Park Rapids native Gary Blackburn is publishing a novel inspired by his childhood experiences in Lake Emma Township.
Titled “Pickerel Lake 1: Deep Water Secrets,” the book is the first installment of a trilogy whose other titles are “Pickerel Lake 2: Secrets Revealed” and “Pickerel Lake 3: Resolution.”
Blackburn, who now lives in California, was born in Park Rapids in 1943. During his early years, his family moved back and forth between his grandparents’ home on Pickerel Lake and his father’s native Utah. His mother’s parents lived at Sanderson’s Resort, near the Emmaville Store.
On May 2, 1950, his father was killed in a car-train accident outside Park Rapids. After that tragedy, Blackburn said, “My mom went into a deep depression and alcoholism, so she had to go to a facility in Minneapolis, and my sister and I ended up being left with my grandparents. They raised us for the next six years, until I was 12 years old.”
During those six years, he said, a lot of interesting things were happening.
“People were reporting a monster fish out there,” said Blackburn, adding that one of his cousins, who was believed to have a picture of that fish, died under mysterious circumstances. “They thought he committed suicide, but my friend and I went up and looked at the blood in the snow … and we said, ‘No, he was murdered, man.’”
Turning it into a tale
Starting with these basic facts, he expanded and fictionalized the story for his book, changing characters’ names and inventing new characters, sometimes based on multiple people.
“I write what they call ‘faction,’ fact added into a story,” he explained, calling the books “99 percent fiction.”
Even some of the “real” events happened only in the imagination of a pair of 10- or 11-year-old boys, he said – such as their belief that bad guys were chasing them.
“As you read the book, a person from the outside is not going to be able to know fact from fiction,” he said. “I state in the book, none of this has anything to do with people living or dead.”
A press release from the Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency describes the story as a summer adventure for 13-year-old buddies Justin and Eric, who play detective on a deep, glacial lake where a giant fish is said to lurk. Plot complications include a murder and, in later installments, Russian agents, puppy love and a group of kids playing detective.
“I write from a boy’s point of view, because I want boys to get involved in reading this book,” said Blackburn. “I write characterization and action. I don’t write a lot of backdrop or describing the scenery, so my books move forward pretty fast. Characterization and action – that’s kind of my style.”
Nevertheless, he said, “Pickerel Lake 1” tries to capture the atmosphere he lived in during that time of his life, from family gatherings to his grandma’s home cooking. What he felt about living in the area “definitely comes through,” he said, adding that the book’s plot puts his main character’s life in peril and ends with “an interesting twist.”
In real life, the twist is that his mother beat her demons, remarried, and settled the family in the Twin Cities, where Blackburn graduated from Robbinsdale High School, served in the U.S. Navy and studied for one year at the University of Minnesota, before moving out west and graduating from Brigham Young University. Since landing in California, he worked for a mortgage company and ended up managing an apartment complex in Orange County.
Blackburn still has family in the area, including a half-brother, Rick LaPointe, who worked for the Park Rapids post office for many years and retired to a cabin on Pickerel Lake. His sister lives in Alexandria, and he has many cousins, nieces and nephews from his mother’s side of the family in the area.
“I come back to visit Park Rapids every couple years,” he said.
Blackburn said he wrote “Pickerel Lake 1” 10 years ago, and spent a couple years writing query letters to publishers, receiving one rejection letter after another. Kidding about pasting them up, he said, “They’d cover a whole wall.”
After that, his options narrowed to paying a vanity press to print a few copies of his book and, as he finally decided to do, submit it to a small-press publisher like SBPRA.
“They do a good job,” he said. “They’re limited on advertising budget, so they (don’t do much) promotion and marketing. But at least they get it registered with the Library of Congress. They put it up on Amazon. They do the press release. They do all the things to get it out there” – such as copyrighting the work and designing the cover. You have to help a lot, yourself, as the author.”
Blackburn said this means he and the company split the costs and profits associated with publishing the book.
He called SBPRA a “hybrid publisher,” meaning that in addition to printing books, they also put a lot of effort into media promotion.
“It’s very difficult to make money on the publishing side,” said Blackburn. “My ultimate goal in writing this trilogy is to get Netflix to do a TV series, on location filmed in Pickerel Lake and Park Rapids. That’s what I’m shooting for, and this company and I are going to put together a presentation package.”
He said they might do a two-minute trailer, published on Youtube, to present to people connected with Netflix or HBO.
“That’ll be down the road,” he said. “I might end up doing it myself. I might doing it in conjunction with the publishing company.” But he added, “I want to do something professional. I don’t want to just put something up there just to put it up there.”
“Pickerel Lake 1: Dark Water Secret” is available here.