Interview with Tyler R. Tichelaar
Spirit of the North
Today, Irene Watson of Reader Views is pleased to interview Tyler R. Tichelaar. Tyler is no stranger to our readers since usually he interviews our authors, but today he is our guest and here to talk about his new novel, “Spirit of the North: a paranormal romance.”
Irene: Welcome, Tyler. To begin, will you tell us about that title, “Spirit of the North: a paranormal romance”? You haven’t written a paranormal novel before so how is this book different from your usual historical fiction?
Tyler: Thanks, Irene. It’s fun being on the other end of the interview. No, I haven’t written a paranormal book before, but I actually wrote my first ghost story when I was about thirteen, and that story eventually has grown into the story told here in “Spirit of the North.” The title actually has a double-meaning, both in terms of the human spirit, the sense of courage we have here in the North, the courageous spirit of the two main characters, and also, yes, the paranormal type of spirit. In fact, in the middle of the book is a story in which the legendary Paul Bunyan encounters a mythical being known as the Spirit of the North, so the title is a play on words in many ways.
Irene: Tyler, I know all your past novels have been set around Marquette, Michigan and include much of its history. Is that the case with this book?
Tyler: Yes, it’s a historical novel set in Marquette and the outlying area in 1873. Readers of my previous books will find the setting familiar and some of the characters they met in my first published novel “Iron Pioneers” will also appear since that book takes place during a similar timeframe. However, this book can be read by itself and I think it will interest anyone who enjoys historical fiction, romance, or the paranormal, or simply an enlightening and spiritually uplifting story.
Irene: Will you tell us a little about the situation when the novel opens?
Tyler: Sure. There’s an interesting prologue that claims the bulk of the book was channeled through automatic writing, the true author being Barbara Traugott, who is speaking from beyond the grave. Barbara then tells the story of how she and her sister Adele arrived in Marquette in 1873. They’ve just arrived to live with their uncle, their only relative in the world. They are young—Barbara twenty and Adele sixteen—and their father has just died. They arrive in Marquette to discover their uncle has also died. Having no money and nowhere else to go, they must survive the winter in the woods in their uncle’s cabin.
Irene: Wow, I imagine spending the winter in a cabin back then would have been difficult?
Tyler: Yes, difficult, and fascinating I hope for readers, but difficult, hard work, frustrating, and also boring for the sisters. Winters in Upper Michigan have been known to get snowfalls into the high 200+ inches and with 40 below zero wind chills. Since I live here, I know it can be tough to survive such a winter today, but imagine life in 1873, alone in the woods, no electricity, no bathroom but an outhouse, no running water, having to hunt for food, having to chop wood for fuel, and not having any neighbors for miles. It’s a female Jack London tale of survival and discovering what is inside us that keeps us going.
Irene: You mentioned some characters in the book are from previous novels of yours?
Tyler: Yes, Barbara and Adele are the main characters and will be completely new to readers, but old friends from my first published novel “Iron Pioneers,” make appearances, most notably two loggers, Ben and Karl, who come in contact with the girls. Two of the characters my readers often tell me are their favorites, Molly Montoni and Sophia Henning—my character whom readers love to hate—also make an appearance as well as the Whitman family. I like to write intertextual novels where characters reappear from one novel to the next so that it feels like the world I have created is more real, and so my previous readers who enjoyed those characters can visit with them again, while new readers will not miss out by not having read my previous books. In “Spirit of the North,” readers will find out some surprising things about some of these characters they did not know before.
Irene: Besides the paranormal element, you also haven’t written a romance before. Is the love story something that sets it apart from your previous works?
Tyler: Yes and no. In my previous novels the love stories are largely side plots, but in this one the love story is at the center, and there’s more than one. I hope the twists on the romances end up surprising readers. The novel is not your typical boy meets girl, they have a conflict that separates them, and then they get back together kind of story. It is not formulaic or anything like a love story in the Harlequin Romance sense. I hope it’s a bit more realistic and complicated than formulaic romances. But besides the love story aspect of “romance,” I chose the word “romance” for the subtitle more specifically to refer to the early nineteenth century novelists use of the word “romance” which often signified a sort of supernatural rather than realistic world in a piece of fiction, along the lines of how Nathaniel Hawthorne would have used the word “romance” for example.
Irene: What made you decide to write a “paranormal romance”?
Tyler: Actually, I wanted to write a new kind of “Gothic novel” but that term isn’t used by modern writers and readers so I chose “paranormal romance” instead. I’m a big fan of Gothic novels, especially those of the nineteenth century—in fact, I have another new book coming out “The Gothic Wanderer” which is a study of nineteenth century Gothic novels.
