Here’s another voice to add to that ever more urgent call for action on behalf of planet earth — Fred Burton, and his novel, Bountiful Calling.
Bountiful Calling: A Novel
Praise for Bountiful Calling:
“Perhaps the most important benefit of good fiction is that it allows the reader to experience the drama and emotions of the characters in the story in ways that non-fiction can’t do. Thus, good fiction gives us insights to human experiences that are often missed in our day-to-day lives. Fred Burton’s powerful novel Bountiful Calling about the lives of people caught up in the explosive forces unleashed by the natural gas boom in Pennsylvania is not only an excellent and well-plotted story, but also describes very plausible emotional responses of those caught up in the highly contentious civic warfare over gas fracking that erupted less than two decades ago. Because the characters in this book are believable, understanding their hopes and fears deepens the reader’s empathy for those who continue to be engaged in disputes about the potential impacts of natural gas development on the environment from activities backed by some who benefit economically. Because the intensity of disputes about the acceptability of fossil fuel combustion is likely to deepen in the decades ahead, an understanding of the emotional life of some affected by fossil fuel controversies provided by this novel will enhance the reader’s insights about the human dimensions of important civic challenges still unfolding.”
—Donald A. Brown, Scholar in Residence and Professor, Sustainability Ethics and Law, Widener University Commonwealth Law School
Synopsis for Bountiful Calling
When an oil and gas company’s encroachment on Nicole’s family property steals away the bucolic life the family had known for years, Nicole begins a wild and provocative journey, aligning herself with a group that engages in acts of civil disobedience, attending fire circles where pagan rituals are performed, and participating in a CNN interview that goes off the rails. Before the crisis, Nicole and Joe, a staffer for a powerful Pennsylvania state senator were en route to falling in love. Now the two are each asking themselves the bigger questions like what is it they believe and what is worth fighting for?
The action takes place deep in the Marcellus Shale region where Joe’s boss is hell-bent on exploiting the fracking boom to improve the economy in his region. Watching Nicole’s family ripped from the inside out raises ethical questions Joe had never asked himself before. Suddenly, he is cognizant of questionable behavior by business and government power brokers that he had previously not noticed, and now he needs to make some tough choices. Does Joe jeopardize his career and betray the trust of those he works with or does he support the woman he loves? How far will Nicole go to save the life she loved? Read Bountiful Calling and find out.
All About Fred Burton
Fred Burton grew up in Queens, New York. He wrote fiction in his early 20s and returned to it again after his children reached their teen years. His first novel, The Old Songs, takes place in Queens during the 1950s and early 1960s. Although he grew up after the years covered in this book, he did experience the turbulent effects of this era and heard the stories brought forth from it. One reviewer said the book read like a “gritty Anne Tyler novel.”
His latest novel, Bountiful Calling, is set in central Pennsylvania and was drawn from a variety of influences. While living in Harrisburg, Pa. he was involved in the anti-fracking movement. This was an excellent vantage point from which to see the powerful business and government forces coalescing around the economic potential of fracking but also its effects on individual people and communities.
Burton avoids easy answers, whether in the emotional interactions in The Old Songs or the ideas swirling about in Bountiful Calling. He carefully constructs situations and characters and at a certain point lets them go on their way. He would rather place the reader within a richly textured, complex situation and let him or her decide what is important, what rings with the sound of truth.
Burton spent his career working in the computer information world, both for government and in the private sector. He’s now working on a new novel that builds upon the themes developed in Bountiful Calling. He lives in Baltimore, MD.
Q&A With Bountiful Calling Author Fred Burton
The book’s main conflict involves fracking. Have you or anyone you know been personally affected by it?
What brought up the desire to write this book?
I lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for many years. I attended a few anti-fracking demonstrations during which residents from the fracking regions spoke about the hardships they endured. These areas were under siege, the people collateral damage. I wanted to give voice to their struggles and this book is a response to that desire. Further, actual historical events intermix with the fiction since Pennsylvania is one of the epicenters of fracking that is transforming the economy and environment of the U.S.
