basic idea for the story came to me over twenty-five years ago, and about
a year later in 1984, I made my first attempt at writing a novel. In Wooden
Spoons, which is a novel written for that idea, the only part of the
original storyline that remains is the ending. Over the years I made at least
five attempts to write the complete story, but they all ended in dissatisfaction
and frustration. Whatever notes or chapters I had accumulated were thrown
away. After the last major effort, twelve years ago, I decided that I
should give up the idea of writing a novel and stick to what I do best.
sporadically throughout that spring, but by summer I was in a good routine
and wrote almost daily. By late fall, I had a rough outline of a story
that I was pleased with, although the manuscript had large gaps in places
and far too much bulk in others. I worked on Wooden Spoons for another
year and then let my wife read it. At this point, Jean was the only person
who knew that I was writing a book. After the previous false starts, I decided
to not mention the project to the public until the manuscript was completed.
Jean's review was very enthusiastic. In fact she said that Wooden Spoons
was the first book she had read in some time, that she had trouble putting
down. Imagine the encouragement!
All my characters were modeled after someone I have known. In most cases, they were modified to a greater or lesser extent as they settled into their role in the story. As I became more familiar with the characters, modifying or writing additional scenes became easier because I knew how these people would respond to a given situation. Some character rolls changed dramatically from the first to the last writing and some characters were eventually removed altogether. The daughter of the main character was created early in the writing, eliminated for several months and then brought back only to be cut out again. Finally during the last year of writing Jeannie Whaley was written back into the story to stay.
John and Nora Campbell Two of my borrowed characters, John and Nora Campbell, my great-uncle and great-aunt, fit their part so well that they were depicted just as I remember them. I even used their real names. Uncle John owned a brick house in Uniontown, Pennsylvania and it was this house I had in mind when describing where Tom and Annie Reilly lived. Nora Campbell, who was actually John's sister in real life, my grandparents, Abigail and James Whaley and their family, which included my mother, lived in the house as well. We visited the house often as I was growing up so I am fortunate to have spent time with my great-uncle and great-aunt.
Reilly The original
idea for the character Tom Reilly came from my memory of meeting an elderly
man on Pine Knob, a mountain near my hometown. He was knowledgeable of
the area and led my father and brother and I to a rock outcrop, which afforded
a scenic view and also showed us the location of a small stone spring house.
Tom's jovial personality was reminiscent of a man I worked with at my father's
coal business, named Tom Drew. I was just out of high school and Tom was
in his mid fifties and over the short time we worked together, we became
Donald Nicklow Donald Nicklow was a combination of people I have known. Fortunately I've lost touch with most of them now. Initially, Maurice Nicklow, Donald's father, was to be the principle antagonist. His son Donald was written in later when I wanted more of a physical threat against Daniel Whaley. My thinking was that Donald would act against Daniel at his father's bidding or simply out of loyalty to his father. As the character Donald developed and became more villainous, he took over the spot for the main antagonist and Maurice became almost nice by comparison. For the same reason, the sheriff, Harry Pinto, who was originally written in to be a crony of Maurice and an aid in his scheme, eventually became neutral and in the end, a good guy.
I decided to publish my novel, I explored the various options thoroughly,
from traditional to self publishing and everything in between. It was apparent
that to get my work noticed by a traditional publisher or a literary agent
would be a daunting task, especially with no writing credentials. With
self publishing, I was certain to get published, so long as I was willing
to pay for it. However books that are not published through the traditional
channels typically have a poor success rate in terms of sales and circulation.
Also, self published books, particularly fiction, are stigmatized as being
of inferior quality because they have not passed the test of the traditional
Madison I lived in Madison, Wisconsin from 1977 until 1983, during which time I received my masters degree in nutritional science, then worked for two years as a research specialist, then started work on my Ph.D., and finally quit school and began carving wooden spoons for a living. Although I have not been back since 1983, I have fond memories of the city and especially my last year there. I did my graduate work under a professor of biochemistry and nutrition whose laboratory and office were located in the biochemistry building on the campus of the University of Wisconsin.
Lick Hollow I grew
up in a small town in southwestern Pennsylvania named Hopwood. It is located
to the west and at the foot of the Allegheny Mountains. About a mile to
the east, within the boundary of the Forbes State Forest is a small park
and picnic area named Lick Hollow. I went there for the first time when I
was about five years old and it has been one of my favorite forest spots
ever since. My mother still lives in Hopwood and whenever I visit her, I always
return to Lick Hollow.
The photograph on the right was taken from the rock outcrop on Pine Knob. I zoomed in somewhat so that the features of the town are more obvious. Main Street is actually PA Route 40, running east to west, and I grew up in an old stone building on the left side
View of Hopwood from rock overlook on Pine Knob
of the street located just past the long red building. I imagined the Lick Hollow Mercantile property to be located on the edge of the wooded area in the bottom right of the photograph. Route 40 continues to the west toward Uniontown, which is actually only about three miles away.
Entrance to Lick Hollow on PA Route 40
Eastward, it climbs Chestnut Ridge and about two miles up the mountain, passes a scenic overlook known as Point Lookout the name of which I borrowed for the rock outcrop in the story.
I chose 'Lick Hollow'
for the name of the town partly because I like the sound of it but also
because I wanted to be at liberty to create the setting. The town in the
story is actually a combination of several small towns that I have lived
in. The library, Folk Museum, and to a small extent, the character for the
librarian, were taken from my experience in a little town in northeastern
Pennsylvania, Montrose, where I lived for two years.
Knob The mountain
that is most obvious from my home town, Hopwood, is actually named Pine
Knob and it is located within the Forbes State Forest. I have passed
many hours over the decades, exploring it. I used 'Hemlock Knob' for the
same reasons I used 'Lick Hollow' but also because I once owned and for
fifteen years lived in a 200 year old log house constructed of hemlock logs.
The Fuller Baker Log House in Grantsville Maryland
Stone structure covering spring on Pine Knob
Evidence that there was once a settlement on Pine Knob gave me the idea for Mountain Farm. The outline of a building foundation is evident with an indentation for the cellar and remnants of stone retaining walls. There is similar evidence that two smaller buildings were located nearby.
On my first visit to Pine Knob with my father and brother, about 1961, we met an elderly man who showed us the path to the rock outcrop and also led us to the location of a spring. With some difficulty, I recently located the spring again and took the picture at left. It is within an elaborate stone; structure that is built into the hillside. It has a stone arch roof, stone lined walls, and stone steps leading down about four feet to the water. To my dismay, I found that the large lintel stone had fallen in and the opening was nearly full of leaves and debris.