Teacher finds inspiration for novel

May 30, 2018 — by Elaine Sun

As media arts teacher Joel Tarbox scanned through an article about a tourist spot in Maine with an actual mummy from Egypt, he grew increasingly fascinated, comparing the Maine described in the article with the Maine from his childhood. Suddenly, he came up with the idea for a novel he later titled “End Lines.”

The suspenseful novel, which he has self-published, depicts a boy who discovers an ancient relic in the Maine woods. According to Tarbox, the novel is not appropriate for children, as “it’s more of a Stephen King suspenseful story,” with thriller and  horror aspects. He is currently working on a second novel, which is a memoir.

Although Tarbox doesn’t consider himself a true author since he doesn’t write to make a living, he enjoys both writing and painting in his free time as a hobby. Still, compared to painting, he calls writing “a pain” at times because it requires more focus.

He said that one of the most difficult part of writing is finding time for it. Writing for him requires a lot of concentration, and it’s hard to find time to have the isolation needed to write.

“I love the art and process of writing; it’s very enjoyable, but it’s another tier down [from painting],” he said. “I can have other people there when I paint and I can carry on a conversation — maybe it’s because I’ve been doing it long enough. But when I write I have to be alone; it has to be quiet. No distractions.”

Tarbox’s childhood in Maine heavily influenced the topic of his book. Every year when he returns to Maine, he finds a new inspiration for both writing and painting, including strange roadside attractions such as the International Cryptozoology Museum, the 31-foot-tall Paul Bunyan statue, the birthplace of the inventor of the donut hole and the World’s Tallest Indian.

“There’s a sort of strange mystery to Maine, like it’s not fully connected to the modern world,” Tarbox said.

Tarbox said he starts writing with an idea and a storyline. For example, while writing “End Lines,” he had the idea but couldn’t figure out the ending at first; luckily, it spontaneously came to him while he was driving. He also keeps a list of story ideas on his computer so that he can start one when he has free time, and he often comes up with ideas as he moves through daily life.

Still, Tarbox worries how people, especially ones who are close to him, may react to his writing and art.

“It’s a normal concern for writers to draw on their family or their experiences,” he said. “They don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, and it’s very hard to get people to understand that.”

Because many characters in the novel are similar to people Tarbox knows in real life, most people who recognize themselves in the novel have a hard time separating themselves from fiction, and they are uncomfortable “seeing themselves in ugly situations.” Reading the novel was especially difficult for his family members, and only one could finish the entire book.

“The novel is a horror story and has characters that do some awful things,” Tarbox said. “These are fictitious characters, but some people have a hard time seeing that separation.”

This idea is also common with his paintings. People often recognize people in his artwork, yet Tarbox claims they are all from his imagination.

“The closer people are, the harder it is to separate,” he said, referring to the similarities between people he knows and the characters in his story.

Although some may believe that his stories contain characters reflecting those around him in real life, Tarbox mostly enjoys writing fiction, drawing on family experiences such as his childhood to create his characters. He is a fan of Stephen King — despite not usually being a fan of horror — and Charles Dickens and Russian literature, such as the novel “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Though Tarbox writes consistently, he only does so when he has free time.

“One of the best things about writing for me is that there is nothing riding on it,” Tarbox said. “I don’t need to write to make a living. I just do it for fun.”

 

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