So…why did it take me thirty-five years to complete the Books of Furnass series? Am I really that slow of a writer? Truth is, I never set out to write an eight-book series about a fictitious mill town, or any other subject for that matter. In 1980, after I finished writing my first novel, There’s Something in the Back Yard, I thought I’d apply what I’d learned in writing that book to a subject I’d been thinking about for some time, the construction of a high-rise building. For close to a dozen years I had worked as an inspector on high-rise buildings in San Francisco, and my experiences and the people I met during those years seemed ready-made for a book. The problem was, when I started to sketch out such a novel, to do justice to all the various people engaged in such a multi-story (pun intended) project, I realized I was looking at a two- or three-thousand-page book. Besides, I wouldn’t be writing fiction. I would be retelling stories of which I already knew the outcome—and what fun was that? Writing for me is a process of self-discovery, finding out what I didn’t know that I knew. I also believe that such discoveries make for the most interesting reading. As Robert Frost put it, no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.
One of the main reasons I had decided to leave San Francisco and return to Western Pennsylvania was the desire to write about the area, the place where I was born and raised. But I didn’t want to make the same mistake I would with writing about a forty-story high rise—that is, simply retelling stories that I already knew. So, it occurred to me…why not transplant my high-rise building to a small mill town? It was a quirk of the area that most of the mill towns had a new high-rise building sticking up in the middle of the business district, the result of government-induced low-income housing and/or too-readily available real estate loans. A twelve-story building in a mill town of three-and four-story buildings was comparable to a fifty-story tower in a city of twenty- and thirty-story towers, but with unique challenges. The question was, in which mill town to place the tower?