BRUNSWICK — What would drive an optometrist to write a novel?
For Brian Daniels, the answer is: his patients.
“I am blessed with having a constant parade of interesting people that come through my office every day,” he said. “Some of the most interesting patients who have come in to see me are fishermen and their families.”
So when Daniels, 58, started to write his first novel, “Luke’s Dream,” a tragic romance between a lobsterman and a Bowdoin College student, he drew on the collective knowledge of his patients.
“When I need to know about lobstering, I bring pages of the manuscript into the office and give it to lobstermen and they take it home and read it,” he said. Through this process, Daniels fact-checked details like how lobstermen wash their boats (they use soap, not bleach), and what kinds of crates they use (plastic, not wooden).
Daniel relied upon another close to home source – his kids – for the other major character in his book, a Bowdoin student who works at J.C’s, a fictional Joshua’s Tavern.
“My kids would always go to Joshua’s,” he said, and they told him stories of the interactions between Bowdoin students and local residents. “There was certainly some conflict there from the stories they tell me,” he said.
But Daniels’ book takes the town-gown relationship and turns it on its head. Instead of tension between a Bowdoin student and a local, there is romance as Emily Goodwin, the Bowdoin student, and Luke Coffin, the lobsterman, fall in love and get married. That is, until Emily is suddenly killed in a freak car accident. The rest of the novel unfolds in circles, as past characters return to haunt the present, and Luke tries to figure out if Emily’s death was an accident or not.
Daniels got his start as a writer through playing music. He plays mandolin in Back to Basics Bluegrass, and has been song writing for more than 18 years.
“It’s really challenging because you’re trying to write a story in two to three verses and a chorus,” he said. “In many ways it’s more challenging than writing novels.”
Whether Daniels is writing novels or songs, some of the same themes pop into mind: romance and rural life. He grew up with both – he and his wife are both from the same small town in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Daniels wanted to be a large animal veterinarian, but switched to optometry when he realized how many farmers struggled to pay vets for their work. After graduating from optometry school, Daniels was a doctor in the Navy in Bethesda, Md., before moving to work on the base in Portsmouth, N.H. He ended up in Brunswick not for the Navy, but because he knew another optometrist practicing here.
“I feel fortunate that I enjoy what I do for a living, but if I could do that two days a week and write the rest of the time, that would be nice,” he said.
Those days are coming soon for Daniels, who said he plans to work three days a week after he turns 60. He’s going to need the time to finish a historical novel he’s already started on Old Orchard Beach. While he researches that book, he’ll be practicing optometry and taking mental notes on his patients to incorporate them into future stories.
“Luke’s Dream,” which is self-published, can be found at Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick, Ship to Shore Store in Harpswell and Sherman’s Books in Freeport.
Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Daniels is the author of “Luke’s Dream,” a self-published novel.