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Q & A

Q. What inspired you to write PROLES?

A. I first read George Orwell’s 1984 in (or about) 1972. I’ve probably read it three times since. In that book, the proles were presented as an amorphous blob of humanity who were manipulated by Big Brother and the work of the Party to control history and language. Even from my first reading, the idea that the proles had no independent sense of truth, and that their conscience could be so completely controlled, troubled me. After all, they existed. They had to reproduce, they had to eat, and they had to live somewhere. There had to be some intelligent society that provided all of that. Yet it was never described. 1984 also ended very cryptically with a neutered Winston passively awaiting his execution. Since that first reading, I imagined that there was self-sufficiency and community among the proles that survived the Party, and I always imagined exploring that in another novel.

Q. What was your career?

A. From 1980 to 1985 I worked for Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) in Bettendorf, Iowa. I left Alcoa to join Genesis Systems Group (Genesis), a locally funded tech startup focused on robotic automation. The industry was new, and I was the eighth employee. With the exception following, I was with Genesis until retiring as CEO in 2016. Genesis had grown to ~350 employees with operations in the US, Mexico, and Japan. From 2003-2007 I left Genesis and collaborated with my siblings to acquire Golden Aluminum in Fort Lupton, Colorado, which we continue to own. Since semi-retiring, I have served those companies and others as a consultant and board member.

Q. Will you write more books?

A. Yes! I hope to complete a sequel to PROLES, and perhaps a prequel as well. I have some outlines and expect to proceed if PROLES attracts no less than 1,000 readers with generally positive reviews. I have an idea for another series that is a fictional extrapolation of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. But some of my writing is intended for private publication. For example, I am currently working on a memoir called Our Dinner Table. It is a collection of short stories describing a very eventful period for my family between 1968 and 1973. Some of those stories might have public appeal, but the entire work is targeted specifically to my broader family and close associates.

Q. In your bio, what does lived the life of the rural working poor mean?

A. The rural America that I grew up in from my birth in 1958 until I left home in 1976 doesn’t exist anymore. Rural means that we always lived on or amid small farms. Working means that we always worked. My father always had a job, but all of us worked to account for the family’s needs. This included raising livestock for both sale and subsistence, growing crops, gardening, and working for neighbors for cash. Poor means that we had little resource beyond subsistence. We were not in poverty by the standards of the time. By today’s standards most would argue with that. Between 1964 and 1972 we lived in five different homes. As the period started, we shared my grandmother’s shack. After she passed, we moved three times into unfinished and less than adequate homes. We improved each of them except for the last; another shack with no indoor bathroom. We lived there four years while we built a new house next to it from cinder blocks and other materials as we could afford them. We occupied that home in 1972, still incomplete. By the time I left home in 1976, we still walked on particle board sub-floors sporadically covered with throw-rugs.

Q. How were you able to go to college?

A. My father worked at a cement plant that was owned by Martin Marietta. Martin Marietta sponsored a scholarship for $2,000 per year, which I won. It also included an opportunity for summer employment as a laborer which paid $5.25 per hour. The scholarship and summer earnings covered the cost of attending Iowa State University. As a result, I did not work while attending classes. I graduated as an electrical engineer at the age of 21 in May, 1980. I was relieved of taking final exams my last term, so I skipped the ceremony and started work the week before I officially graduated.


Joel E. Lorentzen grew up on a small farm in eastern Iowa. Joel’s family of seven lived the life of the rural working poor, saved by the stubborn resolve of parents who refused to give up. A scholarship permitted his Iowa State University education as an engineer, but his elective choices were literature and creative writing. He later obtained an MBA from the University of Iowa. Joel travelled the world extensively as an automation engineer for over 36 years. Along the way, he invested in a variety of private manufacturing companies which he continues to serve as a consultant, permitting his self-identified occupation as semi-retired.

Long plane rides and airport layovers served his passion for reading and writing. His background provided a distinct sense of the travails and resilience of working people, those he recognizes as the ones whose efforts really make the world go.

Joel enjoys socializing with family, friends, and business associates of every background and culture, but prefers small groups where voices can be heard and reasoning fully explored. Joel avoids social media, sporting events, and concerts. He lives and loves a physically active lifestyle.

Joel shares his life with his wife, Ann. They have one daughter, Rebecca, all grown up and a mother herself. Ann and Joel reside in Rock Island, Illinois. They recreate at a second home in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri where they enjoy boating, fishing, and hiking.

A headshot of the author of Proles, Joel E. Lorentzen