George Sirois has known the next great young adult sci-fi hero since 1992. Eighteen years, the death of a beloved family member, and numerous incarnations later, Sirois is finally letting the rest of the world in on it. Excelsior, the story of a young boy who discovers that the planet Denab IV he’s created in stories is actually a real place that he is destined to save, has just been released by Infinity Publishing and is Sirois’ second novel.
Below, Sirois talks about the origins of Excelsior, the cousin who inspired both him and the story, and his attraction to YA science fiction.
Teresa Jusino: Tell us about Excelsior.
George Sirois: Excelsior is a character I created in 1992, between my sophomore and junior years of high school. In 2008, I took the plunge and participated in National Novel Writing Month so that I could tell the definitive story of this character. The story’s about a young high school senior named Matthew Peters, who has spent the past seven years developing a web comic with his main character being Excelsior, the savior of a faraway planet named Denab IV. Matthew is visited by a beautiful older woman who claims to be from Denab IV, and also claims that Matthew has been writing and drawing Excelsior’s memories. He is the key to Excelsior’s return on Earth, and he’s needed badly now that his two biggest enemies are re-surfacing on both planets.
This story is the tip of the iceberg. I have two more Excelsior stories planned, and the third part leads to another series involving characters that go back with me all the way to 1985. That series will eventually lead to another series—featuring the son of the previous main character—which will wrap up the whole saga and bring it full circle.
TS: I’ve read on your Excelsior blog that this novel was inspired in part by a family member who is no longer with us. Tell us a little about him and how he influenced the writing of this book.
GS: Yes, the character of Matthew Peters was named after my cousin Matthew Peter Henkel. He was such a great man who had health problems ever since he was 2, when he was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor (a cancer of the kidneys that affects children). After he survived the cancer, he became a Boy Scout because he knew I was one and went on to make Eagle. After that, he passed the tests to become a volunteer firefighter since our grandfather is a retired firefighter—who had his number at his engine company retired—and later became an EMT for Middletown and Red Bank, NJ. To say he lived a full life was an understatement, and even though he left us a week before his 25th birthday, he got more out of his life than most people who live to their 70s and 80s.
The comparisons between the real life Matt and fictional Matthew Peters are in the subtext. Matt achieved his dreams with a drive that I never knew. Matthew Peters starts off with the same quirks and fears that I had growing up, and at the crucial moment, he becomes the hero that I always wanted to be and that my cousin became.
TS: Tell us about yourself, and tell us how you got into writing.
GS: I grew up in two different places: Poughkeepsie, New York (I’ve always been fascinated with Ed Wood and his movies, and I freaked out when I learned he was from there, too) and Richmond, VA. In 1985, during my fourth grade year, my friends and I were very much into Transformers, and we wanted to come up with robotic characters similar to the ones we watched on television. As the years passed and my family made the move to Richmond, I kept developing the characters, giving them more depth and detail until they reached the point where I couldn’t draw them anymore. So instead, I filled steno notebooks all the way through high school with stories about the latest versions of those characters.
TS: What is it about YA novels that drew you? What is it about the YA audience that makes you want to tell this story to them as opposed to adults?
GS: I’ve always appreciated the pacing for a lot of different YA novels. They seem to move a lot faster than other general fiction books I’ve read. And the YA books I’ve read don’t seem to weigh the reader down with a lot of exposition; instead of putting it all at the beginning, it’s weaved into the story to keep the pace going.
TS: Does the character name of Excelsior have anything to do with Stan Lee?
GS: Stan Lee’s only one of the inspirations for this name. I was living in Virginia in 1992 when I was watching the 1981 movie Excalibur. It gave me the idea to create a character similar to King Arthur, someone with a mythic element to him. I always liked the word “excelsior” ever since I saw it on the New York state flag, and I also saw that word used in Star Trek III for one of the newer starships (the “great experiment” with trans-warp drive). I also read the word at the end of Stan Lee’s columns and I later heard about how Jean Shepherd would end his radio shows with “Excelsior, you fathead!” So yeah, I wanted to use a name that had already gotten some universal exposure and the name just seemed to fit this guy perfectly.
TS: If they were going to make an Excelsior movie, who would you cast?
GS: That’s an excellent question. He would have to be a young man who would be totally believable as both an underachiever and—later in the story—a hero who gets to live the wish fulfillment dream. I’d love this role to be the breakthrough for a young actor who went through an extensive audition process, and for the casting to be a major story.
Here’s the book trailer:
Teresa Jusino was born on the same day that Skylab fell. Coincidence? She doesn’t think so. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like PinkRaygun.com, PopMatters.com, and CentralBooking.com (edited by Kevin Smokler). She is currently working on several fiction projects, including a web series for Pareidolia Films called The Pack, which she hopes to debut by the end of the year! Get Twitterpated with Teresa, Follow The Pack or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.