The Scourges of Heaven
by David Dick
Chat with Author David Dick
Log file opened at: 9/14/99 7:50:13 PM
*** Topic for #bookclub: Chat with Kentucky author David Dick tonight at 8 pm ET. His novel is "The Scourges of Heaven."
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<chelak> Tonight we want to welcome Kentucky author David Dick to the KET Bookclub chatroom. Mr. Dick is the author of "The Scourges of Heaven."
<chelak> He is online now with Rhonda Moberly typing for him.
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<chelak> Does anyone have a question to start?
<jc> Let me be the first to thank you for such an enlightening tour through a piece of Lexington's history I either forgot or never learned.
<jc> How is it that we can grow up these days and not know about the history of our own cities?
<DavidDick> jc, Perhaps because there are too many soap operas on tv. Perhaps because there is too great an entertainment factor intruding into popular media. Perhaps we have not been reading as much as we should. And I hope this book will help in that regard.
<lulu> Do you think there is anything today similar to the cholera epidemic? like Aids, maybe?
<DavidDick> lulu, Absolutely! It depends upon cultural misunderstandings of a particular time.
<DavidDick> And for Cynthia Ann the easy way out is to simply accept theological judgments rather than being supportive of medical science as we work our way through these scourges -- whatever they may be.
<lulu> In what way do you feel the theological judgements are an easy way out?
<DavidDick> lulu, I've never recovered from having reported Jonestown in 1978. I've never forgotten the horror of watching.. a compound at Waco burning. Ever since Jonestown I have been leery of anyone who proclaims that they have the truth, nothing but the truth, so help them God.
<DavidDick> All of this caused me not to retreat into individualism but to seek a more responsible haven there.
<jc> Speaking of theological judgments, the final chapter -- with Father Harper and Joseph O'Malley -- seems ... well, a bit heavy-handed as concerns the church.
<DavidDick> jc, I believe that I stand guilty of heavy-handedness all too often.
<DavidDick> It was my intent as the author to show a representation of what possibly could be called modern theological approaches and I concede that it may have been oversimplified. But I thought that it was important to have a simple man of the earth- uneducated as he was -- Joseph O'Malley -to come back to the church looking for the old way and discovering that there was a new way in that church represented by Clarence Harper who in response to Joseph said that God is Love!
<DancesWith> Did you consider doing a nonfiction book about the cholera epidemics? What was your decision process in making the book a historical novel?
<DavidDick> dances, Thank you for asking that question. I intended, the scholar I am not to do a scholarly work on the dimensions on the cholera epidemic in 1840's. But while sitting in the library at the National Maritime in New Zealand.
<DavidDick> I realize that a number of good scholarly books have been written. I didn't have the time or desire to add to that list -- I recommend many of those books to study. But at that moment, I decided to fictionalize it that for a person not a scholar --to tell a story, not to entertain but encourage them to recall what happened in Lexington when 10 percent of the population died of cholera. But to recognize in similar circumstances that it could happen again. That although I am an optimist -- it could happen again.
<DavidDick> Cholera happens in 3rd world countries -- And I believe individuals have a responsibility to use their God given brains to resolve some of these horrible problems. Rather than to give up and subscribe it to a vengeful God.
<jc> What inspired you to begin the story in England?
<DavidDick> jc, Well, what inspired me in the first place was my Great grandmother Cynthia, lost her first husband a teenager and her son to Cholera. That's all I knew. There was so much panic and confusion. So much ignorance about it that didn't exist. Actually I wanted to go to India where Cholera was endemic in 1870. I applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship and didn't get it. I did get a research grant from UK which got me and my wife to England and a number of librarians and to Scotland -- therefore a necessity the story begins there.
<chelak> I enjoy reading your columns in Kentucky Living magazine. In a recent article you talked about expectations for the next millennium. What do you look forward to in the year 2000?
<DavidDick> chelak, Whether I like it or not, I look for even more exceptional mind boggling technology. So that what we know as the info explosion now, is a firecracker compared to the showers of images and words raining down upon us.
<DavidDick> Some of this I think is good and whether it is good or not it's going to happen. But I believe as well as Cynthia Ann that it is up to individuals to hold fast to their integrity and the ingenious that has been put there by the great Creator and has come to the point we are now.
<lulu> Which of the characters is your favorite?
<DavidDick> lulu, Grandpa Charley! Cause he is an individual because he reads and wishes only the best for his granddaughter, Cynthia Ann in the new world. He thinks, he dares to speak his mind because he is a good man.
<chelak> Do you think our young people today have the skills to deal with sorting through all the information bombarding them? How would you advise people to cope in this age of information overload?
<DavidDick> chelak, Thank you for asking what I think is one of the most fundamental considerations. I certainly don't pretend to have very many recommendations. But I believe that it is time to return to the liberal arts and by that I mean -- a study of history literature, sociology, psychology, I don't renounce vocational training because we need repair people. We need people to keep our cars running and to keep the lights on in our schools but even they, I think, should never consider themselves to be robots, to be only ciphers to shop up form 9-5, collect a check and go home and drink beer and watch tv. Or whatever anybody does.
