Memories of my first novel

I wrote my first published novel in 1980. I called it The Sun Singer and found an agent for it. The agent, who ran a one-person shop, liked the novel and accepted it. However several months later, she wrote and said I would have to wait a while before she could actively promote it because another author whom she represented suddenly had a bestseller and that was requiring all of the agent’s time.

I’m glad I didn’t wait for her to finish working on The Clan of the Cave Bear since it went through many sequels. So, I extracted the novel from the agent and it sat until I first published it via iUniverse in 2004. The book’s reception was pretty good, including ending up as a finalist Foreword Magazine’s book of the year awards.

Wikipedia Photo

If you’ve been reading this blog for years–or its predecessor blog on Blogger–you know already that the plot for this novel came to me when I was in junior high school just after a visit with my grandparents and parents to Allerton Park in Illinois. Allerton is the home of a famous statue called The Sun Singer. On the way home from the park, a horrid thunderstorm hit and the images of the statue (and others at Allerton) flashed on and off outside the car window as though somebody were operating a giant strobe light.

For many nights afterward, those images became part of my dreams, dreams that were somewhat psychic for a while (long before I knew much about precognitive dreams) and suddenly I was seeing a young man who lived in Decatur, Illinois (where my grandparents lived) who went on a journey to a nearby universe where he became known as “The Sun Singer.” The novel is set in Glacier National Park.

In 2010, several traditional publishers expressed an interest and it ended up with Vanilla Heart Publishing until I left that company and self-published the book in 2015 because it had been around too long to another publisher to risk bringing out again.

The book is a contemporary fantasy as well as a hero’s journey novel. That is to say, that while what the hero does in terms of action is important, how he changes is even more important. The general sequence of events on such a journey was published years ago in Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces.

I have two things to confess: (1) I have refused to read The Clan of the Cave Bear, and (2) The Sun Singer is my favorite book. A first novel is, I think, rather like a first love. One never forgets either one regardless of how things go later. I like what I’ve written since 1980, but still, a first novel is always the first novel no matter how many books come after it.


Grandfathers: protectors and tricksters

The mini-golf ant is fake, or is it?

My mother’s father was a solid, responsible grandfather when it came to driving a nail straight, shooting a flawless game of pool, and finding where the fish were hiding in the river. He worked as a farmer, an auditor and a car salesman, so he knew a lot about the practical nuts and bolts of the world.  He also knew what was wrong with it and what was dangerous, so he was among my childhood protectors and instructors.

He also saw the humor in the unexpected, lurching out of dark shadows at night, playing practical jokes, and becoming a conspirator in the wild, imaginary tales my two brothers and I cooked up.

As a fan on tricksters in myths and legends, my first lessons in combining fact and fiction, the sacred and the profane and the practical and the ludicrous came from my Grandfather Gourley. As a child and a young adult, I simply saw that Grandpa liked making people laugh. Now, I wonder if he had somewhat of a trickster’s mindset: that is, creating the laugh as part of a learning experience?

In my novel The Sun Singer, my Grandfather Elliott character—who has as lot in common with my grandfather—is the one who stirs things up. Since my novel is an adventure story, Elliott’s grandson Robert gets into some dangerous situations because things got stirred up. Needless to say, Robert’s parents aren’t pleased when things get stirred up. After all, they expect grandfathers to serve as wise protectors.

My grandfather lived in Illinois. I lived in Florida. So, for many years I only saw in on vacations. Ultimately, he and grandmother moved to Florida, finding a house about four blocks away from us. My parents liked the arrangement for all the usual reasons about having family close rather than far away. I wonder, though, if my parents noticed that after grandfather came to town, things got stirred up more than  ever. My mother often told stories about the practical jokes her father played on her when she was a kid.

So, she had to know that having Grandfather Gourley in our neighborhood was somewhat like having a coyote or a fox in the hen house. When things went nuts, Grandfather acted innocent like he had no clue what could have possibly caused the latest hijinks. From him, I learned how to keep a straight face while household weirdness played itself out. While visiting my granddaughter last week, who is still very literal when it comes to the meanings of things said and done, I quite naturally felt a need to protect her from all possible harm and unpleasantness.

