After working with a story over a long period, I develop an attachment to my characters. That’s probably why they reappear in later novels, often in cameo roles. Joe Harlan, an older Foreign Service officer, appears off and on as a kind of mentor to the younger characters. I finally made him a main character in Tender Shadows.
The author Wendell Berry, in his series of writings about the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky, does much the same thing. Main actors in one novel become supporting actors in another.
His novels, like mine, are not a connected series featuring one main character.
After completing Tender Shadows, I began a story about Mark Pacer, a transplant from Mocking Bird, Georgia, to the Foreign Service in 1976. I decided to let Mark have his own series (Where I Belong). A series lets me enjoy Mark from youth to—who knows—old age?
Following Mark’s life through the years also allows me to indulge my love of near history. The seventy years from 1945 (the end of World War II) carried us from early television to smart phones, from daily print newspapers with occasional extra editions to news from the far corners of the globe at the flick of an iPad.
What did this warp speed journey do to us? How does a fairly conservative young man, raised in an Appalachian village in the fifties and sixties, react to the changes of the seventies and beyond? Where does he belong? Will he become a refugee from the past?
Mark is twenty-one when the series begins, just finishing college and accepting an appointment with the U.S. Foreign Service. His father objects. “Too dandified for people like us,” he says, and we’re off into the story, which I’ve almost finished.