Preface (excerpt from novel – The Leaf Cutter)
The Leaf Cutter is a work of fiction generally set in the early 1990s and during the tumultuous, historical era of World War II in German-occupied France. It focuses on a man’s shocking revelations from the past, leading to a greater understanding of life’s universal values during a heroic but traumatic journey of redemption.
It must be noted that many organizations similar to those included in this story did exist and similar events did take place. But the characters, their experiences, and many locations in this novel are fictitious.
One intention was embedded firmly in my mind as I was organizing the layout for this adventure: incorporating a labyrinth of intriguing layers and veiled complexities within a storyline that would be pleasurable to read. (My affection for the Beatles was the catalyst for this. I have a large appetite for the enigmatic arrangements buried within many of their songs.) An enigma of sorts – from cryptic numbers and shrewdly arranged anagrams to dual meanings and hidden symbolism. It would be a maze intricately woven throughout, allowing for multiple interpretations, literary forensics, and much reflection.
Originally, what I had in mind was a coming–of-age screenplay involving a group of four boys immersed in a series of trials and tribulations both dark and unnerving. An elderly character, a veteran of World War II, would be thrown into the mix for good measure, but he was only meant to serve a supporting role.
But after a year into the writing, I decided to change the format from a screenplay to a novel.
The chapters grew thicker as more literary meat was affixed to the skeletal frame. That’s how I most enjoy writing—establishing the chapter subplots from the outset and then continuously adding and incorporating new layers of material by repeatedly reading and editing the story. Constant fluidity.
In 2003 I shelved the novel and embarked upon a new literary project: a nonfiction book entitled Dark Side of the Sun (published in 2009 by Borealis Press).
I returned to this novel in 2008, writing two books simultaneously during a two-year period. I toggled endlessly between the styles of nonfiction and fiction—which was somewhat debilitating for the mind, but fun nonetheless.
Having completed most of the novel by 2011 (at the time I thought it was near completion, although in hindsight it was still far from the finish line), I began presenting it to a handful of agents. At 240,000 words, all but one of them said it might be a bit too long.
Time for some slicing and dicing!
I deleted the first half of the manuscript and transitioned the storyline—with the scenes involving the war flashbacks growing extensively to cover fifty percent of the book’s length.
And it would no longer be a coming-of-age narrative. Instead, it was evolving toward a historical mystery with the elderly war veteran as the focal point. And only one of the original four boys remained, to play a strong secondary role, while a new, influential character entered the fray—a hospital groundskeeper.
By 2015, after all the scrubbings and recalibrations, I finally finished the book. I had written much of it on the 101 bus (Coach Hill) and C-train during my daily one-hour commute to my office in downtown Calgary. With a wife and three young kids, there was barely any other time available for my writing.
Although proud of my work, I was happy it had reached an end after all the transitions. I had changed the title no less than ten times since 1999. But in the end, The Leaf Cutter was the one that felt right. Besides, I like shorter titles.
I probably gave up on this project at least a dozen times. Writing, I discovered, is both fulfilling and insane. Requiring much patience and perspective, it can be a lonely and solitary sport that tugs and stretches the brain in the most inhumane ways. Yet there is something wonderfully cathartic when crude ideas out of nowhere begin to mesh and take shape on paper, creating an imaginative and entertaining world for readers to discover.
That, in essence, is why I write. It nourishes the soul and provides a durable legacy for present and future generations.