I am about to embark on an exciting, yet somewhat daunting, journey—writing a series of historical novels based on my own family’s history. While doing research, I was scanning through some old books of mine and I came across this introduction by John Jakes in front of one of his novels from the Kent Chronicles. I feel it reflects not only what is going on in the publishing industry today, but our political climate as well. As is often stated, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
I don’t exactly know why this uplifted me—it isn’t unusually profound—but it did. Hope you get something out of it too. Enjoy.
to this Special Edition
WHEN the first volume of The Kent Chronicles appear in October, 1974, its publication could have been likened to the dropping of a small pebble into a huge pond. Few people connected with the project, I think—and certainly not the author—believed there would be more than a modest ripple created by THE BASTARD and its successors.
But in one of those genuinely unplanned and unplannable miracles which occur now and then—miracles which help make the publishing business a sort of Monte Carlo of words, ink, and paper—the ripple effect grew larger with each succeeding book. Within a relatively short time, many readers began to adopt he Kents as their second family—just as I had.
It seems to me there are two main reasons why this happened:
Although readers are often told by pundits that there’s something slightly shameful about enjoying an old-fashioned story, those same readers, bless them, continue to ignore the message. Any writer has to be grateful for that.
But the gratitude is doubled because the Kent saga is not only the continuing tale of a family, but the story of our country’s beginning and growth. That story can’t be re-told too often; especially in these times when we often founder in pessimism, forgetting that Americans have overcome enormous obstacles in the past, and steadfastly continued to perfect a form of government which, with all its faults, remains a beacon of hope for the world.
I’ve received many a letter complaining about the dullness of history as it seems to be taught in school. The letters often ask rhetorically why the colorful, human side of that history seldom appears in conventional texts. I’ve never quite figured out a satisfactory answer for the question. But this series, in its own way, is an attempt to help remedy the apparent deficiency.
It’s been interesting to travel around the country, talk with readers, and watch another developing aspect of “the ripple effect.” In the beginning—and this is a completely subjective, unscientific analysis!—the series seemed to attract mainly those people who liked historical novels and couldn’t find a sufficient quantity of new ones; in other words, the first readers were dedicated readers.
Of late, though, I’ve begun to encounter a different kind of Kent fan. Typically, he or she will start a conversation by saying, “I don’t usually read books but—” Or, “I only read a couple of books a year, but—” That too adds to a writer’s satisfaction, which, contrary to popular belief, isn’t really derived from gloating over sales figures, but from knowing a given book has touched an individual human being on a one-to-one basis.
So if the series has attracted readers who might not normally have turned its pages even a year ago, so much the better.
Many people have repeatedly asked for a more permanent version of the novels. Consequently this special edition fills a genuine need, and its publication provides just one more opportunity for men and women to watch the unfolding drama of America through the eyes of the Kents—a family, by the way, that never intended to be made up entirely of successful, flawless paragons. Real families are seldom like that.
My thanks, then, to the publishers of this edition for their willingness to present the times, triumphs and travails of the Kents—and the canvas of our common past—to yet another segment of the American reading public.