Local author explores family history in latest novel
“Mounthaven is a seductress,” says local author Bernard Peyton Chamberlain, Jr.
When Peyton (as he prefers to be called) speaks, the cadence of his words is leisurely yet precise. His is a voice that calls to mind mint juleps. With a kick. It’s a seductive, mesmerizing voice, and his writing is very much the same. Peyton chooses words for their sounds, not for their shortcuts to the action sequences.
Peyton is a literary, rather than a commercial, writer. He’s had several careers in his lifetime, from teacher to radio operator, but he’s always had an interest in writing. He wrote stories for his high school magazine. After a stint in the army, he returned to civilian life to complete his college degree. He decided to try a creative writing course because he needed an A in any course that semester to bring up his grade point average.
“I won an honorable mention in the Atlantic Monthly collegiate writing contest the year that I took that course. That got me thinking, ‘By golly, if you can do that, maybe you are potentially a writer.’ So I started writing from that point on.”
It took him ten years to complete his first novel, Phoenix Flower, which is now the first book of a trilogy about a Cold War espionage agent. “I taught myself [while] writing that book [about] how to handle a novel, how to construct it, put it together.”
It doesn’t take him ten years to finish his novels anymore; Peyton has finished more books than he has currently published. His fifth and most recently published novel is Mounthaven, a generational tale of one Virginia family’s struggle to restore their former position in society after the Civil War, and the house, Mounthaven, is used to that end.
Peyton knows from firsthand experience about the seductive charm and decadence of Mounthaven. Mounthaven, though a work of fiction, is actually the story of Peyton’s family. In his other books, Peyton has allowed the characters to do the storytelling, to tell him what they will or will not do, but “the people [in Mounthaven] have already done what they’re doing; I’m just reporting it and trying to understand it. . . . So [Phoenix Flower and Mounthaven] are different pieces of work. One is kind of waiting to see what’s going to happen, and the other is making sense out of what has already been done.”
He had several reasons for choosing the novel’s subject matter, but they primarily come down to family. “Nobody in my family [now] knows anything about my family [then]. The second reason was my father.” Peyton had a contentious relationship with his father, and part of the book is his attempt to understand his father and what made him tick.
While Peyton knew a lot about the history and people of the house in which he grew up, he didn’t always know the motivation behind the actual characters; he admits that what he didn’t know, he tried to figure out. Sadly, Peyton doesn’t believe all the characters of Mounthaven, if they were alive to read the novel, would be happy with how they are portrayed.
Reviews of Mounthaven are very good. Perhaps the reviewers, like so many others, were enticed by the house. Or possibly they were drawn in by Peyton’s writing and storytelling. “I want to write stories that will stand the test of time. I don’t care if people forget my name, but I want my work to survive.”
You can get Mounthaven at Amazon.