A history lesson
The following is a guest essay by Rivers Turn Press author, Sean Keefer.
This month marks the release by Rivers Turn Press of the third installment in the Noah Parks mystery series. This latest release is entitled The Code.
Looking back, it’s a bit surreal that I’ve published one book, much less three (not counting a non-fiction book).
The funny thing is, I’ve always considered myself first a musician, a writer of songs. When a blank page presents itself, the story is usually told in three and a half minutes, often no more than 100 words.
The three novels have nearly a quarter of a million words.
It was more than fifteen years ago that, on a random day, I decided to write a book. I didn’t know what it was going to be about, the plot, and who the characters were – I had a cursor on a laptop. Looking back, maybe I didn’t decide to write a book this first day. Perhaps the realization that a novel was forming took hold later. Whatever it was, however, whenever the light came on that a book was in the works, something kept me coming back after that first day.
Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was simply curiosity. A curiosity to learn just what was happening with the project I found myself orchestrating.
Much to my surprise, when my first book, The Trust, was published, people read it. That was motivational. People asked me questions. Those questions challenged me. I began to realize as much as I enjoyed reading (and still do), writing, while an entirely different experience, is a process I find just as enjoyable as reading. When I finish reading a book, I want more. But wanting more to read means waiting, waiting on the author to repeat the process.
Those questions asked me made me realize that I had a roadmap of sorts, a roadmap for the characters that had come to life in my writing. What would they do? What would they become? What would they show me?
I still had no idea what the answers to the questions were, but I kept paying attention.
Then it occurred to me that after reading a book, there would be a waiting period for the author’s next book and that by writing a book, I controlled the process. I could determine when that next book would be available.
So I took the questions I was being asked. I studied them. That made me ask more questions. When the time was right, in a manner of speaking, I put those questions to my characters, and their answers became my second book, The Solicitor.
With The Solicitor, more questions followed. Those questions were part of the path to The Code.
Writing the first book was a challenge, editing was a process I wasn’t prepared for, and the publishing process, well, that, from start to finish, is not the most enjoyable. This time around, Rivers Turn Press made the publishing a pleasant experience, but the writing and editing were just as challenging as before. But as challenging as they were, they were amazingly rewarding, and the curiosity from The Trust was still there. I kept asking questions and coming back to find out just what the characters had to share, to learn their answers, and to see what story they would tell.
Their story became The Code.
The Code is a different kind of book for me. In The Trust, I started writing and forced my way to a finish. Looking back, I’m somewhat surprised it worked. In The Solicitor, I planned and plotted. When I was considering the next book, two things came to me, the characters in my books had a backstory I wanted to explore. That story would again be a mystery, and I knew I needed a murder or two, or three, or, well, let’s say, murders, but I also needed more to create a book that is the next step following my last. I wanted a book to challenge the reader. A book that would make them ask more questions. A book they would want to talk about. I lived in a city with nearly three centuries of history. Somewhere in that history was a story that I knew would fit the characters in the books. That led to research and raised more questions that the characters had been waiting to answer.
The result is a mystery within a mystery, with some history along the way.
As I researched The Code, I learned about some people along the way. One is a former governor of South Carolina. He died more than a century before my birth. He lived in a different time, and had a different set of values, and a different approach to life, but during that life, he rose to be the governor of what was at the time one of the largest states in the US. But, despite that, there’s not a great deal known about him. He lived, was involved in the South Carolina government for nearly half of his life, and, during his life, wrote one of the most successful books of his time. Yet, he’s not much more than a footnote in the history of South Carolina. Even where he is buried is a mystery.
You may be asking, “So what?”
There are a lot of stories out there (and I’m not just talking about those in the books we read.) Some make it into our own histories, some into the stories we tell, some may be of timely import only to fade as time passes, and others may change as they are retold. Some become the reality of our view of the past. However, all we do, all we think, and all we see and say make up the total of the history of our collective reality. Some say that the victors write history, but I believe that regardless of who may write it, history creates who we all are.
So, there's a history within every book you see, and every person you meet. It may be fiction, it may be non-fiction, it may be the stranger you pass on the street, but never-the-less, it’s someone’s story. Just like a forgotten governor, there is a world out there waiting to be found. We only have to look for it. And when we find it, make sure we do all we can to tell that story.
Author, teacher Lawrence Thackston is also the publisher of Rivers Turn Press