The erudite late 19th century French novelist and art critic J.K. Huysmans once proposed that one of the most difficult questions to ponder is whether Art imitates Life or does Life imitate Art? More specifically, do mankind’s creations evolve from the process of close & discerning observations of the laws & elements of Nature, or does Art create a perfection of perspective that we yearn for Life to emulate?
With his debut fictional / historical / mystery novel Forged Fates, Saginaw native Larry Preston has managed to engage both sides of this dialectic with a page-turning thriller set within the Great Lakes Bay Region that tells the tale of a charismatic and talented art conservationist who is brutally murdered.
With the people closest to him suspected of the murder, they become entangled in a web of deception and greed that takes the reader from familiar Old Town Saginaw coffee shops and restaurants like Jack’s 1866 Bistro to The Midland Country Club and distant bazaars in Istanbul, coloring the textures of this highly readable and fast-paced literary canvas with their own motives and intentions.
An added treat that makes this debut effort even more engaging is how recognizable not only the locations, but many of the characters populating this novel will be to the reader.
We have the young, beautiful intelligent blonde Director of The Great Lakes Bay Art Museum, Sheila Reading, who is patterned after former Saginaw Art Museum director Sheila Redmond; we have the art conservationist Adam Lindmark, who shares many apparent similar characteristics with celebrated Saginaw painter & art conservationist Jim Perkins (who also painted the cover of the book jacket) and like the character in the book, is also a big fan of the celebrated Naturalist painter Adolphe William Bouguereau, and we have Natalie Collins, a former pharmaceutical rep who creates an LLC to start buying up undervalued commercial properties along the Bay City waterfront to convert them into bars, restaurants, and rental properties.
But what gives the tightly woven narrative of Forged Fates even more weight & substance is the fact that Preston possesses the experience, background, and insight to inform and illuminate his narrative. Preston is currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of TempleArts, which operates both Saginaw’s Temple Theatre & Saginaw Art Museum, and prior to that he co-founded and was Chief Executive Officer of Tri-Star Trust Bank, which has been a long-time supporter of the arts throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region. Prior to forming Tri-Star in 2000, Larry practiced law for 18-years in the areas of estate, retirement, and business planning.
And this is the tale of how he managed to forge his latest destiny.
Looking Back • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
With a tightly developed plot-line and short chapters indicative of a wise strategy when writing a new novel in the age of Tik-Tok and shortened reader attention spans, the dialog and descriptive detail in Forged Fates is natural and laconic, moving the action & narrative along in a manner reminiscent of a blend between pulp fiction writer Dashiell Hammett and literary icon Sherwood Anderson, who captured small town life within a series of memorable short stories told in his much lauded work Winesburg, Ohio.
When asked about the authors he’s read who have informed his own sensibilities for writing fiction, and how he developed the idea for writing Forged Fates, much to my surprise Preston admits that he has never delved much into the world of 20th Century American fiction. “Frankly, I never read any fiction and am strictly a non-fiction person,” he confesses. “I read a couple books by John Steinbeck and for Forged Fates, I just sat down and wrote it.”
Although this may sound like a simple process, in reality the origins of the novel go back decades to Preston’s college days.
“I really wanted to write a novel back then, so I sold my Firebird I’d worked years to own, took the money, bought a ticket, went to Europe and traveled by myself with the thought I was going to need to accumulate stories if I was actually going to write my novel. After writing seven pages it was so horrible I couldn’t stand to read it, so that was as far as it got and then it laid dormant.”
“While I was also in undergrad college I dated a woman who wanted to be an art conservationist, who since then has gone on to become the senior art conservationist at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery, so once I retired from Tri-Star in 2019 I decided I was going to try and write the novel again.”
“While I was sitting in a bar coming back from a conference in Kansas City, I wrote the first few pages as an outline, and from that point onward the book took three-and-a-half years to write,” continues Larry.
“I honestly didn’t know what I was doing, so I moved forward working with my good friend Paul Chaffee, former Editor & Publisher at The Saginaw News, and eventually found a publisher, which is hard to do in this day and age. She said that she only took on one or two books a year, but to send my manuscript while also warning she probably would not take on the project.”
