The Story That Was Meant To Be Told

David Gonthier Author Interview

Little Town Blues follows a police chief and his family whose lives are interconnected with the people in the town as scandal drama unfolds in all their lives. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

Little Town Blues began merely as a title that I came up when I was a boy (probably age 11 or 12), which is a line from the song, “New York, New York” by Fred Ebb and John Kander. Even with my songwriting, I often get inspired creatively when I begin with a title, telling myself that I need to make this title work. As a creative writing coach and professor, I often ask my students to create ideas by beginning with a title. So like in the film Juno where the line says, “It began with a chair,” in Little Town Blues, it began with the title. I am a fan of Lars von Trier’s film The Five Obstructions, which has to do with creating within limitations.  I love seeing a creative project as a puzzle or problem to solve and being forced to make it work within strict guidelines. 

I grew up in Amesbury, a small town in Northern Massachusetts, and the mythical town of Fryebury Falls is based on this town (while combining the names of other towns like Fryeburg, Maine and Bedford Falls from It’s a Wonderful Life). As one might imagine, the characters are mashups of people I know and people I am inventing…all rolled into one.  Despite the melodramatic nature of the novel, most of the events—including anything related to a potential scandal—is based on actual events. 

I first envisioned the title as being the idea for crime movie (as a little boy growing up in the 1980s, I would create film ideas as they might appear in the old HBO and Cinemax movie guides) taking place in Amesbury with a specific image from downtown Amesbury in mind as the story began to brood and develop.

Your novel is a genre-crossing novel with elements of a mystery, police procedural, and paranormal as well. Did you start writing with this in mind, or did this happen organically as you were writing?

Once I start with a title, I immediately begin to develop a short premise, which will then turn into an outline in the form of a summary of the entire story as a whole (often just a page or two). The summary then develops into a longer summary where I break things down by chapters; like Dickens, I have lots of fun naming my chapters, but these chapter titles will evolve from the summary that I first write.   For instance, I came up with the chapter title “Something Wicked this Way Comes” which is a line from Macbeth spoken by my theater character, Miss Julie, as it relates to the diabolical character of Jack Cleary.  I love being able to make these connections and allowing the layering of titles (which can often work on literal and metaphoric levels) to serve as mini stories within the bigger story.

With that said, once the full outline was completed, then I began writing the first draft and even though I have a very specific outline, it really serves as just a guide to the story; I anticipate and expect changes along the way, which allows the story to unfold organically. When I write I do my best to “listen” to what I feel the story is.  Like Michelangelo who believed the sculpted piece already existed and it was the artist’s job to simply unveil it, I work the same way with my creative process…and this includes my creative writing and music. In other words, I told myself that this novel was already written but I needed to be the vehicle that released it.

This now leads me to the question.  During this process, I become aware of genre tropes and additionally aware of how I might challenge those tropes. Before writing the novel, I never imagined myself—ever—writing a book that features a small-town police chief.  To me that seemed like it has been done a lot and it simply did not match my style of writing (I’ve often told people I am more interested in setting and character over plot events), but this was the story that was meant to be told, so I went with it anyway. I am a fan of stories that utilize overlapping genres, so that part must have innately emerged.

With so many unique characters in this novel, did you create an outline for the characters in the story before you started writing or did the character’s personalities grow organically as you were writing?

The characters—like the genre-crossing plot and story—evolved and grew from my aforementioned outline process. Then I simply write. Day by day, I would give myself a writing quota (often 750-1,000 words) and in that time I would see the novel much like an episode in a series, not really knowing what was going to happen even though I was developing it and often getting excited about what the characters would do. I do like when characters can show their flip sides.

