By Meagan Douches
David Potter may seem like the typical homeowner, husband and father of two to his Hopewell neighbors, but he had long secretly aspired to become a published novelist — a goal he reached when his book, The Left Behinds: the iPhone that Saved George Washington was published Jan. 6 by Crown Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin Random House.
The Left Behinds follows three 6th graders named Mel, Brandon and Beverly as they find themselves transported back in time to the year 1776. During one of the pivotal points in American history, it is up to the trio of friends to save the day- all while learning how to live without electricity and modern technology.
The book combines aspects of history, fantasy and adventure. “We try to make it funny, engaging and slip a little history and knowledge in there,” Potter said.
Much of Potter’s inspiration for the book stems from local history in addition to his childhood spent in Morristown, New Jersey. The town was home to George Washington during the winters of 1777 and 1779, and has been called the military capital of the American Revolution. It was thre that Potter developed a lifelong love and appreciation of American history.
“If you drive around New Jersey, you’ll see these signs everywhere [that say] ‘Revolutionary War Incident’ or ‘Here the Troops Crossed,’” he said. “I can remember being 8 and always looking out for those signs and asking my parents what happened there.”
That curiosity led Potter to eventually pursue a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he also played lacrosse. Potter had been at the university for two years when a severe knee injury put an end to his lacrosse career. He decided to do a junior year abroad in London.
He liked studying abroad so much, he wanted to stay overseas for another year. He learned about the American College in Paris, which at the time was one of the only fully accredited university’s outside of the United States, and was able to transfer all his credits there.
Reflecting on his experience, Potter said he came to love France. He spent a year studying at the American College (now the American University of Paris), where he completed his degree.
Potter and his family were eventually brought to Hopewell Township when his wife, Cindy, was offered a job as Assessment Director at ETS, the developers of the Test Of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The couple has lived here with their two sons, Thomas, 17, and Charlie, 14, for more than 17 years now.
These days, Potter enjoys taking his sons to local historical events and attractions. One of their favorite events is the annual reenactment of Washington’s Crossing of the Delaware, held on Christmas Day.
“It’s a lot of fun!” Potter said. “Thousands of people gather to watch and everyone yells ‘Huzzah!’ when the re-enactors row their longboats over to the New Jersey side.”
It was during one of these reenactments that Potter had a spark of inspiration for his book.
“I noticed how all the kids, and all the adults, seemed to have a cell phone in their hands, and I wondered what it would be like if modern day kids somehow found themselves back in 1776. That’s pretty much how the idea started,” he said.
Potter always enjoyed writing in school, though it wasn’t until college that he began writing fiction.
“Writing was always a passion,” he said. “Every time I wrote something, I was completely engaged. I would even on occasion get a very weird, slightly mystical feeling: this is what I should do with my life.”
Both his mother and father had careers in the writing field. His mother, Ginny Potter, once wrote a news column for the Morristown Daily Record called “The Potter’s Wheel,” and his father, Herb Potter, was a long-time police reporter and editor for the Courier-News in Central New Jersey.
Potter always looked up to his parents and says that they were a big influence on his interest in writing.
“You can imagine the atmosphere at my house growing up with two newspaper people as parents. We took in the news as easily as we took in our Cheerios!” he said.
Potter decided to pursue a career in journalism after he graduated college. His first full-time job was working as a newspaper reporter for The Broward Times in Florida.
“It wasn’t really as glamorous as I expected,” he said. “I had to go to town council meetings and there were all these disputes between neighbors. It was very tense. They were arguing over things like traffic lights and sewer lines.” Still, Potter pursued journalism for a few years.
“It’s a tough game out there. I had gotten married, and I wanted to raise a family and live in a nice house in the suburbs. I basically determined that I wasn’t going to be successful enough as a writer to support all that,” Potter said.
Around the age of 30, he changed his career path. He moved north, teaching English and English as a Second Language in New York City at various language schools. From there he went into business, for the usual reasons, he said: “I needed to make more money.”
Potter now works full time as the vice president of software sales for an HR company. But he kept up with his writing in his spare time.
“From outward appearances I had a conventional life, but I never really gave up. I continued to write as much as I could,” he said.
He got a few short stories published, and wrote a few novels, one of which he says attracted the attention of a literary agent. But ultimately, the novel was not published. It was that agent, however, who was instrumental in getting a deal for The Left Behinds series, Potter said.
All of Potter’s determination finally paid off when he completed his first book in February 2013. Several days later, he contacted his literary agent, Brian DeFiore of Defiore and Company Literary Management, Inc. and the book was acquired by Penguin Random House.
Potter said he has recently finished writing the second installment in the Left Behinds series, which will be released next January. The second book follows the same trio and is set during the Civil War.
Potter is now working to introduce his books to school libraries and he has already donated several copies to schools in the local area. His book can be found online at Amazon or at Barnes and Noble.