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Merle Drown : Lighting the World

on Tue, 04/14/2015 - 19:22


Merle Drown releases his newest novel, Lighting the World

by Renee Roy

New Hampshire native Merle Drown is shedding new light on a tragic event with his latest novel Lighting the World.

Drown said that, different from his previous novels Plowing up a Snake and The Suburbs of Heaven, Lighting the World really gets into the mind of the main character, Wade Rule, a conflicted young man who brings a shotgun to school.

“You’re in his head, it’s his story,” Drown said. 

Drown grew up in Franklin, NH, a small mill town.

 “When I was growing up, Franklin was dominated by J.P Stevens Mill, almost everybody worked at the mill,” Drown said. “It was a bit different than it is now, because you had a single industry dominating.”

Drown first considered himself a writer in high school.

“My family loved to tell stories, hearing stories was part of what I grew up with, and I loved to read,” Drown said. “I liked all version of stories, anecdotes to folktales.”

 Although Drown initially went to college to study chemistry, he transitioned to English.  

“Even at the time of being a chemistry major, I was writing and did some publishing in a college literary magazine,” Drown said.

It was later, during Drown’s time as a teacher at Concord High School, that the premise for his novel, Lighting the World, appeared. In December 1985, a 16-year-old boy came to Concord High with a shotgun. After taking several hostages and pointing the gun at one of Drown’s colleagues, the boy was shot and killed by police.

“If you go back and look at the police reports, they never really could determine a motivation for why he did what he did,” Drown said.

Drown, like many others, was intrigued by the event. But then, in January of ‘86, the space shuttle Challenger blew up and pushed the questions to the background

“Christa McAuliffe was a teacher at Concord High. She was a terrific person, very assessable. Students and faculty alike really connected with her,” Drown said. “The event with the hostages and the boy essentially got forgotten. The Challenger was an event of national significance and of enormous loss. Over the years, people would remember that, but nobody would remember this boy particularly.”

Drown felt empowered to tell this boy’s story.

“As a fiction writer, I began to really want to conceive this idea as a novel. Although I had a lot of information about what he did, it was not clear why he did it,” Drown said. “I felt that this boy was like a good many other who get lost in the system. They’re not particularly empowered, not part of the popular set. He wasn’t an athlete. He came from a working class family. He had actually lived in Franklin, where I had grown up, and had moved to Concord in junior high. I kept thinking that his was a story that deserved to be told, too.”

In his novel, Drown offers a motive behind this devastating event.

“This is a human being too, and we need to understand some of the pressures,” Drown said. “I think most of us as writers put more or less of ourselves into our writing. Certainly the idea of being an outsider is something I was very familiar with. There’s a theme in Lighting the World where the main character is very attracted to this girl classmate that he works with. Both of them have great trouble at home and are looking to escape from that, and he has a crush on her. She’s very nice to him and he thinks that she’s reciprocating, but she’s not. I think almost all of us have been one side or the other of the unrequited love.”

Apart from Drown’s ability to tell a story that may otherwise never been shared, Drown also conveys a deeper message, “Fiction can lead us to understand and appreciate people we might otherwise be ignorant of or ignore completely.”

A book launch for Lighting the World will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 16, at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Drown’s book will be available at the event, but it’s already available through the publisher, Whitepoint Press, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and etc. The novel can be had as a trade paperback or an ebook. 

Click here to visit Merle Drown's website.

Click here to see recent reviews of the book.

Renee Roy is a Graduate student at Southern New Hampshire University and is currently interning at the New Hampshire Writers' Project.