David H. Rothman
David H. Rothman’s most recent book is Drone Child: A Novel of War, Family, and Survival—the fictional memoir of a brilliant Congolese businessman. In 2050 Lemba Adula is recalling the horrors of his child soldier days 25 years earlier.
Formerly a poverty beat reporter in Lorain, Ohio, Rothman covered the aftermath of the Kent State Massacre, writing the obituary of Bill Schroeder, the ROTC cadet among the four students the National Guard slaughtered. Rothman founded the TeleRead.org ebook site, was an early popularizer of the ePub format, and is a staunch advocate of both traditional and digital libraries and efforts to close the digital divide. In another incarnation, he helped Arthur C. Clarke and MGM/UA director Peter Hyams set up a trans-Pacific modem connection for the scriptwriting of the movie 2010. Rothman has long been interested in the technological side of international development.
But how does a pale-skinned white novelist in Alexandria, Virginia, get inside the head of a genius ex-child soldier in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Through Lemba’s tech side, partly, along with plenty of online and offline research.
Rothman had help from another technology fan, Junior Boweya in Kinshasa, a translator, software localization expert, and businessman who fact-checked Drone Child and otherwise offered an invaluable Congolese perspective. So did the activist Jean Félix Mwema Ngandu, a former Mandela Washington Fellow and prominent civic leader in the DRC.
“The idea,” Rothman says, “was to be very focused in my research and constantly ask, ’Is such-and-such person or event at least possible within an action-adventure or suspense-thriller format?’ I would have been up the creek without Junior and Jean Félix’s fact-checking and critiques. They were godsends on such details as names and geography. The two didn’t know each other. Junior and I emailed for months, and then Jean Félix vetted his vetting. Luckily the two agreed on virtually all the important details of the novel. They also provided feedback on the author’s note and discussion guide at the end, although the opinions there are mine except for Junior’s contribution to the guide. Among other things, my author’s note quotes Jean Félix in detail about his real-life community activism, which overlaps partly with Lemba’s fictional activism. I also have a Q&A with Jean Félix in the blog at dronechild.com, as well as some guest commentary from Junior.”
Rothman, a D.C. area native, is also author of a corruption novel called The Solomon Scandals (Twilight Times Books, 2009), which The Washington City Paper praised for "the same dark zeal Hammett held for Frisco or Chandler had for Los Angeles."
“The villain," he says, "is a real estate man with a gift for bribing pols and befriending certain journalists and judges. I did early drafts of Scandals in the 1970s and finished up in 2008. No Trump in my D.C.—despite Sy Solomon’s fondness for such language as ’only the best.’ I was just a little ahead of my time.” An actual building collapse in Northern Virginia, killing 14 construction workers, helped inspire Scandals.”