I’m Michael Raymond. I’m a novelist. I write words.
If you were looking for an author to write a novel about a grief-stricken, emotionally isolated French woman returning to France fifty years after she’d fled as a war refugee, then I highly doubt you would have pointed at me, a long-haired fisherman ambling up the wharf in Ketchikan, Alaska, and thought, “There’s a guy who will write literary novels!” Rest assured, you would be quite forgiven for not thinking that, and quite likely mad if you did.
On the flip side, there is literally no way on God’s green earth I would have ever said to myself—chest-deep in fish foam in the hold of a fishing boat—“Michael, my lad, you should write a novel about two teenage French girls in love, because Catholic French lesbians, that’s your sweet spot!”
So what happened? What irresistible gravitational force brought this unholy union of couch-surfing rocker-dude and Author of Serious Books into being?
What happened was my wife and I visited the D-Day beaches in Normandy. We found ourselves in a tiny village named Graignes in which this incredible battle nobody has ever heard of took place. Taking it all in—the ruined church, the story of the paratroopers’ last stand, the courage and heroism of both the French and the G.I.’s—a little voice inside my head whispered, “You should write about this.”
On the same trip, we attended a vocal performance of the Ave Marias and some Mozart pieces in Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. In the audience I saw an older woman sitting with a young girl. Something about the woman tickled the little voice in my head and it whispered, “That woman has returned to France for the first time in decades. She’s brought her grand-daughter to show her around. You should write about her.”
That was it. That’s all I had. Two unrelated experiences in two unrelated places in France and one disembodied voice telling me to write about them.
Those two ideas, likely helped along by a tumbler of scotch, merged. I had my story: I would write a novel about the battle in Graignes told by a woman returning to France with her grand-daughter. The Gospel of Isabelle Dequenne was conceived.
Trouble was I had no idea how to write a novel. You just write, right? Well…no. I quickly learned that a novel is a living, breathing, unruly, disobedient thing. In no time—and without my approval—Isabelle grew into a gangly teenager with her own ideas of what her story would be, an experience that has been glorious and frustrating. But I was smart enough to let Isabelle find herself, to let her evolve and grow. Now I have something so far removed from what I started with that it’s nearly unrecognizable. And I love it.
The only answer I can come up with to the question of “Why did you write about this?” is this: I didn’t choose this story; this story chose me. Everything that The Gospel of Isabelle Dequenne is about, everything about its characters, their relationships, what happens to them, what they do, say, think, and feel has emerged as I’ve written and fought and strangled this book. Looking back with impeccable hindsight, I can see why what I’ve written needed to be written in terms of dealing with my own life. But I didn’t start with anything more purposeful than telling a war story. I have learned, however, that stories about hope, renewal, and redemption are important to me. If those are the stories you enjoy too, then let’s hang.
When not noveling in West Novelstan, I’m also a traveler, a photographer, a musician, a WWII buff, a wannabe-drawer, and slightly overweight. But when all is said and done, I’m a novelist.
Thanks for swinging by. If you’re interested in walking along with me, take a look at my Social Media page.