Long drop, no net when the trash man's son and the squire's daughter fall in love.
I'm proud of Live Free or Die. It has some good scenes, and I think I got across the idea that was in my head of a tragic love story. That said, I was never satisfied with the two main characters, Frederick Elman and his lover, Lilith Salmon, and some of the magical realism had neither magic, nor realism.
For reasons mysterious to me, I seemed to be better at writing about characters a decade or more older than myself. Writing about Howard Elman, Ollie Jordan, Estelle Jordan and the hermit, Cooty Patterson, came easily to me and sometimes, even, without any conscious artifice. By contrast, I had to force myself to write about Roland LaChance (in Whisper My Name), and Freddie and Lilith. Even now I don't quite believe in them as fictional characters. I mean I think they are true to life, a little too true. Great fictional characters have an element of the strange, the fabulous, the outrageous. Freddie and Lilith don't have any of those qualities. They are believable, but not very interesting. It wasn't until I wrote Spoonwood, the followup novel to Live Free or Die, that Freddie came alive for me. I never did do justice to Lilith, and never will, because I killed her off at the end of Live Free or Die.
Live Free or Die was billed (by myself in cahoots with the publisher) as the last of the Darby books. It wasn't that I didn't want to write more Darby books. It was just that the sales were so discouraging that my desire was to move on to something else. Even so, in the back of my mind a question nagged at me. Birch, the baby of Lilith and Freddie, is born at of the end of Live Free or Die. What happens to that child? I also knew that since my books were written in real time, that is the action takes place during the time period I am writing them, I would have to wait quite a few years before I could attempt a sixth book with Birch as the center.
Meanwhile, in 1993 I published Mad Boys, which has been described as a cyber punk novel, though at time I didn't know what a cyber punk novel was. I still don't, but I like the sound of the words. Mad Boys was great fun to write, and I had a superb editor to help me improve it, Michael Lowenthal, who just happened to be a former student of mine. He later went on to a career as a novelist. I'm so proud of him.
Too bad, but Mad Boys was another bust at the box offices. I had better luck with the next novel, The Old American. It got stellar reviews, won a prize, and even sold well, at least by my standards. Up until then my only successful novel had been The Dogs of March. Like a lot of writers with a first-book success I felt under its shadow, the work having been done by a younger man that I was only barely in touch with. After The Old American everything changed. I was no longer jealous of my younger self. I fell into a decade of, as my students would say, chill.