SACKETS HARBOR — Richard E. Probert’s new novel, much like his 2016 novel, “That Good Night,” features a character who goes on a journey of discovery. But whereas “That Good Night” involved sailing – something Mr. Probert knows very well – “Whereabouts Unknown” introduces characters who opened up new horizons for the author.
For example, one of the characters in “unknown place” is a stonemason.
“It’s always interested me,” Mr. Probert said. “But I don’t know how this character was born.”
But it helps when the characters he envisions start “talking” to him. Some of these characters are easy to understand, while others are difficult for Mr. Probert to understand.
“It takes time for the characters to emerge,” he said. “Beth was very difficult to deal with. She didn’t want to talk to me. I had to think a lot until it finally opened.
Beth Adamski is the 18-year-old protagonist of “Whereabouts Unknown,” which is set in the 1990s. After her parents are killed in a car accident, Beth discovers she has what she believes to be a sister. She then embarks on a road trip from her home in Indiana that becomes a journey of discovery.
The novel, one of the 10 shortlisted in 2021 Untied shelf Best Independent Book Competition, skips to the 1950s and 1970s, where Milwaukee-born Vietnam veteran Jim Robinson, searching for direction, discovers a mentor in Sal Conti, an elderly Italian stone carver. Jim and Beth’s lives finally intersect.
The wisdom of the older generation was also a theme in Mr. Probert’s speech “That good night.”
Mr. Probert is the founder and retired director of the Sackets Harbor Vocal Arts Ensemble. He started the choir shortly after moving to Sackets Harbor from Albany with his wife, Dr. Carmelita V. Britton. He has over 50 years of experience in conducting, ranging from children’s choirs to professional performing organizations. About six years ago, he retired as an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship and emerging businesses at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management.
Both of Mr. Probert’s novels are about loss and love. He is also the author of “Archie’s Way: A Memoir of Friendship and Craftmanship”. In 1999, he won the Wisconsin Library Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award by an Author. He was living in the state at the time.
The idea for “Whereabouts Unknown”, published by Beaufort Books, came to him while on vacation in Venezuela about 15 years ago.
“I ran out of books in English, so I decided to write a book that I would like to read,” he said. “It morphed in different ways. Finally, about a year and a half ago, I pulled out my manuscript, looked at it, and rewrote it.
The writing helped fill a creative void.
“I have always enjoyed writing,” said Mr. Probert. “But a lot of my energy went to music. My music was paramount to being able to express who I am on an abstract level. But when I had to stop directing, my mind turned to writing. Writing filled that void.
Mr. Probert said there was another romance brewing in his mind.
“But it’s not ready yet for me to put anything on paper,” he said.
It offers encouragement and advice to future novel writers.
“The advice I have for anyone who wants to write a book, young or old, is to write,” Mr. Probert said. “When I start writing a book, I go to work on it. I get up, go to work and sometimes spend six to eight hours writing. And I do it every day, no matter what. I might get a sentence, or I might get nothing.
But he added: “It’s the discipline you have to have. It’s a job — going to work and settling down.
n WHAT: The novel “Whereabouts Unknown” by Sackets Harbor resident Richard E. Probert.
n PUBLISHED BY: Beaufort Books, New York, 275 pages.
n COST: $24.95 hardcover, $14.95 e-book.
n AVAILABLE: At The Little Book Store in Clayton and Watertown and also online.