racing at sunset Norman G. Gautreau

 

Biography

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to spend all my days writing down stories. It just took me many years to get there.

My love of stories, and the telling of them, was ignited by a nun. Sister Claire Gertrude (until my college years the only teacher whose name I can remember) spent much of the fourth grade reading aloud Hardy Boys books to me (and the other students).

From her first narrated words of The Tower Treasure – “Frank and Joe Hardy clutched the grips of their motorcycles and stared in horror at the oncoming car. It was careening from side to side on the narrow road.” – I was enthralled. I could see the action, actually SEE the action, and knew instantly the power of words to paint pictures!

Little explosions went off in my mind at those strange, muscular words – clutched, careening – the meanings of which Sister Claire Gertrude easily conveyed with her free hand: gripped tightly here, fishtailing in the air there. I long ago lost whatever religious teaching this nun might have given me, but I’ve never forgotten how she introduced me to literature.

Soon, The House on the Cliff and The Secret of the Old Mill followed and I morphed into a lifelong reader and lover of stories. I’m willing to bet that I went through several dozen éclairs reading the Hardy Boys. Of course after some 30 or 40 Hardy Boys books, my reading became more catholic even as I, myself, became less Catholic.

There must have been other authors in my youth, but I have the distinct sense of a sudden leap into my college years and … Hemingway (He was an old man who fished alone …). And then, Fitzgerald (So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past); Melville (Call me Ishmael); and Pynchon (A screaming came across the sky); and Joyce ( … from swerve of shore to bend of bay … ).

And then summers between semesters with music: Dylan (How many roads must a man walk down …); and Leonard Cohen (there are heroes in the seaweed …).

And, of course, more reading: the other Dylan (To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black…); Graves (I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus …); Bellow (I am an American, Chicago born – Chicago, that somber city …); Dostoevsky (I think the devil doesn't exist, but man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.); Steinbeck (Before I knowed it, I was sayin' out loud, 'The hell with it! There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do); Faulkner (The jury said ‘Guilty’ and the Judge said ‘Life’ but he didn't hear them); and many others.

Through all this reading – truly, a job requirement for a writer – I learned the power of words either directly (Twain: The difference between the almost right word & the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning), or indirectly (Márquez: Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.)

With all of that preparation to become a writer, you would think I’d enroll in some writing program and launch my career. But instead, I got married, fathered two boys, and took a steady job as a computer programmer to support my family.

Over the years one job followed the other until I was making decent money as a management consultant. My writing career got shunted to non-work hours and my writing desk was often the fold-down table on a trans-Atlantic or a trans-Pacific flight. For about 20 years I was on an airplane at least twice a week for 40-50 weeks out of the year. Because time was limited, I wrote in shorter forms, mainly poetry.

But then my wife Susan and I used some of the frequent flyer points to travel to Europe for several weeks. And that’s when something happened that made me say, “To hell with it all, I’m going to devote myself to writing.”

Susan and I were driving through the South of France, me at the wheel, Susan doing what she loves best when traveling: reading aloud the history contained in good travel guides. On that day we learned a lot about the troubadours and about the Cathars and the crusade to exterminate these peaceable people.

Somewhere between Carcassonne and Toulouse we noticed a road sign, “Route Entre Deux Mers" – Road Between Two Seas – and a metaphor took shape in my mind about a land between the dark, stormy Atlantic and the bright Mediterranean where, through the ages, people expressed the darkest and the brightest recesses of the human soul.

That night, I scribbled out an outline of a James Michener type epic stretching from the days of the prehistoric cave paintings all the way to the French Resistance in World War II.

It was that night or the next that I began a prologue: “Forever a nation unborn, Occitania is wedged between the bright Mediterranean and the darker Atlantic (the French say, entre deux mers, between two seas). It is further defined by the Pyrénées to the south, the Alps to the east, and the Massif Central in the north – nearly the same boundaries that, in the early years of World War II, separated German-occupied France from Vichy France.”

Well, that brainstorm on the road has evolved in the past twenty years to 25 stories in 8 volumes that I call the Paratge Saga, on which I continue to work. In the meantime, I left my management consulting position to work full time on my writing, finally realizing the dream that began to take shape in the fourth grade with the Hardy Boys.

With the extra time, I began to explore other stories I wanted to write that were unrelated to the ongoing Paratge project. Finally, in 2002, MacAdam/Cage, a niche publisher specializing in literary fiction, brought out my novel Sea Room. This book went on to win the prestigious Massachusetts Book Award.

I followed it with Island of First Light in 2004, also published by MacAdam/Cage, a novel that has become a readers’ group favorite. I’ve followed these books with The Sea Around Them and Iniquity, released in the late summer of 2012 through Trobador Publishing. And then Francesca Allegri, a tale that weaves into the Paratge Saga, in spring 2013 through Tobador Publishing.

In 2014, due to a set of unique circumstances, I reissued revised and updated versions of Sea Room and Island of First Light.

As of this writing, I am working on a volume that also ties into the Paratge Sage: Élodie.

As you can see, my plate is full and my days are even fuller doing what I love most: writing and reading in our house outside of Boston with my wife, companion and editor, Susan, and our three cats, Arlecchino, Ponkasa, and Tristano.