There is something pleasantly mysterious about Andrew McDowell’s demeanour. Despite having Asperger Syndrome, which is largely characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction, the American author answers each of my questions with ease, sporting a smile that is nothing less than impressive. Currently residing in Maryland, the United States of America, the author begins the conversation by sharing the synopsis of his debut novel Mystical Greenwood, which is about a teenage boy living in a remote village.
‘The boy’s life undergoes a change when he encounters first a gryphon and then a mysterious healer,’ says McDowell, who has studied History and English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland and Library & Information Science for grad school at the University of Maryland, College Park. Elaborating further about the book that has received rave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, he tells me that the boy, along with his brother, is eventually forced to leave his home and embark on a quest to find members of an ancient coven of sorcerers because ‘an evil sorcerer is bent on conquering the kingdom.’ He adds, ‘It so happens that in the process, they discover something more about themselves and their own role in this conflict.’
The entire story of Mystical Greenwood, by the way, is gradually developed and not plotted. ‘I am more of a pantser than a plotter, so the plot isn’t fully mapped out when I start,’ McDowell lets out. While this statement of his reminds me of Japanese author Haruki Murakami, McDowell, who has worked as an associate nonfiction editor for the literary magazine JMWW, quickly adds, ‘The little plotting that I do is minor, so I can work it out as I write.’
While it is true that Mystical Greenwood is the author’s debut novel, what is interesting is that McDowell started writing when he was all of eleven years of age. ‘But it was just little stories for the fun of it. I fantasized about writing more, but I didn’t truly get serious about it until I was thirteen,’ he explains.
He also tells me that he initially wrote his stories instead of keyboarding, adding that Mystical Greenwood was the outcome of his wanting to write a horror novel. ‘I was writing by hand because I hadn’t yet mastered keyboarding. That changed once I took a keyboarding class in my freshman year of high school. I also realized what I was writing was leaning more towards fantasy, so I just went with it. From there, it evolved into what it is now, taking on the theme of the importance of the natural world and wildlife,’ he says.
Ask him if he has any favourite authors and he immediately responds, ‘It is hard to say that I have a favourite author when speaking of their work because I have read a wide variety of works. But there are numerous authors whom I admire for their accomplishments, including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Stephen King, Dan Brown, and Brad Meltzer to name a few.’
McDowell, who loves collecting coins as a hobby, tells me that he writes whenever he has an ‘urge’ to do so. While Mystical Greenwood is the only book that he has in his kitty, all of his other current publications have been minor, mainly poetry (including in the anthology Faery Footprints, from Fae Corps Inc) and one creative nonfiction essay about his having Asperger Syndrome.
As the conversation comes to a close, McDowell, who wants to be a full-time author but feels it is extremely unlikely, tells me about his work-in-progress. ‘My main work-in-progress is the sequel to Mystical Greenwood. I hope to continue the story with more conflict, some romance, and a focus on aquatic life. I know how I want it to end, but I need to connect the dots towards that end,’ he tells me.
While he strongly feels that only a select few are lucky enough to become successful writers, he says his advice, nonetheless, for budding authors is to not give up. ‘Your first book may not always be the best, but you won’t know unless you keep going,’ he signs off with a smile.
Mystical Greenwood, which is published by Mockingbird Lane Press, is one of the four finalists in the epic/high fantasy genre of the 2019 American Fiction Awards sponsored by American Book Fest. It is free on Kindle Unlimited.