Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Forward to Camelot

This month marks the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination and as expected, the assassination and conspiracy theories are getting another examination. One book with an intriguing theory is Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition, by authors Susan Sloate and Kevin Finn.


What was the collaborative process like for you and Kevin writing Forward To Camelot?

KF: A collaboration really just magnifies all the aspects of individual writing, and ours was no different.  When we were doing good work, turning out good pages or having good ideas, it was fun and inspirational.  Some days, one partner carries the other. Other times, when you’re both flat, it’s frustrating and self-defeating.  

Susan and I discuss almost every creative decision, sometimes ad nauseum, but in every collaboration there is a leader, someone who ultimately makes the final creative decisions. Since Forward to Camelot is written from a female character’s perspective, it was logical Susan be the one to make those decisions.  It’s often very difficult for an individual writer to give up such creative control, but I’d learned over the years of working with Susan on screenwriting projects to trust her judgment. We’re always receptive to each other’s ideas-they may not work out, but we almost always try them.  We certainly had our battles over what was best for the story or the characters, some of them very maddening, but if you don’t have faith in your partner and what they can do, there’s no point in collaborating. 

Since I tend to write edgier thrillers, it was natural for me to work on the more action-oriented sequences, such as the gunfight at Redbird Airport or the climactic rescue scenes, while Susan focused on the character relationships and interactions. We re-wrote and edited each other’s scenes constantly, always mindful of keeping the character and story on focus. We are both very story-oriented writers. Eventually Susan re-wrote every scene to make sure the tone and point of view--Cady’s point of view--was consistent.  There may be two writers but there can be only one style or point of view.    

The editing process is where I put years of writing & analyzing screenplays to use.  Not every writer can objectively analyze their own writing and cut it down to where it should be.  Writers really have to check their egos during editing; you’re going to lose a lot of what you love, but if something doesn’t fit the story or breaks the pace, it has to go. For example, we had a beautifully written scene where JFK and Bobby Kennedy confront J. Edgar Hoover over his betrayal, but since it took the narrative away from Cady for too long a time, we made the difficult choice to cut the scene.  

Overall, we complement each other well. My strengths may be Susan’s weakness, and vice versa. Everything we thought, everything we did, every creative choice we made was all for the sake of a stronger story or character.

What kind of research did you do regarding JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination?

SS: The research for Camelot was mind-boggling—by far the most I’ve ever done for any project—but honestly, it was worth it. We looked deeply into all kinds of sources and found some marvelous stuff that most readers just do not know about JFK, about his life and about the assassination. That’s why I think we had so many details people praised us for with the first edition of the book; they thought we made it up! (You can’t make up this stuff, folks.) Among other things, we went through a lot of the Warren Commission volumes—the 26 volumes of photographs, interviews and film strips—that have netted golden information over the years to other researchers. It’s scary to think that the Warren Commission Report says that Oswald was a lone nut, but their own exhibits and interviews—which they published to back up their thesis—prove they were wrong; it was a conspiracy. They just never believed Americans would care enough to dig into those volumes, and I think it must have been a shock to realize so many Americans cared so much. It’s those curious researchers, the ones who dug and dug and never gave up—who gave us more information about what really happened to Kennedy than any government body.

KF: I pride myself on being a great researcher, but I have never researched any subject as thoroughly or as passionately as we researched Forward to Camelot. We wanted to stick as closely as possible to actual history, so in order to maintain a consistent plotline, we had to know everything we could possibly could.  We read almost every book, every paper, every theory on the assassination. Books like Dr. James Fetzer’s Murder in Dealey Plaza:What We Know Now That We Didn’t Know Then really opened my eyes to the entire concept of conspiracy.  I listened to political analysts, recordings of Oswald’s voice, JFK’s speeches and television appearances, attended lectures and symposiums focused on JFK’s legacy in the civil rights movement. We had to know JFK and Lee Oswald as people before we could get them right as characters.We consulted the national archives and the JFK Library. We did extensive research into Dallas of the 1960’s, including the culture, the storefronts, the architecture, the dress styles, sports events. We consulted with race car schools to see if the cars of the ’60’s could perform the type of maneuvers we describe. We researched scientific theories on time travel trying to find one that would best suit our needs to propel Cady back to 1963. The research for Forward to Camelot began well before there was an Internet, so most of our research came from books, libraries, historians, conspiracy theorists...using old time hard-copy documents. At times, it was very daunting and tough to keep our timelines on track.  There were years of research before we were ready to write a single word for the novel itself.

