What do a young dreamer, a field mouse and a unique rocket have in common? They all come together in James Janson’s debut novella, ‘Barlett,” to tell the tale of imagination, adventure, rivalry, and confrontation set in the 1960s backdrop of the moon landing.
Connect Savannah spoke with author James Janson, a local retired SCAD professor of Art History and Museum Studies.
CS: Talk a bit about your background and SCAD tenure. How long have you been in Savannah?
James Janson: I was born in Cleveland, OH. I have a BFA in Art History from Ohio Univ., an MA in Museum Studies from the Univ. of Minnesota; a Ph.d in Art History from Case Western Reserve Univ. (Cleveland). My wife and I have been in Savannah since 1997. I taught Art History and Museum Studies at SCAD before retiring in 2019. I have also worked in several art museums in the U.S., principally The Detroit Institute of Arts.
CS: When did you begin writing? Is this your first novel/novella?
JJ: Although I have written articles for both academia and museums, this is the first non-academic story I have written. It took about 3 ½ years to write off-and-on while attending to my teaching duties and adjusting to retirement.
CS: What is your interest in the subject matter of the space program?
JJ: Although fiction, about 80% of "Bartlett" is autobiographical. It takes place in Solon, OH, where I grew up (a suburb of Cleveland), and is set against the backdrop of NASA’s Project Mercury space program between the years 1960-1961. One of the main characters is 12-year-old Jimmy, who is patterned after me at that time. I loved reading about the explorers such as Columbus, Magellan, playing cowboys and Indians with my friends, Little League baseball, reading the Hardy Boys mystery books and, of course, the space program.
CS: How did the idea for this novella begin?
JJ: "Bartlett" is a story I have been wanting to write for a long time. I loved to fly kites, so—one day while doing so—I kept adding more and more string, so my kite was literally a pinpoint in the sky. With my newfound interest in the Mercury program, I thought it would be cool to build a small cage to the kite and send up my own astronaut. But it had to be something small. How about a mouse I thought? Although I never did get around to doing exactly that, that idea is the basis of ‘Bartlett.’
CS: How would you describe the book for readers?
JJ: Beside what I have described above, "Bartlett" has a much wider story. It is a story which would appeal to teens and young adults (ages 12-18), but I feel adults would find the story interesting. "Bartlett" offers adventure, drama, conflict, even a bit of a puppy love story. Jimmy’s partnership with Elaine proves that men and women can successfully work together towards a common goal, a lesson for us all.
CS: What else would you like readers to know?
JJ: Many of the incidences in "Bartlett" are derived from my experiences at that time. Several characters both major and minor are patterned after grade school classmates of mine in seventh grade at St. Rita School in Solon. I have used their first names, but fictional last names. I’m sure they would recognize themselves if they read the story.
"Bartlett" is available for purchase online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.