Finding George Washington
A historical time-travel thriller by Bill Zarchy
On a freezing night in 1778, General George Washington vanishes. Walking away from the Valley Forge encampment, he takes a fall and is knocked unconscious, only to reappear at a dog park on San Francisco Bay—in the summer of 2014.
Washington befriends two Berkeley twenty-somethings who help him cope with the astonishing—and often comical—surprises of the twenty-first century.
Washington’s absence from Valley Forge, however, is not without serious consequences. As the world rapidly devolves around them—and their beloved Giants fight to salvage a disappointing season—George, Tim, and Matt are catapulted on a race across America to find a way to get George back to 1778.
Equal parts time travel tale, thriller, and baseball saga, Finding George Washington is a gripping, humorous, and entertaining look at what happens when past and present collide in the 9th inning, with the bases loaded and no one warming up in the bullpen.
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A new freeze gripped the valley, and a few inches of virgin white covered the now-frozen ruts in the roads. When the soldiers first arrived at this winter encampment two months before, rain and cold had compounded the misery of the men. Lately it had been freezing and snowing, making the hardened ground easier to traverse than the sleety, slippery mud had been.
A small farmhouse made of tan and brown fieldstone sat in flat bottomland near the creek. The back door opened and a splash of warm light lit the new snow. From inside came the sounds of a party—a fiddle, laughter, and high-energy conversation. A tall man in a heavy cloak and three-cornered hat stepped off the small porch at the rear of the house and into the cold. A sentry snapped to attention.
“Just getting some air, lad, stand easy,” the Gdeneral said. “No need to follow.” He trudged off north, away from the house, enjoying the brisk chill.
Ah, he thought, it’s fine to have my dear wife here with me these past couple of weeks! She and the other wives provide such a boost to the morale and hopefulness of the men. It’s worth a wee party to celebrate the difference they make … and my birthday.
The dreadful winter weather and the spread of disease had cost him one-fourth of his army in the early going, but at last there were signs of hope. Foraging for food was still a daily struggle, but now the men were finally housed in hundreds of hastily constructed wooden huts.
The eager effervescence of the Marquis de Lafayette for the past half year; the appearance of the Polish nobleman Pulaski a few months before; the continued loyalty of so many of the troops; the imminent arrival any day now of the Prussian Baron von Steuben; and the General’s wife coming to stay with him during the winter encampment—all these events gave him hope.
An Interview with Bill Zarchy
-What inspired you to become a writer?
I feel like I have always been a writer. I grew up in the home of a successful author. In addition to working full time as a teacher, my dad wrote and published many books on hobbies, crafts, and the outdoors. He would come home from school every afternoon, take a nap, then go to his study to work on his latest book. He often worked late into the night. Many mornings I would see the floor of the study covered in crumpled-up pages, rejected ideas and descriptions that didn’t make it into the book. Yet he managed to crank out over thirty different titles in a bit over twenty years. That was inspiring!
When I was still pretty young, he gave me an old portable typewriter, a Monarch Pioneer, that came in a wooden case. I used it, with carbon paper, to crank out and sell a family newsletter that only lasted a few issues. I wrote for my high school newspaper and eventually worked my way up to managing editor at the campus daily newspaper when I was a student at Dartmouth.
Concentrating on my career as a cinematographer, I didn’t write much for a long time while. But I started to write again about 20 years ago, when I wanted to share some of the amazing experiences I had during my work and travels. That led to my first book, a memoir called Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil. I joined a writers group to workshop many of those pieces, but as I got closer to retirement, I began to want to write fiction. The result: my debut novel, Finding George Washington: A Time Travel Tale.
-If you could visit your book’s world for a day, what one thing would you do?My novel, Finding George Washington: A Time Travel Tale, takes place mostly in 2014 in the San Francisco Bay Area and points east. Since I live near Berkeley, much of that is my world. But because of the pandemic, I can’t do many of the things my characters do: get together in person with family and friends, eat in restaurants, cheer at baseball games, ride public transportation, attend live events, even shop in supermarkets. As I write this, however, vaccination rates are soaring on a daily basis, and I am hopeful that I will be able to travel, visit in person with my loved ones, eat out, watch baseball, and see plays, movies, and live music before too long.
