By Gary Kriss
Dear Dr. Phil:
Please help me! I’m desperate!
No matter how hard I try I can’t break my addiction to a solitary vice. The urge can overtake me at any time, but usually I’m able to keep it under control until I’m in bed, under the covers, clutching a device.
And, oh, the images that enter my mind when I do it! I know it’s fantasy, but it seems so real! The other night it was the bayou and horses. What pleasure! What indescribable pleasure! Even now I get all tingly just thinking about it.
But I feel so guilty. I know lots of people do what I do and that I shouldn’t be ashamed. Maybe it’s because of my upbringing. I mean, sure, I did it when I was a teen, but I always believed that when I was older there would be other outlets. And there are, but I still come back to this.
Dr. Phil, please—I beg you! Help me to stop reading thrillers aimed at young adults, especially the ones by Cornell DeVille. Like his latest eBook, LOST IN THE BAYOU (December 2011), the one he describes as “a combination of Lemony Snicket and Cape Fear” filled with “danger, mystery, and a good serving of courage – not to mention a little voodoo.”
There I was in bed, e-reader in hand, thinking I would get in a chapter or two. But I read the whole thing! For God’s sake, I’m not 16! There’s a voice in my head—a voice that sounds an awful lot like Barbara Mandrell—which keeps saying, “If reading these is wrong, I don’t want to be right.” And I can’t fight it!
Help me, Dr. Phil, please! Help me before I read again!
Conflicted and Confused
Dear Conflicted and Confused:
Forget Dr. Phil. This is a job for Michael Broadway.
Michael Broadway’s heard it all before. That’s because, in his literary life, Broadway is Cornell DeVille. Yes, that Cornell DeVille. (“My middle name is Cornell, named after my father,” he explains. “DeVille just sounded good with it. And when I did a Google search, not one Cornell DeVille came up. So that seemed pretty good to me.”)
But how he came up with his name doesn’t matter. Cornell DeVille knows his books for young adults are also gobbled up by older others. What he doesn’t know for sure is why. Sure, DeVille’s got an opinion, but he cautions that “it may not be the correct answer.” It has to do with his muse, who, he notes, “never comes around unless I’m looking for something to read and finding nothing of interest.”
“That’s when she taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Why don’t you write something that you’d like to read,” DeVille explains. “So, perhaps, although the characters are in the young adult age group, it may be that the plot and the premise and the overall theme of the story are geared more toward the older reader.
And so it was that in one of those muse moments, DeVille took to his desk where, flanked by a monkey lamp and a Route 66 mug filled with pens, he puts fingers to MacBook and began what would become LOST IN THE BAYOU.
True to form, two of the main characters in the book, set in 1963 Louisiana, are indeed young adults: Robin Sherwood, a 14 year-old “Southern Belle” and her fearless 11 year-old brother, Andy. But there’s also their Uncle Conrad—he’s the one with a metal claw for a left hand and an encyclopedic knowledge of every Lone Ranger episode. Oh, and Fabien Leveau, of course. Name sound familiar? Maybe because you read about his 1956 escape from a state mental institution. Or maybe because he’s the son of the legendary Voodoo priestess Marie Leveau.
In any event, dear old Uncle Conrad arrives to watch over Robin and Andy after a bayou plane crash that leaves their wealthy parents missing and presumed dead. And jolly old soul that he is, Uncle Conrad has designed a game, one that will cost the children their lives and leave him to inherit the Sherwood fortune. Robin, however, has figured out that her uncle is a few alligator skins short of shoes, and she and Andy escape into the bayou. And that’s where the fun—and the thrills—really begin.
Speaking of thrills, DeVille offers that “a thriller is something that gets you involved with the main character or characters, then throws something really scary or dangerous into the mix, and then keeps you on the edge of your seat hoping that the worst doesn’t happen, all the while, making it more and more impossible for the hero or heroine to escape the horrible consequences that are looming every closer.”
Unlike his other books, DeVille notes that LOST IN THE BAYOU is written in the first-person, adopting Robin’s point-of-view. “I wanted to write it in that manner because I felt it increased the tension and the ‘right now’ factor, which is critical to a thriller,” he says.
DeVille, 63, dates the book’s premise to when he was ten and took a vacation trip with his parents to New Orleans. As they drove through a spooky, foggy area of the bayou at night looking for a Cajun restaurant, DeVille was struck by the “ghostly cypress trees with the Spanish moss hanging from their limbs like ragged shrouds.”
“That image has always remained in my memory,” he explains. “I used that memory in writing the opening lines of the book.”
Those opening lines—“If you’re ever in Louisiana, stay away from the bayou. And especially avoid a place known as the Voodoo Swamp. People disappear in there”—proved the most difficult part of the book to write. But DeVille says that’s the case with each of his books. “Starting is my worst trait,” he confessed.
But once he got going, DeVille, who writes sequentially—“chapter 1, page 1, and continue from there straight through to The End—says “the rest of it just sort of fell into place as we went along.”
