You former AP English folks may recall the mock trials we conducted in class: Is Raskolnikov, the protagonist in the novel Crime and Punishment, guilty or innocent of murder? We divided the class into three parts: prosecution, defense and jury. I served as the judge. Well, for the past two days I’ve been serving jury duty at the Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland. There are a couple of hundred other folks here in the Jury Room, all of us biding our time to see if our name is randomly selected. If we’re called, we may be a jury member for a civil or criminal case. Yesterday, my name wasn’t called. Today, who knows? In the mean time, I sit here and work on Novel #2, Trout Run. I’ve been wondering if Eddy and Em were ever tried for murder, and you were serving on the jury, would you find them guilty or innocent?
This stream flows year round, a constant motion through the woods, often raging during the wet winter/spring months, and usually tranquil during the drier summer/fall. The words in my novels trend the same seasonal way: more flow when it’s rainy outside, less flow when it’s sunny. Trout Kill weighed in at 87,967 words, and Trout Run is currently a svelte 85,677– but gaining quickly. Raging or tranquil, I’m very, very thankful for the constant flow.
Tasting wines is like tasting words: Both require practice and experience to help nail down the nebulous. The thing about writing that absorbs me the most is finding the right word to convey what needs conveyed. I seldom use my thesaurus to find a new word; rather, I use it to nuance a concept I already know. (Should “nuance” be used as a verb … an infinitive?) For example, in the following sentence I switched the word “pounded” for “hit” because “pounded” seems to convey the image of “striking with a fist” more clearly: “I pounded the mitt harder, loud smacks, and then it struck me that I was asking a man who I wanted dead about love—a clear case of stupid asking stupid.” And by the way, my personal favorites are numbers 1 and 7, a pinot gris and cabernet, respectively, as sampled last Friday evening at John’s Market in Multnomah Village, Oregon. John’s hosts a wine tasting every Friday from 5-7pm ($5 tasting fee). Perhaps I’ll see you there next Friday … because we all need more practice.
Notice the lower branches of this tree appear to be dead and, therefore, might be safely pruned, thus improving the overall health of the tree. Eddy, too, has aspects of his character that might be safely “pruned” to achieve a beneficial effect. For example, he’s a risk-taker, so should he try curbing this impulse, i.e., he drives too fast (while he’s drunk and stoned), and he has contempt for authority (refuses a direct order from a superior officer)? Perhaps he needs to improve his risk-benefit assessment skills.
A big THANK YOU! to Cutsforth’s Thriftway for hosting yesterday’s Book Fair in Canby, Oregon, and especially to Kendra Mikulec, who organized and emceed the event. I heard nothing but positives from the over twenty authors who attended and exhibited their various titles, everything from graphic stories to historical novels. I especially enjoyed visiting with former CHS students Jennifer LeRoy Huber, Targol Saedi, David Nightingale and Jason Gingerich. I hope you all enjoy Trout Kill, and be sure to pass along your thoughts to me about the story.
In the Prologue of Trout Kill the term “god dot” appears twice: once in the first paragraph, and again a few pages later in the last paragraph. It’s a term I invented that refers to the first circle of growth in the cross section of a tree, that center-most dot. It’s metaphorical implications relate to Eddy’s search for his unknown past, namely the tragic events that occurred on the day he was born. These events comprise one of the two central narratives of Trout Run, the second book of the Trout Trilogy. Eddy is 47 years old, so imagine a cross section with 47 rings. In Trout Run, Eddy seeks to know what happened to his father and mother, and to find the answers he must return in time to the events of this birth day–his god dot..
On our morning walk Deb and I came across these two dogwoods. Beautiful, right? But I couldn’t help but notice their entangled limbs, which are interlaced so thoroughly that when a big storm comes along if one tree falls it might pulled the other down with it; or, conversely, the stronger of the two may in fact help to shelter and hold the other upright. Such is the relationship between Eddy Trout and his sister Em, one of inextricable entanglement. If one falls, so too may the other; and if one stands, so too may the other. Eddy senses this, and he’s trying to do all he can to “hold his sister up.” At what expense and/or benefit, though, to himself? To Em? This sibling dynamic is one of many I explore in the second part of the trilogy, Trout Run.
After my reading last night at Annie Bloom’s, the toughest question I faced from a member of the audience (Phil Lavine, a friend and neighbor) was this: If your father was still alive, would he read Trout Kill,and what would he think of it? I replied that my father, Emmit Willis Dage, who died about 12 years ago, would have been proud of me for writing the novel and, yes, he most definitely would have read it. The storyline in TK involves Eddy’s search for his father, who abandoned him 47 years earlier. My father never “abandoned” me, or my sister, Bev, but he was absent, both literally and figuratively, for years at a time. Bev and I knew him as a big-hearted man who drank, smoked, cussed, philandered and, eventually, divorced our mother, Helen, married a woman named Rose, divorced her and then remarried Helen. My mother, despite very limited financial resources, raised me and Bev mostly by herself. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in writing this trilogy (Trout Kill, Trout Run and Trout Love) is figuring how to fictionalize the events that land very close to home, and the characters who participate in those events. Thank you, Phil, for asking that question.