antebellum

Why I wrote the novel, Jack


This is an explanation that I had never intended to write. Truth is, I had hidden the underlying inspiration for the book and, only today, after reading something on building an author platform together with dozens of ways to do it, it occurred to me that, revealing the deeper reasons may help to get the story out teachers, students,  those who knew Jack and to more of the general public. I concluded that doing so would best serve to honor the real Jack.

To get right to the point, Jack was a real person – a childhood friend – who I made into a composite character after transporting him from the 20th Century into the 1850s. The real Jack – killed at age 19 (I was 18) in a car crash in which he was alone – had a thing about being a “hero.” He was great in sports – baseball, basketball, football, etc. He was extremely competitive. He was driven to win, always. He had to be at the center of things and loved to get a group of kids to play whatever sport happened to be in season – this nearly every day during childhood. Sports was his life and he insisted that others play along.

In the book, I gave Jack qualities that very much resemble the real person – good and bad. A few of the better ones are pure fiction – qualities that could have been. I didn’t become a novelist due to Jack’s death though. That decision was made in high school while independently reading works by Russian writers like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Jack wasn’t into that kind of thing. However, I knew sometime between 20-30 years old that I would write this novel one day. For many years I didn’t know how to approach it. I’ve been writing it now over 14 years – Part 1 is finished and is to be published October 1, 2014; Part 2 is nearly finished and Part 3 is more than half-finished. I plan to publish the latter two parts by February, 2015.

I began “Jack” in 2000 when I relocated to Manhattan to teach. I spent 13 years there teaching English, History, Journalism, etc. I started “Jack” simultaneously with two other novels and several children’s books. I had waited years to write novels – I was, however, a journalist for many years – believing I needed to accumulate enough experience, for instance, traveling and living in different places. I had covered about 500 murder trials and hundreds more as a court news reporter in order to hone my writing skills, partly. I also pushed the limits many times in this pursuit of “getting experience” including going off on my own in foreign countries – sometimes in dangerous areas.

Jack was something of a dare-devil. So was I before his death but much more so afterwards only I guess I was either better at it or luckier or both. Probably most of my “adventures” were inextricably linked to my childhood friendship with Jack who I met one day on a school bus in a sort of hostile situation. Perhaps he had teased me – I don’t recall – but we (I guess my pride was at stake) decided to get off the bus to fight. He actually invited me to do this. He was in the second grade, I was in the first. He was 20 pounds bigger than me while I was one of the smallest kids in my class. We got off the bus and headed down St. Anne’s Street, Pepperell, Massachusetts – the street he lived on. He was killed in a high speed crash two or three streets away. Jack beat me as we wrestled to the ground where he pinned me by the shoulders but, he was careful, I think, to not hurt me. We became best friends from that day on for the most part. Strange.

In the book, Jack has some very good qualities and some not-so-good qualities. That also was the case in real life. However, I cast the fictional Jack as the “hero” of the book – a status that I believe he would have wanted to achieve in real life but was not able to do. Perhaps he might have if he had lived longer. He had tried out for a Red Sox farm team that year or the year before but did not make it. He was a pitcher – very fast but somewhat wild. I had heard that he was wild on the day he tried out. I dreaded standing up at the plate when he was pitching. His fastball was at least 95 MPH and I knew firsthand that on some days his control was great but on others it was sorely lacking.

The character, Mike, also is based on a real character but whom I greatly transformed into a composite character who actually had many good qualities … in the book, that is. Mike and Jack in real life – both were my friends – actually hated one another. This also is the situation in the book. I cast Mike as a somewhat admirable character in the book whereas, in life, few, if anyone, would have chosen that particular adjective to describe this enemy of Jack’s. The creative flow went towards the “admirable” zone in depicting Mike – my plots usually write themselves so to speak.

      Inga Shalvashvili's cover illustration for my soon-to-be-published novel, Jack           Illustration by Inga Shalvashvili

Illustrations by Inga Shalvashvili, Georgia, near Russia

The situation with the Sliney twins actually happened – Jack had gotten several of us (altar boys at the time) to play tag around the altar as we had shown up for practice early and there was no priest there nor anyone else to supervise. Someone held up the monstrance like he was the priest, we drank some of the wine in the sacristy, the Sliney brothers did “tattle” on everyone else in real life and there was a “trial” in real life conducted by our teacher, a Catholic nun, to “convict” the rabble-rousers which, incidentally did not include Jack because he was in the eighth grade then while the rest of us were in the seventh.

So the situation including the trial in the novel was similar to that which occurred in real life although the dialogue in the novel is pure fiction as Jack performs a cross-examination of the Sliney twins. He was not present at the real-life trial at Country Day School of the Holy Union, Groton, Massachusetts, but, had he been there, he would likely have gotten a “big charge” out of it – an expression he liked to use.

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