GARN RECOMMENDED AUTHOR: David Joseph Kolb, Author of Devil Knows: A Tale of Murder and Madness in America’s First Century
A weekly author series from Garn Press featuring our recommended author for the week. This week’s recommended author, David Joseph Kolb, author of Devil Knows: A Tale of Murder and Madness in America’s First Century. ON SALE, paperback book 20% off on Amazon, $14.00.
David Joseph Kolb is also a contributing author to this week’s new book release, United We Stand Divided We Fall: Opposing Trump’s Agenda – Essays on Protest and Resistance (GARN PRESS, 2017) available on Amazon, $14.95.
About David Joseph Kolb
David Joseph Kolb is a journalist and author. Devil Knows: A Tale of Murder and Madness in America’s First Century is his first published work of fiction. Born in New York City, Kolb 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. His freelance work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The International Herald Tribune among other publications. He is currently co-publisher and co-editor, and a columnist for, a progressive political newsletter “dedicated to turning West Michigan blue.”
The writer’s journalism has earned him high praise from readers and editors alike, and has garnered for Kolb numerous first-place writing awards from the Associated Press, United Press International, Michigan Press Association and the American Legion. In 1996, Kolb was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for A World War Chronicle, a local interest book based on a six-year collection of his editorials and reporting on the 50th anniversary of World War II, and on West Michigan’s involvement in that titanic struggle. As an Ohio University undergraduate, Kolb studied English literature and creative writing as a student of the late Walter Tevis, acclaimed novelist and short story writer, author of The Hustler and other works. Kolb lives with his wife Maxine and works from their home in Grand Haven, MI, where he is writing his next novel.
Garn Press Interviews Author David Joseph Kolb
GARN PRESS: You have written a labyrinthine historical novel spanning three-quarters of “America’s first century,” as you have termed it, from roughly 1620-1697. What was the genesis of “Devil Knows”?
DAVID JOSEPH KOLB: The novel emerged from a short story I wrote about the Quaker persecutions of the middle of that century, specifically the vile, brutal torture of three women by Puritan authorities in 1662 and their incredible rescue by an almost forgotten hero of that time, Robert Pike.
GP: So very little has been written about that particular episode.
DJK: I had never read about it. I was actually compiling research for an historical novel set a century later when I came across an account of their ordeal in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, a most invaluable resource. From there, it was a short walk to the poems of John Greenleaf Whittier, and his classic “How the Women Went From Dover,” which was my inspiration and touchstone for the original story work, which has been incorporated into the larger novel.
GP: So you saw the Quaker episode as the gateway into the larger narrative?
DJK: Absolutely. From the seeds of post-Pilgrim Puritanism in the 1630s, to the relentless Puritan persecution of the Quakers in the 1660s, arose the shoots of the subsequent Salem witchcraft madness some thirty years after. The trick for me, as a novelist, was to paint out to the edges of that century’s canvas, so to speak, and in doing, to create a storyline that would carry the reader through that journey.
GP: And yet, this is your first published work of fiction. How were you able to master that “trick,” as you term it?
DJK: It’s my first published fiction, of course, but I have been writing for decades, practicing my craft while banging my head against the wall of the unpublished writer’s prison for a long time now. It’s a very tough prison to break out of, as many authors might attest, as your inability to publish is the ever-heavier stone weighing you down in the eyes of would-be publishers, who look at your history and pass on your submissions. Being passed over never bothered me much, though. I enjoy writing, I enjoy story-telling and as a career journalist, reporter, editor and columnist, I’ve had ample opportunities to tell non-fiction stories in unique and interesting ways.
GP: Such as …?
DJK: Just one example, early in my career, an arsonist was torching houses in a rough, inner-city neighborhood and terrorizing its residents. I spent several nights with a family in that area, recounting their fears and anxieties, and the editors let me write a long account of that time – “When Night Comes to Williams Street,” I believe it was headlined. So, journalism has been satisfying in the sense of being interesting as well as a way to help people, it’s been an outlet for my creativity, and it has put food on the table for my family. Yet I was always determined to publish a work of fiction, moral fiction, especially, as John Gardner would have described it. I’ve taken up the pen many times, and have written many stories, and frankly, many of them were terrible. A few have been pretty good, though.
GP: Did you have any mentors to guide you in the craft?
DJK: Not per se. As all writers fall under the spell of other writers whose work they admire, I emulated the style with some success without much understanding of the craft that lay behind it, beginning with Mickey Spillane and on to Hemingway in my youth. I remember Walter Tevis, a wonderful man from whom I studied creative writing in college, taking apart my efforts during a casual one-on-one lunch critique. His helpful mentoring I found very discouraging and it was a long time before I was able to draw the appropriate wisdom from what he was trying to inject through the hard shell of my youthful ego.
GP: One would think that when a writer of the stature of Walter Tevis spoke, one would take great heed.