For this re-edited version, I brushed up on all the original research, but also focused on the emotional aspect of the assassination to put me in the right frame of mind:  I re-read William Manchester’s Death of a President and Ellen Fitzpatrick’s Letters to Jackie, both of which make me cry openly.  I visited the JFK Museum in Hyannis, went to the little church the Kennedy family used to worship in. There’s an unmistakable aura that permeates the air in Hyannis; as if any moment, you’ll see Jack and Bobby Kennedy walking down the street toward you. 
Tell us about Cady Cuyler and the process that takes her back from present-day to 1963:

KF: While the time-travel process in Forward to Camelot is really just a trigger to ignite Cady’s adventure back in 1963, it had to be a believable process.  We didn’t want to get bogged down in the various sciences or theories surrounding time travel, but still wanted something sophisticated enough to make readers believe it could happen in a way other storytellers had yet to use.  So we theorized that if the Internet were indeed a ‘superhighway’, why couldn’t it be a superhighway between one time period and another?  If there existed the concept of ‘cyber space’, then so, too, could the concept of ‘cyber time‘ exist.  Using the basics of  ‘bridging‘ --the process of delivering media from one location to another inside a computer-- we simply turned the Internet into a time travel device. 

Will there be more books with Cady Cuyler?

SS: Actually, there’s a sequel in the works right now, which does NOT involve further time travel but does deal with the repercussions of the time travel Cady did in Camelot.

Turns out time travel may not be all that great for your health, which Cady will find out once she’s finished her first major film and is invited to join the cast of a live television ballroom dance competition. Not only is she not feeling as well as before, it turns out that what she changed in going back in time is now coming back to haunt her. I thought that was a great way to tie together Camelot and the new novel. And I’m open to more time-travel adventures. There are a dozen different episodes in American history it would be wonderful to re-visit with Cady.

KF: I always saw Forward to Camelot as a stand-alone story, but Cady’s the kind of character that could carry a series and there’s a wealth of historic scenarios we could explore. This is such a personal story of one woman’s (fictional) journey against an epic setting: the assassination of JFK is undoubtedly the most pivotal moment of the 20th century, with the entire course of world history being changed in six seconds.  So many of our readers lived through the Kennedy assassination, the memories are still so fresh, they are emotionally invested in both the character and the setting.  It’s a very unique blend of fact and fiction, and it’s the same reason why a film like Titanic worked so well.

  What else would you like us to know about you and the book?

KF: Writing about John F. Kennedy seems like it was destiny for me.  I grew up in an Irish home that idolized JFK.  There was always the famous portrait of him hanging on the wall just outside my bedroom, featuring his ‘Ask not what your country can do for you...’ quote.  I first read John F. Kennedy and PT 109 when I was nine years old.  We’d always go out to an aunt’s house for summer holidays and I’d spend all my time in her basement reading that book, every time we went out there. So that’s where it began, and with Forward to Camelot, the circle is complete. 


On the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination comes a new edition of the extraordinary time-travel thriller first published in 2003, with a new Afterword from the authors.

On November 22, 1963, just hours after President Kennedy's assassination, Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as President aboard Air Force One using JFK's own Bible. Immediately afterward, the Bible disappeared. It has never been recovered. Today, its value would be beyond price.

In the year 2000, actress Cady Cuyler is recruited to return to 1963 for this Bible - while also discovering why her father disappeared in the same city, on the same tragic day. Finding frightening links between them will lead Cady to a far more perilous mission: to somehow prevent the President's murder, with one unlikely ally: an ex-Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald.

Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition brings together an unlikely trio: a gallant president, the young patriot who risks his own life to save him, and a woman who knows their future, who is desperate to save them both.

History CAN be altered...


The man in the doorway was yawning, and his bright chestnut hair, flecked with threads of gray, was tousled. He wore half glasses down on his nose and held a thick typewritten report in one hand. His navy silk tie was pulled down, his white shirt was rumpled. His eyes, though bloodshot, focused on us politely.
I was face to face with President John F. Kennedy.
He looked at us, puzzled, and glanced around the empty hallway.
I knew if I didn’t speak that I’d never have another chance, but I couldn’t think of a thing to say. The President looked at us, raised an eyebrow.
Quick, Cady, say something. “Mr. President, my name is Cady Cuyler.” Beside me, I felt Lee start at the words. “I’ve come a long way to speak to you. Please, it’s very urgent.”
He was still puzzled. “Where’s my Secret Service detail?”
I took a deep breath. In for a penny, in for a pound. “They’re out drinking at a nightclub called The Cellar, here in Fort Worth. They left some Fort Worth firemen to guard you. They’ll be pretty hung over in the morning.”
Kennedy looked down at me. His eyes were a bit brighter, though it was now close to 2:00 a.m.  He looked over at Lee, who gave him a tense smile, and stood almost at military attention. He looked back at me and asked quietly, “And how do you know this?”
It was time. His hand was on the doorknob. Almost imperceptibly, he was inching it shut. 
I took a deep breath. “I’ll tell you, but you’re not going to believe me.” I waited; he waited too. But he was listening; I still had a chance.
“I’m from the future. I don’t live in Dallas in 1963. I live in New York in the year 2000. I’m here to warn you, sir, and save you if I can. If you don’t listen to me now… you’re going to die in less than 12 hours.”

Oswald had turned to me in alarm. Kennedy’s gray eyes never left my face while I spoke. When I stopped, hoping, praying I had reached him, he glanced down for a moment, then down the hall. All was quiet, the annoying yellow lights still burning overhead. Like casinos in Vegas, it was impossible to know from the artificial light in the hotel whether it was noon or midnight.
“You’re right,” the President said in that distinctive accent. “I don’t believe you.” He started to close the door in my face.
Before he could, I was talking again, as quickly and persuasively as I could. “Why would I make up a story like that? It makes no sense. Unless it was true!”
His gaze was even and noncommittal, but at least he’d stopped closing the door. “Can you prove it?”


SUSAN SLOATE is the author of 20 previous books, including the recent bestseller Stealing Fire and Realizing You (with Ron Doades), for which she invented a new genre: the self-help novel. The original 2003 edition of Forward to Camelot became a #6 Amazon bestseller, took honors in three literary competitions and was optioned by a Hollywood company for film production.

Susan has also written young-adult fiction and non-fiction, including the children’s biography Ray Charles: Find Another Way!, which won the silver medal in the 2007 Children’s Moonbeam Awards. Mysteries Unwrapped: The Secrets of Alcatraz led to her 2009 appearance on the TV series MysteryQuest on The History Channel. Amelia Earhart: Challenging the Skies is a perennial young-adult Amazon bestseller. She has also been a sportswriter and a screenwriter, managed two recent political campaigns and founded an author’s festival in her hometown outside Charleston, SC.

After beginning his career as a television news and sports writer-producer, KEVIN FINN moved on to screenwriting and has authored more than a dozen screenplays. He is a freelance script analyst and has worked for the prestigious American Film Institute Writer’s Workshop Program. He now produces promotional trailers, independent film projects including the 2012 documentary SETTING THE STAGE: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, and local content for Princeton Community Television.

His next novel, Banners Over Brooklyn, will be released in 2014.

For updates and more information about Forward to Camelot: 50th Anniversary Edition, please visit