Some of Finding George Washington takes place at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. If I could visit this world for a day, I would be most interested in inspecting the wooden huts built to accommodate the soldiers, observing George Washington’s leadership style, getting to know the Marquis de Lafayette, and meeting Martha Washington. I would also like to get acquainted with Alexander Hamilton. I have a strong impression of him from the Hamilton musical, and I’d love to find out if he was as brilliant, uncompromising, and combative as he is portrayed there.
-It’s two in the morning. What does your protagonist reveal in confidence? (Don’t worry, we won’t tell.)In the middle of the night, my protagonist, George Washington, reveals that he is not convinced he and the Continental Army can defeat the British. He bemoans the fact that the Americans are outmanned and outgunned. He is concerned that the Brits have a powerful navy to back them up and that they are offering freedom to any enslaved persons in the colonies who run away from their masters.
“If all the slaves are freed,” he says, “the Washingtons would be very poor indeed. Land poor, to be sure, and without a labor force.” Questioned about the evils and immorality of slavery, he admits that he was shocked, some years earlier, when he attended a slave auction and watched in horror as several enslaved families were ripped apart, sold to different masters who lived far apart.
He says he understands that freeing the slaves in America is somehow equivalent to the colonies fighting for freedom from the British, but he is at a loss about how to change the system. “Someday,” he says, “I will find a way to free all my slaves.”
-Which of your characters would you go out for drinks with?I would go out for drinks with George Washington, along with his two Berkeley pals, Tim and Matt. I would like to get to know George, to find out more about him. When I started writing and researching Finding George Washington, I realized I knew very little about him. First president, general, inspiring leader — sure. But what else? I’d heard that he’d chopped down a cherry tree and couldn’t lie to his father about it, that he’d thrown a dollar across the Potomac River, that he had wooden teeth, but those stories all turned out to be apocryphal. All lies. From my research, I learned that he was soft-spoken, despite his reputation as a charismatic leader; that he suffered from chronic dental pain, despite his physical bravery; that he had no direct descendants, despite being the Father of Our Country; that he was a great horseman, a graceful dancer, and a loving husband and stepfather. I would love to meet this man with so many contradictory characteristics. And I would love to talk with him about slavery.
-You’re in a tavern, and a dwarf challenges you to a duel. What do you do?Despite my writing Finding George Washington: A Time Travel Tale, about one of the great military heroes in our history, I am a peace-loving hippie at heart. If challenged to a duel by anyone, I would try to defuse the situation and talk my way out of it, then say, “Hold on, I gotta go pee,” politely excuse myself, slip into the restroom, then slither out the window and speed home as quickly as possible. Hopefully, the challenger would wait a while for me, then drink more ale or mead or Gatorade and forget me.
-Is there a genre you could never write? Which and why?I don’t know if I could ever write romance novels. I just don’t think I have it in me. I’ve never read a romance novel. The idea never appealed to me. And, so far, I’ve never written a steamy love scene. I’m guessing that I could do that, but a whole book based on romance themes would not be my style.
About Bill Zarchy
Bill Zarchy filmed projects on six continents during his 40 years as a cinematographer, captured in his first book, Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil. Now he writes novels, takes photos, and talks of many things.
Bill’s career includes filming three former presidents for the Emmy-winning West Wing Documentary Special, the Grammy-winning Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em, feature films Conceiving Ada and Read You Like A Book, PBS science series Closer to Truth, musical performances as diverse as the Grateful Dead, Weird Al Yankovic, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and countless high-end projects for technology and medical companies.
His tales from the road, personal essays, and technical articles have appeared in Travelers’ Tales and Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, the San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers, and American Cinematographer, Emmy, and other trade magazines.
Bill has a BA in Government from Dartmouth and an MA in Film from Stanford. He taught Advanced Cinematography at San Francisco State for twelve years. He is a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area and a graduate of the EPIC Storytelling Program at Stagebridge in Oakland. This is his first novel.
Bill Zarchy will be awarding a $50 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.