Chuck Lemieux sits on the porch swing with his daughter, Megan, at their home in Forgan, Okla. Lemieux is the author of “Whispers In the Wind,” now available online and at Hastings in Liberal. Daily Leader photo/Jessica Crawford
• Daily Leader
Those driving through Forgan, Okla. most likely don’t realize the tiny town with a population of approximately 700 people is very rich in history. C.L. “Chuck” Lemieux Jr. has captured some of that history in his novel “Whispers In the Wind.”
“Whispers In the Wind” follows a young girl as she grows up in the 70s and 80s in the Oklahoma Panhandle town of Forgan.
“The story is about Abby Lynn McAlester, and it runs the length of her life,” Lemieux said. “She is a tomboy at heart. It begins when she is in the fifth grade and she is not really all that interested in boys at that point, but she has a best friend. Her best friend is Henry Newburn. She kind of discovers in the beginning of the book that Henry has interest in girls now. So, that begins to change things for her.
“Henry becomes her dream,” he continued. “He is who she has set her sights on. Henry has a younger brother, his name is J.B. Where as Henry is the popular one, J.B. is not as popular, but he has a pretty solid personality. So, the book follows Abby’s journey and it is unique because she tells the story all the way through to the end.”
“Whispers In the Wind” is Lemieux’s first novel. He discovered his love for writing during high school when he was required to complete a writing project.
“I wrote some children’s stories and wrote some poems, actually as far back as high school,” he said. “Back in high school, I took a class that had some projects. I wrote a children’s story. The teacher told me that if I would expand that story into book length, I wouldn’t have to do any other projects for the year. She said all she required me to do was make it book length and send it to one publisher.
“I did that, and it didn’t get published,” he said with a laugh. “It was about a frog. It was back when the Six Million Dollar Man was popular, so the story was ‘The Adventures of Bionic Frog.’”
In college, Lemieux began writing a science fiction novel. However, handwriting an entire novel, Lemieux said, was a long and tedious undertaking. He vowed at that point not to write again until he had a computer. Right around the time he was equipped to begin writing again, he discovered an author that ultimately became his primary influence.
“I read a lot,” he said. “I read a lot of different things. We got a computer and around that time I had actually stumbled upon Nicholas Sparks. I got ‘Message in a Bottle’ for my wife and I to watch. I was looking for something to read and I had noticed that Nicholas Sparks had written ‘The Notebook.’ I had liked the movie.
“So I started reading his stuff and I was just really taken by the way he could use words to tweak someone’s emotions,” he explained. “You read a lot of stuff but when someone can take something fiction and actually jab you with it is just amazing. He writes in such a way that you can see a projector in your mind, you can just see what is happening. I guess that is where I can say I kind of got inspired, I wanted to write something like that.”
When Lemieux was brainstorming about the project that would eventually become “Whispers In the Wind,” he decided to challenge himself as a writer.
“I decided the biggest challenge for me would be to write a story from the character being female,” he said. “I wondered if I could really make the character believable and not a guy’s version. I wanted to make it something that when someone else read it they actually felt comfortable thinking it was a girl. I figured if I could do that, then I could do any of the other characters. That is a challenge. We think differently, so to try to make it work it takes a lot of looking at it from different directions. So, that is why I chose Abby as my first character.”
Much of Lemieux’s inspiration for his characters in their younger years came from his own children. Lemieux and his wife, Julie, have four children, Kaleb, Josh, Logan and Megan. With characters in mind, Lemieux began writing “Whispers In the Wind.”
“Watching the kids when they were younger playing kind of gave me the ideas for the beginning of the story,” he said. “I actually wrote the end first. I knew where I was going to go with it and I kind of wanted to figure out the end before I got going. I wrote the end then I went back and started from the beginning.
“That was actually probably eight or nine years ago,” Lemieux said. “I wrote the novel that long ago. I have written two more complete novels since then and I have at least three more started.”
Over the years, Lemieux tried many avenues, but was unable to find a publisher for “Whispers In the Wind.” Without an agent, it was nearly impossible for him to even get a publisher to consider his novel.
Somewhat discouraged, Lemieux took a break from his novels and began working on several screenplays.
“Honestly in the last year to two years, I haven’t written near as much,” he said. “I got kind of burned out. I got to the point where I was thinking I wasn’t going to get anywhere. Then I started doing some screenplays. Screenplays are a whole different format from a novel. I started doing screenplays just to try to learn it a little bit.”
When Lemieux’s brother-in-law introduced him to Amazon’s Kindle and CreateSpace, he knew it was time to try to get his work to the public once again. The difference this time was that he could bypass the need for a publisher and agent altogether.
“Julie’s brother sent me a link to Amazon for their Kindle edition,” he said. “It is the audio book for their Kindle device. I looked at that and I thought, ‘I’m not doing anything else right now’ with them, so it wasn’t going to hurt to try. So, I formatted (the novel) for Kindle and put it on there.
“After I did Kindle, I noticed that Amazon has CreateSpace which is print on demand,” he explained. “It kind of beats traditional publishing because the publisher isn’t out the money that it takes to invest in the book. They print it as the books are ordered. That is when I decided I was going to go that direction. In publishing, you have pretty much been stuck with a traditional publisher or Vanity Press – self-publishing. The problem with Vanity Press is it often costs the writer a lot of money to get started.”
The only issue Lemieux has encountered with the route he has taken is simply getting the word out about “Whispers In the Wind.”
“The downside of doing what I am doing is I don’t have a big marketing company, I don’t have a big way to get the book out and around to different places,” he said. “We have been using word of mouth and Facebook. We have sold quite a few here in Forgan. We haven’t sold as many on Amazon as I would like, but it is picking up. On Amazon, you are just one little fish in a really big sea.”
“Whispers In the Wind” is available for download with Kindle for $1.99 or in print for $9.35 plus shipping and handling. Lemieux has also been selling copies out of his home. Recently, the book has become available at Liberal’s Hastings for $12.99.
As “Whispers In the Wind” continues to reach the public, those familiar with Forgan have enjoyed the trip down memory lane, Lemieux said. Many locations in the novel actually existed in Forgan at sometime or another.
“Locally, there are a ton of people that are saying it is bringing back a lot of memories,” he said. “I used a lot of places that were around. Some of them were actually gone when my family and I moved here in 1974. The hardware store that I used, Coldwater Hardware Store, there was a Coldwater Hardware Store, but it was gone way before I got here. The AAA was actually referred to by all of us as Deanie’s. Alvin and Deanie Neese actually ran AAA Drug Store. They had an old fountain down there, and we would go down after school and Deanie would actually mix the sodas.
“Of course, the theater was real,” he continued. “My character is Mrs. Dawson, but she is a lot like the real theater owner, Mrs. Hawes. None of the other characters are people that I know, but Mrs. Hawes did give inspiration to Mrs. Dawson. When I thought of the theater, I thought of her. She was just like Mrs. Dawson in the book. She probably ran the theater more for the kids than for anything. If you asked for some kind of candy, it was really possible that it would be there the next time. That character is largely based on her.
Although “Whispers In the Wind” is definitely striking a chord with those familiar with Forgan’s history, Lemieux hopes those not aware of Forgan’s past can also relate to the story on a special level.
“I thought that a lot of people would connect with our past, but at the same time, I am hoping that a lot of people who aren’t connected to us can relate to the book as well,” he said. “It is a journey a lot of people experience. Abby has some of the same struggles that a lot of people I know have had. She has made up her mind what she wants, and she goes after it. Life teaches her some lessons along the way.”