Here’s a brief synopsis:
When their four-year-old son, Danny, dies suddenly, Mitch and Kate’s grief overwhelms them. Conflicted about going on with their lives, Mitch and Kate decide to leap from a cliff at Chimney Bluffs. When the couple is found by park rangers, Clancy and Bobby, Kate is still very much alive. What follows is a poignant and powerful story of three strangers, each facing a tragic loss, who together find friendship and healing.
David has graciously answered some questions for me about his book and his writing.
Mason - Why write this book? What made this story so compelling to you that you had to tell it?
When I was in the final months of writing the first draft of my last novel, Charlie No Face, I read an online news item from England about parents whose young son had died unexpectedly. They were so bereft that they jumped to their deaths from a famous cliff. They carried two sacks with them; one had their son and the other had his toys. I couldn’t stop thinking about this story. I wondered what motivated them to take their own lives. Why did they have the sacks with them? I also wondered what would have happened if one of the parents had survived.
I moved the location of the story to Chimney Bluffs State Park on Lake Ontario about an hour from where I live. Mitch and Kate Duncan are the parents of four-year-old Danny who dies of meningitis. Mitch and Kate resolve to go to Chimney Bluffs to jump from one of the cliffs. Their reasons are very different. Mitch believes in an afterlife and feels this is the only way for the family to be together. Kate doesn’t believe in an afterlife, but feels she should die because had she acted sooner perhaps Danny would still be alive. At the last moment, Kate decides not to jump for reasons that I will leave to those who read the book.
She is found at the bottom of the cliff by Clancy and his assistant, Bobby, who work for the state park. In time, they will become unlikely friends, learning about each other’s losses and together finding both healing and a way forward.
Mason - How did you go about doing research for this book? Was it a process you enjoyed or just a necessary part of writing?
I read a lot about the actual incident that occurred in England, but, in the end, didn’t use any of that material because I wanted to tell a different story about loss and healing. I did considerable research about Chimney Bluffs, which are glacial towers that were formed during the Ice Age. This was fascinating, but as I often tell audiences when I do readings, all of the research was encapsulated in a single paragraph in the first chapter.
Since Danny dies of meningitis, I had to research childhood bacterial meningitis, its causes, symptoms and course of treatment. Danny also has a surgery at the age of two for a PDA (patent ductus arteriosis). I was able to draw largely from my own experience since our youngest daughter, now twenty-seven, had the same surgery when she was a young girl.
Since there are medical concerns throughout the book, I had to hone my ear for how physicians might talk to the parents about Danny’s illness. Luckily, much of my career in family psychology was spent in a university medical center where one of my roles was to teach physicians how to interview patients and families. This involved observing physicians seeing patients with a variety of problems.
Mason - With the book’s release, as you look back what was the biggest surprise that occurred in writing the story?
I don’t know if there were any “surprises.” The biggest challenge, though, occurred when I sent the first draft to a freelance editor that I trust very much; her feedback called for considerable restructuring of the story and massive re-writing. I took out almost 60,000 words from the original text, replacing much, but not all of it, with new material. In the end, this made Chimney Bluffs a better story, one I felt more confident in when I sent it to my publisher. But, at first, I thought, “Oh my God!”
Mason - What message, if any, would you like readers to take away from this story?
I think the key message is about how relationships in our lives play the most important role in how or whether we will heal when we experience loss. It is connectedness, however defined, that makes the greatest difference. There is a place in the story where Bobby has an amazing experience that helps him understand a loss that occurred when his family was in an automobile accident. He talks to Kate about it and, I think, captures something important for anyone who is struggling with the tragedy of loss:
"Sitting there in my truck after the deer had made it to safety, I thought about that accident so long ago. And I realized that while I got to go on living, I was left with a great big hole inside. And that hole bled and hurt and ached for years, and I couldn't figure out how to get rid of it. And people told me that it would go away, that time heals these things, but they were wrong. Time didn't close it up. I mean, it just wouldn't go away no matter how much I wanted it to." Bobby took a deep breath. "And after a while, because you've lived with it so long, it's like you say to yourself, 'You know, that hole isn't going away; in fact, maybe it shouldn't; because if it did, you'd stop remembering your brother'—and you don't want that to happen. And then you think, 'Life doesn't go away either, and you want to keep living, you know, because sometime you might be in the right place at the right time to see a buck jump over a car—or, even better, you might see yourself jump over that hole, even if it's one time out of a hundred. And you think, 'That just might be enough to keep me going.'"
Bobby wiped tears on his sleeve.
"Kate, I hope you don't take this wrong, but I think you have a hole inside you. And I'd like to tell you that's it's going to go away, but it isn't. You can't love someone and lose them and not have a hole for the rest of your life. But, you know what, you can learn how to jump over that hole; you can learn how to jump over that hole when you need to; you don't always have to fall in. It may take ninety-nine tries before you can do it, but once you do it, you'll be all right—not all better, but all right."
Mason - What can readers look forward to next from you?
I am well into my next novel which has the working title “More More Time.” The central character of this story is a 62-year-old history teacher who, in the first chapter, has fallen down his basement steps. Subsequently, he starts hearing two words strung together over and over: endingworldendingworldendingworld. No, this is not an apocalyptic novel about the End of the World, but it is a story about time. There are six main characters, each one facing personal and relational problems that will raise questions about the time that life has given them and how to best use it.
David, thanks for joining us today and giving us a look at why you wrote Chimney Bluffs. This is definitely a tale that will stay with readers and your research pays off.
Now, for those of you who aren’t familiar with David let me give you a bit of background. David is the author of four novels. Charlie No Face (2011) was a Finalist for the INDIE Excellence in Books Award (2011). He lives in Spencerport, NY; is married and has two adult daughters and two granddaughters. David is also a retired family psychologist and Presbyterian minister.
For more information on David and his writing, you can visit his website, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him at his publisher’s website.
Chimney Bluffs is published by Savant Books and Publications and is available at Amazon and can also be ordered through any bookstore.
Thanks everyone for stopping by today. Have you ever read about an event (tragic or otherwise) and wondered about the outcome of it?