Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your book, LEO, Inventor Extraordinaire! As it is an activity-driven adventure for young readers, what can you tell us about the premise of the book, and what was its inspiration?
Luke X. Cunningham: I’ve always loved history. Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” I don’t know if we can repeat the ethical humanist movements of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, but I believe we need something similar. At their core, those movement were a rigorous pursuit of truths that bettered the lives of everyone in the world. It all started because a group of artists and thinkers wanted to return society to what had existed 1500 years earlier in Greek city-states and the early Roman Republic.
The actual moment of inspiration was when I thought, “How do I deliver those ideas in a fun way?” I knew I had to build a hero. I read about Leonardo Da Vinci really making a working robot lion 500 years ago. A guy who would do that is my hero. And in our book, Leo’s defender is Gemini, a huge robot lion he builds in his room.
BD: How would you describe your creative experience in bringing this story to life, especially in weaving together the various hands-on aspects of the book?
LXC: What I love about Leonardo Da Vinci is that he had lots of wild ideas and he tested all of them. Most of them failed. Some spectacularly. Some in a way that indicated he might be on to something but he should adjust his methods. That’s how he succeeded, accepting his failures and trying to get better rather than bitter. The hero in my book, Leo, operates by that same principle. Test your ideas and build on what works while acknowledging what did not work.
For me, I applied those same principles when I was writing this book. Produce a lot of drafts. Share them with people I trust. Accept their criticism to adjust and improve the story.
BD: Would you recommend the book for a certain age group of young readers?
LXC: My first job out of college was teaching history to high school and middle school students, so I have experience holding the attention of our target audience. I think middle schoolers will like it. Early high school students will enjoy it. Their parents will enjoy it. (It’s written with short punchy chapters like dad fiction.)
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Leo’s story will connect with and impact readers?
LXC: This is such a cool question! The best-case scenario for Leo is that a kid reads this book and synthesizes the ideas about design, science, and art with their own cool, new ideas. Obviously, I don’t think Leo’s design for cold fusion reactor will work right now, but I’d love it if a kid absorbs my idea, realizes where it doesn’t work, and comes up with something more practical.
Also, I try to convey the process of building ideas. Leo come up with ideas and tests them. I hope readers realize that process is how to make things better: incorporate what you learn to adapt your ideas into something better.
BD: What makes ZonderKids the perfect home for this story?
LXC: There’s an emotional core of Leo that fits in perfectly with ZonderKids and their brand of encouraging young readers to explore routes to a meaningful life. My book is an adventure story about the ethical quandaries of what we do for our families. Our hero, Leo, is based on Leonardo Da Vinci who brought Christian iconography to life in his vivid, revolutionary art. As a result, Christian iconography is the basis for most of the puzzles that Leo must solve to move forward and find out what happened to his family.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
LXC: I’ve got a sitcom pilot at Disney+ based on the life of Michael Strahan, who started out life as a kid on an US Army base in Germany. He moved to Texas to learn how to play football and ended up an NFL Hall of Famer. We’re hoping Keith L. Williams, who played Lucas in Good Boys, wants to play a young Michael Strahan.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about LEO, Inventory Extraordinaire and your other work?
LXC: Please check out the Instagram (@Leo.Inventor.Extraordinaire) for more insight behind the art history that inspired Leo, the puzzles he has to solve, and the characters he meets along the way.