Carl Howe Hansen went through at least three different manuscripts over 40 years before he was able to finally complete and publish his first novel, Destiny.
The time it took wasn’t totally his fault; his first draft, written between gigs as a traveling musician, was stolen at knifepoint while he was traveling in Morocco in the ‘70s. He’d been exploring a bazaar and happened to be clutching the 200-page manuscript when it was ripped from him, along with all his other possessions on hand. The second disappeared, along with his home, in a house fire years later.
There were a few other setbacks — namely the other things he wanted to do, like raise a family, play in a band, ski professionally and make furniture and educational toys. Hansen, who lives in Sandwich, was distracted by “temptation of experience.” Then there’s the stigma of being a writer.
“You say, ‘Oh, I’m a writer,’ and people say, ‘Yeah, big deal. Everybody wants to be a writer! What have you done? What have you written?’” Hansen said. “Also, not all of us have the ability to say, ‘I want to write today’ and ignore all other responsibilities. … I’ve yearned to be a writer pretty much all my life, but I decided early on I didn’t want to do just one thing. I wanted to write, but in order to write, I had to also be able to make a living.”
He wrote Destiny between work and home responsibilities. Many characters are the same as in the draft stolen years ago, but the plot’s changed.
This version, which he’ll talk about during various speaking engagements in the coming month, is about a biologist who’s created a bacterium that can neutralize oil spills. When a military contractor uses his own version of his discovery for the first time, however, something goes horribly wrong.
“The story didn’t really develop to the way it is now until about eight years ago,” he said. “I read a story about oil-eating bacteria in the news and got this idea.”
Hansen said he’s very interested in sustainability, and much of the book discusses the environmental consequences of current human activity.
“We’re scheduled to be running out of oil soon. It’s coming. When it does, what are we going to do to replace oil? What happens when oil is taken away from us suddenly, and if we as a planet are forced to block the engines of progress? A good portion of the world’s population would starve to death because mechanized farming would end.”
But more so, Hansen said Destiny is meant to entertain. He’s working on writing a sequel between sailing, cabinet-making (his full-time job) and promoting the book. It’s nice to finally be doing what he’s always wanted to.
“I’ve been lying to myself. I’ve always been telling people, ‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.’ … But I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” Hansen said. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be the great American novelist.”
He’s still not able to make writing a full-time gig, but his other activities, for the most part, allow him to think about the stories as he works.
“When I sit down, I already know what I’m going to write because I’ve visualized what I’m working on. If I’m driving the car, working with wood, sailing or skiing, one part of my mind is thinking about the story. When I go to bed at night, I’m thinking of a story. I’m thinking about conversations my characters are having, and I go to sleep with that in mind too,” he said. “When I wake up in the morning, I flesh out that scene on paper.”
As seen in the June 25, 2015 issue of the Hippo.