It often has been said that writing is strictly a solitary activity. But accountability, by its very nature, must be an entirely different matter.
Veteran Indiana journalist and first-time novelist Dave Stafford knows firsthand. His recently published book, “Law of the Land,” (338 pages, IndyWriter Press) was written over a 30-plus-year period, scrunched into free weekends and before newspaper work shifts.
But those around him hardly would let his story of a beneath-the-surface mystery rest, forgotten in a drawer somewhere through those decades.
“It took people politely nudging me — or calling my bluff? — about that novel I’d said I was working on since way back when,” said Stafford, The Republic’s assistant managing editor and a former staffer at newspapers ranging from Richmond, Virginia, to Daytona Beach, Florida.
The Nashville resident and Indianapolis native also is the recipient of a 2022 Carmage Walls Commentary Award presented by America’s Newspapers.
“Back in the early 1990s, I was a reporter for the local (Anderson) Herald Bulletin newspaper, but I routinely put in a couple of hours before work kicking this novel around,” Stafford said. “Working as a journalist all those years since, this book went through cycles of devout attention and benign neglect.”
He will sign copies of the work from 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 16 at Fallen Leaf Books, 45 S. Jefferson St. in Nashville. The novel also is available at amazon.com and selected booksellers.
The synopsis, according to the author’s own summary: “When Eric Regent leaves Indianapolis and arrives as the new reporter at the Mint Valley Register, he soon enters a world of secrets and whispers. Out at the Spearfish Lake General Store, Emma Phipps’ heartbreaking mystery feels too astonishing to be true, too compelling to ignore. Over at the Pegasus Bar, Scrappy Lyons’ recollections are hazy and reluctant, but earnest. As Regent follows treacherous, faded clues, lives soon are lost — and found.
“In 1993 small-town Indiana, ‘Law of the Land’ traces events 25 years prior, in 1968, and 50 years before, during World War II in 1943, in search of the answer to a troubling question: ‘What happened to Bill Lane?’”
The book “revisits eras before our wired age to discover a timeless tale of love, devotion and honor in the face of power, violence and corruption,” according to Stafford.
Who knows where he got the idea for the story that opens with something of a cut-to-the-chase, whispered and eavesdropped conversation.
“I wish I knew,” he said. “There are places I’ve visited that stuck in my imagination. The Spearfish Lake General Store, a prominent part of ‘Law of the Land,’ resembles these wonderful places that existed 30 or more years ago, where the smell of bait meets you the minute the screen door smacks closed behind you.
“That was the germ of a story, and it just developed from there.”
Ideally, he would like to see his book be a conduit for connectedness.
“I want readers to come away from reading this book with a renewed sense of our shared humanity,” Stafford said. “As bad as the world can be sometimes, there is an awful lot of good in people.
“That’s what I hope to inspire in people who read this book.
“But it also is a contrast between our world in 1993 and today, and I sometimes feel for young people who never knew an unwired existence.”
Meet the author, get the book
Who: Nashville resident and Republic assistant managing editor Dave Stafford.
What: Signing copies of his debut novel, “Law of the Land.”
When: 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 16.
Where: Fallen Leaf Books, 45 S. Jefferson St. in Nashville.