Birch Latour and Tess Jordan

Birch Latour had an auspicious entry into the Darby Chronicles, born on the ledges of the Salmon Trust while his mother bled to death. In that scene in Live Free or Die I was thinking of a line from (I believe) Sigmund Freud that total recall is a sign of hysteria. In fictional Darby, Birch has the gift (or perhaps it's a curse) of near total recall. He remembers everything, including (he claims) his own birth.

The idea of a character who remembers too much sprang from my own inadequacies. At St. Joseph's Elementary School in Keene, New Hampshire, I flunked altar boys because I could not memorize the prayers in Latin. Later in Keene Children's theatre I discovered I could not memorize the few lines in the part I played. Birch's father, Frederick Elman (he later changed his name to F. Latour) also possesses an ability I lack. Freddy is unafraid of heights, whereas I am so seriously acrophobic that when I took my daughter and her cousin to the Grand Canyon, I cowered in our tent in the campground while they saw the sights. As a fiction writer, I found it very satisfying to create characters who had abilities I lacked.

As a pre-adolescent Birch plays a huge role in Spoonwood and again at age 24 in Howard Elman's Farewell. Following a series of timely deaths (an idea I derived from the biography of the Marquis de Lafayette), Birch inherits the Salmon estate where he's the Steward to the Salmon land conservancy and co-founder, with his childhood friend Missy Mendelson, of Geek Chorus Software, producers of the video game, Darby Doomsday.

Birch has big ambitions and he has the brain and temperament to pursue his dreams, but he's also burdened by a feeling that he does not understand, which is that he must be successful or the whole world will collapse. Birch, while a fairly complex character, is unformed. Maybe someday I'll write a novel to find out just what happens to Birch, or maybe I won't write a book, but let Birch's dreams play out in the video game, Darby Doomsday, or maybe … maybe. Well, I dunno.

In his looks and personality, Birch is a composite of some of my favorite male students over many years at Dartmouth College. He might be mistaken for the actor Montgomery Clift, who was a big star when I was coming of age.

Birch's secret lover in Howard Elman's Farewell is Tess Jordan, daughter of Turtle Jordan. She's a visual artist. Like Birch, Tess is not a completely rounded character. Perhaps in some future work I will discover her.

At the end of Howard Elman's Farewell the readers learn that Birch and Tess are parents of a boy. Tess has roots in French-Canada through her mother, and from the notorious Jordan clan, through her father. Among the grand ambitions of Birch and Tess is the idea of unifying the values and bloodlines of the competing classes in Darby. They live by the motto of Geek Chorus Software, "All can be saved," the words supplied by one of their mentors, the mysterious Origen. I wonder if they'll find out if Origen is not what he seems.