Recently, we reviewed the memoir, "Finding Fitzgerald," by author Carrie Lynn. As a fellow fan of the late writer, John D. Fitzgerald, she recounts a decades-long love of the writer's work and her efforts to uncover the mysteries behind his writings. While his best-known books, such as Papa Married a Mormon, and The Great Brain series, are based on people, places and events in Fitzgerald's life, they are fiction, with locations and individuals' lives adapted to fit the historical fiction.
Here is an excerpt from my review: "Finding Fitzgerald" is a memoir. Lynn blends her dogged, determined search to uncover the secrets behind John D. Fitzgerald's mysteries, with her family life of the past two generations. The book opens with Lynn visiting Price, Utah. That's where the Fitzgerald family actually lived. Frankly, for this Fitzgerald fan, it's a thrill to witness Lynn talking to people who knew the Fitzgeralds of the novels, to have her be at locations that we see in a photo in one of the novels, and see buildings and streets in Price that she can visualize as settings in the novels.
Here's an interview with Ms. Lynn. I appreciate her taking the time to answer these questions as she is busy with a book tour.
Plan9Crunch: Tell us what you discovered about Price, Utah, and how it can serve as a model for Adenville and Silver Reef, both prime locations in Fitzgerald's books?
Lynn: Ages ago, some historian somewhere, determined that Adenville was based on the Utah towns of Silver Reef and Leeds. The deductive reasoning that brought them to that conclusion makes sense. John morphed the placement of Adenville, from the very beginning. He still had family living in Price when he wrote his first book, Papa Married a Mormon. Therefore, he set his stories in Southern Utah – Dixie. He connected it to cities in that area like Enoch. Historically the closest thing to Adenville-Silverlode would be Leeds – Silver Reef. Maybe someday when we get to ask John himself, he will confirm the idea. However, he only gave 2, maybe 3 interviews about his work. No one asked that question.
Originally when I ran across the Leeds-Silver Reef, I agreed. Yet the more I read, the more I learned that Price has a gorgeous lawless history. Complete with saloons, gunslingers, outlaws, thieves, and the like. In its infancy Price was Adenville/Silverlode rolled into one. It straddled the train tracks. Then a fire decimated the town. And in an instant, the lawlessness ceased. You can’t even imagine it now in modern day Price. The city rebuilt itself and has maintained a kind of Mayberry-eque quality. My key understanding came from a hand drawn map. From that map, I could better imagine the gunfights, the town layout, and the stories that John remembered when he wrote his books.
Plan9Crunch: The story of the Great Brain's character, Tom Fitzgerald, is very bittersweet. He had a life with a lot of tragedy and setbacks, yet you encountered recollections that paint a very positive picture of him. Do you see the real Tom depicted in the books?
Lynn: I do. Partly based on a handwritten letter by a neighbor, named Elgin Grames, and his devout commitment to Tom Fitzgerald being “known as “The Great Brain””. I think John admired his brother immensely. He had 2 older brothers in real life. He could have used either of them, if the model were entire fictious. But I think he saw in Tom something, that he knew life may not see in Tom, that was his heart. I believe he wanted the world to remember the same guy, that Elgin Grames remembered.
One of the key things I learned to keep in mind during my research was to stop letting my book images crowd my discoveries. We as readers will never get to read the original “Great Brain” book. It was the fourth and final book in John’s initial series. Because it was never published, as he initially intended, we likely get a more slanted view of T.D. because John eventually had to write 7/8 books on the “Great Brain” character. I conjecture that many of the stories in The Great Brain series were likely spread across his siblings and friends. I have no absolute proof on that. But if I ever found that out, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Plan9Crunch: As an equally devoted fan, tell us what it is like to actually speak with an correspond with people who knew the individuals characterized in the books?
Lynn: It wasn’t always as fun as one would imagine. I never spoke with any of Tom or John’s siblings. His younger brother Gerald was alive but barely communicative. He would be closest conversation I would have. All of my interactions with Gerald happened through his son, who was very gracious and as helpful as he could be.
The others I connected with were helpful, but in a tougher way. The first painful correspondence I received, didn’t even make it in the book because it’s about a lesser known family member, but the sting of the letter really set me back. I had put the characters in the books on such a pedestal, that having them taken down, sometimes felt like a wrecking ball. Yet, after I let things settle, I could find nuggets of joy in the raw pieces. Over time it made me love both versions of a character even more.
Plan9Crunch: Finding Fitzgerald is a memoir of your family as well. Do you think your children will share the same lifetime love for the series and novels that you do?
Lynn: Likely not. They do still talk about them. Largely because of the project. They have a favorite book, Great Brain at the Academy. Each of them has their own favorite authors and book series. I love that. We have richer conversations because of it. Ironically, I have a slew of other favorite books and authors, too. Fitzgerald just needed to be found.
Plan9Crunch: Why do you think Fitzgerald created historical fiction, rather than placing the books in Price and keeping characters as they were? Was he writing more about an era than just a family?
Lynn: Possibly. It is also possible that he was respecting all the living relatives in his family that still lived in the area. He had siblings and cousins in the nearby area. He also wove his tale more broadly with those extended family members initially. We don’t see it as much it The Great Brain. Lastly, who knows what he initially submitted for publication. He took the story off of family history, as he and his siblings recalled it. Maybe the initial story was too complex? Or may too unmarketable? We have no galley proofs to look at.
Plan9Crunch: What advice do you have to future Fitzgerald sleuths? What issue unresolved could be still be answered?
Lynn: My best answer is “go with your gut.” This Fitzgerald discovery story seems to have an assignment for each seeker individually. None of have ever met. We have never lived by each other. Or hold any other connection than the love of the books John wrote. We each brought something new, it added to the next seekers information. Specific ideas would be finding the pulp fiction stories he wrote. There are more than 300. Finding his pen name. there is also a world of Utah pioneering that the Neilsens did, especially Aunt Sena’s husband that may unearth new insights. Whoever takes it from here, will be led. That is all I know. It really is a Field of Dreams experience.