Bridges is a story rich in setting and character. The main thread of the story, a gripping incident involving five teenagers and an ill-advised adventure on an ice bridge over the falls, is complemented by interwoven vignettes from Niagara’s rich history. The author does an incredible job of capturing the enduring struggle of a place and its people.
I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask the author, dk LeVick, a few questions about his writing experience with this unique novel. So without further ado, I share his answers with you.
ME: What was the seed idea that started you on this story idea?
dkL: The ‘picture.’
It’s one I’d seen in an antique shop almost 40 years ago, and it started me thinking about what it would be like to go down now (this was in 1970). Couple that with the decade of the ’60’s, which were the best and worse times of America—a decade that started off with America at its prime and ended up with America at its base, when young people thought everything had been done and there was nothing left for them to do. Yet, aside from the revolutionary era itself, it was the most revolutionary decade in American history. And the two came together.
ME: How long did it take you, from initial idea to publication, to complete this novel? What techniques did you use to help you keep your focus and finish your manuscript?
dkL: Between 2 and 38 years. Really. In September 2008, I had cause to go through some old papers and I came across a short story I had written 36 years earlier. It was 12 typewritten, yellowed pages. Reading it on the floor, I grabbed a pencil and immediately started rewriting it. One year to the month and 350 pages later, Bridges was written. One year and 22 rewrites after that, Bridges – a Tale of Niagara was done. So, I guess you could say it took somewhere between 2 and 38 years (although I’m still making edits).
Staying focused was not a problem. The ‘cause’ I had to go through the papers was the loss of someone very dear to me who always wanted me to write. There was no shortage of focus.
ME: What was the hardest part of writing this novel? And a tangentially related question: what was the hardest part of this novel to write?
dkL: The hardest part is not being satisfied with what’s finished. I never am. To this day I can’t read any piece of it without grabbing a pencil and making changes. I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse – but it sure makes me unhappy.
The hardest parts to write about were the historical inserts. After some failed attempts, I realized I had to write each one totally separate and then bundle everything together. With those inserts, the novel covers 230 years of history with varying nationalities, dialects, and races included. Each one required separate research and background development. I had to keep each one separate and real. Turned out to be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated it to be.
ME: Can you tell us about your publication process? Why did you choose this route, and what have you learned about publishing now that you’ve been through it? What worked for you, and what would you do differently next time?
dkL: After reviewing my work, I was encouraged by Writer’s Digest magazine to seek publication. I was pumped up and excited, ready to meet the writing world.
It wasn’t ready to meet me. WD had given me two leads to pursue, both small presses. I ignored them and sent out 49 query letters to agents. 49 rejections later (none got past the query letter, no vampires in the Gorge I guess), I went back and revisited those small press leads I’d been given and I immediately received a positive response from one and sent in my manuscript. They seemed very interested, but then I didn’t hear anything for weeks from them. They had gone bankrupt. Back to square one, but I now focused on the small presses. Next one showed an interest and took the project on, but everything’s been on me, so I guess that’s self-publishing. Doesn’t matter – it’s the way to go.
A paradigm shift has occurred in publishing (and writing for that matter), and traditional publishers are missing it. They’re stuck in the old model, and the world has opened up for writers in a way never dreamed of before. This is especially true in the marketing side of publishing. It’s all social media now, and their world is crumbling around them.
Do differently? On the grand scale of things, I would have followed my heart and love for writing after the ninth grade and not allowed life to get me off course. But with that said, in regards to Bridges specifically, I would follow the advice I was first given and skip the agent search. And I would have done more about building a platform for marketing early on. Authors can write all they want, but if they want their voices heard, they need to let people know their work is there. This isn’t too difficult for newer generations, but it can be a daunting task for us who walk a little slower.
ME: Back to the story itself, setting in both time and place is a central theme for your cast of interconnected characters. What does this focus on setting mean to you as an author and to the underlying purpose of your story?
dkL: I wanted to write about people who feel their lives are unimportant and who live in a time when everything has been done already or they don’t know where they fit in. And this is not truer than in the 1960’s when everything in America was turned upside down, with society and technology literally taking off like rocket ships. The 60’s were a special decade. Unique and stand alone in our history. In 1962, the world feared an atomic war, and we had bomb shelters and ‘A’ bomb drills where we hid under school desks to protect ourselves while living the illusion of being at peace with ourselves and the world. We felt everything had been done and invented and there was nothing left for us to do.
Meanwhile, the decade was on the verge of being the most dynamic, world changing decade history had ever seen. Civil rights, technology, economics, drugs, society values, and war exploded across the overnight window of worldwide knowledge that turned everything upside down. The later 60’s left us in shock and secretly yearning for those earlier years when we wore bomber hats, drank hot chocolate, and snowball fights were our only wars.
How much more inspiration could one need? I tried to capture these complex and contradictory feelings of transition (a bridge?) in the book. When you first met me the title was The Bridge. I changed that to Bridges – a Tale of Niagara to reflect the many bridges in the book. In addition to the obvious (the ice bridge, Rainbow Bridge, Railroad Bridge), there’s the not-so-obvious, such as the ‘bridge’ between each of the characters, the ‘bridge’ themes that run through the historical stories, the ‘bridge’ across time within Niagara, and the ‘bridge’ across people from different times in history.
Niagara is steeped in history and lore. People only think of the Falls themselves when they think of Niagara. I wanted to show people some of the history of Niagara. The events are true – the characters and stories came from my pen. There are so many more stories I wanted to write about, but I thought four was enough. Any more and it would have taken too much away from the central story. I also wanted to tie in some of the threads of the historical stories with the main story, and these were appropriate.
ME: I understand that you also grew up in Niagara Falls. How did researching and writing this book change your relationship with your hometown? Did you feel differently after writing it?
dkL: That’s an interesting question. Did it change my relationship with my hometown? Yes – a lot. Prior to writing the book, Niagara was just home. I didn’t think about it too much. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either – it was home.
After writing the book, I loved ‘Niagara Falls past’ and had no respect for ‘Niagara Falls present’—w hat it had become, a place of shame and neglect. What was and should be a wonder of the entire world had become a vacant, run-down small town with more boarded up shops and houses than not. It saddens me to go back home now and see what’s happened to this city and its people.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful answers, dk!
Please vote for my blog in the traffic-breaker poll for this tour. The blogger with the most votes wins a free promotional twitterview and a special winner’s badge. I want that to be me! You can vote in the poll by visiting the official Bridges blog tour page and scrolling all the way to the bottom.
You can win a free paperback copy of Bridges: A Tale of Niagara by entering your name and email address on its official blog tour page. The winner of the give-away will be announced on Wednesday, June 29 – be sure to enter before then!