The Inspiration Behind
The Journey Of Samson Pyne
(Part Of The Author Interviews Himself Series)
In The Journey of Samson Pyne, the protagonist leaves everything he owns behind and takes an 11,000 mile journey in an attempt to become whole once again following the death of someone he was supposed to be protecting. The inspiration behind the character began during a trip Alan took to clear his own mind and work on his writing back in 2002.
“Ultimately, I had no particular place to go and suppose I was searching for something in the external world that I should have been looking for within myself,” Alan says. “I traveled somewhere around 11,000 miles across many states including Texas, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Oregon, Wyoming, Idaho, South Dakota, California, Oklahoma, Washington, and Nevada. This journey was where the character Samson Pyne was born. It is no coincidence that Pyne is lost in the beginning of the novella; it was a state of mind that grief had led me, as an author, to as well.”
The 11,000 miles Samson Pyne travels in The Journey of Samson Pyne are significant in more ways than the distance travelled during his journey. Alan explains that while on his trip there was what he considered to be a perfect morning somewhere along the southern Oregon or northern California coastline.
“There was a picnic table that overlooked the Pacific Ocean located on this cliff where a fresh water river ran into the ocean. As I was sitting there writing, a park attendant and his companion walked past me and stopped at the cliff’s edge to stare at something in the ocean below. Naturally, I walked over and asked what they were looking at. ‘Gray whales,’ he replied while pointing to the brackish water below. ‘We think they stop by here while they are migrating between Alaska and Baja in an attempt to get the barnacles off.’ I was so fascinated by this that later I researched the distance the whales travel during their migration. As it turns out, that distance is about 11,000 miles. It was about the same distance I had travelled on my trip, and so I decided to use the number in my book.”
Just as there are perfect moments of clarity in life, there are also moments of desolation. The image below is believed to have been taken by Alan somewhere in Wyoming. It is a sharp contrast to the image above overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
“Pyne’s predicament, perhaps I could call it his lost soul, was somewhere within this image. I think his self-imposed isolation was my own at that point in time. I’m not sure that I understood the gravity of where my life was headed anymore than he did. When I set out on this trip I had no real direction. Like the character in the novella, I knew I wanted to follow the Rockies all the way to Canada (with a few side trips), but I didn’t really know what I was going to see or experience along the way, let alone with any certainty about what I was going to do once I got there.”
The dualities of life that can leave us feeling elated or emotionally drained were present all along the scenic blue highways Alan travelled. The inner struggle to conquer fears of the unknown and breaking down walls that we all build within us were all a part of his journey.
“There is always a struggle in my mind between empirical knowledge and faith. Sometimes the two are in opposition and at other times their existence seems to tie in perfectly to each other. I think that is where the extremes of the characters Misunderstood and Keb came from in my first novel, Misunderstood. On the other hand, The Journey of Samson Pyne concentrates on the void left in between the extremes of this struggle. Samson Pyne is the confused personification of the crevasse that has divided the two sides. For me, he is the next level, or perhaps better said, the blank space waiting to be filled in. What ultimately is written into this blank space depends upon the outcome of his journey. What he sees and thinks will define the rest of his life.”
There is an inner drive in all of us that seeks to become something more than what we are to each other at any one point in time. Improving our existence on this Earth is a matter of accepting our faults and learning to rise above them.
There are some scenes within The Journey of Samson Pyne that have some truth behind them. For instance, says Alan, “I had traveled from Hollywood, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, and on to some hotel close to the Utah/Arizona border within a 24-hour period. I had in that time also crossed Death Valley and remember thinking I needed to have the oil changed again in my truck. The following morning I went to a service center and a service attendant came to me wanting me to sign a release form. When I asked why, he said because there was very little oil in the oil pan. I told him it was impossible. I had travelled through Hollywood, across Death Valley and down the Vegas Strip the day and night before. How could I have done all that on less than a quart of oil in the pan? The service attendant just smiled and said, ‘Someone must be watching out for you.’ I have doubted miracles in the past, but in that moment I came very close to removing any doubt that miracles do indeed happen.”
Belief can be as destructive a force as it can be a healing one. Our thoughts can mislead us in the wrong direction as easily as they can lead us down roads to enlightenment.
“The central defining moment of my road trip was a moment when I sat no more than a quarter mile from crossing the border into Canada and leaving the United States. I had reached my goal of following the Rockies north to Canada. I still didn’t feel good even with this accomplishment. There was snow everywhere. I think if I had crossed the boundary line I might not have come back. But there to my right was this sign that read “LEAVING USA” and something about that didn’t feel right. This was the land I was raised within. Turning around was the best decision I have ever made, in spite of the hardships of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the years that followed. I remembered passing other signs in those first few miles after turning around at the border. There were many groups represented on these signs; associations that do good for communities. As I passed these signs, Ray Charles was singing “America The Beautiful” via the CD player in the background. He was singing the words about brotherhood in that moment and it seemed like the skies began to clear and a whole new world began to open up for me.”
Authors draw inspiration from many sources, but Alan’s seems to come more from living to write as opposed to reading to write. Although he agrees reading a lot of material is an important part of his inspiration, actually visiting areas he wants to fictionalize is central to his art. Photography and music are his other sources of inspiration. The Journey of Samson Pyne was born from an amazing road trip that Alan says will be with him forever.