while the Beatles were at the top of the charts with “Help!”). I grew up in a working family, with a father who was a truck driver and a mother who worked in a dress family, in a blue-collar neighborhood. I was a cradle Catholic but went through the whole would-be spiritual seeker extravaganza (see the Who’s song “The Seeker”) of reading the Bhagavad Gita and reading about Buddhism and wading through all manner of New Age mumbo jumbo, until I rediscovered my faith in a dramatic moment in 2001 when the Holy Spirit filled me with joy during what had been a rather sad moment in my life. I’ve got an MBA and I work for the Catholic church in a secular capacity. My wife and I live in Portland, Oregon. We’re also members of the Elks – hey, it’s about the charities!

  1. How did you come up with the title?

I could have just used a Beatles song title, of course – but that would have been too obvious. Instead, I used the title of an imaginary Beatles song: one written by the aforementioned 60s rock-star-pantheon member who joins the group as their new fifth member in 1968. (Conveying imaginary music is a little difficult in writing, but: Try to hear in your head the Beatles performing a song in the mid-70s that sounds something like Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”; that’s roughly how I hear, inside my head, the song “Walk Away Dreaming.”)

 

  1. Who designed the covers?

Jeremiah Humphries! Yay!

  1. Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.

When I first started puttering around with the whole Beatles scenario on various Internet alternate-history boards, I met Paul Mendoza, who had a similar scenario in mind about the Beach Boys. We started spitballing, and encouraging each other to turn our rough ideas into genuine stories. He’s published his Beach Boys story as a book as well, The Eyes That Smiled.

  1. What makes you laugh/cry?

Absurd humor, or just life in general. I don’t like mean humor or so-called “political” humor, which is usually just a cover for mean humor.

  1. Do you have any hobbies?

Model railroading – I belong to a model train club here in the Portland area.

  1. Where can your fans find you and follow??

I don’t have a blog yet – coming soon! – but I’m out there on Facebook.

See Walk Away Dreaming on Amazon

L. Jagi Lamplighter-Wright

Post A Reply