Aunt Bea's 1939 Plymouth

Aunt Bea's 1939 Plymouth

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Boyhood novel has a Pennsylvania setting, largely

Some interview highlights from James Cotton, author of The Boys of Summers Run

Would you say The Boys of Summers Run is a coming-of-age, young adult work?

Perhaps, but publishers try to pigeonhole fiction because it’s convenient. I consider it more an intergenerational novel as there are strong relationships linking my narrator and elders of his community. Farm boys and Little League Baseball create the backdrop, but it’s not a play-by-play sports story, either. More an account of the lessons from life and loss played out in rural Pennsylvania.

You’ve said the book could be read in Sunday School. How so?

Well, my main character develops a crush on a Mennonite girl from a neighboring farm. Then, in Las Vegas, he teams up with the Haupleton twins, from an LDS family . . . for a school project on urban gardening. And, the funeral takes place at St. Matthew’s in the Meadow, an Episcopal setting. So, it became rather ecumenical. In contrast to some works in the genre, the language is very tame and the narrative portrays likeable people doing pleasant things.

Unlike some of the grim plots found in young adult novels, your character Claude takes up life on what looks like a prosperous, historic farm. 

Yes, Claude and his recently widowed mother land there, trying to sort out what’s next for them. But Shadeland is facing the realities of taxes, markets, the constant upkeep and challenging stewardship of keeping the place intact, in the family, and providing a livelihood for the next generation or two. It’s roots for Claude, something he yearns for. So his loyalty quickly spreads its cloak over Shadeland and the family of his departed father. He becomes a farm-boy-in-training.

That’s why the move to Las Vegas is such a wrench. Shadeland is grounding, its bedrock extending deep into the values of another era. Las Vegas pits Claude against his mother’s new chapter and her in-laws who are deeply invested in casinos, hotels, and a high-octane lifestyle.  

So, does he return to Summers Run and Shadeland? Ever?

Aside from the Haupleton twins, things do not go so well for Claude in Nevada, particularly on the baseball diamond where he’s a pitcher for a local team. But a mentor in Pennsylvania once told him: “It’s not always your friends, Claude, who become your best teachers.” So, he applies such to his new life. 

I’ll risk a spoiler here. Yes, Claude does return to Summers Run and Shadeland and his old teammates, the Panthers. In one passage, he tells us: “It’s summer, and I feel my stride matching that of my tallest shadow.” Some of us recall being twelve or thirteen, standing on the cusp, looking across the chasm between boyhood and manhood.  Claude and his friends grow . . . sometimes within an afternoon. His Uncle Albert remembers: “the pure joy of being a boy. It doesn’t last long.”

And the book seems to portray that through Claude and the others. Would you call it a bittersweet account? 

There’s that element, yes, but Claude joins the other fatherless boys of Summers Run––Tim, Aaron, Kevin, and Jeff––banding together and negotiating the terrain their fates have defined as best they can. Outcomes are hopeful. Baseball becomes but one unifier.

The Turnip, a huge hot air balloon, is referred to occasionally throughout the work. And then there’s the rooster. Did you plant these to tie the work together?

Well, the balloon is from an event staged by my hometown, Meadville, PA, every June, where a couple dozen hot-air balloons are launched and put on a show. The rooster comes from family lore. Claude’s father, at the age of four, went a-climbing up to touch the “wooster” on the weather vane high atop Shadeland’s giant barn. The rooster comes center stage drawing Claude’s narration together. Like a good motif should.

Do readers ever ask how Claude could be so perceptive as a young teen, telling his story?

We tried to point out early on, that the narrative is two-pronged. Claude relates the action at the time it took place, and then he often applies his perspective from twenty years later. This dual approach is tricky for an author to navigate but ultimately gives the reader the three-dimensional picture and a richer progression. 

You call your book a “feel good” novel. Aren’t you afraid prospective readers might think it too syrupy?

The works of Rosamunde Pilcher and Jan Karon often deal with tragedy and grim realities. Yet they remain “pleasant reads” or “heart-warmers.” It takes a deft hand to deal with the grit of life and yet not wallow in it. I think those of us who write in this vein, expect any art to uplift. If it doesn’t, what’s the point? 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gingerbread . . . found along a country road

One of the most full-bodied expressions of gingerbread we've found lately along P. A.'s back roads.

When steam-powered saws became available to carpenters and woodworkers back in the mid- to late-1800s, creativity was given full expression.

How novel and exciting back then to add embellishments to their structures and call attention to their new-found skills. They left us a legacy of a time unique in our history. Many works of the sort pictured eventually came down and were discarded. One can imagine the effort and tedium painting and maintaining these gables every few years. Plus they were likely great roosting places for pests such as hornets.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

There are those times . . .

when a quick shot, even a snapshot, can capture something worth keeping. This image appears among those displayed on my website at Fine Art America. Click on Jim Cotton's Rural Photography This piece is entitled, "Suspended".

Just walking along a little stream's bank, when I thought: well, that's kinda nice, and shot. It makes one think of those wall hangers skilled metal artists create in copper, brass, or bronze. 

I don't use Photoshop, only the bare-bones program the iMac provides on iPhoto. Found along some little run flowing in Venango County, P. A.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Last "Row" of Summer

Found this beautiful canoe somewhere in central P. A. awaiting to be paddled across an inviting pond.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Thurston Classic, Meadville, Pennsylvania

Last weekend, the annual Thurston Balloon Classic was staged in Meadville, PA. Always a popular attraction for folks in the northwest part of the state, it begins on a Thursday night with a "night light-up" with as many as a dozen balloons participating.

They are, of course, anchored, but the burners are lit and create quite a pleasing spectacle one doesn't see often or everywhere. Part of the display includes synchronizing the firing in sequence. Nice family outing.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Boys of Summers Run

It’s “Live!” says 

The Boys of Summers Run, the third novel in this series about farm boys and Little League Baseball is now published and available for purchase. Currently, it’s $2.99 and formatted for all your different Kindle e-book readers. Set in rural P. A., this work is what Barnes & Noble used to list as a “Heartwarmer.”

Written from the country and back roads of rural America, it honors old-fashioned values and manners yet presents timeless and pertinent insights for today’s families, especially those concerned with raising well-grounded boys into leaders and true gentlemen. 

(Yes, there are some chapters set in Montana, depicting how not to do such.) 

Here’s the link:  The Boys of Summers Run

Monday, May 5, 2014

Camera Shy . . . Daisy, the Border Collie

Daisy, a Border Collie, is featured in The Boys of Summers Run, the latest in this series by James Cotton, a novel of farm kids and Little League Baseball. Click the Summers Run link on the right to read sample chapters from this "feel good" novel. Soon-to-be published, it will be available initially as an e-book, then softbound. Launching this month!