“The day she called back she started out by telling me all the things that were wrong about the book, so I responded with the assumption we were not going to be working together; but she said, “No, I like the book only you’ve got a lot of work to do. She said the character development was weak, the book was too long, and the chapters were too long, and I shouldn’t try to be like James Joyce.”
“I initially sent her a longer transcript with 52 chapters and after all the re-writes and editing, the book is now 83 chapters and a shorter novel, which is how much I expanded it out while also making it more concise. She said I had to have a hook at the end of every chapter, which I didn’t have initially; and that I had to go back and enhance elements that would be addressed further on in the novel.”
One of the endearing strengths of this debut literary effort is how informative it is about not only art history, but the early history of the Great Lakes Bay Region that dates back 200 years when Alexis de-Tocqueville first made his way to the Saginaw region, while on the next page the reader may encounter a steamy encounter involving one of the pivotal character’s oral skills.
Was Preston concerned about this juxtaposition of tone?
“No, I wanted that juxtaposition,” he reflects. “I wanted to get into detail about art conservation and forgery and did a lot of research in order to give the reader a sense this could actually happen. This idea that someone could go to small art museums across the country and forge their more valued originals needed enough detail and research in order to come alive. In terms of the close romantic entanglements between some of the characters, that was just fun to write.”
“Some parts of chapters involving Istanbul actually did happen to me,” notes Larry. “My wife, Maija, and I went there about 10 years ago and it’s the most fascinating city where East meets West and its history is amazing. There are people from all walks of life and its unbelievably cheap to live there. We spent two weeks there and walked all those streets contained in the novel.”
As for the similarities between fictional characters contained in the book and their resemblance to actual movers & shakers populating the Great Lakes Bay Region, was Preston concerned about the double-edged nature of that sword as being flattering on one end or invasive on the other?
“Actually, much of the character of Adam is based around that art conservationist I knew in college who’s favorite painter was Bouguereau; and apart from that I colored the characterizations from my experiences with people in our community. Art Dore was my client and the character of Natalie is complete fiction and made up entirely from a composite of characters. Her background comes from a girl I knew since elementary school who went to U of M & Northwestern. As for Sheila Redmond, she has a copy of the book. I didn’t check with any of them because all the names are changed and I included all the good things about their personalities and all the bad things are fiction. It was fun and because it’s fiction, I can pretty much do anything I want.”
While Larry says he didn’t encounter writer’s block during this 42-month odyssey, he does admit that frustration was his biggest enemy. “I had to keep re-doing everything and after going back four or five times re-writing everything, I felt like it was never going to happen.”
“Fortunately, I was talking to my daughter, Lija, who lived in Atlanta and told her I was thinking about giving up. She told me to send her a couple chapters, so I sent her chapters 1 and 2 and she immediately called back to tell me how much she enjoyed the book and to send her more chapters, which inspired me. We have an honest relationship so her enthusiasm made me sit down and go to town on it. And I also need to thank my dear friend and colleague Peter Shaheen, for finding me a quiet place to write in splendid Costa Rica, which afforded me the solitude to focus and do what needed to be done.”
Amazingly, even though Forged Fates has just been released, Preston says he’s already nearly completed his second book, which is a sequel.
“I can’t say too much about it except that it has a lot of new characters. I recently completed the draft so am going to let it sit for a while. I’ve got four people lined up to proof it, because my biggest screw up the first time around was with the editing process. But basically, completing the first book was like having a crash-course in creative writing, so I’ve learned a lot through that process.”
“I’m writing this new book in half the time it took for the first and all the new characters are more interesting people. I’ve enjoyed researching it and addressing certain strengths & flaws they have. There’s much more inspection of peoples’ inner personalities in this next one.”
‘Forged Fates’ is available on Amazon.com, or if you would like to see all proceeds go to the author, you can order a copy directly from Larry by contacting him at 989.860.2068 or firstname.lastname@example.org
16th November, 2023