The Unintended Novelist

Aug 16, 2022 by John Lockton

Unintended Writer

I'm an unintended novelist. I know most people write novels because it's something they want to do much of their lives. They major in English at college, attend seminars and writers’ conferences, write short stories or articles as a build-up to “their novel.” I admire these people and admire what they produce. Then there are the others. I'm definitely one of those. Read my bio. No training to be a novelist. No English courses at college. I don’t even remember a high school English class though I must have had one. We untrained novelists experience something denied to those who dutifully study to become novelists. A wonderful surprise. The surprise of having a full-length, well reviewed novel pop out of one from nowhere. How great is that? Believe me, one of the biggest and happiest surprises of my life.

The surprise seems quite unique to writing. Consider music. Can one play or compose acceptable music with no music in one’s background? Painting. Is one’s first painting a good painting? To be absurd, can one suddenly become a ballerina? Writing is the only art form that gives one the opportunity to create something worthwhile though uneducated in the art form. (As to whether “Odyssey’s Child” is worthwhile I would hope you will read it to find out).

My unintended novel started as a present for my grandson’s upcoming 13th birthday. He was born August 16th, me August 14th, so a special birthday present is always in order. I could see he was going for the world record in how many summer days a boy can spend inside playing video games, and I decided to show him how different and wonderful a 13th summer could be. I would give him a memory book about my own 13th summer, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” the thirteen year old edition. For me that was the summer of the rich uncle. Everyone needs a rich uncle. Mine owned a smallish sailboat in the Caribbean. My mother had died, and taking pity on me my uncle invited me to sail with him in the Caribbean over the summer. It was for me a life making experience. I wanted to share it with my grandson. So I started writing my memories, and as I got into it began hearing increasing compliments from my then wife. What else could she say except it was good stuff? Ego took over. I decided to turn it into a novel. “Odyssey’s Child” was born.

I was very proud of my “novel” when completed, a lively story of a boy's voyage through the Caribbean. I sent it to a well respected editor. It came back with a strong two thumbs down. Next to a best selling author, a good friend. Two thumbs down but politely. He's a good friend. Then to a Pulitzer Prize winning author of my acquaintance. What came back was, “John. This is a piece of sh—. It’s not a novel.”

Okay a novel. First a plot. I had to bring in tension, add a bad guy and a good guy. I’ve long admired “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel. What would happen if I locked three people on a small sailboat in the Caribbean for two months, no escape for anyone, and made one man as dangerous to the boy on board as tiger is to the young man in “Life of Pi?" But what would keep the man on board. In my book he is a wealthy and sophisticated man from one of the leading families in America. Why two months with a boy he doesn’t know? It had to be "Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann. He falls in love with the boy. That brought me to extensive research on what attracts men to boys and the effect of that attraction on the men, not the happiest subject. Next I had to rescue the boy, find a way for him to escape and overcome the man. I wanted an uplifting book, give the reader a happy ending. How can one have a sad ending in the joy of life that is the Caribbean? As in “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, one of my favorite books, I strove to lead the boy to finding himself and his future.

Writing “Odyssey’s Child” was so much fun and so personally fulfilling that I decided to write another novel, then another, a trilogy. The bug had bitten deep. The second book, The Child of Lot, is nearing publication, and a third is in the offing. Perhaps I always wanted to write novels. But no one including John Lockton ever told me. Wish they had.

The characters of “Odyssey’s Child.” The boy models my life, my search to find myself after my mother died, though for me the voyage was one of delight and discovery not suicidal depression and darkness as for the boy in the book. George, mister bad guy, is based on a very arrogant man I knew in Upstate New York, the descendent of a Dutch Lord, a Patroon, who in 1630 established a manorial estate (fiefdom) forty miles long and twenty four miles deep on the banks of the Hudson, an estate owned and run by his family for two hundred years making them one of the two or three richest families in America. The third person on the boat, the marvelous black mate Johnson, is true as described. His real name was Oliver and he did much to launch my life. In developing the main characters I emulated to some extent the characters in “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad and had the three on the boat discussing that novel. The bad man in his evil descends to being Kurtz in “Heart of Darkness”, Johnson is Marlow, and the boy is the Russian trader on a personal odyssey, bit of a stretch there but out of it came the title “Odyssey’s Child.” As to the other characters, all of the odd and wonderful characters in the Caribbean existed as described. Moira Grayson, the “white witch of Tortola,”  did have a castle on Tortola and all the wild happenings and dialog of my visit are preserved intact in the book just as they occurred. (They are seared in my memory). True too are the black priest on St. Vincent who fornicates before the high alter with the white daughter of the leading family on the island, the mulatto planter on Grenada, the richest man in the Caribbean, who despite his wealth is embarrassed to be mulatto, and all the rest of the remarkable Caribbean people the book includes. The Caribbean, itself, becomes a major character, teaching the boy about its flora, fauna and sea creatures, its history and culture, and molding the boy with near death sea storms to test his courage and challenges to grow his character. 

There are more different countries in a smaller geography in the Caribbean than in any other place in the world. My characters would like to guide you through this geography in a suspense filled, can’t put it down, adventure full of compassion and joy. They invite you to read “Odyssey’s Child” to hear their stories. They offer to immerse you in the life of the Caribbean, their life. “Odyssey’s Child” is available on Amazon.