In your opinion, is there anything of merit that comes from fracking? If so, is it worth the negative side effects? Would it be better if the government worked with property owners more in order to facilitate the making of more agreeable terms, or do you think that fracking should not be done at all?
The only argument in favor of fracking is if it is used as a bridge energy source to renewables. This is clearly not the case in this country, because there is no defined policy directed towards this outcome. Instead, we burn as much oil and gas as we can pump out of the ground. Even if you listen to only the moderate narrative coming from the scientific community, it’s clear that burning fossil fuels, as we do currently, represents an existential threat to all of us. We are compelled to keep the gas and oil in the ground if we hope to continue a semblance of life as we know it. But this means acting in ways that do not maximize our profit-making capability. And this is in direct conflict with enormously powerful forces present in every phase of our lives. This is the essential drama of our day and Bountiful Calling tries to fairly portray this dynamic.
What would be an ideal government-citizen relationship in regard to fracking?
Today’s governments need to learn from indigenous cultures. Fracking is an excellent example of an overarching societal problem. When we separate ourselves from the world, everything is turned into commodities from which profit can be derived. Governments need to balance short-term needs with the health and sustainability of the planet. Fracking needs to be seen within this framework, which means it needs to stop as soon as possible and governments need to turn their attention to supporting renewable energy technology and development. Most people understand this. Governments need to be responsive to this majority and not the elites, who benefit most from current laws and regulations.
The book goes into more detail on fracking’s negative effects on people than the effects it has on the environment and animals. Was this a conscious decision? Was there a reason why you chose to distance the story from a more man vs. nature conflict in favor of a man vs. man conflict?
This is an interesting question. A major emphasis in the first part of the book was to give the rich cultural traditions that bound the people to the land, which described the spirit of the place. These relationships were at risk because of the juggernaut that fracking had become. This was the lens through which I described the devastating effects of fracking on the natural world. Perhaps I chose this route because this is a human made problem that can only be fixed by modifying human behavior.
Of the two major characters, Joe and Nicole, which one do you relate to more? Did that have an effect on how the character was written?
I’m probably more aligned with Nicole’s point of view because I think we need to explore alternative lifestyles. We have become extremely isolated from each other and the world around us. Healing the wounds this has caused won’t be accomplished with incremental change. But I definitely feel there is a need for people like Joe, whose gift is to work within the system, guided by concern and fairness.I would like to think my alignment to one or the other character had nothing to do with how the characters were developed. In nearly every aspect, I try to distance myself from the book and instead act as a conduit for the development and action that must necessarily occur.
The book follows the point of view of a few different characters, but it focuses on Joe and Nicole the most. What caused you to have two central characters rather than only one?
I think it is extremely powerful to bring to life multiple characters simultaneously. This gives the reader a dynamic experience, as he or she considers who they stand with, and what resonates for them. It’s also consistent with other ideas I’ve expressed in my comments previously. We really aren’t disconnected from each other. Energy flows between us. Expressing that energy is one of the magical qualities that is particularly well-suited to a novel.Another advantage to working with multiple characters is it helped me avoid writing a polemic. This book takes on very complex issues, and multiple points of view deserve to be represented. Environmentalists will probably be the central audience, but there are some within those ranks who will feel I should be harsher with those having different opinions. Anyone with an interest in the societal costs and benefits of fracking should find in this book something that stimulates thought and emotion.
Was there anything you were trying to convey by making Joe work for the government since it was portrayed to a major extent as a co-antagonist of the story? What made you decide to have Joe work with Nicole from within rather than represent the opposing ideals?
This is an excellent question. Joe developed a moral core through the course of the book. In the beginning, he was satisfied with managing his day to day tasks, and performed them without much consideration for their meaning or consequence. Later in the book, I could point to factors that contribute to his behaving in ways not aligned with his best self-interest, but I can’t tell you exactly why he does what he does. In these instances, he experiences his own non-linear, non-rational decision-making process. Accepting this part of himself, then embracing it, allowed him to grow in ways that would not have been possible otherwise.
