Garn Press Interviews: David Joseph Kolb, Author Of “Devil Knows: A Tale Of Murder And Madness In America’s First Century”
David Joseph Kolb is a journalist and author. Born in New York City, he has lived mostly in the Midwest, serving as editorial page editor, city hall reporter and police reporter for newspapers there for more than a quarter-century. Devil Knows: A Tale of Murder and Madness in America’s First Century is a mystery-in-the-archives thriller written with great charm and cinematic flair. David was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Devil Knows and the novel was a finalist in the USA Best Book Awards in the Historical Fiction category.
GARN PRESS: Is there one author who has influenced your writing more than any others?
DAVID JOSEPH KOLB: This would have to be the late John Gardner, author of “The Sunlight Dialogues” and “October Light,” among many others. A great writer and a great mind. A literary giant.
GP: Do you think the relationships between authors and readers are changing?
DJK: Absolutely! The attention of readers is increasingly being fragmented and diverted to other, more visual, distractions. As a result, they are unwilling to commit to longer, more intricate narratives unless they are assured of a smashing payoff. Hence, the presence of so many sequels and “build-on” novels.
GP: When do you write? Do you have a routine?
DJK: I treat my writing day as I would a regular job. It’s breakfast, work, break, and then back to work after lunch until roughly late afternoon. Much of the morning is devoted to re-reading, fixing or changing my story or chapter of the previous sessions. I try to leave off at the end of the day at a place I want to return to in the morning. I rarely work at night but sometimes I do.
GP: What about ideas for books – do they percolate for years before you write, or do you work it out as your write, or perhaps a combination of both?
DJK: I start out with an idea for a book – a broad, full-brush plan, so to speak – and plot it out for a few chapters. Then I write those out to see if it “works.” If it does, I stop and plan it out to the end, concentrating on where I want the action to lead. At a midpoint in the book, I stop again for a much lengthier consideration. During this pause, I draw in the details with a much finer brush until I am satisfied that the story as it is being told has merit. Then I go back to the beginning and re-work the “front end” to make sure it is properly aligned with where I intend to be taking things. Only then do I resume. It’s a much longer and time-consuming process than it sounds.
GP: If you wrote a book about the future — the way you imagine it will be — what kind of book would you write?
DJK: I would like to think it would be an optimistic story. I know pessimism sells, and the future is always shaped within some post-apocalyptic nightmare, but we, as writers, must search out the light as well as the night.
GP: Do you remember your first books?
DJK: We had a little library in my first grammar school, but what really got me interested in reading were the weekly visits to my neighborhood of the “bookmobile” – a library on wheels within a monster truck. Whoever was selecting the books for display had an uncanny knack for targeting my young interest zone. I always took out stacks every week.
GP: What are your earliest memories of words?
DJK: Oddly enough, I wasn’t especially crazy about being read to. I wanted to turn the pages and get to the end faster than the reader! We had stacks of interesting magazines around like Life and the Saturday Evening Post that I was always looking at. And at least three daily papers a day to look forward to.
GP: What are your earliest memories of writing at home?
DJK: Other than homework assignments, I was pretty much a reader until my high school years, when I joined the literary magazine and wrote my first short story. But I was always weighing possible short stories and potential novels in my mind as I was determined to write one or two some day.
GP: Do you have memories of learning to write an essay, a story, or a poem?
DJK: Yes, and these came easy to me since I was an avid, dedicated reader of newspapers, comic books, novels and magazines – anything I could lay my hands on. I devoured the printed word. I always excelled in English classes. Math, not so much!
GP: Did you like to draw? Did you paint as a child?
DJK: Yes, but my artwork was terrible. Stick figures and the like.
GP: What advice would you give teachers if they asked you how they could create opportunities for their students to become enthusiastic readers and writers?
DJK: Impress upon the parents the necessity to read to young children and to encourage an interest in books as early in life as possible. Parents should take their children to the library as often as possible, and liven it up with a treat after the visit!
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Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-942146-23-0
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-942146-22-3
eBook ISBN: 978-1-942146-24-7
“With relentless research, fascinating characters and a great storyteller’s imagination, David Kolb unravels a lingering mystery from the historical horror known as the Salem witch trials: How did Mary Bradbury become Salem’s only convicted ‘witch’ to escape execution? Like other great historical fiction, Kolb’s narrative picks up where facts leave off and reveals disturbing, yet valuable, truths.” – Clarence Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune
“Award-winning journalist David Kolb has created an interwoven tale of the earliest days of American history. Religious differences and philosophies, witches, battles and conspiracies against the Native American people all lead to an intriguing tale. In this well-researched story he shows how the earliest inhabitants of New England fought, conspired, loved and lived in the New World.” – John McGarry, CEO, Lakeshore (MI) Museum Center
In the dead of night at the height of the 1692 Salem mania, a dying smallpox victim collapses in prison while visiting a witch condemned to hang – Mary Bradbury, the great ancestor of famed writer Ray Bradbury.
A delirious old man, Hopestill Foster, is brought before the Rev. Cotton Mather, the infamous witch-hunter and the most powerful man in ancient Boston, for a very private interrogation. Mather is desperate for answers about Foster’s past because he knows it ties into his own.
Better had he not asked.
Over the course of the prisoner telling his story to the cleric, 60 years of a terrible history unfolds, at the heart of which is a monstrous secret about Mather’s family that must not be allowed to escape the room where Foster is being held.
Hopestill Foster, the novel’s protagonist, a man inured to a lifetime of suffering and one to whom a great wrong was done by him and to him in his youth, ultimately has to decide. Pass on, leaving the wreckage of his life behind, or accept a final deadly mission to make things right.
For Hopestill Foster, there is only one choice.
David Joseph Kolb’s Devil Knows: A Tale of Murder and Madness in America’s First Century, a thrilling historical adventure in the grand storytelling tradition of Northwest Passage and Drums Along the Mohawk, breaks new literary ground about the very first American century – a nearly forgotten post-Pilgrim past when intolerance, misogyny and ignorance culminated in horrifying outrages against ordinary people.
Yet it rediscovers, too, that hope was never lost, and that heroes were always among us.