Mike Melanson, for instance, is seen as a simple mild-mannered chief but we discover there is something grander about his existence and the same is true with his wife Miss Julie and son Adam. In fact, most likely due to my love of Billy Wilder’s films (Sunset Blvd, The Lost Weekend, Stalag 17), I have been intrigued by characters who have symbiotic relationships – in addition to the Melanson family, this is true of the Pearson brothers (George and Sam) as well as Moira and her daughter Maygyn.  Speaking of Maygyn, it is also fun to be playful with names; her name is spelled “Maygyn” because it combines the month she was born with the root ‘gyn’ which is associated with women.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

One of the biggest themes is fate as represented through “the inevitable order of things” that is connected to several characters.  There might very well be a predestined plan (or fate) for us all – this is also a pretty common theme in Greek mythology and tragedy like Oedipus Rex and I am a fan of ancient archetypes and myths (I teach courses on the subject).  The novel presents potential plot points that don’t play themselves out because another event comes along and annihilates it. For instance, what becomes of Moira’s attack by Jack Cleary and what about the scandal/blackmail of Mike’s sex letters?  I deliberately did this because these experiences happen frequently in real life – not every event plays out with a resolution and I am a big fan of ambiguity in stories. I am also a fan of the cause and effect of characters. In It’s a Wonderful Life, what happened when one person we know, like George Bailey, was never born?  That chain reaction of events is infinite.

Another theme is the symbiotic relationships that exist with characters like George and Sam Pearson.

Another theme is that “almost famous” phenomenon that occurs with characters like Sam, George and Miss Julie who are on the verge of greatness but don’t quite “make it” in the traditional way (or someone like Sam Pearson who becomes a best-selling author and has his “fifteen minutes” of fame) …

Another theme has to do with the role of the ghosts/visions/hallucinations/fantasies that all the characters encounter. Is Fryebury Falls a microcosm where these things roam or are these ghosts really internal manifestations of the characters’ subconscious?  Or both?  I like the idea that these ghosts can be experienced in a paranormal way and/or as a product of neuroses and psychoses. You decide.

Identity (which I feel might be the most prominent theme in all of storytelling…and our lives) is certainly present.  At one point, Maygyn was seen as the main character and storyteller, but that point-of-view shifted to a third person narrator—but I kept developing her even as I was in my final stages of revision.  A couple years ago, my “son” came out as transgender and she is now my daughter (a beautiful, life-changing experience for me as a parent and as a human as a whole who was awoken to a new way of looking at humanity), so I explored this coming-of-age nuance with Maygyn. One might find it strange, but Maygyn in many ways is the soul of the novel and in some ways, I see her as the main character—at least at one point I had her as the main narrator. In my final stages of revision, however, it made more sense to simplify the narration, so the reader might not see that and that is fine.  I am a fan of those stories where a seemingly minor character (like Chief in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Cookie in the film Stalag 17) is actually the main character. And Maygyn, in many ways, even before my daughter was born, was a female version of myself. Carl Jung would call her the “anima.”

In short, the themes evolved over a twenty-year period.  I began writing this in 2000 and in that time the book went through a number of years of rewrites and even more years of doing nothing but sitting in a file (until I reached out to Atmosphere Press).  So, the novel of a fifty-year-old man began with a twenty-seven-year-old younger man and in that time, life’s experiences and maturity became major parts of the revisions—and changing themes—over time.

Author Links: Amazon | GoodReads

Is it a genre-bending spin to the police procedural novel…Or a stylized variation on the mystery-horror novel with touches of melodrama …Or is it a ghost story with a splash of parapsychology?

Set in the mythical New England microcosm of Fryebury Falls, Little Town Blues tells the story of nine characters, in the spring, summer and fall of 1984: Mild-mannered police chief Mike Melanson, his eccentric, prophetic wife “Miss Julie” and their empathetic son, Adam; the gifted and tarnished Pearson brothers, former best-selling writer Sam and former high school coach and teacher, George, marked by tragedy and scandal; hard-boiled musician, Moira Davis and her precocious teenage daughter, Maygyn, going through her own coming-of-age story; and the diabolical deputy Jack Cleary and his emotionally tortured brain-injured son, J.J. This interwoven mosaic of small-town neuroses and psychoses leads to a quirky scandal involving the chief of police.

Little Town Blues critiques small-town America through the lens of ethics, traditions, creativity, repression, the illusion of fame and diversity, gender identity and undiagnosed mental illnesses. In his first novel, David Gonthier illustrates how the unfolding of one event might easily be forgotten because of the unfolding of another event…just like in our own lives.

About Literary Titan

The Literary Titan is an organization of professional editors, writers, and professors that have a passion for the written word. We review fiction and non-fiction books in many different genres, as well as conduct author interviews, and recognize talented authors with our Literary Book Award. We are privileged to work with so many creative authors around the globe.

Posted on November 1, 2022, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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