Yet, I also began my sacred task as a grandfather: working on getting her more acquainted with the figurative. (In small doeses, of course.)  My grandfather helped teach me about humor, magic, and the benefits of managed chaos. That’s a tradition I want to continue.


A beautiful bookstore in Dubuque

I love locally owned independent bookstores. They’re not only great for a city’s economy–as websites like IndieBound will tell you–they are also a reflection of the local culture, people, reading habits and thought.

River Lights Bookstore Photo
When I reached handwritten postcard number 100 in the stack I’m sending out to bookstores telling them about “The Sun Singer,” I was curious about the store getting the postcard. It’s River Lights Bookstore, 2nd Edition on Main Street in Dubuque, Iowa. They have a website and a Facebook page, so it was easy to learn more about the store.

They also have something else that chain stores can’t match: a wonderful historic building. The “Second Edition” in the store’s name comes from the fact that when the original store closed, some of the folks involved created a new store down town.

On June 1st, 2007, the new River Lights Bookstore opened in a beautifully renovated historic downtown building at 1098 Main Street. The wooden floors and tin ceilings of this 1870’s building offer an inviting atmosphere in which to browse or connect with fellow booklovers.

River Lights Bookstore photo
As the former chairman of my town’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), I was happy to see the “adaptive reuse” of the old building. I wish the store would include a note on its site saying what the building originally housed. By the look of it, it could have been a small manufacturing operation. According to Dubuque’s website, the city has an HPC that oversees the historic districts and historic properties. Doing this is also good for the local economy; and, of course, it strengthens a community’s sense of its own past history and architecture.

River Lights looks like what a bookstore ought to look like: a vibrant operation with excited book people in the perfect setting. If I lived in Dubuque–a three-hour drive from Batavia, the small town where my father was born–I would be shopping at this store every week.

I have no idea how many weeks it will take my postcard to travel from northeast Georgia to 1098 Main Street in Dubuque. Probably several weeks. Chances are, the card will be swept into a stack of Baker & Taylor, Ingram and other catalogues where it might sit for another several weeks. Somebody might actually see it, pause, and think, “hmmm.”

“Hmmm” is fine with me, assuming they can read my handwriting which, suffice it to say, was getting a bit sloppy when I reached card #100. Otherwise, I’m glad I looked up the store where the card is headed. For a preservation-minded writer, the website is a real treat, and imagining what it would be like to shop or attend book club meetings in River Lights 2/e is wonderful to imagine.

Each copy sold benefits Glacier National Park!

Editing on a snowy afternoon

Lesa Campbell photo

What a perfect afternoon for finishing the edits for the new edition of “The Sun Singer” coming soon from Vanilla Heart Publishing. The afternoon snow ensured that (a) few people would be showing up at the front door and (b) everyone would be trying to get home before a big traffic jam started rather than dialing my phone number.

After we took a few pictures and warmed up some leftover stew for dinner, I e-mailed the file to the publisher.

I haven’t heard about any traffic jams in Jackson County, but WSB radio out of Atlanta was monitoring bumper-to-bumper traffic around the Metro area as an above-average number of people left work early on a Friday afternoon. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was reporting (as of 7:30 p.m.) “Over 160 accidents reported as metro area receives 2-3 inches of snow.”

Area roads are expected to get worse as temperatures drop beneath 32 degrees in light snow.

When one is on the road, snow can be an annoyance, though I certainly got used to it during the seven years I lived on the Illinois/Wisconsin border and commuted into Chicago. But around here, the snow is some how different: we’re not used to it, we don’t have the equipment to contend with it, and we definitely aren’t driving with chains or studded snow tires.

But when one is inside, the snow tends to quiet down the world and make ones home feel even more like a sanctuary. The quiet alone makes it a good time to work on a book.