All Posts in Category: Personal Background
Among the multitude of Europeans to wander west to America in the Nineteenth Century was a teacher and poet from Lisburn, Ireland by the name of Henry McDonald Flecher. It is his poem, The Homeless, taken from his book, Odin’s Last Hour, that serves as my epigraph to Wandering West. I discovered it while searching for just the right quote to put at the beginning of my book. When I read it, I knew it was the one. Flecher was not just any poet. He was a renowned poet of his day, honored, alongside Tennyson, by Queen Victoria. An interesting tidbit about him is his claim, privately at least, that Tennyson stole a few of his verses. Whether that is true or not, well, who can say? Maybe Tennyson would argue that Flecher plagiarized a few of his lines. Maybe it was a case of sour grapes, for Tennyson, as we all know, became world renowned and of historic literary significance. None of it really matters now, other than to provide an interesting footnote to an interesting life. After teaching at a small college in Connecticut for a time, Flecher made his way to Blossom, Texas, where he taught Physics and Metaphysics at Lamar College. He continued to write, having published several volumes of prose and poetry, until his death in 1902.
Why am I blogging about some Irish poet who virtually no one has heard of and who died so long ago? What’s the point? So what if I used one of his poems as a lead-in to Wandering West? Big deal. I might well have found one of Tennyson’s to use. Who cares? Who reads poetry anyway? Well, in my own small way, I wanted to honor this man, that’s why, pure and simple. You see, I wouldn’t be here without Henry McDonald Flecher. He is my great-grandfather.
For those who have yet to read Wandering West, here is its epigraph:
. . . All too busy, all too eager
Hunting pleasure, grasping gain,
To regard that form so meager
Drooping in her drought of pain . . .
Hearts to love her, homes to shelter,
Let the lonely wanderer find,
Screen her from the storms that pelt her,
From misfortune’s rain and wind.
—“The Homeless,” from
Odin’s Last Hour
by Henry McDonald Flecher
For those who have read Wandering West, I think you’ll agree: The Homeless is a fitting, thematic introduction to my novel. If you haven’t read the story, please do. And while you’re at it–after you’ve purchased Wandering West here on my website–you may want to mosey on over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy of Odin’s Last Hour. Here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Odins-Last-Hour-Other-Poems/dp/1174557494
It’s food for thought.
My first conversation with the publisher’s marketing director for Wandering West was a little awkward to say the least. She asked me to give her my elevator speech. Believe me, I know all about elevator speeches. I give them all the time, where my financial advising business is concerned. If you want to know about a stock I like, my view on the markets, the economy, etc., I can spit something out by the time we move from the parking garage to the seventh floor. After nearly thirty years in The Bizz, I’ve been around the block a time or two. That doesn’t mean I necessarily have the answers. It just means I understand some of the questions, and to some of those, I may think I have at least a part of the solution.
But this is about my elevator speech for Wandering West. When the young woman from Lulu Publishing, in her sweet voice, asked me to explain what Wandering West is about–and to do it in thirty seconds–well, I stuttered and stammered my half minute into–finally–an admission that I wasn’t quite sure how to do that. I mean, heck, it took me 100,000 words–300+ pages–to tell the story, riveting yet poignant as it surely is. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I don’t enjoy being put on the spot about my writing, nor about much of anything else, for that matter. Who does? Moreover, my writing starts from a mood, a feeling if you will. I have to get my sea legs under me, my narrative voice at just the right pitch. From there, the characters are developed, and the storyline takes off like a Virgin Galactic flight into outer space. Hopefully, the flights will take off like my story does, for the passengers’ sakes.
So, what is my elevator speech, now that I’ve spat it out for the upteenth time? As they say, practice makes perfect, or in my case, almost functional. Close your eyes and pretend–no, don’t close your eyes. You can’t read the rest of this text if you do that. Pretend we’re in an elevator, soothing elevator music (naturally) playing softly from the speakers overhead. You have just asked–with great interest, mind you–what Wandering West is about.
And I clear my raspy throat to say: Wandering West is a contemporary, literary novel set in South Texas, in the rugged, desolate, rather inhospitable terrain, not far from the Mexican border. It’s about an older fellow, by the name of Jack Stiler, who has lost his beloved wife to cancer and his Wall Street career to a humiliating scandal. Jack returns home in a desperate attempt to save the family ranch from financial ruin–from the invasion of smugglers of people, guns, and drugs–in the midst of a drought of historic porportions–and, while battling to hold on to those he loves, he struggles also to save himself from the demons that torment him.
My elevator speech doesn’t really do justice to Wandering West, I don’t think. You’ll just have to click onto the book section of my website and order the book itself. I think you’ll be enthralled if you give it a good read. I tend to write better than I give speeches, in an elevator or otherwise.
Why did I write Wandering West? What inspired me? Or, to censor an old friend’s recent admonition, “What the heck were you thinking, putting yourself through such a gut-wrenching, thankless–self flagellating–process, and for what?” When the subject of my having written a book comes up, these are the immediate and inevitable questions I get. I generally stammer a bit, clear my throat and try my best to explain that writing–gulp–simply, is in my bones. I am compelled to express my life’s observations through writing fiction, as sometimes daunting and generally inefficient as that may be. Most people who know me aren’t aware that I have always been something of a writer. In my twenties, I wrote several novels, acquired a literary agent and endeavored to make writing fiction a career. After all, didn’t Faulkner get his writing career off the ground in his twenties? Didn’t Hemingway? Didn’t all writers worth anything? Ahh, to be so naive again. To put it bluntly, as an author, I was not yet ready for prime time. In my case, I hadn’t lived enough to develop the depth that my characters needed to write the type stories that inspired me. Besides, by my late twenties, I had a family to care for, and yes, better things to do than coop myself up in front of an IBM Selectric all day. Yes, I know. I’m dating myself now.
Life, as they say, got in the way, until recently. At the time, I was in one of my contemplative moods, something I am afflicted with all too often, I’m afraid. I was reflecting on my life, how I had gottten to this point. I was savoring the occasional minor victory and pining over the all-too familiar traumatic defeat. Where was I headed, now that I could actually glimpse–however blurry the view–old age on the horizon? It was, after all, in the not-distant-enough future. It dawned on me that any ordinary person, placed in an extraordinary circumstance, confronted with the realization of growing older, would have a story to tell. I had this image of an older guy wandering toward the sunset–the sunset of his life, if you will. The title, Wandering West, then popped into my head. I knew immediately that I would write this aging man’s story, or at least give a stab at it to see how it developed. Once I fleshed out Jack Stiler’s character, at least in my mind, the story took on a life of its own. That’s generally how I have always written. I develop characters and let them tell the story. In the beginning, this is nothing more than a vague concept, a feeling or a mood more than anything. I have no elaborate outline, detailing this and that. I can’t work that way. I’m as surprised as anyone when I get to point D from point C in the story. For me, that’s what keeps it fresh and alive. As a writer, I get hooked the way I hope the reader does. In the case of Wandering West, I completed the story in three to four months, a rather quick pace in light of my previous writings. I think this one was champing at the bit to get out. If you’ve already read Wandering West, pardon the pun. If not, get to it! Click on the purchase button in the book section of this website. And thanks!