SANDGATE, Vt. (AP) – For a long time, author Brad Kessler thought his time on the farm was taking away from his real job.
These days, he’s not so sure. The 44-year-old “Birds In Fall” novelist, who won a pair of prestigious literary prizes last month, is increasingly finding inspiration on the 75-acre farm where he lives with his wife, gardening, raising goats and making cheese.
“I think about my friends back in New York and writers who are drinking cappuccinos and having these brilliant conversations and going to salons and here I am, digging potatoes. I think, ‘Where did I go wrong?’
“But lately I think, no, it’s actually feeding my work.”
To be sure, it’s a long way from the suburbs of New York where he grew up to the creaky 19th-century farmhouse where he and photographer wife Dona Ann McAdams moved 10 years ago.
Located five miles up a secluded, partially-paved road, the farm’s vast stretches of pasture, orchards and wooded hillsides have proved an ideal hideaway. Kessler, who fancies himself a “rural hermit writer” in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau, has jumped into farm life with both feet.
Despite no experience with livestock, the couple bought nubian goats and taught themselves how to care for them, raise their young and use their milk.
Now, their life revolves around the animals – up before dawn to milk them, taking them for walks, processing the milk into chevre, tomme and mozzarella cheese – for much of the year.
“I’ve always been fascinated with goats,” Kessler said in an interview, sitting in a chair in his backyard on a sun-splashed late fall afternoon. “When I traveled to India and other places, goats have always been around.
“I’ve always felt this strange kinship with goats. They’re horribly entertaining, and smart. When it happened, it made complete sense. It was like “What have we been doing all these years?”‘
Now, his two principal pursuits are coming together.
He is at work on “The Goat Diaries,” a non-fiction account of his experiences on the farm, which is due to be published in 2009.
Last month, he was one of 10 people to capture Whiting Writers’ Awards, which have been given annually since 1985 to “emerging writers of exceptional talent and promise.”
The award, which came with a $50,000 prize, was for “Birds In Fall,” his 2006 novel based on the 1998 crash of a Swiss Air jetliner off the coast of Nova Scotia.
The book, which also helped him win a $10,000 Dayton Literary Peace Prize last month, was a long time in the making.
Kessler started writing it in August 2001, and had written scenes involving the World Trade Center and a woman who picked up the dead birds who fell to the ground after accidentally smashing into the towers.
A month later, the events of Sept. 11 forced him to step away.
“It did set the clock back to zero, in terms of what people were making art of. In my case, it was that you can’t write a novel about a plane crash after the two biggest plane crashes in the history of aviation,” Kessler said.
He left “Birds In Fall” alone for two years before returning to finish it. The World Trade Center and the woman were removed.
Now, he’s writing what he knows – and finding it easier.
“It’s so much different between a novel and nonfiction. A novel is so much harder to write, for me. With a novel, especially when you’re just starting, I’m only good for a couple of hours a day, in the morning and the evening.”
The rest of the day I’ve gotta’ do something else.
“With nonfiction, it’s a little different. I almost can spend all day,” he said.
In addition to his four-legged muses, Kessler gets inspiration from bells that ring at the Charter House of the Transfiguration, a monastery of Carthusian monks, which is located just over the hill from his farm.
He and McAdams hear them in the evening.
“I’ve been writing about making cheese, which is what I do now, and how cheesemaking is a traditionally a monastic craft, as it was developed in the monasteries. So there’s this weird parallel, what happens on the other side of the hills and what happens here.
“The writing life, in some way, there’s a kind of a secular monasticism to it,” he said.