Saturday, June 30, 2012

From Book to Shining Book

I knew if I kept at it, didn't get this habit under control, that it was only a matter of time before it happened. How could it be otherwise? But I couldn't stop. I just couldn't. And so last night the inevitable occurred. I reached the last page of the last Big Fat 18th Century Historical Novel that James Alexander Thom has written to date.

The book I saved for last isn't a new one. From Sea to Shining Sea, the story of the Clark family (you know the Clarks, right? George Rogers Clark, William Clark, and a passel of brothers and sisters and parents all remarkable in their way), was published in 1983 and spans the years 1773 to 1806, which happens to be my all time favorite span of years in American History. The stuff that generation got up to...!

But now I've gone through them all. Thousands and thousands of pages of history brought to life through Thom's skill as a storyteller and researcher. These are, by and large, BIG books, as I mentioned. From Sea to Shining Sea is nearly 1000 pages long all on its own.

But just think of all the details I missed among those pages! Think of all the lovely, evocative passages, dialogue, and bits of historical detail I've forgotten. Which means these books will stand up to being read and reread. And that's exactly what I plan to do. I don't believe I'll ever not have one of Thom's novels in progress now.

First on my list to reread: Panther In The Sky, the story of the Shawnee war chief Tecumseh.

A big THANK YOU to Laura Frantz for encouraging me years ago to start reading this author's books.

Thom has written a book on writing historical fiction that I think is well worth the read. Here's my review of it, posted several months back: The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction.

12 comments:

  1. Lori, I'm so thrilled you're a fan of Jim - he's one of the most remarkable writers of our times and I feel confident that his books will become our future classics. He's taught me more about writing than any craft book ever would and I wrote to tell him so:) He wrote back! I need to return to his craft book - lol! I know it will teach me buckets, too.

    As for that sadness in turning the last page, it was there for me in spades, too. The danger of reading Thom is that it sets the bar so high it's hard to settle for anything less. I so wish our market would let us write long like Thom. Maybe we should cross-over;)

    Bless you for such a wonderful post.

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    1. Laura, we just have to do our best and strive for excellence, as I know you do. You are right, he's set the bar high in many ways, and I'm glad for it.

      I bet you treasure that letter from Thom. I know I would. :)

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  2. Hi Lori,
    I totally sympathize with your feeling of having read "the last one" of an author or group of books. I'm approaching that point with Kurt Vonnegut (another Indiana author) and I'm going to be sad when there are no books left to read - for the first time anyway.

    I also wrote about a second meeting with Thom and his book n writing historical fiction here http://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/ride-along-the-winds-of-time-and-see-where-we-have-been/

    Panther in the Sky is next on my list of Thom books too!

    -Jay

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    1. Hi Jay. Thanks for visiting me back. You will enjoy Panther in the Sky. It's another one of my favorites of his. All of his 18th, early 19th century set books affected me deeply, but if I had to pick one, I'd say Sign-Talker moved me the most. I mourned Drouillard for weeks, maybe months, after finishing that book. I also spent time praying for the man because I have my own notions about "now" and I'm not certain that God takes the same account of time that we do. I'm not certain that to Him all times aren't "now." So can our prayers for someone whose journey through the bounds of time has, from our perspective, ended, still have purpose? Maybe so.

      I haven't read Kurt Vonnegut, but he' a writer I've heard about for many a year. So many writers, so little time. Now I'm off to check out your post about your second meeting with Thom. I'm rather jealous.

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    2. Hi Lori,
      I think you and my Mom should talk. :-) She was similarly effected by the death of Drouillard, saying it "bothered me for weeks." Also of interest might be the fact that Thom told me that many Shawnee who read Panther in the Sky will stop before the end, since they do not want to see him die again after he had been brought to life once more. I see no problem with your current day mourning and its place in "time." in fact, I find that rather cool.
      -Jay

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    3. Jay, I can well imagine how the Shawnee stop reading before the end of Panther. I may very well stop before the end this time, too. I will probably never read the end of Sign-Talker again, though I will read the rest of the book again eventually. Even knowing more or less what was going to happen to Drouillard the first time through, it was terribly hard when I got to the end, because Thom (bless his heart) had made me fall in love with the guy. When I recommend Thom's books I always start with those that have a good ending. Or at least a less emotionally taxing one. Have you read any of his books about George Rogers Clark yet? Bittersweet, I'd call them, but not nearly so hard to take as Panther and Sign-Talker. I suppose most of Thom's books are bittersweet, come to think of it. That seems to suit me as a reader. :)

      Well, time to go plot out my next chapters and the work for the coming week, before it's time for church. I'm writing about the Oneida Nation during the 1750s-1770s right now (on spec). It's been great fun researching, but I have a long way to go yet.

      Please tell your mom I understand and share her pain. And I'm sure we aren't the only ones so wrenched by that book.

      A note of interest: in From Sea to Shining Sea we see a rather differently imagined Drouillard, by Thom. But I won't spoil it for you with any details. :)

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  3. Thanks for your post, Lori. I loved Follow the River -- so compelling! Now I may have to delve into From Sea to Shining Sea.

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    1. Janet, you won't regret it. There were parts of FSTSS I savored slowly, reading just a page or two a day, and parts I whipped through because I couldn't bear not knowing what happened next.

      I'm happy to have visited Locust Grove in Kentucky, the setting for at least one scene in the book, a few years ago. Last night as I was reading the last pages of FSTSS I closed my eyes and remembered the place as best I could and thought, I've been there. Right in that room. I stood there in the space where these men once stood. And I didn't know. Not like I do now.

      I hadn't read Thom's book then.

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  4. I've never read this author, but can identify with that feeling of having finished all the 'first time' reads. I usually like to let some time pass so that I forget the little details of a story, then pick it up again and savor the rediscovery.

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    1. Lara, that's especially true with such big books as Thom's. When they top out at 900+ pages there's always so much to rediscover. But time can do that for any book.

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  5. I have never ever read one of Thom's books! I may have to try someday... :)

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    1. If you decide to, let me know. I'll make my best guess for which of his books I think you'd like most.

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