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His Hand is on the Pulse
 
An Interview with Brewster Milton Robertson

by Joyce Dixon

 
  If you are well-read in current events and trends, you may be able to map out the course of the Country.  It is a fine talent for a writer to have, and Brewster Robertson is so blessed. 

His latest thriller, A Grail Mystique hits with the impact of headlines that reflect current political, economic and industrial trends.  His novel shows the changes in a multi-invested, family mega-corporation, when the family bloodline is weakened and less involved. The Grahams of North Carolina emulate many Southern industrial dynasties.

Born in Roanoke, Virginia, Robertson has been a commercial artist, Army Medical Service officer, a pharmaceutical salesman, marketing consultant, Marketing Director for various hospitals and medically oriented companies, teacher, photographer’s model and film actor, ghost writer and consulting editor.

A member of Southern Book Critics Circle, Robertson regularly writes about the arts, writers and writing for Publisher’s Weekly and many other well-known periodicals.

 

Was the stock name GRAIL intentional or did it just happen as you worked out a stock for Graham International, Ltd.? 

In the early drafts of the novel the corporate name was Graham/unLimited and the stock symbol was G/uL.  Eventually this evolved into Graham International, Ltd. and Grail. 

Legend holds that the Holy Grail was Jesus' bowl at the Last Supper, then later it was at King Arthur's Round Table and lost.  The Knights search for the Holy Grail became renowned.  Is Norris Wrenn on his own search for the Holy Grail -- that is an ideal world? 

Norris Wrenn is haunted by the guilt that he sold out his lofty dreams in exchange for wealth and power. For Norris, the Holy Grail is his struggle to find that noble part of himself that he betrayed when he married the daughter of Senator Dabney Thoroughgood Farnsworth and went to work for his father-in-law’s powerful Washington law firm.

Norris Wrenn can be compared to Jay Gatsby.  He made it to the party, but is still an outsider to the bloodlines.  How does class play in The Grail Mystique

Social class is one of the novel’s overriding themes.  From middle-class roots, Norris realized early that he had the intelligence and charisma to rise above his humble beginnings and compromised his ideals when he saw the opportunity to impose his strength over the weakness of his ineffectual roommate, Trip Graham.

Trip Graham has a lost weekend and wakes linked to a movie actress found dead from a drug overdose.  How common are lost weekends in the world of alcoholics?

Blackouts (alcoholic amnesia) are quite common among alcoholics. 

What is the difference in withdrawal for alcoholics and drug addicts?  Should the country be more concerned with legal alcohol than illegal drugs?  What about the abuse of prescription drugs to glamour drugs (cocaine)?

Withdrawal from chronic and acute alcohol (and barbiturates) abuse can be life threatening.  It is quite common that chronic alcoholics experience DTs, which are characterized by extremely high fevers and hallucinations and can end in death.  We truly are a society that believes in “Better living through chemistry.”  At least 10% of the population are alcoholic abusers (because denial is so powerful, probably much higher).  We tried controlling alcohol once and Prohibition didn’t work. The addiction to mood-altering prescription drugs among our society is rampant. A frightening percentage of the population cannot make it through the day without tranquilizers (the new buzz word is: anti-depressant).

Trip's grandfather died from hemorrhaging resulting from alcohol abuse.  Trip has a near fatal hemorrhage.  Is there a trait in "old money" where those of inherited wealth are ill-equipped to develop a sense of work ethic and social responsibility in light of having every whim supplied?

The moral and physical degeneration among the heirs to old money is a classic theme among writers like Erskine Caldwell, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John O’Hara, Tennessee Williams and Faulkner.  I have seen it up close…it has fascinated me all my life.   

What would you like the reader to learn from Trip's experience? 

The primary reason that people read fiction is to be entertained and it is always my goal to grab the readers with the very first line and seduce them line-by-line all the way to the very last page.  If the novelist does that well, then he can weave in that storytelling tapestry all sorts of worthwhile insights into the human condition.  I purposefully set out in The Grail Mystique to write the most graphic and true to life description of late stage alcoholism that I could. All of Trip’s experiences were based on my own late stages of the disease. I particularly wanted to expose the overpowering sense of  “denial” that is pervasive among not only the alcoholic, but also the co-dependents, i.e. Clayton, Mabel and Marilee.

The Grail Mystique was originally drafted pre-9/11.  Though the political intrigue and world economic elements were present in the first version, what changes did you make after the terrorists attacks?  Did your voice change in any way?

