Interview with Tyler Tichelaar!
By: The Myth Master

All right everyone, it's the Myth Master here and we have a special treat in store for you this month. While we usually do interviews with writers of Horror or Fantasy, Tyler Tichelaar is the author of a Trilogy of historical novels written about the area where he and several generations of his family have lived for over one hundred years. And since 'Myth' derives from history, I felt we should broaden our scope just a bit and look at the real world and what it is made of for a change. Let's all welcome Tyler as he tells us about his monumental work.

M.M. Tyler, may we start out by having you give our readers some background about your first novel?

T.T. Thank you, Myth Master. 'Iron Pioneers' is the first in a trilogy of novels set in Marquette, Michigan. It is a historical novel about the birth and growth of the town and of the people who came here to follow their dreams, whether they were wealthy entrepreneurs from New England or immigrants from Europe. The town was founded as a harbor to ship out the iron ore recently discovered in 1844 in the area. The novel follows the early settlers over the course of five decades as they struggle to build a town, nearly starve to death during the first harsh winter of 1849, persevere to help the Union cause win the Civil War, and eventually, see Marquette become a prosperous and important city. While "Iron Pioneers" is set in Upper Michigan, it is very much an American tale and a family saga that will appeal to a universal audience in its depiction of human struggles and aspirations.

M.M. What made you decide to write about Marquette?

T.T. My second novel, 'The Queen City,' has an opening quote by Willa Cather: "I had searched for books telling about the beauty of the country I loved, its romance, and heroism and strength of courage of its people that had been plowed into the very furrows of its soil, and I did not find them. And so I wrote 'O Pioneers!'" That pretty much sums it up. There have been other writers from the Marquette area before me, but none of them had undertaken to write Marquette's entire history in novel form. I chose the title Iron Pioneers, partly as a tribute to Willa Cather. She really proved by writing about Nebraska that regional literature can be of universal interest. Perhaps I am simply proud of my hometown, but I think Marquette has a remarkable history--the Civil War would not have been won by the Union if Marquette had not been there to ship the ore from the iron mines so it could be used to make ships, bullets, and cannons. Marquette was founded to become a great industrial mecca--it is the forgotten equivalent of the California Gold Rush, and more mineral wealth resulted from the local iron industry than the California Gold Rush, even though the latter made it into the history books. People with big dreams came here, many succeeded, more did not.The harsh winter climate means only the most determined make it here. Surrounded by the Great Lakes, Upper Michigan is breathtakingly beautiful, and just recently, it was named one of the world's top ten vacation destinations. If the story of the American dream, with all its joys and heartbreaks, exists anywhere, it is in Upper Michigan.

M.M. How long have you and your family lived in Marquette?

T.T. Members of my family have resided in Marquette since 1849, the year the city was founded. I am the seventh generation of my family to live here. My family history and Marquette's history are closely intertwined in many ways.

M.M. Did these facts have any bearing on your wanting to write about Marquette's historic past?

T.T. Absolutely, although it is hard to pin down that influence. My grandfather was a wonderful wealth of information, constantly telling me stories of his childhood. Unfortunately, he died when I was sixteen, but I wrote down many of the stories he had told me at that time so I would not forget them. I often felt as if he were staring over my shoulder as I wrote these novels. Just as important an influence for me was living in Marquette and being a part of its history everyday--of seeing the lake, the old banks and iron ore docks, of going to a church where generations of my family had gone before me. I felt almost as if Marquette's past possessed me, much the same way William Faulkner was obsessed with the South's history.

M.M. How did you ever manage to find all of the pertinent information you needed to bring your many characters to life?

T.T. The characters were actually pretty easy to bring to life. Each character is really in some way me writing about myself and what I would do in each of their situations. As for the historical research, I was always fascinated with Marquette's history; since high school I had been collecting historical articles from the local paper 'The Mining Journal' and reading historical books about Upper Michigan. When I had the idea to write the trilogy, I had basically already done all my research and just had to go back and double-check the facts for what I basically already knew.

M.M. About how long did it take you to compile all of your research for the first novel?

T.T. Initially, I envisioned one long novel to cover the 150 years of Marquette's history from 1849-1999. I soon realized I had more material than I could possibly use in one book so I divided it into a trilogy.Even then, I left many things out. All three books were written simultaneously--I would write a scene for 1986, then one for 1863, then one for 1938. I would create ties between events and characters and themes that would run throughout all three books. I wrote and researched simultaneously as well. The first two years were spent writing scenes and doing research. The next five years were spent sewing all the scenes together, double-checking historical facts, revising, and polishing.

M.M. Do you have any other books planned, aside from the Marquette Trilogy?

T.T. More than I can possibly list. I intend to publish at least three more novels that are based on minor characters or events from the trilogy, yet will stand on their own as individual novels. Each book of the trilogy covers about 50 years, so I am toying with the idea of making it a tetralogy that ends in 2049, provided I live that long (I'll only be 78 then). In addition, I have ideas for some historical, fantasy, science fiction, and Gothic novels I would like to write. I just hope I have the time to accomplish it all.

