1 – From your website bio it’s easy to see how you were drawn to write about the Falls and the Niagara area. One of the more interesting places in the book is “Ol’Gordy’s.” Is this an actual place and if it is how does it compare to the “Ol’Gordy’s in Bridges? If not, how did you come up with this idea?
dk - While there are a number of shops and businesses in Niagara with pictures of Niagara Falls, and some from the old days, Ol’Gordy’s was a fabrication of life as I recall it in 1962. It’s actually a combination of a corner deli called “Wally’s Market” that was in Riverside, Buffalo and what I think it should have been if I owned it in Niagara Falls.
2 – The descriptions of the places and the locales in Bridges were quite effective in transporting the readers to the Niagara of the early 1960’s. One particular setting that struck me was the secret passage down to the Falls and the “Wall of Ice” the boys found there. Does such a passage exist and, if it does, have you ever ventured down to the “Wall of Ice?” Is there really a demon?
dk - The power station and its collapse in 1956 were real enough. I was going to include a story within the novel about it but it got left on the cutting floor. As far as the tunnel passage down the side of the gorge from there – that was all fiction, so no there was no secret way down and no ice wall.
I’ve been asked a lot about the ‘ice demon’ and what exactly that was. I’ve addressed the “ice demon” on my website and readers can learn more details about this here.
3 – The personalities of the boys are all quite authentic. Are these based upon real people and did any of them have similar adventures at the Falls?
dk - I grew up in a diverse, mixed part of Buffalo, so it was natural for me to write about the diversity of the boys. Also, I wanted to tie the themes of the historical stories into the main characters and so I included their nationalities and backgrounds.
For example, I love the paradox of Lennie and Kevin standing looking at the railroad bridge not knowing that it was their ancestors, working together, a hundred years earlier that allowed Lennie his freedom – only the reader knows.
I’m not aware of anyone from my youth having any involvement with the Gorge. I didn’t know there was such a thing as the Gorge. Never seen it until I was in my 20’s. I grew up on the Upper Niagara, above the Falls, and never gave the lower river a thought. I went there once with an old fisherman to catch ‘Blue Pike’ but it was at night and I was 13 so it might as well been in Africa. The Falls itself was something I only feared as we tubed and swam in the river above it. We didn’t want to go over that ‘ya know’.
4 – The flashbacks were captivating. Through their placement the reader gains an understanding of the area and the lore around Niagara that would have otherwise been difficult to work into the story of Bridges. How did you decide on the precise flashbacks in the book? Were there others that didn’t make the cut?
dk - Niagara is steeped in history and lore. People only think of the Falls themselves when they think of Niagara. I wanted to show people some of the history of Niagara. The events are true – the characters and stories came from my pen. There are so many more stories I wanted to write about but I thought four was enough. Anymore and it would have taken too much away from the central story. I also wanted to tie in some of the threads of the historical stories with the main story and these were appropriate. One I wrote but cut out was about the power plant collapsing, as I mentioned. Also one about the Honeymoon bridge collapsing. I was going to write one about Maria who was the only woman to ever walk across the gorge. But that’s a story into itself.
5 – Of the historical flashbacks, which is your favorite and why?
dk - I don’t have a favorite, couldn’t do that. That would be like picking which son is my favorite. I love each one for different reasons. Each is separate and stands on its own and I tried to bring each one alive for the era in which it occurred. Lizzie and the Drummer boy and Francis and Henry are all my friends and family.
6 – What was the most challenging part of researching and writing Bridges?
dk - The hardest part is and ‘is’ and not a ‘was’. Not being satisfied with what’s finished. I never am. To this day I can’t read any piece of it without grabbing a pencil and making changes. I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse – but it sure makes me unhappy.
The hardest parts to write about were the historical inserts. After some failed attempts, I realized I had to write each one totally separate and then bundle everything together. With those inserts, the novel covers 230 years of history with varying nationalities, dialects and races included. Each one required separate research and background development. I had to keep each one separate and real. Turned out to be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated.
Lots of research went into the novel. I’m physically very aware of the Falls and the Gorge, but the stories I wasn’t. People there don’t know their own history as much as we’d like to think we do. But there is a large contingent of ‘history nuts’ who know a great deal of Niagara history, so I took a lot of time to research the events surrounding the stories to make them as historically accurate as I could. In fact most of the ‘editing’ and revising I did to get the novel down from over 100000 words to just over 80000 was cutting out detail.
7 – How long did it take you to complete Bridges?
dk - Not long, somewhere between 2 and 38 years.
In September 2008, I had cause to go through some old papers and I came across a short story I had written 36 years earlier. It was 12 typewritten, yellowed pages and was about an old picture of the ice bridge of Niagara Falls I had seen then. Reading it on the floor I grabbed a pencil and immediately started rewriting it. One year to the month and 350 pages later “Bridges” was written.
One year and 22 rewrites after that, “Bridges – a Tale of Niagara” was done. So, I guess you could say it took somewhere between 2 and 38 years. (let you in on a secret: read my blog here and see if you can’t put my answer to this question together with the blog?!)
8 – Excellent answer, now, as you are aware, taking a novel from conceptualization to reality can be a long and frustrating journey. What advice would you offer for those writers who are just starting out?
dk - Everyone has their own system and way of writing. Whatever that system is, stay true to the writing and to yourself. Believe in yourself and allow the pen to work. Don’t force it and don’t stick to preconceived plots. Let the creative energy that’s inside you work. It will if you let it and it’ll always be better by it.
Then polish, polish, polish. For me it never ends. If I pick it up now and read it I start penciling in changes. I can’t rest unless each word is right.
9 – Going back to “Ol’Gordy’s” for a moment. Are there any local icon type establishments in the Niagara area where one may stumble upon a picture of you on the wall? If so, is there a story behind the photo?
dk - No one’s ever asked anything like that, but since you did, there’s pictures hanging inside the ‘Barton’ house. Yes it’s still there today. Another secret: You see I once owned it, but that’s another story.
10 – After reading Bridges one can only wonder if you have ever been out on an ice bridge and if you have, what was it like? Any photos you’d like to share?
dk - I’ll leave that answer for the reader to decide. How do they say it “I plead the fifth, so as not to incriminate myself”?
11 – Finally, what's next for you as a writer?
dk - Absolutely! I’ve written some short stories recently that I’m preparing for publication soon and I’m working on my next novel. I’m fortunate and blessed that my ‘flame’ didn’t go out over the years and was able to be turned up, so as long as there’s breath in my body, words in my mind and feelings in my heart, I’ll find the means to write and hopefully, someone will want to read it.
For more information on the author, visit his website here. For a review of Bridges – A Tale of Niagara go here.
Sean Keefer is the author of The Trust, a tale of mystery/suspense set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
The Trust is the Debut Novel from Sean Keefer.
I'm happy to consider books for review. I'll review hard and paperbacks. I'll also be happy to review eBooks but can only do Nook or PDF format. Email me from the Contact page for more information. Thanks!