For DeVille, plot falling into place—that same plot that he speculates could be the draw for adult readers—was particularly important. While he concedes that either plot or character can carry a story, and that the ideal is a good mix of the two, he says “if had to choose, I would fall on the plot side.” This comes even though he’s been told “my characters appear to be real,” which leads him to conclude that “character modeling and descriptions is one of my strong suits.”
“In the end, you must have a plot,” he explains. “You may have created the most charming characters on the planet, but if nothing of interest happens to them, you end up with a pretty boring read. For example, Captain Ahab was a fairly interesting character. Take away Moby Dick and the search for him and what’s left? Not much, really.”
DeVille admits that LOST IN THE BAYOU and its plot “may be a bit too spooky for the faint of heart, despite the touches of subtle humor and the bits of trivia from the Fifties and Sixties that, as a confirmed nostalgia addict, he’s sprinkled in. And that’s exactly what you might expect from a writer who was once characterized as being the result “if Mark Twain and Stephen King had a love child.”
“That’s actually one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received,” DeVille says. “Of course being compared to either of them is a high honor for a writer, but being compared to both? Wow!”
In fact, among the authors DeVille cites as influences—a list that includes Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Michael Crichton, Albert Payson Terhune, Suzanna Collins and J.R.R. Tolkien—he says, “I’ve probably learned the most from Stephen King.” And not just about writing fiction. I was very surprised, after watching the movie STAND BY ME, to learn that he had written the novella entitled THE BODY, which was the basis for the movie. I learned that just because you can write extremely well in one genre, you shouldn’t be afraid of stepping out of that area and into another.”
And Step DeVille has. He’s also a professional musician and a nationally-distributed wildlife artist. But writing, which has a special hold, grabbed him when he was a third grader at Wachter Elementary School in Independence, Missouri. His teacher, Miss Carmichael praised a story he had written entitled FLIPPER THE FROG and suggested he become a writer.
“The funny thing is, the only part of that story I can remember is that it took place in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, because that was the first line,” says DeVille, who still lives in the Kansas City area with Rosie, his wife of forty years, with winters spent at their ranch in Arizona.
Although encouraged by Miss Carmichael, DeVille, unlike Flipper, didn’t hop right on her suggestion (Please forgive me, dear read—the bayou made me do it!).
“I didn’t do any serious writing while in school,” DeVille recalls. “I didn’t really start writing with the hope of publication until the late seventies when our son was starting to read. At one point I did receive a rejection notice for a story I sent to Doubleday. It was signed by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. That was a treasure that I’ve misplaced and need to find.”
But, from 1972 until 2010, corporate communications paid most of the bills. “I never considered writing as an income-producing option in those days,” DeVille says. “Keep in mind that back in 1972 we didn’t’ have the Internet. Research was carried out at the local library—when it was open—and getting published was a much more labor-intensive adventure than it is today. You had to type out your manuscript on an IBM Selectric—if you were lucky enough to have one—and then mail it off to the publishers you thought might consider it. It was a very long, tedious, and slow process.”
But DeVille made up for lost time and now has an impressive canon of work, most of it, like LOST IN THE BAYOU, published as eBooks “I think eBooks will be the new format and will remain so for some time,” he says.
DeVille sees himself as an “Imagination Director,” a title he created “to remind me that I have to be aware of the images I’m created with my words and be constantly on the lookout for a better way to convey the visual, audial, or kinesthetic images my words are creating in the reader’s mind.” So it’s no surprise that he advises that writers “try to involve more senses than the visual.”
“Involve as many as possible,” he continues. “Writers typically reveal the visual stimulus in their writing much more often than the sounds and smells and tactile experiences of the characters. Including these other senses can add a new level of reality and tension to the work.”
And will he be practicing what he preaches with Robin and Andy again? “That’s entirely possible,” DeVille says. “They sometimes tug on my sleeve while I’m working on another story as if to say, ‘Hey, what about us?’”
And, if he does, it will, as usual, be scrutinized in progress by his two younger sisters—Melody and Sharon—who have been his first readers throughout his career with the possible exception of FLIPPER THE FROG, since one was four at the time and the other hovering around the twelve month mark. (Rosie isn’t a big fiction fan while Hannah the Bichon Poodle and Billy the Persian cat, who share the household with DeVille and his wife, seem disinterested.)
That Miss Carmichael read and liked it, however, was all the feedback young a young Broadway/DeVille needed. “I would hope that she would feel a spark of pride in her student.” DeVille said of his enabler, “and realize that it was her kind words that caused me to continue.
A member of the Baby Boomer generation, Cornell DeVille was influenced by the new technology of the fifties—television—and the great storytellers of the day, including Hollywood icons like Walt Disney, Alfred Hitchcock and Rod Serling. At an early age, he fell in love with the works of Jules Verne, Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and H.G. Wells.
Early memories remained with him throughout the years and continue to influence his writing today. DeVille’s writing leads the reader on a journey that allows them to escape the real world and venture into a special realm where anything can happen.
To learn more about DeVille, please visit his website.