M.M. You have written about Marquette's past. What is the town like now?

T.T. That is a really difficult question. Surprisingly, Marquette's population growth has not changed much during my lifetime despite all the large department stores going up in the last decade. I am so attached to Marquette's past that sometimes I forget about its present. Wonderful old sandstone buildings have been torn down during my lifetime that were so often a part of the landscape, I sometimes have to stop and remind myself they are no longer there. People without knowledge of the town's history, or visitors passing through, would give you a different answer, but for me, Marquette's past is part of its present. I feel the past continually when I walk past the downtown post office my grandfather helped to build, when I go to St. Peter's Cathedral where my great-grandparents went to church; I have so many connections to so many parts of the town. We have many nineteenth century landmark buildings still, as well as the Starbucks just built and a flood of new condominiums. The people here are wonderful, brave souls. The economy here is difficult so many people move away as I did, but many also return, choosing to live here rather than have better jobs in metropolitan areas. Because the people love the area so well, the community is an exciting place to be.

M.M. How has your first novel been received in Michigan?

T.T. Very well. I have only received positive comments and good reviews, and word of mouth is spreading. Many people have e-mailed me to tell me their own family stories about Marquette and its past, and that kind of enthusiasm is wonderful to see. Just to know people are reading my bookis a thrill. I am especially proud when people who are not from Upper Michigan tell me they have enjoyed the novel--then I feel like I have succeeded in my goal to tell a truly American or universal story that just happens to be set in Marquette.

M.M. How long have you actually been writing?

T.T. In first grade, my teacher told me she would someday be reading my books. In fourth grade, a friend told me her aunt wrote novels; that was when it first occurred to me I could be an author. I started writing my first novel when I was sixteen, and after rewriting it many times, I intend to publish it sometime in the near future.

M.M. What period in history do you find the most interesting?

T.T. I change my mind about that all the time. I love the Middle Ages, but I don't think I could ever give justice to them in historical fiction, so I mostly write about the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They fascinate me because the Industrial Revolution has shaped who we are today, and we are still going through it now as technology progresses. Change is happening faster and faster and I have often been resistant to it--I still call my CD player a record player--and I'm not really quite sure what an ipod is. My characters often mourn the passing of time and the old ways. I often felt I was born a century too late, but recently, I find myself thrilled to live in the age of e-books and the Internet, print-on-demand and audio books. The twenty-first century is definitely the best time ever to be an author.

M.M. Writing a novel can be quite time consuming. What do you do in your spare time to unwind and relax?

T.T. When people used to ask what were my hobbies, I would tell them I liked to read. I was always too shy to admit I wrote novels. Actually, I find it difficult to relax. I do sit down to watch a movie, I try to make time for my friends and family, and to get some exercise, taking walks along beautiful Lake Superior, but truthfully, writing is my relaxation. I find myself impatient while I read or watch TV and soon I'm reaching for a pen and jotting notes to myself about my characters or ideas for a book. On days when I don't write, I feel disconnected from myself. In winter, it is a relief to me often when it snows because it forces me to go outside and shovel out my driveway--we can get up to 300 inches of snow in an Upper Michigan winter--but even then, I find myself thinking about my characters who live in Marquette in the nineteenth century--they had to shovel snow when there were no snowplows or snow blowers--can you imagine what that was like? Those people didn't have much time to relax. They worked from sunup to sundown. I guess I inherited my ancestors' Midwest work ethic and pour it into my writing.

M.M. Where might our readers find out more about you and your books?

T.T. Please be kind enough to visit my web site I gave it that name because I wanted to celebrate the literature of Upper Michigan. I had many great predecessors from this area, most famously, Robert Traver, who wrote Anatomy of a Murder in 1956. Upper Michigan is a wonderful place to write about, and my web site features articles about the area, its history, and many of the other writers who came before me. In addition are family trees of the characters in my trilogy, novel excerpts, and updates on author events.

M.M. Tyler, we would really like to thank you for taking the time to sit down and talk with us, today. Before we go, is there anything we didn't cover that you would like to share with our readers?

T.T. It took me many years to get a novel published. I received dozens of rejection letters. Many people told me it would never happen. Finally I had to self-publish 'Iron Pioneers,' but the response has been tremendous. If you have a dream, stick to it and don't let anyone try to talk you out of it. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to. And value who you are--I could have written about New York, or science fiction, or something people told me would sell better--I never let myself stop believing I had important stories to tell that people would respond to. More than anything, I think my characters, iron pioneers themselves, prove that through persistence and belief in yourself, you can achieve anything.

Thank you, Myth Master, for the great interview. It was a lot of fun.

M.M. And thank you, again, Tyler for sharing so much with us about your books and your life. Good luck with your upcoming publications and be sure to let us know when they might be available.

All right, gang, that's it from the Myth Master this month. Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check in with us next month. See ya...

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