Recently, I was asked what three words best describe Wandering West and its characters. I thought about it for a minute. How could three words possibly describe a book? Of course, no three words can really do that. At most, they can maybe capture the essence of a story. The essence of Wandering West is the enduring of life’s challenges, however insurmountable they may seem. So, my first inclination was to answer with the word ‘perseverance’ three times. That indeed is the heart of Wandering West. But on further thought, I decided another response to the question might as well be the words ‘faith, hope and love.’ God’s three gifts are what Jack clings to in his quest for redemption, in his struggle to overcome difficulty and in his search for peace and contentment.
That said, Wandering West is no Sunday School lesson for the kiddos. Far from it. Wandering West is a depiction of one man’s life–a mere glimpse of one man’s life–and we all know that life, even a mere glimpse, can be crude, brutal, unfair, sometimes cruel and, all too often, seemingly godless. Yet, without giving away too much of the story, let me just say that, in many ways, nonetheless, Wandering West captures the spirit of Christmas. As much as life is about persevering over difficulty, it’s also about having faith, hope and love. Without these three devine gifts, perseverance really has no meaning.
Merry Christmas, everyone, to you and to yours!
Some weeks ago, I received a standard questionaire–well, I assume it’s standard since I’ve never received one before–from the publicist. Among the topics was the request to highlight a scene or two and/or a character or two from Wandering West. One might think such a task would require more than a little perusing of the novel to joggle my memory, a memory that I have often declared to be good, just short.
I had no such problem locating the needle in this haystack. We’re talking about Wandering West, after all, a novel with many a highlight. Right? Heck yeah, right. The only problem is: which one to pick. The sun shines brightly on this glistening heap of straw. It’s like choosing which star twinkles brightest against a moonless, inky sky. But I have my eye fixed, however squinted, upon a particular star–err needle. I know exactly which scenes and which characters I want to draw attention to.
They can be found in Chapter 3. The particular highlight I chose is all of Chapter 3. A lot goes on in these seven or eight pages. They lay the foundation for the rest of the story. Here, we learn a great deal more about Jack, the protagonist, how he had suffered along with his wife while she lay dying, how he grieves still long after her death. The scandal that destroyed Jack’s Wall Street career is explained in more detail. We learn how he still grapples with its consequences. The death of his beloved wife and the destruction of his once-stellar career are what have brought him to this time and this place now. We begin to understand why Jack’s state of mind is what it is. He wrestles with his inner demons, some of which he has lived with for years while others have sprung to life from his recent past. We get the sense that more are yet to surface.
Jack’s son, Jackson–no pun intended–is introduced in Chapter 3. Their relationship is fleshed out, and the family dynamic is put into high gear. The chapter ends with the rather cryptic discussion of Jack’s other son, Johnny. This conversation begs many a question, but you’ll need to read Chapter 4 and beyond to learn about all that. I hope you will. Jack’s struggles have only begun to manifest themselves, his demons only beginning to haunt.
Let me make one small yet significant suggestion, if I may: start with the Prologue, and then proceed with Chapters 1 and 2 before dancing into Chapter 3. There are plenty of needles to pluck from the haystack and stars at which to gaze. You won’t want to miss them.
The title, Wandering West, came to mind at about the same moment as the image of a guy wandering toward the sunset. I knew immediately that that would be the title of my novel, even before I had a story. As I have stated in an earlier post, I begin with a feeling, a mood, rather than with a storyline. I suppose that’s backwards to most writers, who at least have a general outline in mind. For me, it’s the mood that inspires me to write. As Wordsworth once put it, “writing is the spontaneous overflow of human emotion,” or words to that effect. In my case, it’s the key to getting started. Once I flesh out a character or two, the story begins to take shape. The characters really do write the book. They develop the general outline, and eventually, the detailed storyline. I just have to give them plenty of toys to play with.
So, I begin with a mood. For me, the term ‘wandering’ connotes indecision, aimlessness, even confusion. My main character, Jack Stiler, because of the obstacles placed before him, has reached that point in his life where he is a little lost, a bit confused, and weary, but he knows he doesn’t want to remain in this state of mind. He understands how truly defeating that would be. The term ‘west’ may refer to a geographical direction, but in the abstract, it can imply a broad range of things. For me here, it symbolizes not only an end but the hope for a new beginning. ‘West’ is a place for leaving the past behind and for starting over. In many ways, on many levels, Jack is wandering west. He is growing older, and his sunset is within view. How he gets there and what is to follow are the remaining questions of his life, now the most important questions of his life.
I admit to getting a little put off by those who, on assumption, want to categorize Wandering West as a contemporary western, pure and simple. It is set in a rugged, desolate part of Texas, and it does have its wild-west moments, I’ll grant them that. But it is more than that. At its core, Wandering West is about the life of one who has reached a crossroads, about one who is wounded but not broken, beaten but not defeated. Indeed, it is about searching for direction in a confused and difficult time, and in so doing, it’s about acceptance, discovery, and renewed hope.
Wandering West is the title that the story commands it to be.