June 01, 2015

Sheila Myers' Imaginary Brightness - Guest Post


One of the challenges of writing historical fiction, I have come to realize, is the fear that what I write may construed as the truth. 

I am trying my best to stick to generally known facts about the family of Dr. Thomas C. Durant. Dr. Durant was one of the masterminds behind the transcontinental railroad and there is currently an AMC t.v. series about him and the railroad days called Hell on Wheels. 

But while he was busy building the railroad across the U.S., his family was sequestered abroad living it up on all the money he stole from taxpayers. My novel focuses on the time period after the railroad was constructed and his next venture developing the Adirondack wilderness where he owned ½ million acres. 

And it focuses especially his son, William West Durant. When it comes to writing this novel William has been an enigma to me. There are some things I just can't make up - like the date of his birth, or when he lived where. The fact that he divorced, was under financial duress, was sued by his sister - these are facts. 

What we may never really know however is what was going on in his mind while he was living his life. What was he thinking when he built that $200,000 yacht while sending his sister a paltry $200/month allowance to live on in England? There is the court testimony from his sister's lawsuit (Heloise Durant Rose vs. William West Durant, 1903) that sheds some light on the actual scandal. But it doesn't answer the question: where was William's chivalry?

And why did he divorce his wife after ten years of marriage and three children? The divorce case papers are sealed - I only have a few news articles written in 1898 to go by - will we ever really know what went on between William and Janet behind bedroom doors? I have to let my imagination wander.

William West Durant is famous because of the great camps he built in the Adirondacks, forging a unique style of rustic architecture. But what was he thinking when he built the Great Camp Uncas or Sagamore in the Adirondacks? What was he trying to prove? What was his motivation? Surely it could not be all for show and tell, yet he lost money on each venture. 

I know once I present my own fictional version of what might have motivated the man there will be those that will disagree with my interpretation. Let them. 

I am not writing this story to try to break new ground on the historian's account of his life. I am writing it to elucidate for the general public, a story of a man that embodies a lot of the human frailties and greatness that we all have within us. 

Along the way though I have discovered a few errors in William's biography. What to do with them while I write is another story in itself. To learn more about my research journey visit my blog at Tracking William West Durant

Watch the book trailer

https://vimeo.com/122172532

Available May 31th, 2015 in print and eBook:

To order the ebook in the U.S. link here http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UPFBCWU

For U.K. visitors link here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00UPFBCWU


About the author 
This is the second novel for Sheila Myers, a professor at a regional community college in Upstate New York where she lives with her husband and three children. Her first foray into writing, Ephemeral Summer, was a novel that explored her own passion for the environment in the beloved Finger Lakes region. With this new novel, Imaginary Brightness: a Durant family Saga, Myers tackles the complicated history of the development of the Adirondack Wilderness and the pioneers that pursued their vision of what some called ‘A Central Park for the World.’ “ She has kept a blog about her research journey as well as fastidious notes on her sources for historic characters portrayed in her novel. “Blogging about where I have gone, what libraries and museum archives I have visited, as well as the people that I have been researching has been the most interesting part about writing this novel on the Durant family and their connections.” She can be reached at lifeofwwd@gmail.com.

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