Liars and Storytellers
Two down; three to go
There is a recent novel, A Simple Plan, where two brothers and their friend stumble upon the wreckage of a plane–the pilot is dead and his duffel bag contains four million dollars in cash. In order to hide, keep, and share the fortune, these ordinary men all agree to a simple plan. The title is ironic.
I have a simple plan: write five linked historical novels set against the backdrop of the cold war deception. Two down; three to go.
The novel I’m now writing, Executioner’s Son, grudgingly forms its own story arc in Dubai’s enervating hot sea air (temperature reaches a daytime 120F) and occasional sand storm. I will finish this third novel (fingers crossed) when this winter the Arctic Express (-40F on occasion) sweeps across where I will write it, my Northern Wisconsin farm.
Executioner’s Son had two main characters who encounter one another in 1953 Suzdal, a medieval Russian city, its monasteries and cloisters now prisons in the Gulag. Suzdal represents the founding of Russia, its Russian-Byzantine architecture suggestive of the skazka, the Russian fairy tale, to or from which the hero quests beyond the seventh land beyond the seventh sea. Suzdal represents Russia’s nightmare where the spring thaw brings to the surface those buried in its mass graves.
The main characters are two: Seventeen-year-old Danton Larionov, the son of the NKVD lieutenant, is a bully of the Russian sort; he is a bully, who wants love. Ekaterina Soroka, a refugee tossed up by Russia’s massive mid-century dislocations, arrives in town. The all-powerful Danton plots to rape her. She transfixed him with a tale, and he falls in love. One day she disappears. He will find her even should it take him beyond the seventh sea…. It does. This quest is the through line upon which the skazka hangs.
Spirit Falls and The Wounded precede Executioner’s Son in the The Long War series; Broken Codes and Homeward follow, each an exploration of the power of the tale to compel us. The Long War, a historical novel series, follow four characters that struggle to find ‘working truths’ within worlds of state-to-state and face-to-face deception.
They were but children when in 1947, the Soviet Union named the United States as ‘the main enemy.’ Richard Belisle and his childhood friend, French-Canadian Marie Jeanne Charbonneau, cross paths and swords with Danton Larionov and Ekaterina Soroka. They trust and betray one another, give faith and deceive, fast friends and bitter enemies, each striving to live within a moral code in the 20th-century world of contrived and real ambiguity. Let us imagine a theater with two stages and two troupes of actors, but no audience. Each performs for the other and in the end, the victors are they who brings the other to accept their story.
Place is crucial to my storytelling. Spirit Falls and The Wounded unfold upon landscapes with which and among people with whom I am intimate; Executioner’s Son and Broken Codes less so.
I will yet visit the crucial landscapes of my novels––Suzdal and Moscow, northern (former East) Germany within the Zerbst, Juterbog and Weimar triangle and the Golan Heights––each an actor in this drama.
There, that’s my simple plan. We shall see what the next 365 days brings.