As a novelist, what fascinated me about the Gothic was how Gothic plots are family plots where family secrets are hidden away. These are not horror novels like we think of today but elaborate tapestries of family secrets that need to be revealed before mysteries—often including supernatural sightings—are revealed. In “Spirit of the North,” there is a supernatural/spiritual side to many of the characters, and a family ghost “haunting” the story as well. I also play upon the framework of stories told within stories. My role models for this style are books like Mrs. Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho” (1794) and Charles Maturin’s “Melmoth the Wanderer” (1820) as well as how “The Arabian Nights” used this format—a work the main character Barbara Traugott is familiar with in “Spirit of the North.” Although I did not set out to write a Gothic novel, but to tell a story about two sisters surviving in the winter in Upper Michigan in the 1800s, the Gothic or paranormal elements just crept into the book until I felt almost haunted as I wrote it.
Irene: Haunted? Are you being serious?
Tyler: No, not exactly haunted, but it was a book that just flowed out of me like no other book I had ever written before. It was a difficult time in my life that I was just coming out of, and somehow, I think it encompassed what I had discovered and learned about life from that time, but it was almost like the book was channeled, like some guiding force was having me write it. I felt like I had learned something about life and it was now my responsibility to share it through this book.
Irene: Would you call that inspiration?
Tyler: Yes, but this was more like automated writing almost—it’s funny, now that I think back on it, how it felt like all the pieces were magically coming together, and I can’t remember when I decided to add the prologue, but in that prologue, the character tells us that she couldn’t have written the novel because it is historical and she never knew the names of the characters or places or historical details in it herself. Even though I initially wrote the novel about seven years ago, when I go back to read it now, I am still struck by the voice and tone, how it all flows, as if I’m listening to a voice other than my own—much of the writing process can be magical like that for authors—you work hard at it, but then later, you wonder how you could ever write something that flowed so effortlessly—that ease of flow usually comes from lots of perspiration. Most of my novels, as much fun as they are to write, require a great deal of hard work, mind-wracking efforts to organize, and general frustration when the plot just won’t play out as I want. But “Spirit of the North” just flowed out of me almost as if it were automated writing.
Irene: Would you say the book has a specific theme?
Tyler: Yes, I don’t want to give away the big theme, but I’ll tell you that some of the sub-themes include reincarnation, trust, controlling one’s temper, and that you can’t control other people, and then of course, there are fun things like ghosts and the endless possibilities of the universe that exist if we just look for them.
Irene: Tyler, what is next for you? I trust you have more books in the works?
Tyler: Absolutely. My next book to be published is “The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption.” It’s an interesting work in relation to “Spirit of the North” because I began it as my doctoral dissertation several years before I wrote “Spirit of the North”; it’s a study of nineteenth century Gothic literature, which has always fascinated me, and it includes discussions of well known works such as “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” as well as favorite novels of mine that are lesser known such as Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man” and Ann Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho.” But its primary focus is on the theme of forbidden knowledge, man’s fear and desire to be more than he is, and whether that is a transgression against God or whether humanity is meant to progress. I think the literary figure of the Gothic Wanderer encompasses the true human condition and the evolution of the human spirit from the French Revolution to the present day. In relation to “Spirit of the North,” the way the nineteenth century novels were organized, with stories inside of stories, as well as themes of family secrets and the supernatural heavily influenced my writing of “Spirit of the North,” which I think is a sort of natural successor in the Gothic tradition to those earlier novels. “The Gothic Wanderer” is not written to be overly academic but can be enjoyed by the general reader who wants to know more about literature, history, and the meaning of life, or at least man’s quest for it.
Last year I produced another scholarly work, “King Arthur’s Children,” as a precursor to a novel series about the Arthurian legend. I am tentatively planning to release the first novel in that series “King Arthur’s Legacy” in 2013 and am busy writing its sequels. You can find out more about “The Gothic Wanderer” and my King Arthur works at my website www.ChildrenofArthur.com
Irene: Thank you, Tyler, for the opportunity to interview you today. Will you tell us about your other website where we can find out more about “Spirit of the North”?
Tyler: Thank you, Irene. My website for my historical novels set in Upper Michigan is www.MarquetteFiction.com. I have a special page just for “Spirit of the North,” which includes a sneak peek of the novel’s beginning, as well as photos of Annabella Stonegate—dead and alive—she’s another character in the novel with a secret. You can listen to me read “The Ghost of Stonegate Woods” on Public Radio when I was fourteen, as well as the eight-minute film that was made of the short story for a local television program. That story is what eventually evolved into this novel. There is also a characters’ family tree page on my website for all my novel’s characters, but be forewarned that looking at it might give away plots concerning who marries who if you haven’t yet read my novels. And if you are interested in the history of Marquette, the setting for the novels, there’s a timeline of Marquette history as well as quizzes about Marquette’s history and my books and a wonderful video Reader Views produced for my last book “My Marquette.” I’ve created a whole fictional world set in a real historical setting, considering “Spirit of the North” is my sixth novel set in this city with related characters, so I invite readers to discover a new world through my fiction.
Irene: Thank you again, Tyler. I hope your characters continue to haunt you so you write many more books.
Tyler: Oh, I’m sure they will haunt me. The urge to write about them is a curse—they keep haunting me, wanting me to tell their stories, but if I’m going to have a curse, it’s a good curse to have. Thank you, Irene, for the fine interview. I couldn’t have done better if I had been conducting it.