John Prescott Heald


John Prescott Heald photograph

John Prescott Heald is making his fictional debut with Mi'kmaq Sun, a novel that grew from personal experience.

A retired IT professional, John has lived in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Maine, Ohio, Washington, DC, and Virginia. Since 2010 he and his wife have resided in Knoxville, Tennessee. His interests include traveling off the beaten path (road trip through the Scandinavian Arctic, by rail into the Japanese hinterland to pursue the story of a Christian uprising, by motorcycle along the length of the Appalachian spine, on foot to the cathedral in notorious Juarez, Mexico), Eastern European film, bicycling, hiking, bowshooting, model aviation, and camping in the Maine woods before and after blackfly season. He has an especial appreciation for good hounds who can sort out a trail and never quit.

Please visit John's personal website for more information about this author.

Interview with the Author

What life influences contributed to this novel?

My father was a hard and distant man. He yanked us from milltown to milltown without explanation or qualm. Summers he’d stuff us all in the car and drive for days with no apparent destination, my mother lighting his cigarettes, never stopping anywhere, just hard-driving across the continent. The road itself seemed to be his goal, the emptier and more desolate the better. Not until he died from all those transcontinental cigarettes did I learn he’d been a champion sprinter and prize-winning clarinetist in his youth. Never did I see him sprint a step or toot a note. I never knew him at all. Yet he was there, a presence, a rock. I loved him.

The landscape in this novel is almost as vivid as any of the characters, and like a character propels the story line.

I can’t seem to escape stories about fathers and sons and the identities thus shaped. I thought of locating such a story on northern Maine's desolate borderland, the kind of place my father loved, where the hard landscape narrows choices down to an elemental few. I've driven in the Scandanavian Arctic, and it has nothing on the Maine woods. In fact, in Scandanavia, you never really lose touch with civilization, whose towns and villages of mountaintop fishing huts - all painted an optimistic red - are never far apart, and whose railroads are like a comfort beside almost every road. Maine is different. Once out of the towns, the forest falls upon you like something out of a fairytale. Dark, forbidding, a living presence haunted by who knows what witches and ghosts. You drive through endless forest, not a spark of electric illumination seen in all the miles. When you finally arrive at a town, you are in it at a flash, the edge betwwen town and forest as hard and sharp as an ax blade. There's no gradual entry as in the Southland, with cultivated land and farmhouses, then a crossroads and a store, gas pumps glowing, next a few brick houses set in neat yards, porch lights shining, finally the town center with its hotel and bars and Piggly Wiggly and Confederate square. In Maine it's woods and town, with nothing between. The town is a cell whose wall is there to keep out the spooks.

You seem to have an affinity for ice-bound rivers.

I grew up in river towns, mostly in Waterville, Maine, where the Kennebec rules. In fact the Kennebec, as it flows over the fall line in Waterville, doesn't ever freeze beyond the places along the shore where the eddying current allows. You have to go a few miles upstream, beyond Fairfield, to see real Kennebec ice. It's an awesome sight, the powerful river thus suspended, captured, glistening, stilled. In olden times the lumbermen would harness their horse teams and drag the logs onto the ice to await spring breakup. Then the river would run bank-to-bank with the forest harvest. While my generation missed that sight, we did get to gaze upon the spring breakup itself, when the river ran a jumble of broken, grinding, rutting floes, a white untethered chaos. And many times as not there'd be an ice jam, threatening flood. Several times in the history of the town floods destroyed bridges and riverside buildings. To prevent that disaster the authorities called their dynamiters. Their charges sent up geysers of ice; the deep booms shook the Kennebec valley. Where besides a river town can a boy thrill to such elemental force?

Tell us a little bit about your protagonist, John Paul Theriault.

I wanted a lone wolf as protagonist, as my father certainly was and I probably am. There seemed no better choice than an Indian, a young man of uncertain identity, in search of something just out of sight, around the next bend in the trail.

From Mi'kmaq Sun:

He was in the middle of a bad dream when the phone chirped on the nightstand. With a groan Bergeron rolled and flung an arm and grasped it. He screwed his eyes open to broad daylight and squeezed them shut again. The phone insisted. He got one eye open and brought the phone close and managed to make out the number. Sapp. Bergeron threw a glance across the bed. For a second unsure who he was looking for. She was gone. He thumbed the phone and spoke.

“It’s Bergeron.”

“I’ve got something for you.” Sapp’s voice dry, the Canadian vowels carrying a touch of the Scot.

“I’m listening.”

“Nothing yet on the prints. But we picked your man up three nights ago. Theriault, John Paul. We’re holding him pending his hearing.”

Bergeron sat up. “What do you have on him?”

“There’s the crossing violation.”

The liver awakened and let him know it. It had a life of its own it had become accustomed to and did not like to give it up. Bergeron held his breath and lay back.

Sapp’s dry voice sounded. “Are you there?”

“I’m here. I thought it was catch and release for an Indian.”

“He refused to identify himself. We don’t like it when they do that. It took a couple of nights in detention to persuade him we’re serious people here in Canada. But that’s not the worst. He was carrying a restricted weapon. Forty-four caliber revolver. No permit, no registration. That’s a big no-no up here. We’re doing the trace now.”

“I can save you the trouble.”

“How’s that?”

“It’s my gun.”

 


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