DJK: One might, indeed, but that someone wasn’t me. All I could take away from that waterfall of wisdom was that I was right and he was wrong, and that I was a talented genius whom this great writer was determined to crush. Nuts, I was. Mr. Tevis was so painfully correct, it hurts even to recall his words. You see, I could write these little vignettes, these little moments-of-time pieces that appear to have captured a unique insight, but these were worthless as soap bubbles. Mr. Tevis was trying to drum into my numb skull that it was the story that counted. The story. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about how well you can describe the smell of popcorn.
GP: You mentioned John Gardner earlier. Was he among your muses in the literary field?
DJK: The late John Gardner, the author of Grendel, The Sunlight Dialogues and October Light, was the absolute giant in my literary life. His masterpieces helped switch a light on in my head about the complexity of craft that lies behind the real discipline of writing fiction. I remember writing out in long-hand pages and pages of Gardner’s prose just to try to acquire the feel of what he was doing and how he was doing it, the magic, I mean, of getting inside a character’s head or understanding the set-ups to the action that follows. Gardner, to me, made every word count. It saddens me to see how his books have largely disappeared from the shelves. But then again, those shelves have been disappearing, too.
GP: Let’s get back to Devil Knows. How long did it take you to write it?
DJK: I began the research for it in 2009, six years ago. Since then it has undergone four major rewrites and four title changes. The novel itself didn’t take six years to write. The research, though, took quite a long time, plus the book went unpublished for several years and I soldiered on in other ways, writing stories, starting a political newsletter, and beginning a second novel, which is now half-finished.
GP: Why did you begin with a work of historical fiction? Moreover, a work of literary historical fiction?
DJK: When I began to think about what I wanted to achieve, which was publication, and when I reckoned the difficulty of achieving that ambition, I understood that I should work within the bounds of what I was most comfortable with, which was history and literature. My favorite reading growing up were adventure stories by Kenneth Roberts and his 20th century contemporaries, very popular at one time but now occupying only a niche spot among modern reader preferences. Some wonderful authors, like the late, great Patrick O’Brian in his remarkable Aubrey-Maturin series, and Bernard Cornwell with his brilliant “Warlord Chronicles” have been able to bridge that divide by merging history and literature and I wanted to follow the trail they blazed.
GP: Writers since Hawthorne have come at the Salem story in so many different ways, including this year’s The Witches by Stacy Schiff. There seems to be no end to their re-telling.
DJK: Salem is indeed a rich vein for authors, both fiction and non-fiction, because in that first American century the disturbing themes that continue to bedevil us were laid down in our origins as a people who later became a nation. I did want the story of Devil Knows to provide readers with a greater understanding of those times and the circumstances under which such insanity as the witch hunts could flourish. At the same time, I knew I could write an exciting adventure that spoke not only to the villainy of that era, but to its heroism.
GP: Is there one author who has influenced your writing more than any others?
DJK: 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!
Devil Knows: A Tale of Murder and Madness in America’s First Century
Author: David Joseph Kolb
Garn Press (352 pp.)
$14.00 paperback ON SALE on Amazon, $9.99 e-book
Paperback Available: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound (local bookstore)
eBook Available: Amazon
About the Book
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.
“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.” – 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. 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
“The story is well-paced, and the author clearly spent a lot of time and energy on the setting and characters. While you’re reading “Devil Knows”, you temporarily forget about all of the future successes that were to accrue to this nation—you see it as they must have, a small outpost of tenuous civilization, surrounded by an alien and hostile wilderness.” – Amazon Reviews, AMAZON
“He very skillfully introduces us to an engaging character whose life we travel through as the threads of this intricately woven story unravels. The layers of history that we learn about along the way on this suspenseful journey are both surprising and appalling. I could not put this book down until the last page was turned!” – Amazon Reviews, AMAZON
“Devil Knows is an intriguing story creatively woven into actual historical events using actual historical figures. The author presents us with insight into the minds of the early New England colonists as well as the Native Americans inhabitants.” – Amazon Reviews, AMAZON
“What an attention keeper, amazingly written the author writes with suspense, graphics and detail…everyone should read this book.” – Amazon Reviews, AMAZON
“I thoroughly enjoyed reading Devil Knows and gained a more nuanced appreciation for the infamous events of that period. In fact, I felt knee-deep in it. A great story well told.” – Amazon Reviews, AMAZON
“The author has thoroughly researched an early American period and provided insight into a dark chapter in the history of our country, with enough fiction mixed into keep the story intriguing. Plenty of detail and well developed characters keep the history from being dry, and it is fascinating to learn in the afterward how much fact and how little fiction is contained in the story. Great presentation that I highly recommend.” – Amazon Reviews, AMAZON
“Devil Knows captured my interest on page 1 and kept me under its spell to the very end. This is the first time I can remember enjoying a story so much while at the same time coming away from a book feeling like I’d genuinely learned something. Part mystery, part history, totally enthralling!” – Amazon Reviews, AMAZON
“I just finished Devil Knows and it was great! I loved the history, and I have a much clearer understanding of the cultural context of the witch trials. The novel eloquently portrays the conflict of religion and governance, religion and commerce, the Native American Tribes and the tragic arrogance of British and French colonization. Wow! It has everything a good story needs.” – Amazon Reviews, AMAZON