What's in a Name?
To truly find the roots of A Strand of Grey, one must travel back with me to my childhood and the earliest origins of my storytelling days. It began in a near idyllic setting, on a farm in a lush green land somewhere between the city and the wilderness. It began with solitude but not one that was resented; one, instead, that was embraced.
A small child gifted with an unusual name, a high level of natural empathy and no siblings close enough in age to provide real peer companionship, I spent much time by myself. My first real friend lived a ways away across fields and down country roads. Play dates, they weren't called such in those days, were few and far between. My imagination was my closest companion from an early age and reliving the stories that my father and my brother, Al, would tell me at night made the time pass each day.
I was weaned on the classic pulp fiction of the early twentieth century and in my dreams, I swung through the trees of the African Rainforest with Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan and with John Carter on the planet of Barsoom which we here on Earth call Mars. I fought wizards with Conan the Barbarian and slew Dragons in the company of Dwarves and Hobbits. I stood against alien invaders from a nearby planet and the Morlocks of the far future with the help of H.G. Wells tales and I shot laser guns at the side of Flash Gordon on Mongo. I flew in airships wih the original Buck Rogers against the Huns and I leapt tall buildings with Superman and struggled against omnipotent cosmic world devourers with the Fantastic Four. My genes gave me mutant abilities as I aided the X-Men against Magneto and I saw an android cry with the Avengers.
In the woods and meadows around the farm, I began to think up my own trials and adventures as I heroically slew the imaginary monsters around the area. When school took me into the field of creative writing, I began to write new stories and performed new deeds for my heroes.
It was in that time that the protagonist of A Strand of Grey was born. His story has changed drastically over the years but the name has stayed. He is the ultimate hero of my imagination; not omnipotent but holding the potential for great power; not omniscient, all knowing, but always learning always growing, usually from his mistakes and mine. The man he has become and continues to grow into is the culmination of our combined life lessons; influenced by the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful we have met headlong in our tumble through existence, physical and existential.
He started as a name drawn from a history assignment given to myself and a classmate in Grade Seven. We were studying colonial times and the War of 1812 and we were asked to write a story through the eyes of a settler in Upper Canada. If I have to give credit where it is due, I believe the name was coined by my partner, Phil German, who has since become a High School English teacher, having, as a footnote, later serendipitiously taught my first wife for a semester when she was in school.
Jake Challenger, Jacob Richard Challenger, that was his first incarnation. He was a settler and a family man having fought both French and American soldiers to defend his home. He faced the trials of harsh winters in his attempt to make a home for himself in the New World.
His name did not end there although that story did. The man named Challenger refused to die. Jacob Richard Challenger became merely Richard Challenger and with Phil's permission to use the name, he became my protagonist for further adventures. In Grade 8 English, Richard Challenger became a private eye with a penchant for fast Italian cars of the exotic kind manufactured by Ferarri and Lambourghini and big handguns like Dirty Harry's .44. calibre. Magnum P.I. had nothing on this guy and there is no doubt Tom Selleck heavily influenced this character. Richard even had the requisite moustache but was a blond at the time.
High School arrived and the fast driving two-dimensional detective died, to be reborn as a long dark-haired rock star who loved Led Zeppelin and Steppenwolf. My love for Celtic history and the legends of the British Isles surfaced. A story by a favourite author that prefaced the idea of Standing Stones as portals to elsewhere inspired the beginnings of the tale that is now A Strand of Grey. To this day, that very first scene I wrote has survived in one form or another to become the Prologue of this novel. Maybe a couple dozen of the words I put down on paper back then have survived to make their way into this final version of the manuscript but the story I foresaw has finally come to be.
At fifteen, I let my mother read the earliest chapters of the novel and for nearly forty years she has waited, mostly patiently, to hear the whole story. Unfortunately, Richard Challenger's tale is not complete but the first book in the series that is his tale is complete and soon to be released. I placed a finished proof in her hands not long ago.
There have been other influences and inspirations for this story, or rather, stories. As with the pulp stories that these grew from, readers should stay tuned, for this Story of a Story is to be continued...
And, as always, a reminder that more samples of my writing on my web-site and both my novels can be ordered off the main page or in the books section which can be accessed from the menu.