Return Of The Native Son: Introduction

This particular novel was written for the NaNoWriMo competition in November 2021, and one of the aspects of this particular novel writing event, which I have participated in for several years now (my first effort was in 2012), is that 50,000 or more words have to be written over the course of 30 days. This can be a demanding task, although in general I have to say that it is not generally the length of the project or finishing within the 30 day period has been so much of a challenge to me as it is for others. Whether or not my efforts have been uniformly enjoyable to readers, those few readers at any rate who have taken notice of them, is not for me to decide. But the fact that I find fluency of writing not particularly difficult is perhaps notable and I thought it would be worthwhile for me to share some general comments on my writing process as well as some specific comments about this book so that I may set a proper context for the reader as to what this book is about and how it is that I came to choose this subject to write about.

Speaking generally, my writing process remains as it has for more than twenty-five years of creative writing. When one is writing under heavy time constraints, as is the case here, this method is all the more useful to me as a writer because it has been so enduring over my body of work, including not only novels but also plays, which I have written since I was a young teenager just entering high school. My general process in undertaking this or any other long fictional project, is to place a suitably Nathanish character in a chosen situation and see how things work out. Though this Nathanish character is not always the main character of the plot, it is the eyes through which the action is seen. Perhaps more than most writers, I am very attached to my own point of view, my own perspective, my own values and so forth, and therefore what I write is a reflection of that perspective and point-of-view and moral system, often in some sort of extremis. Whether or not the story ends happily or tragically (I write a large amount of both tragic and comic material, and some material that straddles the line between the two), there is generally an aim of the thought experiment about it. I take some character who is not often very much unlike me, put him (and it is usually, although not always, a him), through the wringer, and then see what results. A great deal of preparation is spent in setting up the situation and having at least a general idea of the major events that take place over the course of the work, and then there is a certain amount of spontaneity in the precise wording that is used along the way. Given a fair amount of historical and other kinds of knowledge as well as self-knowledge, the effort usually finds its way to a conclusion that is acceptable to me as a thought experiment.

Having spoken generally, let us say something about the specific nature of the book that you are now reading. During the course of the last year, I made it a point to read the novels of a particular series of romantic novels (whose names and the name of the author I will not reveal out of charity–you may very well guess it anyway, though). I found myself deeply frustrated by this series, not least because so many of the novels were so unappealingly and unconvincingly written, and also because the romantic plots of nearly all of the novels were so dependent on the device of a compromising incident that forced the two people to marry and which led to an extended ending where a coerced union had to be seen as a romantic one, despite the lack of character and integrity involved in the young people themselves who were marrying. The men were almost always rakes of some kind, the women beautiful but not very virtuous, and none of this was particularly pleasing to me, not least as someone who has never been particularly rakish and who appreciates young women of virtue and some degree of innocence, and who considers himself to be a man of considerable virtue and self-restraint as well. Whether or not this self-understanding is just or not is not up for me to decide, but it is something that has strongly influenced both my life and my writing.

What first caught my attention in this particular subject matter was something of the via negativa. It was easier, at least at first, to figure out what kind of work I did not want to write rather than what I did in fact want to write. I did not want a novel that depended on the lack of virtue or restraint of its characters, and therefore it was important to demonstrate the moral character of both the man and the woman involved. As a man who has tended to find a lot of romantic fiction less than convincing because of the lack of knowledge about men and the ways and behaviors of men involved in such novels, I wanted the focus of the novel to be on the behavior of the male protagonist, and I also wanted it to be clear that love was not the only concern in a busy life, but certainly that family as a whole was a major interest, including the desire to marry and have legitimate offspring. I also did not want the novel to focus on how a man needed to be changed in order to be suitable for a successful romance, but rather I wanted to demonstrate how it is that a man whose character had been formed through an active and busy life (not a part of this particularly story, though perhaps a part of later prequels should this one prove to be an artistic success) could grow into changed circumstances and find success despite the difficulties that resulted from his background and complexity as a person. It is worthwhile to note that the main character you see here is one whose character and nature has already been formed, has already been tested in somewhat severe and extreme circumstances, and what has changed is not who this person is as a person, but how he is seen by others. The gap between the protagonist’s self knowledge and the knowledge of those who observe and judge him drives a great deal of the action of this plot, and if you desire to read this novel intelligently, you should be aware of the fact that many characters in this novel judge him very badly, and that if you are not sufficiently sensitive to his virtue and character, you are very likely to do the same.

Yet it did not take too long for a more positive portrayal to take shape. As I worked out the details of my protagonist’s family and personal background, it quickly became clear to me just how this novel would work itself out and what narrow scope this particular would contain. In ways that might seem surprising, the scope of this particular novel in terms of its length of time is only a few times longer than the length of time that has been allotted to write the novel. As I thought about the contents of this novel and the situations that would be involved, I was struck by the fact that it would best work out over the course of a single parliamentary campaign, namely that between late 1783 and early 1784. The astute student of history will understand this to be the period immediately after the conclusion of the American Revolution, and that context matters a great deal to this novel, which is set in both North Yorkshire and London. While I do not wish to give any spoilers, knowing the temporal setting of this novel will help to explain at least some of the contents and the surprising nature of the character of our protagonist and those he interacts with.

I will refrain from saying more at this time about the novel and its characters in detail, lest I reveal details that are better revealed throughout the course of the novel and that may be subjects of concern for future prequels and sequels that are a part of a cycle of short stories and novels that I consider to be possible if this work proves itself to be enjoyable to write. I would, though, like to close with a more general comment about the use of historical figures as well as aspects of personality and character taken from real life. This novel contains portrayals of historical personages who actually existed during the time period in question, and I have sought to do these people justice, if without knowing their characters in detail through the use of private letters and intimate personal knowledge, in the case of Lord Sydney and King George III, to give but two examples. Other characters are based on real historical personages who are somewhat obscure and who I write about without attempt to delineate their character sharply but only taking their real life situations as a starting point for my own fictional efforts. Similarly, I ask for a pardon from those people who find that their personalities are contained in the pages of this novel. No attempt has been made at making any character (except for the protagonist) to be even close to an exact replica of someone from life, but it is probably inevitable that there will be people who recognize that I have taken elements of conversations I have had from them or my own impressions as to their appearance or personality or character as part of a fictional portrayal. From such people I ask mercy and pardon to the extent that this portrayal is not something that would be pleasing or enjoyable to you. No insult is meant, nor any pretension that my own impressions are entirely accurate to someone who may see some parts of themselves in the pages that follow.

As is often the case in what I write, I have shared my ideas with various people and have many people to thank for having helped me (sometimes without knowledge) in the work that follows. In particular, I would like to thank my mother, not only for her excellent judgment in matters of romantic novels (in which she has expertise and familiarity which even exceeds my own). As always, the faults remain my own, and I am working on them.

Nathan Bennett Albright
October 31, 2021

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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