Yale '62 - My Novel Kept Bugging Me - Ken Cascone

"My Novel Kept Bugging Me"
By Kenneth T. Cascone

Truth be told, I've had the writing bug much of my adult life, but it is only now in my early 60's that I believe that I am on the verge of becoming a published novelist. No big surprise, Yale is part of the story. In a creative sense the desire to write and publish a novel did not infect me until recent years. At Yale, to my utter regret, I failed to take a creative–writing course. Afterwards, throughout law school and years of practicing law, my writing focus was non–fiction, mostly about political and legal issues.

Yale '62 Poll
Creative Writing Poll
1) Have you done any creative writing since college?
Only for myself
Yes, but no takers
Have been published


Then, in the mid–1970's the creative bug struck full–force. Classmate Charlie Merlis, a man with artistic talent, and I were sailing in the Newport area and unknowingly stumbled into an American Cup race between the U.S. and Australia. The visual grandeur of the contest, steeped so in tradition, inspired us to co–author a motion picture film treatment. Even after many valiant attempts, the project remained unproduced.

After this initial failure, I charged ahead on my own to write a screenplay, using the Gulf Stream oceanic and climatic phenomenon as the backdrop and driving force for an action–adventure between the U.S. and Russian navies. That project, charitably tagged amateurish after only several drafts, understandably suffered the same fate as the sailing one. Discouraged, my personal writing bug went largely into remission for almost 20 years.

In 1993, a confluence of circumstances forced it to the surface again but in a much different form. My wife Charlotte and I were living in the Mid–Hudson Valley, a region rich in Revolutionary War history where Washington's last headquarters, West Point and many little known battlefields, were located. I began visiting these sites and absorbing the lore emitted there.

Then, a pair of experiences from my years Stony Brook Academy – B.Y. Before Yale – filtered through my psyche to reinforce the bug's potency. While at secondary school, I had been entranced by the works of Kenneth Roberts, who fictionalized episodes in the French and Indian War, the Revolution and the War of 1812.

Kenneth T. CasconeI also remembered a tale from one my school mates at Stony Brook about his family heritage. Ancestral grandparent's participated in a most amazing rebel spy ring during the Revolution. As told to me by my pal, the woman had a clothesline in her backyard at Setauket, Long Island, on the northern coast. According to a pre–arranged code, she would hang certain configured apparel – petticoats, handkerchiefs – on the line to signal British activity. Meanwhile, in a whaleboat offshore, the ancestral grandfather from another side of the family peered through a spyglass to spot the messages, and rushed them back to General George Washington's headquarters. This story stuck with me, heating up my contagion.

Finally, my law partner, Mike Cole, was writing a Sci–Fi novel – and asked me to edit his efforts. This led to discussions about some of my story ideas. A unique character had rattled around in my brain for years – a northeastern Indian, who, I later decided, to have educated at Yale. My partner encouraged me to develop the idea further and write a novel about him.

From then on, the bug had me. I purchased books on the American Revolution and Indians and did other extensive research. A West Point curator furnished lengthy bibliographies, listing books and articles on spying during the Revolution. The Yale Club library in New York City supplied books and theses on colonial Yale and Yale men who had fought in the Revolution. In local public libraries, I uncovered little known tales of raids and skullduggery during the War throughout the Hudson Valley. The plot took shape as I connected the historical dots; characters, real and imagined, grew, interacted and drove the story beyond my original conception.

I was off in another world, transported as if by magic back several centuries. The sound of horses' hoofs on dirt trails, the smell of spent gunpowder wafting over battlefields, the sight of three–masted brigs on the Hudson haunted both my dreams and waking hours. I was truly hooked.

In the long run the writing itself posed the largest obstacle. Not because I encountered any writer's block, it was just the opposite – the words, sentences, and paragraphs flooded the pages of my notebooks. No, the problems arose from my relative ignorance of the rules for writing fiction. Why hadn't I taken that creative–writing course at Yale? I made all the beginner's mistakes – too many big words, too repetitious, my language was too flowery, more active and less passive construction, my characters needed further development, I overwrote, on and on.

Initially, a first–rate freelance editor from Readers Digest books served as my writing muse. In determined fashion, she overcame my stubbornness and resistance to her recommendations. It took me thirty–five drafts to reach a satisfactory version.

So far, I have had two offers to publish after numerous rejections. One publisher wanted me to drop the contemporary mystery twist that represented about 30% of my novel, now called River of Triumph, to concentrate on the historical stuff. That I refused to do. A second publisher liked the novel with its double–time dimensions but offered sub–par royalties. After attempting to negotiate, we could not get him to budge.

Now, a third publisher has indicated an interest and we begin negotiations in January. We'll see what happens. Meanwhile, the bug persists to control and corrupt. I've written a second novel – a contemporary adventure–mystery entitled Island Paradise – and continue to research other story ideas. Beware, the writing bug, especially at our age, it gives neither quarter nor any peace. It persists as I explore the early days along the Erie Canal, the Viking settlements of North America and their clashes with the local Indian tribes plus and also consider an outlandish trilogy among conflicting characters in heaven, hell and on earth. So you see – once bitten, forever bugged.

Read the chapter, and it's prologue here