Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Twice Upon a Time - The Making of a Story

The following article was extracted from the Fairfield Plantation News and Views. The article was provided to me by Frank Allan Rogers, and tells the story of how he wrote Twice Upon a Time. Following the news article is my full review of the story.

Can a man from the 21st century survive in 1847? Murdered on his birthday, August Myles finds crossing over is nothing like he'd ever heard, read, or imagined, and learns he has not earned a ticket to Paradise. In a grand experiment, the members of the Divine Council gave August another chance. Or did they?

With all the limitations of a mortal, he is sent back in time with an impossible mission – an adventure filled with triumph and tragedy, courage and fear, happiness and heartbreak, sex and violence - a grueling journey on the Oregon Trail. The mission is brutal and demanding, even on a horse named Aristotle. “This trip ain't all fun, Mr. Myles,” the wagon master told him. “It's back-breaking work day in and day out on a trail worn by ornery animals, busted wagons, and broken dreams. It beats the life out of good, God-fearin' people, and there's grave markers along the way for a lot of brave souls who gave it all they had. Sometimes, good ain't good enough.”

Along with the limitations, August is also burdened with all the needs and passions of a mortal. He must battle the advances of two gorgeous women during long months and close encounters on the trail, though wagon-train life offers few chances for privacy. One woman just wants to seduce him. Another falls in love. But for August Myles, carnal knowledge is forbidden. Is there no justice?

Solstice Publishing has just released Twice Upon a Time, the second novel by author Frank Allan Rogers, following Upon a Crazy Horse in 2009. “I’m not the fastest writer around,” Frank says with a grin. “My goal is not to see how many books I can write, but to create stories that people enjoy, with characters they can’t forget. My greatest satisfaction is when someone says, I couldn’t put it down and I didn’t want it to end.”

He explains that creating a fictional world that seems believable, filled with things, places, animals, and people all from the author’s imagination demands hard work, passion, and dedication – a thousand cups of coffee and many long nights on the computer keyboard.

“In my head, I have to live in the time and place of the story,” he offered. “I have to see the trees, grass, and flowers, the streets, homes, and other buildings. I have to become each character I invent, and I read the dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds like real talking.”

“When I was writing Upon a Crazy Horse, I was involved in a scene with thunder, lightning, and heavy rain. When I finished the scene, I left my computer to go to the mailbox. I grabbed my rain jacket on the way out, and as I reached the door, I realized we had a bright, sunny day outside – no storm.”

“I wanted Twice Upon a Time to be as realistic and authentic as I could make it, to take the readers back in time, let them see America in 1847, make them endure the hardships and celebrate the triumphs of those rugged pioneers. So I tried to learn everything I could about life on the Oregon Trail, what it feels like to have a covered wagon for your home, and everything you own rides in that wagon as you trudge across a strange land full of hazards, countless obstacles, insects, disease, and often hostile people who resent the intrusion on their homeland. And you risk everything including the lives of your family in search of a dream.”

Research took more time than writing, and Frank is grateful for all the help he received. He discovered Elaine Juska Joseph, an Amish lady in Connecticut who is an expert on draft animals and how those animals impacted the mass migration across the continent. She was very generous with her time and knowledge, and so were the people at the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville.

“In the museum’s basement, a vast library contains thousands of books, paintings, and DVD’s with information about The Old West,” the author said. “I logged several hours in that place, lost in an author’s paradise.” Liz Gentry, the chief librarian, was a great help, and never seemed to tire from the endless questions and requests.

With Frank Allan Rogers and Mary Thibeault Rogers
Frank was also in touch with the Overland Trails Museum in Independence, Missouri, and he read lots of diaries kept by people who made the trip. Most diaries didn’t help, but some were golden. He bought books about foods, cookware, clothing, weapons, tools, American Indian tribes, and anything connected with the places and time period of the story. He and his wife, artist Mary Rogers, worked at a Cowboy Cook-off in New Mexico and ate food cooked in a Dutch oven, the cookware used on the trails. Frank bought and built a scale-model covered wagon kit so he could become familiar with the various parts that made up the home emigrants lived in for months. “I know what covered wagons cost in 1847,” he says. “I know what they were made of, the parts that wore out first, and that most of them were built by Weston’s Wagon Shop in Independence.”

The author also says he gained a new respect for the determination, discipline, and undaunted courage of those who braved the journey west, and he learned why the Oregon Trail was referred to as the world’s longest graveyard. Approximately ten percent of those who started the journey died along the way. In spite of the odds, Oregon fever spread like a real virus, and an often-repeated phrase of that time period says a lot about the people who were afflicted: If Hell lay in the west, Americans would trample across Heaven to get there.

“It’s a powerful setting for a dramatic story,” the author says. “From the start, I knew it would take a real commitment, but I drew inspiration from those who traveled the real trail.” More than two years, and 346 pages later, Frank Allan Rogers created Twice Upon a Time.

The book is available by special order from most bookstores, and is sold online by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites as an e-book or printed copy. Autographed copies are available directly from the author.  /
Review by James L. Hatch

Ever read a novel so good that when you finished you missed the characters, like you might miss a friend who moved to another city? Twice Upon a Time is like that. I absolutely loved the book, and was genuinely sorry to reach the end. Don’t get me wrong. The ending was wonderful. That’s not it. I actually missed the people in the story. I missed having them as a part of my life, even though I only had them for the short time I was enmeshed in the story. Frank Allan Rogers is a master at presenting his characters in such a life-like way that the people become part of you … and you become part of them.

Twice Upon a Time had a wonderful paranormal component that moves the plot between the current day and the mid-1800s; however, the 1800s part of the story, a wagon train trip to Oregon, stands solidly on its own – it is that good. I don’t consider myself a historian, but I suspect Mr. Rogers did considerable homework in bringing the arduous and dangerous trip from Missouri to Oregon to life. The struggles and hardships encountered were artfully balanced against the strength and resolve of “Bonner’s Disciples”, the people making the trip.

I am at a loss as to whether I should present any of the plot as part of this review. I don’t want to spoil anything because it all leads to an incredible ending, one that will leave even the strongest individual with a tear in his or her eye. What I can say is that the elements that lead to the conclusion are presented throughout the story in such subtle ways that I did not guess the ending, even though, in retrospect, Mr. Rogers was enticing me with clues all along. I loved that.

While the wagon train saga involved me emotionally with the main characters, I will also say that the paranormal component was a pleasure to read. It presented some heady philosophical concepts with such skill that they did not interrupt the flow of the story. The hero, August Myles, was assigned an impossible mission and he fought a good fight, but he was, after all, only human. How he comes to terms with the devil in the end is a cliffhanger without question. You won’t be able to put this book down.

I asked Mr. Rogers if I could review his book based on an excerpt he posted on Facebook, and I’m thankful he agreed. Not only is Twice Upon a Time a solid five-star read, it is also the most meticulously edited book I have ever reviewed. It was a pleasure having the opportunity to read something put together with such skill and attention to detail.
Thanks for reading,

James L. Hatch

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