By Garrett Dvorkin
Herald Staff Reporter
LaTrobe Barnitz always thought that his surroundings in Northwestern Pennsylvania were magical.
He remembers walking through one of the numerous state parks in the area and seeing an old railroad tunnel. It was then that Barnitz thought how this tunnel reminded him of “a super villain’s hidden lair.”
As he was an avid reader, Barnitz wondered why all the fantasy books took place in Europe and far off places when his surroundings in Pennsylvania were just as magical.
Barnitz took the inspiration from his surroundings and used it to write his first book, “Soul Crystals, ARC of the Amuli.” The book is about Paul, a boy from Northwest Pennsylvania who discovers a crystal that gives him special powers. Paul, however, has no idea of the secret war between rival factions that shape the world’s balance of power.
Barnitz’s novel went on sale at local Oil City bookstores, as well as online retailers, on Oct. 31.
Barnitz was born in Lancaster County, before moving to Oil City when he was young. From an early age he consumed all the young adult fiction books that he could.
“Harry Potter, Eragon, Percy Jackson ... I’ve always been such a huge fan of people with powers,” he said. In eighth grade, Barnitz took his first creative writing class.
As a student attending Venango Catholic School, Barnitz used the class to build the foundation he would need to become an author. He also took inspiration from another young author. “If the author of Eragon wrote that book at 15, why couldn’t I write a book too,” he said.
Barnitz’s first attempt at writing a novel was a modern adaptation of a popular cartoon, “Avatar, the Last Airbender.” Barnitz said he abandoned the process, and didn’t really try to write again until college.
It was while he was attending Clarion University, that Barnitz was able to rekindle his writing passion. A specific class challenged him — another creative writing class. This class however, didn’t let writers use their preferred genres. Barnitz had only ever written generic fiction and was forced to adapt. “That’s where I really developed my style, I was able to mature as a writer,” he said.
The budding author had to work on dialogue and couldn’t rely on the tropes of young adult fiction. Barnitz took his new writing skills and joined a writers group called The Writers Forge. The group met at the Oil City library and would share stories. Barnitz took the beginnings of what would become “Soul Crystals” to have fellow writers give him feedback and constructive criticism.
“Soul Crystals, ARC of the Amuli” takes place in the imaginary town of Palaceville, Pennsylvania. Made to model Oil City, Palaceville is halfway between Erie and Pittsburgh.
The story follows Paul, a character inspired by one of Barnitz’s favorite Japanese Anime shows, Guilty Crown.
The characters in Barnitz’s books are based on a mixture of his life and his favorite shows and books. When asked about the inspiration behind the character Paul, Barnitz said “He’s a better version of me. Someone who always does something cool and is never afraid to act.”
Paul is accompanied on his journey by Robbie and Camilla. Robbie embodies all of Barnitz’s childhood friends and Camilla is a mixture of his big sisters. Barnitz tried to model the relationships between the characters to mirror his own. Keeping his writing anchored in reality helps Barnitz open up. “I get all my emotions out,” he said. “All the pent up stress, all the creativity.”
Dvorkin can be reached by email at Gdvorkin@titusvilleherald.com.