About Richard French’s work ...my work has become a personal experiment in the art of narrative
I don’t know why I was drawn to the art of fiction at an early age, but when I was in the 8th grade and encouraged by my English teacher, Mrs. Dugan, I decided that writing fiction would be a big part of my life. I sometimes tell myself that I have one talent – persistence. My mother, whose family came from Finland, taught me the Finnish word “sisu”, which among other things means stick-to-itiveness. Insofar as I possess it, this quality has helped me keep on with my writing.
A formative moment took place one lunch break in my late 20’s. Memories of my time in the U. S. army were still a bright color in my mind. I worked in a bank across the street from Harvard University. Demonstrations against the war in Viet Nam were at their height. I recall standing in front of the bank and thinking that the only way I could make sense of the conflict between the war whose purpose I had slowly come to understand and the vigorous opposition to it that took place around me was to go back to the beginnings of the history of people of European stock in North America.
I began to read early New England history, and after five years of research, reading and writing, I came up with what I considered a presentable version of a novel I called “The Pilhannaw”. My original plan was to set one novel in each generation that northern Europeans have lived in North America, so I began a second round of research and writing about a reverberant theological controversy that took place in Massachusetts, which I call Sagadac, in the middle of the 17th century.
The novel that came out of my free-time work, “The Opinionists”, turned out quite different in its final form from what I expected.
Life’s changes intervened. I left Boston in my early forties and the libraries where I did my research and writing and went to a seminary in the American Midwest. I needed to rethink my plan and came up with a procedure that I liked – create narratives that included what thinking I’d ’d done on colonial New England along with present-day stories and in two cases a view of the future. In other words, my work has become a personal experiment in the art of narrative.
Certain motifs recur in my stories:
* The puritan strain in American life
* Main characters who live slightly to the side of the majority for the sake of projects they wish to carry out. Ordinary people in challenging situations.
* An appreciation for the spirit of democracy and a picture of some of its ways
* Aspects of faith, art, war, romance, and politics
* An interest in groups – families, communities
* Some say that North America is about money. The main characters in my stories are interested in something else – art, faith, creativity, what’s right
* I like to show that life has its bad parts, and they are often overcome.
* A question about narrative: how to move from first this happened and then that and then another thing to hint at the buried, hidden sides of life that many people yearn to discover but ignore because they are elusive and yet available to those who seek them diligently.