Was Gabe’s death always planned from the beginning? Was it always intended to be Nicole’s driving force, or was it something that you discovered needed to happen while writing?
It was not planned from the beginning. When I’m writing a novel, I look for the time when the structure is sufficiently formed that it begins placing its demands upon me. These moments, when it starts giving back more than I’m putting into it, are the most exhilarating. Once I accepted the fact that Gabe should die, it opened up the possibility for themes that would be carried through the rest of the book. An example is the transfer of mythic power from 1960s style activism to the type of behavior young people are exhibiting today.
What was the inspiration for the activist group 2 Degrees? Do you think that change can be brought about more effectively if there were more groups with that same level of activism? Or would it be more of a hindrance than a help for the cause?
Groups like 2 Degrees are more of a hindrance. If they ever were able to rise to power, their rule would be just as cruel and unjust as the power structure they are in conflict with. But that is irrelevant because they will never have enough guns or bombs to effect the outcome they desire. The only way for real change to occur is if enough people decide they are not going to participate in the lifestyle demanded of them by those in power. Local, resilient economies must emerge, like the one in its nascent form at the end of the book.There was no specific inspiration for 2 Degrees, although I did find myself thinking about the daughter in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Her pursuit of a pure, revolutionary spirit not only destroys her own life but the lives of her family as well.
Nicole ends up attending a festival that has a spiritual effect on her. Was this inspired by anything that you’ve experienced? What values, if any, does the festival hold that you agree with? How important do you think connecting to the spiritual is for a person?
The festival was inspired by an event attended by someone very close to me. I think the values expressed there, of community and encouraging experiences that extend beyond rational thought, are necessary and useful. But the festival also plays a part in a very important theme of this book. The idea that you cannot force fundamental change is posited in the first few chapters. Instead, we move forward as best we can in partial darkness towards some hard-to-recognize destination. And then, suddenly, outcomes that seemed out of reach are made manifest. And those of us open to what is newly available will be there to embrace them.I think many of us in this culture are working our way back into living with a heightened, spiritual sense. The first way for many is to enter into a more direct relationship with the world around us and to be open to the wonders that this relationship brings forth.
Is there anything about the final story that ended up being different from what you originally had in mind? Was there anything that was cut or added later in the writing process in order to make the book’s message stronger?
There weren’t a lot of significant changes after the first draft. I was surprised at how things fell into place once I got rolling. Actual historical events, my personal observations, and totally made-up characters and scenes all melded agreeably. This was something for which I am very grateful.
Now that you’ve finished this book, what’s next for you? Do you have anything else in mind for Nicole and Joe? Any possibilities for their stories to continue, or are you happy with leaving it here for the two of them?
For now, I will let Nicole and Joe go on their way. I’m confident their lives are on good paths. Currently, I’m working on another novel. It was inspired, in part, by Elon Musk’s work with Neuralink technology. It will pit a fully-formed cyborg who has been programmed for military purposes by a dystopian government against a cyborg who has had Neuralink sessions across the full-range of his thinking and emotional capabilities. But the non-government cyborg is forced to flee before he can fully synthesize all the information available to him. His search for a third way must be performed outside the laboratory.With my new book, I am challenging the notion that the new cultural paradigm I hinted at in Bountiful Calling does not support the idea of heroes and super-heroes. I’ll let you know what I decide when I finish the book.
What are you hoping readers will take away after reading the book?
Throughout the book, I debunk many of the cultural icons on the left and the right. This set the stage for Joe and Nicole to take very bold risks at the end of the book. These actions were tied to an increased appreciation of their own humanity and the world in which they lived. If this gives readers a little more courage to pursue activities that give them a deeper appreciation of their lives, that would be enormously satisfying. If the readers have already staked out a path they feel destined to follow, I hope this helps them stay true to that path and gives them a sense that there are others out there with them.
pam lazos 7.13.20