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“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on Amazon.com 

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Eternal Quest

So, Scott, what’s your book about?

That’s a reasonable question to address on a blog that is meant to be a means of communication between myself and readers. It is also a tricky question that is all-too-easy to over-complicate. I have a problem with genres, so I don’t have a quick, pat answer, like “It’s a murder mystery” or “It’s an espionage thriller” or “It’s an erotic romance.” I suppose the honest answer is that, like all my books, Searching for Cunégonde is the tale of a quest.

The fantasy books (The Three Towers of Afranor and The Curse of Septimus Bridge, as well as the coming Septimus sequel) are overtly and literally about quests, but so are the Dallas books, though perhaps a bit less obviously. The pretext for Dallas and Lonnie’s adventures in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead is a quixotic quest to find a lost friend. In Lautaro’s Spear, Dallas’s near-obsession with finding another lost friend—actually, in a way, two lost friends—is the thread connecting his adventures and travels in that book. Indeed, that book ends with our hero resolving anew to get serious about finding the missing Antonio, so it should be no surprise that quest is a key part of Searching for Cunégonde. Of course, the very title of that book signals most definitely it is about a quest. The most obvious search is the one for Antonio, but there is some other searching going on as well.

Is that vague enough for you? In discussing my books, I always find myself torn between wanting to discuss what actually happens in the story and not wanting to spoil any of it for people who might actually read the book. When I was a kid, a typical account to a friend of a movie I had just seen would run something like: “First this thing happened, and then that thing happened, and there was this neat bit where this cool thing happened, and then another really cool thing happened, and in the end it turned out he was actually dressing up as his mother.” Obviously, that kind of “review” no longer cuts it. Not only are there a lot of people out there sensitive about spoilers, but such gushing of information gives the recipient little idea of the true character of the work. Furthermore, I’ve tried to include a few surprises for people who have read the previous books.

In the end, I am happy enough if people find the books entertaining. That’s mainly what I’ve gone for. “Scott’s books are Fun,” wrote one old friend on Facebook to another old friend, and that was really the best thing I could hear or read. (I particularly liked that she capitalized the F in Fun.) Beyond that, if readers find something profound in them, well, that’s good to hear too. There are actually ideas behind the story, though the ideas are meant to serve the story rather than the other way around.

Ideas? What ideas?

I think I have mentioned before that, early on, my idea for a book was to have Tommy Dowd as the main character. The theme there would have been the need for passionate dreams, the exhilaration in striving for them and their eventual, seemingly inevitable failure. That idea is still there in the Dallas books, but it is more of a background theme.

The main theme is one that became more interesting to me as I grew older, thought back on my earlier days, and observed younger people around me. It has to do with the intense friendships that young men form—friendships that sometimes have the intensity of love affairs. Those are extremely important in adolescence and young adulthood, but like many idealistic passions, eventually they have nowhere to go—at least in the case of straight guys. Yes, the Dallas books are not only very male-centric, but they are also hetero-centric. I make no claim that Dallas’s story is by any means universal. Anyway, at some point those intense male friendships become secondary to one’s relationships with women and forming families. Or they don’t.

After exploring young male friendships in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and thinking I was done with that and with Dallas, I was convinced to continue his story. Fine, but it wouldn’t have been much of a story if he simply got married and went to work every day for the next forty-five years. Sure, it could have been a good story, maybe like George Bailey’s in It’s a Wonderful Life, but that wasn’t really ever going to be Dallas’s story. For one thing it would have broken the unwritten rule about sequels. For another, there was another theme that interested me. It was the way a certain segment of the Baby Boom generation has experienced an adulthood so entirely different from their parents’. It is reminiscent of the generational change in early 19th century France called the mal de siècle. It had to do with how the youth of the Romantic period felt they had missed out in the great and glorious causes of their parents’ time in the Napoleonic Wars. Didn’t this parallel the Baby Boomers’ rootlessness after their parents, the Greatest Generation, had saved the world from Nazis and authoritarianism?

Dallas’s lot is like that of many of us. He moves from a small town to a city. Unlike his parents and many of his friends, he does not get married young. He drifts away from his early religious training. There is no “settling down” or starting a family. His relationships are transitory. In his particular case, he is haunted by the one relationship he could always count on but is now gone forever and cannot be replicated. It is probably no accident that his life has a faint echo of the Lost Generation of early-20th-century literary fame. If his time in Paris reminds you a little bit of A Moveable Feast or his travels punctuated by drinking sessions are a tad reminiscent of The Sun Also Rises, well, I’m the first to admit I’ve always been heavily influenced by Hemingway.

Sorry, I really don’t mean to sound like I’m comparing myself to one of the great American writers of all time. In fact, forget I said all that. All I want you to bear in mind about the Dallas books is that reading them might provide you with a bit of fun.

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