Ever wonder what makes a character act the way he does? Just as with a flesh and blood person, it’s the way he grew up and the experiences he’s lived through. At the beginning of The Copper Box, Paul Russell is living in Jerome in a house that’s little more than a shack, doing his best to rebuild it in spite of his fourteen-year-old son’s strenuous objections. Here’s why.
Paul was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, to John and Margaret Russell. His dad was pastor of a non-denominational community church and his mom the choir director. Paul had two younger sisters, Ann and Janet. An amateur historian, John loved taking his family to national parks. Just a few miles up the road, Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, was a favorite spot to take visitors. Paul caught the history bug from his dad.
High School and College
He caught the football bug from his older cousins at family reunions. As early as Junior Varsity, coaches discovered Paul could run faster than most of his peers. At Charlottesville High School he became the star running back, scoring more touchdowns than any other player. Recruited by the University of North Carolina, Paul went to college on a football scholarship. He continued making touchdowns but decided he didn’t want to play major league ball.
With the goal of becoming a high school football coach, Paul majored in history and minored in physical education. During his junior year, he met Linda Craig, a willowy blonde cheerleader from Durham. Christmas of their senior year, Paul gave Linda a diamond ring. That spring they graduated in May and married in June.
When the superintendent of the Charlottesville public schools offered Paul a job teaching history and coaching football at his alma mater, he accepted eagerly, on the condition that Linda be hired as a fifth grade teacher. Two years later Scott was born. Paul and Linda decided she would quit teaching and stay at home until Scott started first grade.
When Paul was thirty, he began to think beyond coaching. Rather than going into administration, Paul decided to do graduate work in history at the University of Virginia. The summer before Paul began a PhD, his advisor offered him a teaching assistant position. Though the job represented a serious pay cut, it allowed him to take classes full time. With Linda teaching again, the couple decided they could make the finances work.
Move to Arizona
When Paul completed his doctorate, he was hired at Northern Arizona University as an assistant professor. Unable to find a teaching job in Flagstaff, Linda cast her net wider. She found a job teaching fifth grade at Cottonwood Elementary School, so the family located in the Verde Valley. That meant a commute for Paul, but they found a house they liked and settled in. They found a church and Linda started attending a Bible study led by Lois Baker. Across the road from the Baker house in Jerome, Linda spotted a fixer-upper she began to dream about.
That first spring Paul was still trying to prove himself. Despite predictions of snow, he insisted on driving to a night class. Linda refused to let him go alone, so they asked a teen from church to stay with Scott. On the way up the mountain, the snowstorm caught them. In an attempt to avoid a motorcycle, Paul lost control of the car. Linda was killed when her airbag failed to deploy.
Publish or Perish
Regardless of his grief, Paul had to meet the demands of his position at the university. Functioning on autopilot, he managed to keep his classes going, but he fell behind on the publication schedule his dean expected of him. When The Copper Box opens, Paul is living across the road from Lois Baker, desperately trying to rescue Linda’s dream house and write a book that will keep him on track to be promoted rather than be fired. Then he hears a woman calling for help…