Felling Big Trees is the story of disgraced Congressman Fran Stewart as he turns to the American heartland to find redemption in the eyes of his daughter and the woman he loves. He has been adrift after losing his wife in a horrific car accident. Trying to free himself from a politically powerful mother-in-law who blames him for his daughter's death, Fran searches for a way to prepare a better future for himself and his teenage daughter, Becky. An innocent misstep one evening leads to political disaster for Fran. Fran travels through heartland towns where no one knows he's a former congressman. Stripped of the detachment that characterized his early years as a congressman, Fran is drawn to an everyman perspective that poses universal questions. What breeds inaction and apathy? How do we jumpstart a deeper connection to the injustices we see every day? What does it take to engender empathy in a meaningful and focused way? How far will we humble ourselves to help those with few resources? Fran has to stand up to prejudices and uncaring established ways. His story and how he relates to those he meets fits well with a time when compassion and tolerance are often overwhelmed by strident tones and lack of basic civility.
Guest Post: Hitting The First Key
There’s a lot to plan when writing. Even before one sits down at the computer, the mind is at work organizing, conceptualizing, projecting. I finally sat down and from scraps of paper and unorganized saved files, produced thirty pages of which I was very proud. I started to write my first manuscript. Maybe one hundred pages into the work, a friend whose writing skills I held in high esteem read what I had produced so far. I was devastated when he told me the first thirty pages absolutely had to go. I almost gave up right there.
I finished the manuscript and realized that in the beginning, I had been trying to manhandle my manuscript, trying to fit it into something that didn’t belong. I spent a lot of time on those thirty pages, but it was time to say good bye.
I remember typing the final period on my first manuscript. I was done and ready to send it out into the world. But I was a rookie and when my friend said “Now comes the hard part”—the hard part being re-reading, revising, and cutting, cutting, cutting—I wasn’t sure I could take that. But I did and spent long hours editing.
Prior to writing my second manuscript, which turned into my debut novel, Felling Big Trees, I realized that I was creating my own world as I wrote. I had just retired from twenty-five years on Capitol Hill and all the interactions with people, the press of events, and the identity my position brought me were gone. There was a void and I found developing characters and having them act in ways that advanced ideas and themes important to me was fun. Every day, and I mean every day, I wrote something. I’d do 400-500 words and one day, I drained all reserves—just as one would in a grueling athletic event—and produced 800 words. At the time I was reading a lot of John Irving and that brought a certain perspective to the words I wrote. I also enjoyed country music and listened to the songs of Jo Dee Messina and Brooks and Dunn as I wrote. I’m sure the strange mix of those songs and the works of John Irving moved my story along in a unique way. Oh yeah, I also wore an old Yankee hat everyday as I wrote. I’m sure all writers have concoctions they bring to their desks.
I remember using one of those cardboard trifolds, the kind you use for science projects, to record character development and plot lines, then secondary characters and sub-plot lines to the point where I was so confused I closed it up and put it away. I used post-its instead, but they kept falling on the floor and any order was gone. So I went back to the trifold.
In the end, I wrote 88,000 words and knew the editing had to begin. I did some editing, but I put the manuscript away for ten years as I acquired a new identity—a grandfather who watched his grandchildren during the day. When that duty was over, I mulled over reengaging with the manuscript. I did, and this time sought a professional editor. Her comprehensive edit lopped off 11,000 words, but she said that’s not unusual and I shouldn’t be alarmed. We found places to insert segments that moved the story along more smoothly and strengthened character appeal. In the end, I was satisfied with what I had written. It is, however, a long trip from the first key stroke to the last, especially as the last can be so hard to find.
About the Author:
Rich Garon received both his M.A. and Ph.D. in Politics from New York University and began a career on Capitol Hill that lasted for more than 25 years. For the last six of those years he served as Chief-of-Staff, Committee on International Relations, U.S. House of Representatives. He currently chairs the Serve (Outreach and Mission) Committee at the Immanuel Anglican Church in Woodbridge, VA and coordinates the Homeless Ministry, with an emphasis on those living in the woods. He was named to the Board of Directors of the Greater Prince William County [VA] Community Health Center, and conducts mission trips with his wife, Karen, to Bolivia to support church-building in several areas including what began as a tent city.
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Continue following the Felling Big Trees blog tour tomorrow with Jackie Mantey Writes Like a Girl!'