From where does it come, your inspiration for the central character of a novel?
At risk of sounding completely self-centered, the best characters have their sources in the personality of the writer. Even the dark and unpleasant figures that people the pages of a book are, in some way, versions of their creator. This is, as you’d imagine, uncomfortable to talk about when you’re describing or considering the villain of the tale, which is why talking about Gabriel is more pleasant.
Flaws and all, he’s the hero of Trajan’s Arch. And he is, in many ways, yours truly.
People who know me can see, usually quite readily, the autobiographical elements of Trajan’s Arch. Gabriel is a working-class kid from a neighborhood almost identical to the one I grew up in (indeed, if you pay attention, August Acres maps out remarkably similar to my childhood’s home turf). The trips to the city were combinations of adventure and pilgrimage, I went northeast to school and even did some time in the University of Rochester. I taught as an adjunct before I started teaching full-time, and I spent a large chunk of my life in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
He’s a novelist, too. And hear me out before you roll your eyes and sigh.
In short, the resume is similar to my own. And it served as the groundwork for a more speculative character.
What happens to your life when you underlay it with mythic patterns? With the story of Orpheus, for example, which of all the Greek myths I loved as a child was the one I found most immediate, most moving—the one about poetry and bereavement and loss? What if Gabriel was not the “struggling novelist” at the center of most books about writers, but instead a novelist whose gifts had fallen away—in short, a failure?
What, then, if the mythic hero recasts the idea of the heroic, and if you read Trajan’s Arch genuinely in suspense as to whether Gabriel is going to succeed at something at last? The book plays with old mythic structures—the kinds of things Joseph Campbell talks about—but Trajan’s Arch is largely about how life defeats the myths, how the resourceful hero must re-discover and redefine his living in order to make myth fit experience.
So Gabriel is me, best-case and worst-case. He becomes a hard man to face and to face down. And the experience of bringing him to life was a combination of inventing him, discovering him, and remembering him: I don’t think any of those tasks trumped the others. It’s the process of identification, yes, but it’s also an imaginative stretch and journey.
Which is why I always find it irritating when I hear a reader dismiss someone’s book because “I couldn’t identify with the character.” A novel is an invitation: it asks you to stretch yourself, to put yourself into the life of someone on the page, to see the world with her eyes, to make decisions with his background and options. It asks you to participate, rather than stand on the sidelines and wait for the passing character who is just like you, only sympathetically polished and dressed up so that you can like that character without taking stock of anything suspect or contradictory in yourself.
Gabriel, then, is me and not me. The novel is autobiography and fiction carefully spun—both at the same time. But then, perhaps autobiography is fiction, too, the clear shaping of actual, lived experience into what might have been, might be, or what we hope will never occur.
Get ready for an immersive and enthralling experience in magical realism and mythic fiction as we celebrate the release of Trajan’s Arch, by Michael Williams!
Part of Michael’s visionary City Quartet, this stand-alone novel flows with literary grace telling the story of Gabriel Rackett and his possession of a manuscript that will take him on a journey both profound and deeply personal as he confronts old ghosts and his own coming of age.
A great story that is part of a broader, visionary literary project from Michael Williams, Trajan’s Arch will bring you a unique and enjoyable reading experience!
The Trajan’s Arch Blog Tour features guest posts, interviews, and reviews!
About the author: Over the past 25 years, Michael Williams has written a number of strange novels, from the early Weasel’s Luck and Galen Beknighted in the best-selling DRAGONLANCE series to the more recent lyrical and experimental Arcady, singled out for praise by Locus and Asimov’s magazines. In Trajan’s Arch, his eleventh novel, stories fold into stories and a boy grows up with ghostly mentors, and the recently published Vine mingles Greek tragedy and urban legend, as a local dramatic production in a small city goes humorously, then horrifically, awry.
Trajan’s Arch and Vine are two of the books in Williams’s highly anticipated City Quartet, to be joined in 2018 by Dominic’s Ghosts and Tattered Men.
Williams was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and spent much of his childhood in the south central part of the state, the red-dirt gothic home of Appalachian foothills and stories of Confederate guerrillas. Through good luck and a roundabout journey he made his way through through New England, New York, Wisconsin, Britain and Ireland, and has ended up less than thirty miles from where he began. He has a Ph.D. in Humanities, and teaches at the University of Louisville, where he focuses on the he Modern Fantastic in fiction and film. He is married, and has two grown sons.
Book Synopsis for Trajan’s Arch: Gabriel Rackett stands at the threshold of middle age. He lives north of Chicago and teaches at a small community college. He has written one novel and has no prospects of writing another, his powers stagnated by drink and loss. Into his possession comes a manuscript, written by a childhood friend and neighbor, which ignites his memory and takes him back to his mysterious mentor and the ghosts that haunted his own coming of age. Now, at the ebb of his resources, Gabriel returns to his old haunts through a series of fantastic stories spilling dangerously off the page–tales that will preoccupy and pursue him back to their dark and secret sources.
Tour Schedule and Activities
8/14 Armed with a Book http://www.armedwithabook.com Review
8/14 I Smell Sheep http://www.ismellsheep.com/ Guest Post
8/15 Horror Tree https://www.horrortree.com Guest Post
8/16 The Seventh Star Blog http://www.theseventhstarblog.com Top 10
8/17 The Literary Underworld http://www.literaryunderworld.com Guest post
8/18 Jazzy Book Reviews http://bookreviewsbyjasmine.blogspot.com Author Interview
8/19 Sheila’s guests and reviews http://sheiladeeth.blogspot.com Guest Post
8/19 Armed with a Book http://www.armedwithabook.com Interview
8/20 Stuart Conover’s Homepage https://www.stuartconover.com Guest Post
8/21 The Sinister Scribblings of Sarah E. Glenn https://saraheglenn.blogspot.com/ Author Interview and possible review