“Incident on the Road to Canterbury”: A Conversation with Vince Pantalone
Curtis Smith: Incident on the Road to Canterbury offers a look at what might have happened in the lead-up to Chaucer’s famous tale. First off, what drew you to Chaucer? What were the seeds of this notion to consider his work from this point of view? Secondly, when did this structure come to you? How long did this kick around in your head before you started the project?
Vince Pantalone: I have been a big fan of Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES since I began teaching it years ago. Each year, my research into the characters made them more and more familiar to me. Since Chaucer never completed his masterpiece, only finishing 22/24 tales out of the 120 tales planned, I began to think what if something “fictionally” would have happened to interrupt the trip to Canterbury? This notion had been in my mind for years, but when I actually began the project, it took four years to complete.
CS: Chaucer’s tale is a balancing of a host of stories and perspectives. What challenges did you find in this juggling of so many different sets of eyes and hearts? Did you discover any ties between characters and stories you didn’t consider at first?
VP: With 30 distinct characters from the “Prologue” to work with, I had to figure out how I was going to use them in my own plot line. Chaucer gives hints that certain characters were virtuous, while others were corrupt. Once I began to separate the “good guys” from the “bad guys”, the task of employing the characters to my plot became easier.
CS: Your structure is unique in many ways because you know where all these people and stories will end—and your job was to imagine backwards instead of forward. What made itself evident first—the plot arc you wanted to follow or the stories of the characters? Or did they come together in layers of understanding? Did any of the characters’ storylines surprise you with where they went?
VP: The plot line was clear to me from the beginning: “on the way to the cathedral in Canterbury, a group of pilgrims would experience a kidnapping and a murder.” The challenge was to use Chaucer’s descriptions of the characters and fit them into my plot. I felt a need to mention all of Chaucer’s characters. The tricky part was to determine which characters would be major players in the novel and which would not. Except for the trip to Canterbury, my novel’s plot line varies from Chaucer’s greatly, so I felt a certain freedom to use the characters to fit into my plot.
CS: Since learning of your project, I’ve been finding myself thinking of the pre-story of other books—kind of like envisioning a Godfather 2 for the stories I thought I knew—and the possibilities are really intriguing. Did you consider doing the pre-story for any other works—or was it Chaucer all the way? If you had a crack at another book, what would you like to do?
VP: My love of Chaucer’s masterpiece made it the only work I wanted to explore. The characters, the time period and the history are elements that intrigue me. The characters come from all walks of life and are unique amongst themselves. I have considered exploring a young Macbeth. It would interest me to explore his upbringing, his training as a warrior and his ascension as a thane, before he meets and falls in love with Lady Macbeth. After all, he is his country’s hero before he makes the fatal decision to kill his king.
CS: Now that you’ve reached the end of the project, what do you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you first started out?
VP: Writing a novel is like running a marathon. Exploring the research, writing the first, second and third drafts took four years. It took me two more years to get it ready for publication with drafts four and five.
CS: What’s next?
VP: I am writing a collection of short stories for young adults. Each story carries the theme of dealing with “bullying.”
Vince Pantalone is a retired high school English teacher. He was inspired to write Incident on the Road to Canterbury after teaching The Canterbury Tales for twenty years. Coach Pantalone has also written, directed and produced eight plays for young adults. His published play, Wooing the Rich Widow, was co-written, produced, starred and directed by his son, Nick. Nick and Coach Pantalone have also published Keep Moving Forward: A Boy’s Journey Riding the Rollercoaster Called Cancer, a journal of Nick’s fight with cancer. Presently, Coach Pantalone is the Coordinator for Retention Support at Lebanon Valley College. He and his wife, Carla, have five children and five grandchildren. Incident on the Road to Canterbury can be found at bookstores everywhere, or online at the Apple iBooks Store, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.