In Part 1 I set out to uncover the major theme of each of the books in my Hometown Series, the stories set in the imaginary version of my home town and filled with mixed-and-matched versions of the people I have known in my life. Unfortunately, I have been allowed to write and self-publish novels for long enough that I can’t do the entirety of that task in one go. So, last time was the analysis of the novels set in the 1970’s.
The Central Time-Line Picks Up Again in 1983.
Valerie Clarke is the most important character in the novels of the 1980’s. She is the combination of a girl who I grew up with and was in the same class at school with until we both graduated from high school in 1975, and a girl who was a favorite student of mine in the early 1990’s and impacted my classroom and my life during both the 7th and the 8th grades.
When the Captain Came Calling
The first book of these four novels is When the Captain Came Calling. Admittedly, this is not the best book I have ever written, and is closer to the worst. But it is necessary back-story for the books that come after. The story begins with the reformation of the Norwall Pirates (the original Pirates all having graduated from high school and gone their own ways) under the leadership of a strong-willed girl named Mary Philips, aided by her boyfriend and next-door neighbor. Valerie is recruited to be the second girl in the club full of boys. And then an old Norwall resident, Captain Noah Dettbarn, returns to Norwall after years of being a South Pacific captain of a merchant ship. But he is cursed with being invisible by an enraged voodoo priest whose daughter he fell in love with.
The theme of the book is how, “A band of friends can help each other overcome loss and trauma, even the invisible members of the group.” But it was a particularly difficult story to write because of the death by suicide of Valerie’s father, and the subsequent suicide of my cousin’s son during the writing of the novel.
The second book of the 80’s series is the best book I have ever written. Snow Babies is the story of how a blizzard unexpectedly traps the entire town of Norwall under a blanket of snow, snow flurries, white-out winds, snow-drifts, and the threat of freezing to death. In this story, Valerie takes in a hobo who wears a coat of many colors made out of crazy-quilt patches. And he turns out to be a father figure for the fatherless girl, and a little bit of everything else the town needs him to be to survive the blizzard.
The actual theme of the story, one of many, is that, “In times of crisis, everyone needs to come together and find enough love for one another to make survival possible.” There are a large number of characters that come together to make this theme work; the Trailways bus driver, four runaway orphans on his bus, the deputy marshal who finds and rescues the stranded bus, the members of the Norwall Pirates, the bumbling owner/operator of the hardware store, the many members of the Murphy clan, the social worker who lost her job by pursuing the orphans, the school-bus driver, and many more.
Sing Sad Songs
If this book isn’t the second-best thing I have ever written, it is at least in the top five. It is also the book that makes me cry the hardest every time I reread it. It is an emotional roller-coaster ride.
The story is told by three narrators in equal parts. Vicar Martin is the owner of Martin Brothers’ Bar and Grill. His business is failing and his family (a sister, a brother, and a nephew) is dysfunctional. Billy Martin, 13, is his nephew. And Valerie Clarke is the friend of Billy who made him part of the Norwall Pirates.
The main character is Francois Martin, the soul survivor of his family’s car accident in France. His father’s will sends him to live with his cousins, the Martins of Norwall, whom he has never met. Once brought to Iowa, he puts on sad-clown face paint and begins singing karaoke in Martins’ Bar. That, of course, is a surprising and unlooked-for success. Of course, there is a serial killer being hunted by the FBI. This story doesn’t have a happy ending.
But the theme is simple, “Love is the solution to most of life’s problems, and when you lose the ones you love, it is time to grieve and sing sad songs.”
Fools and Their Toys
The follow-up to the book Sing Sad Songs is a story narrated by a ventriloquist’s puppet. The Teddy Bear Killer, murderer of young boys, has been caught. And yet, the wrong person is being held for trial in the case. And the only one who can reveal the truth is a talking zebra puppet who has gone missing.
This is the most complicated story I have written because the narrator is not only a ventriloquist’s puppet, but he is given voice by mumbling Murray Dawes. And Murray is in a place on the autism spectrum where he not only can’t talk without the puppet, but he can’t remember things in time order. And a further complication, he not only isn’t the real killer, he is a traumatized former victim who survived his encounter. And while the puppet is lost, he can only talk to his adopted brother, Terry Houston, who is deaf and communicates only in sign language.
The theme is, “Communicating with others is one of the most important things in life, but not everyone has equal gifts in this area.”
This book has been the least read and commented on of all my books. That is understandable. It is hard to read in more than one way. The story is not in time order. It is also about a sado-masochistic serial killer. It is the one book in this part of the series where Valerie does not appear.
He Rose on a Golden Wing
The intended last book in this part overlaps with the next part occurring in the 1990’s. I am writing it now. You can follow it chapter by chapter on Tuesdays. I reserve the right to explain its theme until I have actually gotten it down on paper.
You have probably realized by this point in the essay that there will be one more part to come (at the very least.)