In college Eugene began to imagine writing novels. He wasn’t just drawn to the bourgeois idea of profit from fiction, he says. “In my family we were all windbag storytellers, but I was born in the middle and couldn’t hold court.” He entered one of the few writing programs in the sixties, at the University of Washington, and saw a course on verse writing. Too curious, he fell into the white heat of making poetry, conducted by Theodore Roethke in what would be the last year of the poet’s life, 1963. For several years afterward he was caught in a dilemma. “Was I a poet, that is, a borderline lunatic? Or was I about to write the greatest novel since F. Scott Fitzgerald?” Graduate studies might have cured him of this, perhaps, but poor grades and fatherhood stood in the way.
For some twenty years he labored in a “good Catholic” marriage and brought up five children, working nights in a bakery and trying to write in the margins left. When the marriage fell apart he volunteered in his two daughters’ grade school as a storyteller and became steeped in the earth wisdom stored in folktales. “I was Baba Yaga,” he says. “I was Boots. I was Blue Jay. And I was the man those children were glad to see.” He even wrote a few of the tales he told.
After ten years he married the love of his life, Susanne, and he had an early draft of a novel about a boy and an old Indian. But in five more years of rewriting, while researching the sweat lodge tradition, he found something else, a group of men, some fifty strong, holding monthly meetings and using a folktale as starter to break into their own stories (agatheringofmen.org). He became a storyteller in this group and deepened in the experience of his own story, as well as in trust with what these other men shared. A few years ago a Native American sweat lodge priest read a draft of Broken Charlie. “He liked it,” Eugene says. “His wife liked it. That affirmed my experience and portrayal of these traditions.”
Since then he has completed a second novel, based on a folktale from the Brothers Grimm, which he titles The Titan of Wisdom. “I guess it was natural for me,” Eugene says, “to come into a novel from my long love of folk wisdom. There are some great old folktales, but these days their depth is not well-appreciated. Through the form of the fantasy novel I hope to address this.”
In the last ten years he has refined his writing practice around two daily journals: one for dreams, to take note of shadow material, and one for verse, where he looks for surprises a blank page may bring. His confidence flows from these two reflections into his narrative work.