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Culver’s Girard latest in long local literary legacy with new novel

August 17, 2013

It's no secret that Culver and Lake Maxinkuckee have a surprisingly robust literary history which extends right up to the present, as authors seem continually inspired to dive into their imaginations in search of fictional vision. Add to that list David Girard of Culver, whose new novel, "Passing Through the Gate," is available now on Amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com in electronic versions.

Girard, now in his 25th year at Culver Academies (he's been a residential counselor and worked in Admissions, with the past eight or nine years spent in College Advising), describes the book as "a coming of age story about two boys and the relationships that can be forged at a boarding school."

The novel is not technically set at Culver Academies, but instead the fictional Marmont Military Academy, though local history buffs will recognize the Marmont as the name of the town of Culver immediately prior to its decision to change its name in honor of the founder of the Academy in 1895 (the school, however, never had the Marmont moniker).

"Culver is the setting -- no more than that," says Girard. "Clearly the military structure does have a role in it, and a few of the other main characters would be adult mentors, faculty and military. But the story is about the relationship between two boys, which is why I didn't want to set the story at Culver: I don't want people to read the story and think it's a story about Culver Academy. It's about relationships.

"I like to see characters coming of age and maturing," he adds. "I've read good books about military schools. This is not one of those."

The website of the book's publisher, Unlimited Publishing (www.unlimitedpublishing.com/girard), which is affiliated with Harvard Press, in fact compares the book to novels like "Father Sky" and " A Separate Peace," and films such as “Dead Poets Society."

"In hindsight," Girard explains, "the two main characters probably both posses a great deal of my own traits. (The lead character) comes hesitantly to Marmont Military Academy and is quickly befirneded by a very daring, bold, popular boy who helps him in his transition there. They end up spending their school career getting into a good amount of trouble, but then they fall into an old campus mystery. Unbeknownst to them, it places them in danger. The end of the book comes with resolution of that mystery and the boys graduate.

"I wanted readers to see the transition from age 14 or 15 to 17 or 18, and a boy who arrives and is rather hesitant and surly, but we see him graduate a much more confident young man. At the beginning, one boy has the upper hand in the relationship, but by the end they're equals I would say."

As to the genesis of the book itself, Girard says he's always written, though "not always for a specific purpose beyond myself. I've processed a lot of events in my life through writing."

Five or six years ago, he notes, Girard got together during a Culver Academies reunion weekend with several alums in their late 30s or early 40s, and a lot of past memories and conversations planted the seed for the novel.

"Passing Through the Gate" was written during five summers in the Academies' Huffington Library, with some 10 or 11 months' worth of actual writing accrued.

Rather than opting to self-publish the book, Girard sought acceptance of the novel by a publisher, going through what he describes as "the typical process of rejection letters, and then there was that one surprise where someone says, 'We would like to publish it.' Then it was a whirlwind; it was far quicker than I thought, and suddenly I'm editing it for Kindle and Nook."

Unlimited Publishing's forte, he adds, is to publish a small number of annual books of first-time authors in addition to reprinting out of copyright classics.

And while electronic versions are ready to purchase online, Girard hopes a print edition will be available in Culver this fall.
"Gate" is actually Girard's second attempt at a novel; the first one he began 20 years ago but didn't finish, though he hopes one day to return to it.

Meantime, he says he's around 100 pages into a second novel with a similar setting but different time-frame. It will begin in 1939 and follow a boy through his experience at a military school and into World War II.

"There's so much to draw upon in terms of the traditions, the structure, and the relationships forged when boys and girls are in that sort of setting," says Girard of boarding schools in general, and of course Culver specifically.

One of the reasons he's stayed at the school as long as he has, he notes, are the multiple opportunities he's had there to try new things and new positions. Girard, whose father is Canadian and mother a native Pennsylvanian, says he spent most of his previous life in western New York or southern Ontario.

"Culver is the longest I've lived anywhere in my life," he says.
And aside from the setting of the novel itself, David Girard also muses upon the atmosphere of the many facets of the Culver area -- the Academy, lake, and town -- as insirational for generations of creatives.

"I don't know if I've ever been to a campus or lakefront that's this beautiful," he says. "I can't think of another school in the country where the opportunities are so vast, from aviation to horsemanship to sailing. I honestly can't think of a reason why you couldn't find a niche here.

"In terms of the Academy itself, I think the physical plant and lake are amazing. To walk from uptown Culver to the council fire ring at Woodcraft is one of the most amazing pieces of real estate."

Of course, "Through the Gate" is the latest addition to a pantheon of Culver and Maxinkuckee-related literature dating back to the 19th and early 20th century works of Hoosier luminaries like James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, Lew Wallace, and Meredith Nicholson, all of whose writings were inspired by the lake; 20th century literary legend Kurt Vonnegut Jr.; composer Cole Porter, who honed his craft on Maxinkuckee steamboats; and more recent novelists like John Houghton, Richard Davies, Marcia Adams, and Ray Gleason, to name a few.

Girard might invoke late, legendary Hoosier journalist Bob Kyle, who wrote a regular column for The Culver Citizen for more than a decade titled, "It Must be the Lake Water."

"There must be something in the water that's inspirational," Girard suggests. "And anyone inspired by history knows of the tremendous music and literature that's been created on this lake's shores. It has almost a chautauqua feel in it; people here are inspired by the setting and choose to write."

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