In case anyone wonders why many of the novels I’ve written seem different from most others, as if I didn’t know what I was doing, I offer the following explanation:
Many months, years, and decades ago, I decided to focus my writing ambitions on a series of stories set in an imaginary U. S. state I called Sagadac that would reemble Massachusetts, where I come from. I wanted to start in the 17th century colony and write a novel for every generation that people of European stock have lived in that part of the world.
I wrote one novel set in colonial times, made good progress on another, and wrote substantial drafts set in a modern city I called Botolph. (“Boston” is an abbreviation of the phrase “St. Botolph’s town”.) This all took me about 11 years, from age 30 to 41.
Then, lo and behold, my life took a new turn. I left my job in the banking business, and after a year and a half, during when I lived on savings and part of the time at my parent’s place, I enrolled at a Lutheran seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Five years and two degrees later, I received a call to a congregation in Sudbury, Ontario, a mining city 250 miles due north of Toronto. I embarked on a new adventure.
I didn’t stop writing during my years as a middle-aged student. I revised and refined pieces I’d been working on and did some reading and made notes for a novel with a 17th century war at the center. The first draft eventually turned into a five-novel series I called “Witnesses”.
After settling into a new and rewarding life in Sudbury, I realized I had a chance to switch gears completely and take my writing in a whole new direction. I didn’t debate very long — perhaps a day — before I made my decision — no, I’ll keep on with what I’ve been doing, but I’ll have to carry on in a different way, because I was several hundred miles from my home area and I’d lost my access to research material. (The internet didn’t exist in the late 1980’s.)
Neither did I debate long about what my new approach would be. I wouldn’t take each generation of Sagadac history in succession. I’d put different time poeriods side by side: a 17th ventury contorversy, for example, with mid-20th century people making a movie about the old-time dispute. In another novel, I told the story of theater people putting on a play about an imaginary 19th century entertainer who gets into serious trouble after he drifts away from his calling and strives to regain his footing. The novel includes two short pieces that tell the story of Bosworth Hooper in different ways.
The novel I’m working on now has scenes set in the 18th century three decades before the American Revolution, while two-thirds of it take place in the present day. I’ve also put in a dozen poems based on Old Testament themes that I wrote while I was still in Boston. My intention is that these poems will provide a thematic backbone for the rest of the story. The five-novel series I referred to is a melange of past, present, and future.
Can I defend my procedure from a reader’s point of view? My first novel, “The Pilhannaw”, is the only straight-ahead traditional novel I’ve written. Some would say the others are mixed-up mash-ups. That’s okay.
1.My procedure reflects my own propensity for brain-scatter and to bend the outlines of prescribed patterns. One straight-ahead novel turned out to be enough for me. Why should I do the same thing over and over? I like to experiment and go places no one expected me to go, including me.
2. he lives most of us lead are made up of different communities and a variety of people that have nothing to do with each other. We have memories of past events and memories from history and the past of our cultures that don’t always fit with each other, while our imaginations and our brain-power make them coherent.
3. “Novel” means new. Some writers walk along familiar paths. For me, each project comes with its own unique challenges. There will always be some of us who who find new paths that bring unexpected insights.
4. My task has been to create a thematic unity out of disparate elements: war and recovery are a motif of American life, so is the conflict between living in an active, demanding, pushing world and the desire to do what’s right, true, and good. It’s not inevitable that the good and true and right will be defeated.
5. I loved what I was doing, especially at the beginning of each project and as I came to the end. I believe strongly in the work I’ve done and know that as I get better at book marketing, I’ll find readers for my stories little by little.