The newly released Embers on the Wind marks the third and final book in Bob Strother’s Burning Time series. Before Bob turns to other projects, he shared some final thoughts on this writing endeavor.
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In approaching the final book in your trilogy, what did you wish to accomplish and how do you think you succeeded?
When I finished the second book, A Fire to be Kindled, I felt the ending begged for another chapter in the Schmidt/Carlyon family’s life. Too much was left unsaid—too many issues unresolved. In the last book, I hoped to quell some of the characters’ fears, help resolve some of their issues, and, in some respects, bring a degree of normalcy back to their lives. I may have gone about that process in a way some might think convoluted, but, in the end, I think it worked. This series has always been about conflict, struggle, strength, and overcoming adversity. I believe Embers on the Wind captures those facets, common to so many people’s everyday lives. If it also inspires hope for a better future, then I’ve done what I set out to do.
Did you find it easy or challenging to revisit these characters? How did they develop beyond your expectations?
I liked all my characters, even those who sometimes evoked hate and revulsion in my readers. In Embers, of course, most of those less-than-inspiring actors were no longer around. At any rate, I found it easy to go back and pick up my characters’ lives where I’d left off in the second book.
As for how they developed, I found some surprising strengths where I hadn’t seen them previously—in Henry, for example, who, while always fearful, still dredged up enough courage to make a life for himself. And Fannie, whose Machiavellian manipulations finally found a useful purpose and helped her develop compassion for someone other than herself. I can’t leave out See-Boy either, who never allowed his penchant for sometimes risky entrepreneurship to affect his love and affection for Louise and her family. That their bond remained so strong—through good times and bad—always made me smile.
Do you feel this novel satisfactorily completes the story you began in Burning Time and continued through A Fire to be Kindled? How so and/or did the story change from what you anticipated?
Yes, I’m happy now with how the family’s story ends and with the point in time at which it ends. When I wrote Burning Time, I never imagined it would become a trilogy; I thought I was done. But some of my readers didn’t think so, nor did the characters, apparently, for which I’m very grateful. Writing the second two books allowed me to spend time I wouldn’t have had otherwise to enjoy again the company of several of the people who meant so much to me earlier in my life.
Much of what I wrote about in Burning Time was based in fact, although I took considerable license with the timing of events and the ways the characters dealt with them. I had originally planned to develop the second and third book the same way. Fortunately for me, I’ve always used my wife, Vicki, for a sounding board on my ideas, and she helped me realize the events as they had played out in real life would result more in depressing my readers than inspiring them. So, with her help, I devised lives and events that veered quite severely from the ones I remembered. The fun part of doing that flowed from imagining how my characters—people I knew and loved—would have reacted to certain situations and events based on my perceptions of them. I can’t be more specific than that without giving up information vital to the plot line, especially regarding Embers on the Wind.
You’ve created compelling minor characters beyond Louise’s and See-Boy’s families. Have you considered novels or short stories devoted to their stories? If so, who entices you the most?
I haven’t to date considered developing any of the minor characters found in my novels for further exploration. But if I did, I think it might be Renee. To me, she’s probably one of the least developed characters in Embers. But her background in France could bear delving into. Once in Chattanooga, I liked the way she balanced her independence with the needs of See-Boy’s family. And I especially liked the way she sized up and dealt with Henry’s old flame, Lawanda.
What is your next project?
Anyone who’s read my novel-in-stories, Shug’s Place, or any number of my short stories, knows I like exploring the dark side of the human condition—peeking under rocks and into dark corners to see what I can find. For the past couple of months, I’ve been putting together some ideas for a sequel to Shug’s Place. It will reprise the original format, a series of lengthy stories with a continuous underlying thread. Right now, all I have is a working title: Stories Not to Tell. It’s not completely thought through, but I plan to start on it soon. I already miss spending some time under the moonShine.