Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Afterlife of a Fictional Town

Ernest Hebert, award-winning author of the Darby Chronicles, a classic and enduring series of novels about a fictional town in New Hampshire and its hardscrabble cast of characters—both lovable and hard-to-love—published the final book in the series last year with UPNE. But Howard Elman’s Farewell shouldn’t have to be the end of Darby as we know it. Hebert explains the motivation behind his new web project (created in collaboration with the DALI Lab at Dartmouth College) and how Darby and its townsfolk will go on, well beyond the page, guiding new readers into that world for generations to come. 

by Ernest Hebert
author of the Darby Chronicles

Ernest Hebert's Guide to the Darby Chronicles began with the idea of imagery when I was writing the fiction. Every time I would write a scene I would run a little slide show in my head. Of course those mental images came out in words. Here's an example from page 30 of the UPNE edition of Live Free or Die: "Cooty's main chore was gathering firewood to stoke the small stove in his cabin."

Details about the stove and the cabin would bog down the story line. Same goes for just about every scene. When I write, my goal is to give readers just enough information to follow the action and let them use their own powers of visualization to fill in. Some of my mental images of Darby are clear and in great detail; others are murky; a few are abstract; and sometimes there's no picture at all. For example, I did not know what Cooty's wood-burning stove looked like when I wrote the lines I quoted above.

I always wanted to get these images out of my head onto paper, but I could never draw well enough. Then about fifteen years ago I discovered that I had a knack for drawing on the computer. Yippee! Around 2012 I came up with the idea of recreating Darby visually. I wanted not only to show the imagery that appears in the novels, but to go beyond into details that are not in the books.

Around the same time period that I was mulling over the idea of drawing images of Darby I looked at the John Milton Reading Room, a fabulous website conceived by Thomas Luxon, a colleague of mine at Dartmouth College. Inspired, I set out to create an everything-anybody-wants-to-know-about-Darby-and-then-some website. I began by drawing a map on Adobe Illustrator of the town of Darby. (By the way, a version of that map appears at the beginning of all seven of the Darby books, but only in the UPNE editions.)

I wrote an essay about every place name that appears on the map. Somehow in the alchemy way of creativity the essays led me to write poems, so that Ernest Hebert's Guide to the Darby Chronicles includes a collection of poems by yours truly, though often in the voice of Darby Characters. I never expected to write new fiction, but I felt moved to write a short story, "The Bulletin Board", which appears in the Blog category of my website.

In my drawing of Cooty Patterson's wood stove (see top of this post) the challenge was to create an object that would be original and in the context of Cooty's character. The stove would be aesthetic, somewhat practical, but a little dangerous and crazy, too. The stove would have to have a stew pot on a grill, because in the Darby Chronicles Cooty is famous for his stew, which he stocks with road kill and veggies from compost piles and dumpsters. Cooty also collects sticks which he hangs on the wall as art objects. Note the clock. Instead of XXII, I wrote "DOOM," which is a reference to Darby Doomsday, a video game that plays a role in Howard Elman's Farewell. I drew the enclosed image with my finger in the Procreate app on the iPad.

My aim for the future of Ernest Hebert’s Guide to the Darby Chronicles is to give my readers information about Darby, both visual and verbal, that is not in the books. And the characters? What they look like is best left to the imagination.


  1. So I made my first one of these today, I Didn't cut it well so it leaked and it was slanted, I duck taped the bottom and it leaked less also it took about 3 fills of the top for it to start for me then it worked great (it was windy tho) Soon I'm gonna make my second one and I'll try to make a better cut>thanks:)

  2. Awesome post !
    my advise is get the ceramic top they are easy to clean .the ordinary ones soon get burnt and then start to soon look!!!!!!!!!

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