The Story Behind The Story

BARBARA REILLY is a book twenty-three years in the making! I began the novel in June 1989 after waking up from a dream. I awoke with two images in my head. The first was of three mound-shaped huts in a triangular formation. The second was of an Indian girl with moving spots of color on her buckskin dress. The dream came after a visit the night before to the lovely country home of some new friends, for dinner. The woman’s first name was Barbara. Her husband shared with us his interest in women pioneers. He had regaled us at the table with stories of their hardships and triumphs, based on diaries he’d been reading.

I knew I’d received the inspiration for my first novel. I started writing that same day, building the Iroquois side of the story from the dream, and Barbara’s from the pioneer spirit given at the dinner visit. At the time, I was living just outside Trumansburg, New York in an old farmhouse. I often passed a field, a few miles down the road. t was bordered on one side by beautiful old willow trees. Behind the willows a stream flowed through a wood. This locale suggested itself to me as the site in the book where Barbara makes her discovery.

Using artistic license I combined the Trumansburg area with a farm where I had lived and worked, years before, near Middlesex, New York. I transposed the farm, two counties to the west, to the Trumansburg area, complete with hills that do not exist there.

What I did not alter was awe-inspiring Taughannock Falls, on the other side of Trumansburg. This 215-foot-high waterfall and the deep gorge in which it flows to Cayuga Lake form a key part of BARBARA REILLY.  I did increase the flow of the stream for certain scenes, for while it is true that after a heavy rain the stream runs as a raging torrent, the actual stream drains too small a watershed to sustain such a flow for long.

There indeed are the remains of a Cayuga Indian village very near the imagined location of the Reilly Farm. I spent many a peaceful afternoon walking its area, absorbing the historical energy of the environs. I walked the stream behind it, and the gorge to the waterfall, and many of the other haunts of the Iroquois while writing the first draft of BARBARA REILLY. I wrote it by hand, first in notebooks, and then longhand on loose leaf paper.

There was no public Internet in 1989 and 1990 during the research for the book. I relied on books, including histories and old journals from 1779, describing Sullivan’s invasion of the Iroquois homelands. I purchased LIFE magazines from 1948, when the main story takes place, to get a feel for the era. I went to antique auto shows and even stopped on the side of the road if I saw a period car or truck, to sketch or photograph it. I visited historical societies and museums to purchase books, and to photograph, sketch, and handle artifacts. I was determined to bring an authentic feeling to the story that was taking shape during my evenings and weekends away from my carpentry vocation.

Seeking ever deeper experiences with which to enhance BARBARA REILLY, I visited the Onondaga Nation in Central New York. There I purchased the turtle earrings featured in the book. And there I was fortunate and honored to meet Leon Shenandoah, Chief of the Six Nations,. After I explained to him what I was writing, he gave me many insights into the Iroquois ways. These I have gratefully incorporated into the story.

Eventually I found my way to a Delaware medicine man, who was conducting sweat lodge ceremonies in a traditional manner near Ithaca, New York. What began as a research trip became a five year life-changing involvement with a group doing ceremonies and teachings. While the Delaware were not part of the Iroquois Confederacy, they were neighbors and allies to the south, before European encroachments splintered the tribes. Much of the spirituality contained in BARBARA REILLY stems from my direct experiences during those years in the woods alone and with my sweat lodge family.

When I reached the end of the first draft of BARBARA REILLY, I realized I did not yet possess the “writing chops” to render my vision of it properly to the world. I continued my deep involvement in living the book, so to speak. And knowing I would need to build my life skills and writing skills, I worked on other projects: non-fiction, poetry, film reviews, much of which has not yet or will not see the light of day.

But I did maintain the vision through the intervening years. I continued to collect data. For example, I do not regularly have television, but during the early 2000s when I did, I watched 1940s-made movies, and notated words and phrases of the period during at least twenty.

Finally, in 2005, I typed BARBARA REILLY into my computer. That took first learning to type! And getting a computer! Not that I accomplished those for this purpose only. Completion of the project, though, would have to wait another four years as other streams of life took over again. Then, November 2009, opportunity met preparedness. I had time and impetus, and I knew I’d gained enough practice to finalize the novel in the style and with the impact the story demanded.

Even then, bringing BARBARA REILLY to readers took another three years of my free time. Revision was necessary, followed by editing, and proofreading. The manuscript went through fourteen drafts. Meanwhile I worked on sketches of what I envisioned for the cover. A search for a cover artist and typographer began, and then bore fruit. Design of the ebook and physical book followed.

I published the ebook on September 16, 2012 and the paperback October 18. Looking back, the writing of BARBARA REILLY feels almost like a life’s work. And yet it is only the beginning. I am already hard at work on my next book. I guarantee you it will not take anywhere near a quarter of a century!

This is the second in a series of articles exploring The World of BARBARA REILLY.

Copyright 2013 Carl Grimsman, All rights reserved.