<DavidDick> I don't mean to be heavy-handed on beer manufactures or tv producers -- I simply believe that the printed word is a good connector of human beings.
<jc> Ummm .... with your career in broadcast TV, are you concerned that you may have helped to create a "reader-less" culture, if that's what we have?
<DavidDick> jc, I stand convicted as charged.
<DavidDick> I mean that seriously and not cutely. There was a time in my life when I thought that the best way to spend my time was to watch White people killing Indians in the Saturday afternoon movie. There was a time in my life when I was much more obsessed with making a salary that would put food on the table. I lack the courage to do summer stock when I believed I might be an actor. I lacked the courage to say good-by much earlier to WHAS in LSVL and CBS wherever it took me. On the other hand, I gained life experiences that of themselves have been a liberal arts education. If at this time as I approach 3 score and 10 If I am not writing as well as I am able -- better in next book than last -- drinking beer and being a couch potato - I have no one to blame but myself -- I'm a failure.
<DavidDick> My doctor tells me that I'm in remission of prostate cancer that we are talking about a healthy 100. If this is true, I don't die tonight, I have 30 years to be about my father's business.
<lulu> What do you watch on television now? And what do you read?
<DavidDick> <lulu> I watch the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. I watch the Friday night lineup on KET. And I'm not saying that because I'm sitting at KET. I would say it if I was at Channel 27 where my son is the anchor. I watch very little tv. I am reading a variety of things - most lately Robert Penn Warren who I submit was one of the finest writers ever to call KY his birthplace.
<DavidDick> I tell myself if I read only All the Kings Men and don't read All the other books poetry as well as prose then I have missed the true essence of a genius like Robert Penn Warren.
<sam> Do you have any advice for a young student aspiring to be a journalist?
<DavidDick> sam, First define what you mean by journalist.
<DavidDick> If you mean... a flag waver, if you mean...getting laughs on the set... if you mean... reporting only bad not good...if you mean, treating serious matters superficial then I'm not sure that you want to really be a journalist. There is nothing wrong about being an entertainer -- but it's wrong to pose as ajournalist when in fact you are simply not a truth seeker and teller.
<jc> Back to the book: People/characters in "Scourges..." seem to die off as soon as we get to know them. What that an intentional fictional device?
<DavidDick> jc, I would like to think -- that it was not a device. However, it might have been. I thought that it was important for the Rev. Goodman to die aboard ship because it illustrated his frailty, illustrated futile effort to bring Christianity into a small area filled with Cholera. There would be a need for prayer in that small area but there would be a bigger need for medical science. It is important I think to achieve a balance in ones life. I don't wish to step upon any theological toes -- maybe I have. Anyone who wants to believe that prayer alone is sufficient -- well... this is a free country and the 1st amendment protects religious right.
<DavidDick> My doctors particularly the one addressing my prostate cancer -- believes in prayer and a healthy mental attitude and he also believes in a blood test called PSA, which doesn't stand for public service announcement nonetheless is one -- if it is a male asking this question -- what is your PSA?
<lulu> I was very interested that Cynthia ended up as a farmer with a real attachment to her land. Does that reflect your feelings about KY?
<DavidDick> <lulu> Yes, yes, yes.
<jc> I was secretly hoping the bank notes would turn out to be immensely valuable. Was that a late decision on your part (to make them worthless)?
<DavidDick> jc, Once again, this was an attempt to show vanity, and greed and ... the reality that it is not necessarily the piece of paper we hold in our hand that authenticates us as human beings but it is something as wonderful talking to you right now in this way.
<lulu> I really liked the captain's advice to Cynthia at his death. Where did that come from?
<DavidDick> lulu, I believe that it came out of my own subconscious murky pool of collective thought, however, there is a Latin expression translated into English, which says If you will excuse me "Don't let the bastards grind you down."
<sunni> As a young journalist, did you have a mentor or someone who inspired you?
<DavidDick> sunni: Eric Sevareid. And then later, Bill Moyers.
<DavidDick> And Charles Kurault in Broadcasting. James Reston in print.
<jc> King Solomon was real. How about Aunt Charlotte? What prompted her appearance?
<DavidDick> jc, James Lane Allen wrote Flute and Violin, his first book in the 19th century. And Aunt Charlotte appears in that book as the high bidder for King Solomon. So I got the name and idea from there.
<DavidDick> Jem the little black free slave... was entirely my own creation -- I don't know where he came from. But I'm so glad he entered my life and delighted that I was inspired to suggest that a good education for a young boy -- any young person can lead to a university - can lead to a medical degree and to the resolution of problems. I hate stereotypes.
<DancesWith> I appreciate what you said about finding a balance in life. Are we in danger of swinging the other way -- of making technology itself into a god?