Actually, I had just finished a complete rewrite of the novel before 9/11, which brought all the political elements of the new presidency up to date.  When the smoke from the terrorist attacks cleared up and patterns of a national mindset began to emerge, nothing had really changed that would effect my plot in any significant way.  It was actually quite simple to add a few touches here and there to acknowledge a terrorized post-9/11 America.

GRAIL is like ENRON in that Norris was projecting unrealistic futures.  What does The Grail Mystique say about Wall Street and the Fortune 500 CEO's?

I am beginning to feel like something of a prophet…first, depicting a pro-life President in Rainy Days and Sundays and, now, the secret inner-workings of things above the 40th floor.  Of course, all of the obscenity of overpaid CEOs has been out there for a long time…it took the Enron et al scandal of “cooking the books” to bring it to public attention.  One of the things that fascinates me is how the ordinary working stiff really doesn’t care about what goes on as long as he can make his house and car payment and pay the grocery bill.

Colonial Hall, NC is a company town, where GRAIL is law and the Grahams are the ruling class.  There is a hinted comparison to the Reynolds, Dukes and other southern families of great wealth.  How is the power of wealth in a small southern town different from a resort town (Palm Beach, Hilton Head)? 

Palm Beach and Hilton Head Island are the playgrounds of people like the Grahams. 

One thing that northerners have never really understood is that the South is a truly agrarian feudal society.  Colonial Hall with the Grail Tower (and the gated enclave along Club Drive) is symbolic of a feudal castle and the Graham’s seat of power.  The passages on pages 34-35 describe how the Graham dynasty rules the working population like a benevolent feudal lord.  While there are certain of the upwardly mobile young executives and local tradesmen and professionals who are granted membership in The Country Club, most of the rest of the town will be born and live and die without ever catching a glimpse inside the gates.  

This power is summed up in the title The Grail Mystique, and is taken directly from page 317: 

“…The Grahams—the Grail mystique—didn’t really have anything to do with people. It had nothing to do with good, bad...right, wrong... sorrow, joy...love, hate...not in the sense the Grahams had emotions like regular people, or reacted like regular people or cared like regular people. They only looked like regular people. Grail was a fabrication—the glorious Graham tapestry. What was Grail made of anyway? Things...places... goods...raw materials...machines...buildings...certificates of ownership... memberships and all the other things that don’t endure.
          But certainly not compassion…
          A Graham was brought up never to feel anything but good about anything he did.
          It was simple. If the motives were Clayton or Mabel Graham’s they were right. Who dared dispute it?
          To the Clayton Massie Grahams, people were just people. You looked at them...you examined their family tree, what clubs they belonged to and what schools their children attended and what use you might make of any of all that—then you filed them in their proper pigeon hole.
          Graham values? They respected people and things with a dollar sign attached. Even their own? At the moment, to Clayton, Trip was nothing more than a bitter disappointment, a problem...a liability.
          Mabel and Clayton both were more concerned with the theater of their lives.
          The Grail mystique?

Your characters are complex and flawed. Each has their own past secrets to hide or protect from enemies. How do you see the hero in the modern world?

We are surrounded by heroes. Norris has little respect for quitters and whiners. He thinks the real heroes are the people who persevere against all odds to pursue the realization of potential...men and women who dare to be better than they know themselves to be.

Norris Wrenn tries to live up to the credo: Every man must be his own hero. (i.e., To thine ownself be true, and it will follow as the day the night, thou canst not be false to any man.)

Norris's story doesn't end with The Grail Mystique. Is there a sequel and can you tell us about it?

I have just finished a third novel A Fine Silver Rain which takes place during a big international medical congress at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, WVA. The novel deals with a young pharmaceutical representative who is confronted with the meaning of "true class."

And, I have started a sequel to The Grail Mystique entitled The Grail Enigma. It is set in
Washington, DC, during the Cherry Blossom week in 2003. Chatham Brookes and his powerful friends are still pursuing Norris to take a role in politics...and there is a certain ambitious senator who will stop at nothing for a chance to be the first female president.


Brewster Milton Robertson web site

 
 
 
The Grail Mystique
by Brewster Milton Robertson
Wyrick & Co., 2003
Hardcover, $24.95  (498 pages)
ISBN: 0-941711-64-1

     Southern Scribe Review

 

 

Rainy Days and Sundays
by Brewster Milton Robertson
Harbor House, 2000
ISBN: 1-891799-12-6

     Southern Scribe Review

 

 

© 2003, Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved