Killer Nashville’s Featured Books of the Day serves several purposes. Entertainment and love of reading, of course, is high on the list. I do my best to avoid the boring. There is also education, which should share an equal podium. But even then, the work still has to be a page-turner.
I’ve tried to look at older books over the past twenty months that I’ve been doing this (it’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for almost two years) and now have decided to take a look – as part of my suggested reading to you – at influential American writers specifically. I think it important that we, as writers, be familiar with our noble heritage and, for those of us here in the U.S. that means taking a look at those who have influenced the American novel, even though the writers themselves may have fallen into obscurity over the centuries. I’ll examine those American writers in this series.
I was inspired to take on this series by reading a short story (“Somnambulism”) by gothic writer Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810). Early in my life, I was familiar with Brown, but he had fallen from my memory.
Brown was not our first American novelist, but he was certainly on the forefront. He was, however, the first American novelist to be published in foreign languages and authors as prominent as Edgar Allan Poe have credited him as a major influence in their own writings.
Brown was a prolific writer and editor. Like many parents of eventual writers, his parents expected him to get an enviable job; in this case, they wanted him to be a lawyer. One of the things I think many writers can identify with is that many of his early works were never finished, but the process was essential for him to learn how to write. (One of the main reasons his writings are considered so influential is probably because he didn’t publish the first things he wrote.) When he did start publishing, however, he was ready. No less than Mary Shelley studied him and his style when writing her classic “Frankenstein.”
Upon his death, Brown had left behind seven completed novels along with many nonfiction works. His novels should be of particular emphasis to historical writers because of his technique of putting ordinary individuals into situations of what he called “historic stress,” meaning tough times in actual history. He sought to educate, as well as, entertain and – in objective – reminds me much of contemporary English writer Anne Perry, one of the best and most entertaining historical authors of our time. For writers in general, he is one of the best examples of how to use fiction to change social mores within complex and fairly portrayed plotlines and, like Walter Cronkite from my own childhood, no one completely knew – and, unlike Cronkite, we still don’t know – Brown’s political leanings because he was so focused on presenting a balanced narrative within the context of historical happenings. What a refreshing thought for a writer: to be fair and true rather than an arm of some particular agenda (be that only ignorance). Writers today could learn much from that alone.
“Charles Brockden Brown: Three Gothic Novels: Wieland, Arthur Mervyn, Edgar Huntly” highlights his best works and also is the most affordable if you’re looking for a collection. You can find it new and used on Amazon or used only on Alibris.
This should give you something to read for the next few days. Until next time, read like someone is burning the books!
– Clay Stafford is an author / filmmaker (www.ClayStafford.com), business CEO (www.AmericanBlackguard.com), and founder of Killer Nashville (www.KillerNashville.com) with over 1.5 million copies of his own books in print in over 14 languages. Stafford’s latest projects are the feature documentary “One of the Miracles” (www.OneOfTheMiracles.com) and the music CD “XO” (www.JefferyDeaverXOMusic.com). Publishers Weekly has identified Stafford as playing “an essential role in defining which books become bestsellers” not only in middle-Tennessee, but also extending “beyond the city limits and into the nation’s book culture.” (PW 6/10/13)