An Interview with Gary Rodriguez, Author of Escape Through the Wilderness

Escape Through the Wilderness 2

Gary Rodriguez is the author of Escape Through the Wilderness, his first fiction book. Here’s the official description:

“What was that?” Savi whispered anxiously.
“It couldn’t be Vexel, could it?”
Again, they heard more rustling in the woods, they knew it was getting closer.

Sixteen-year-old Savannah Evans walks with a slight limp thanks to a gymnastics, accident that dashed her Olympic dreams, but didn’t stop her from attending an adventure camp in Idaho. At Camp Arrowhead, she quickly befriends Jade Chang and Rico Cruz, but Conner Swift taunts Savi because of her injury.

When the four are teamed together for an overnight white-water river rafting adventure, Savi refuses to get in the same raft with Conner. Unfortunately, the director will not reassign her.

A fun expedition down the river turns into a nightmare when their raft slams into a huge rock and their adult guide disappears down the river.

Without their guide and desperately trying to steer an out-of-control raft, they pass the “last chance” marker and enter the larger rapids. With Jade pinned between the raft and a rock, and Rico clinging to a lifeline, Savi must cut the raft free.

When the four drag themselves out of the river, they’re bruised, beaten, lost, and twenty-five miles from camp. Because of late-night campfire tales of Vexel, a vicious animal that roams the nearby woods, Savi and the others are terrified.

Savi becomes the unlikely leader who tries to guide the group back to Camp Arrowhead. Limited supplies, injuries, and the constant threat of Vexel, who Savi fears is stalking them, complicate the harrowing return trip.

Readers will enjoy dramatic survival scenes and the group working together, solving problems, and learning to overcome adversity.

Read on for Rodriguez’s interview.

S.R.: What do you want readers to take away from Escape Through the Wilderness?

G.R.: My goal is to convey some key messages about life and leadership in the context of a thrilling teen adventure novel. It is important for me to pass on lessons I’ve learned about leadership from my days in the military and my years of teaching leadership skills in public and private companies.

S.R.: You are the president of LeaderMetrix, a consulting company that specializes in senior-level executive coaching, organizational development, and conflict resolution, and your book’s description ends with “Readers will enjoy dramatic survival scenes and the group working together, solving problems, and learning to overcome adversity.” Did your career in any ways inspire your book? If so, how?

G.R.: The inspiration for Escape Through the Wilderness came from my military background as well as my experience in business. My training as a jungle expert in Panama and my time in a war zone shaped a lot of what I wrote in Escape Through the Wilderness. Having said that, I’ve also incorporated many principles related to leadership that I teach in my business.

S.R.: You’ve written three non-fiction books, and this is your first fiction book. What made you decide to delve into fiction?

G.R.: As I mentioned earlier, the book was birthed out of my passion to teach young people principles related to life and leadership. My unique background and credentials include a season in the U.S. Army where I was the youngest drill sergeant in the Army’s history at age 18 (Pentagon confirmed), a jungle expert (trained in the Panama Canal Zone), and recipient of the Silver Star (the nation’s third highest award for courage under fire).

Escape Through the Wilderness gave me a distinctive opportunity to write to today’s youth about leadership and teach key principles in the context of a wilderness survival adventure.

Our nation’s schools are filled with young aspiring leaders who have a keen interest in principles related to leadership. Unfortunately, a good deal of training on leadership is impractical, out of context, and, in their words, often boring. My idea for Escape Through the Wilderness was to teach key leadership qualities and skills very subtly in the context of an entertaining and inspiring adventure story. My goal was to entertain, inform, and inspire young and young-at-heart readers while teaching them about life and leadership.

The Amazon reviews are almost all five-star to date and readers are responding well to not only my writing style, but to my message. Recently, I spoke at a book party with a large group of teens and pre-teens in attendance. Again, I was overwhelmed by their interest in the story and the principles taught in the context of a survival theme. I’m more convinced than ever that teaching leadership in an adventure based way is not only effective but entertaining as well.

Ultimately, my dream is that thousands of young readers are informed and inspired by Escape Through the Wilderness and will go on to become productive and positive leaders and influencers in our communities nationwide.

S.R.: How did you come up with the story for Escape Through the Wilderness? This book is very different from your previous books! 

G.R.: The concept for the book was birthed while I was on vacation at a cabin in the woods. During that time away I came up with the idea of writing an adventure chronicling the experience of four teens stranded in the wilderness by a river-rafting accident. Writing a survival novel was a lot of fun and a big departure from what I’ve done in the past. I had a great time dreaming up and developing the characters and inserting them into an exciting story. It was exhilarating writing an adventure and surprising readers with a variety of twists and turns. When I wrote Escape Through the Wilderness, I tapped into a different aspect of my creativity and now I’m hooked!

S.R.: What were some of the challenges as a writer switching from an adult audience for non-fiction books to a younger, teenage audience for a fiction book?

G.R.: The difference between writing for teens and to adults is significant. Although there are many differences, allow me to share three.

First, I believe writing for teens demands a change of perspective. Obviously, adult writers have an “adult” point of view. But, when writing to teens that view needs to be set aside so a younger mindset can be embraced. Teens see the world differently than adults do. Consequently, this shift in mindset is essential when writing to teens.

Second, adults and teens have a very different vocabulary. Listen to a group of teens speak with one another for a few minutes and you will quickly understand just how different. When writing to teens it’s not only important that we try to think like them but speak like them as well.

Third, today’s teens face a variety of challenges that we did not experience. Writing to teens in this generation demand that we are keenly aware of the issues teens encounter in their day-to-day living. These challenges help shape their perspective and attitudes. Take for example school shootings. As a teenager never once did I worry about someone walking in my school and killing me. Today’s teens do worry about that and have many reasons to do so.

S.R.: What are your plans for future books?

G.R.: Currently I’m a third of the way through the sequel to Escape Through the Wilderness. I am hoping the second book will be released by the summer of 2016.

Gary RodriguezGary Rodriguez lives in California and is the president of LeaderMetrix Inc., a consulting company that specializes in senior-level executive coaching, organizational development, and conflict resolution.

He has written three non-fiction books as well as his novel. His first book, Purpose-Centered Public Speaking, was published in 2009 and was re-published in the summer of 2014. He has also written a companion workbook designed to help people implement the principles taught in his first book, as well as Overcoming The Fear Of Public Speaking.

Purchase your copy of Escape Through the Wilderness here.

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