N. Versailles native's novel explores change
No city of Twin Rivers or Westinghouse Township exists in Allegheny County, but it is no great stretch to imagine such names.
The two fictional towns, which bear much resemblance to communities in the Mon Valley, help to establish the setting for the newly published novel “Between Lives,” by North Versailles Township native Earl H. McDaniel.
McDaniel, 62, draws on life experiences in the Pittsburgh area, writing skills he developed while earning his Master of Fine Arts in writing at the University of Pittsburgh, and working in the newspaper business for publications that include the Greensburg Tribune-Review and the Akron Beacon Journal. He used it all to shape a novel that draws readers in with its characters, places and ideas.
From years in the news business, McDaniel said, “I became wedded to the facts.” As a novelist, he said, “I had to break that mindset and pull back from authorial commentary.”
McDaniel said the book contains autobiographical elements but is not his life story.
The main character, Mick Mackintosh, has a career path not unlike McDaniel's in that it includes stints as a newspaper man and a teacher, but he is not a carbon copy of the author. McDaniel said he and his character have different physical attributes and interests. Mackintosh is the divorced parent of two boys, unlike the author.
One of the character's two sons is joining the military and eyeing a trip to Iraq. Mackintosh, an aging baby boomer who came of age during the Vietnam era, is opposed and gets involved with the anti-war movement. The book contains some sharp commentary on the George W. Bush administration, No Child Left Behind and other political, economic and social issues from the early 2000s, which is when the book takes place.
“I have a political bent. I always have, ever since I was a little kid,” said McDaniel, noting his tenure covering politics as a reporter and writing news editorials helped form his style as a novelist. Firsthand experience with unsatisfying career paths and unproductive job searches contributed to the work, he said.
“I was sufficiently bitter and had a lot of grist for the mill,” said the writer, who began the work while earning his master's degree . But the novel isn't only a study in bitterness. The author describes it as having comic undertones and a stubborn character who, through relationships explored in the book, has an opportunity for a new life by the end of the story.
McDaniel credits retired Pitt writing professor and novelist Chuck Kinder with helping him find an optimistic path for the story, which initially had a darker ending.
Kinder, who now lives in Florida, said he could see McDaniel was “gifted as a writer and knew his chops from his years as a newspaper man. His characters seem to rise off the page and take lives of their own. He knew his craft well.”
Kinder noted that McDaniel stood out in the MFA program because he was older than his fellow students and wrote about the hard knocks of life.
“With his maturity and experience as a newspaper man, he taught me as much as I ever taught him,” Kinder said.
These days, McDaniel works regularly as a substitute teacher in the Norwin School District, a job he describes as rewarding.
Like Mackintosh in the novel, McDaniel has lived outside of Western Pennsylvania only to return, saying the Pittsburgh region is home. “My family still lives here. It's a place of refuge for me.”
“Between Lives” is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the University Store on Fifth Avenue in Oakland.
Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1966, or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Brass plaque stolen from McKeesport veterans memorial
- McKeesport nonprofit, Youth Works ensure Allied Health students can continue training
- McKeesport man sentenced to house arrest in armed robbery
- Executive says Century III revival plan remains on track
- Jamie’s Dream Team founder says she will press on despite new illness
- Power outage planned in Elizabeth, Forward
- White Oak repeals gun law, passes budget
- Businessman responds to Brewster shale tax proposal