<DavidDick> dances, Yes, yes, yes.
<DavidDick> Let me go on... There are some of us KY writer Wendell Berry one of them -- who does not permit either tv or computer into his home. I simply am not that much of a purist -- although I admire Wendell for his individuality.
<DavidDick> My wife and daughter and I will be watching tonight to see what the hurricane does. That is not morbid curiosity -- a real service is performed by tv in this regard -- and there will be some other programs I will watch -- but Lord never let me lose the desire to read a book and from time to time write one.
<jc> I met you at the Book Fair last year in Frankfort. You appeared to be the only author there really having a good time. Are you still enjoying the "writing life?"
<DavidDick> jc, Yes, yes, yes.
<DavidDick> Whenever possible I am up at 4:00 am writing. But... I don't wish to write in a vacuum, to write for myself only, It was important for me to sit all day with my wife on a street corner in Glendale autographing books but even more importantly talking to people and then by invitation through the KY Humanities Council going to St. John Lutheran church in Louisville to talk about another one of my books, The Quiet Kentuckians. If I am only writing, I don't think I am fulfilling my reason for being.
<jc> Trivia: You point out in your Afterward that Nobel was born in 1833. But did you know that the bestselling book that year was Davy Crockett's autobiography?
<DavidDick> jc, No , I didn't know that and I'm not sure I understand what the question is leading to. Do you mean that Davy Crockett was entertainment?
<DavidDick> jc, Maybe Nobel is an orange and Crockett is an apple. But I don't wish to push my luck here. Does anyone have any more questions?
<lulu> What are you working on now?
<DavidDick> lulu, Rivers of Kentucky, Not sure where it will take me. There will be some... or a good bit of atlas material in it. But..
<DavidDick> I see Rivers of Kentucky as a metaphor for writers and thinkers and lovers and workers living in a virtual sea or immortality. I am fascinated by the water cycle, which begins in some purity in some spring up some hollow in KY then moves to the Ohio to the Mississippi, to the Gulf and is taken back up into the clouds and returned again, again, and again, and again. So is there hope? Yes.
<jc> No, really. It was just a piece of trivia I picked up. Helps me re-create the era, kinda.
<DavidDick> jc, Thank you! But it's not just trivia, I think it's important to know about Nobel, too.
<jc> "I am the daughter of earth and water, and the nursling of the sky ...."
<DavidDick> jc, Thank you for being on board!
<sunni> Speaking of water: On a local level, what did you think of the KY-American Water Company's idea to build a pipeline to Louisville to bring Ohio River water to Lexington?
<DavidDick> sunni, You got me. I don't know. I have a running argument with my wife about the need to pipe water anywhere. For a long time we had no "city" water on Plum Lick. We had a cistern that collected roof water, we had a deep well that turned my wife's clothes black. To me it's important not to be presumptuous about turning the faucet and expecting water to instantly appear. Too many of us take water for granted.
<DavidDick> footnote: All the water that is hear now was here in the beginning and all the water that is here now is all the water there ever will be. It's up to us to conserve it and use it wisely.
<jc> The next book in our bookclub list is "The Healing" by Gayl Jones. It's an "in-your-face" kind of book, and quite a challenge to read. Have you read any of her work? If so, what do you think of what she's doing?
<DavidDick> jc, I have not -- so I don't like to say no comment but it's impossible for me to comment.
<chelak> We have about five more minutes in our chat. Jump in now if you have a question.
<jc> Before I log off, I have to tell you that my wife was a student of Miss Sudie's ... and she was very moved when I read her your piece in "The View from Plum Lick." Thank you for that.
<lulu> Just a comment -- thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. It was fun and instructive.
<DavidDick> jc, You are welcome and I'll always be thankful that I went to see Miss Sudie in the nursing home before she died. And I regret the fact that so few of her former students came to her funeral.
<DavidDick> lulu, Thank you, lulu!
<jc> "... I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores; I change, but I can not die."
<DavidDick> jc, Are these your words or something I should be reading?
<jc> "The Cloud"
<DavidDick> <jc> I did poorly in poetry at the university. As a matter of fact I failed Victorian poetry. But since I have maybe 30 more years on this earth I will return to Shelley.
<DavidDick> <jc> Thank you for "The Cloud" I may use it as an epigraph for one of the chapters in Rivers of KY.
<chelak> Any more questions?
*** Signoff: lulu
<chelak> Thank you Mr. Dick for your insightful comments tonight.
*** Signoff: deanna
<DancesWith> Yes, thank you! Good night.
*** Signoff: DancesWithCats
<DavidDick> <jc> Thank all of you. I have never had such an experience as this and I would like to have another one next year.
sunni: Good night!
*** Signoff: sunni
<chelak> Thank you all and good night everyone!
*** Signoff: jc
*** Signoff: DavidDick
*** Signoff: chelak
Log file closed at: 9/14/99 9:02:28 PM