Local Author to Release Debut Book on Halloween
Local author LaTrobe Barnitz’s debut novel titled Soul Crystals: ARC of the Amuli is an alternate reality fantasy that combines elements of the urban fantasy, secret/hidden world fantasy, and military fantasy genres. It also contains a lot of psychological elements.
“It was really important to me to show what the motivations are for each of my characters,” Barnitz told exploreClarion.com.
While the book contains magic elements, with characters gaining power and influence through the use of magic crystals, the setting is based on Barnitz’s personal experience in the local area, and the story takes place primarily in rural western Pennsylvania.
“There are a couple of towns and schools that I made up, but they would inhabit Venango and Clarion Counties in real life. There are also stops in Pittsburgh and West Virginia, so every location in it is pretty local.”
Barnitz noted that he was inspired by locations in the local region, including the dense forests and creepy, abandoned railway tunnels and mining areas.
“I can definitely see them as being home to the secretive organizations I wrote about in the novel.”
While Barnitz hopes that readers find the action scenes and superpowers in the novel interesting, he also wants the book to spark consideration of how people respond to stressful situations and they are affected psychologically.
Barnitz, who was born in Mount Joy, Lancaster County, first moved to the area, specifically Oil City, when his father began working at Clarion University Venango Campus when he was a young child.
He attended St. Stephen School and Venango Catholic High School, graduated in 2013, then went on to earn a Bachelor’s in history from Clarion University in 2016. He went back to Clarion again in 2017 and earned his Master’s in Library and Information Science in December 2019.
After finishing his library science degree, he was hired as the Library Director at the Foxburg Free Library.
While writing has become a passion for him over the years, it didn’t start out that way, according to Barnitz.
“As a young kid, I always thought of writing as a chore.”
Barnitz noted that St. Stephen School had very high standards when he went there, and the students did a lot of in-depth writing from an early age, but it was primarily essay writing.
“That gave me writer’s block for some reason.”
Nevertheless, writing became more interesting when his 8th-grade class began going to Venango Catholic for English classes.
“Our teacher there taught the class that was more geared to creative writing.”
The switch to creative writing made all the difference.
“I started to really like that brand of writing, and my teachers and classmates told me that I was good at it. I started to come up with ideas on books I wanted to write then, but I wasn’t very serious about it.”
As a longtime fan of fantasy and science fiction, Barnitz said his writing always leaned that direction.
“I grew up with my mom reading me Harry Potter books and my dad showing me Star Wars movies, and I’ve never stopped loving those types of things.”
While those early experiences helped shape his desire to write in the fantasy genre, Barnitz said he was also influenced by many other authors from John Flanagan (The Ranger’s Apprentice), who inspired him to write really detailed action scenes, to Frank Herbert (Dune) and George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire), who inspired the way he likes to get inside a character’s head and his desire to craft complicated narratives.
Without a doubt, Tolkien made his list of major influences, as well.
“I especially was inspired by his place descriptions and attention to detail.”
Though he began writing fiction in high school, it wasn’t until college that Barnitz became more serious about his writing.
“One of my roommates and longtime friends suggested that I join a writer’s group at the Oil City Library over the summers. I did that, and it was the best decision I could have made to improve my writing.”
He began working with both professional and amateur writers who he said helped him take his own writing “to the next level.”
The one downside of college was that his classes left him very little time for his own writing. However, Barnitz said he got better at time management by the time he made it to grad school and starting finding time to write more seriously.
“It was those two years when my novel really took shape.”
In the fall of 2019, he started researching ways to get his book published.
At his father’s suggestion, he started pitching the book to small publishers who specialized in the fantasy genre and came into contact with Private Dragon, a newer, small publisher in Salt Lake City, Utah, that focuses on fantasy and science fiction.
“They were really excited about my project from the start and have been great to work with.”
Soul Crystals: ARC of the Amuli will be available on Amazon, Apple Books, and Barnes & Noble on October 31. More information is available on the Private Dragon website.
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