My thoughts and my words
Get to know me more by the help of this interview. These are questions that will help you understand my books and how they came to life.
- Who is your favorite author?
I do not have a favorite author; I have favorite authors for different genres. For fiction about Ancient Rome, I love to read Simon Scarrow. Dewey Lambdin writes the best fictional sea-faring tales, bawdy, but quite enjoyable. An author whom I have enjoyed for Civil War fiction, although his style is quite hard to follow as he does not write in grammatically correct sentences, is Ralph Peters. I must also mention Jeff Shaara, who has really grown as a writer. Serious fiction, I like works such as Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Jesus.
I read a great deal of non-fiction history. My favorite authors, regarding Ancient Rome, are Adrian Goldsworthy, Mary Beard, and Anthony Everitt. For the Civil War, no one is better than Stephen Sears. Ron Chernow is biographer I like. I subscribe to magazines such as Biblical Archaeology and Archaeology.
- What’s your favorite under-appreciated book?
While I do not know if it under-appreciated, I think War and Peace is a masterpiece. I truly would like to write a book as great as War and Peace is.
- What’s your favorite childhood book?
When I was four, I carried around with me two books from the All-About-Books series, All About Dinosaurs and All About Rockets and Jets. The dust jacket for All About Dinosaurs disintegrated in my hands, while All About Rockets and Jets still has its cover, so I guess I liked All About Dinosaurs a little better. This dichotomy in my life has continued to this day. My favorite hobbies are studying history and reading about astronomy and space travel.
- What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Finishing a novel is very difficult for me. But not for the reason you might think. I find that as I write, I get more and more ideas for my novel. My characters seem to come to life and they want to go in the directions they want: not necessarily what I have outlined for them. So, as I write, new tangents, new themes, new characters just suggest themselves. In the Life of Levi, I wrote about a character with whom I identified and whom I liked very much (loved?), but then the character decided that the character had to die to advance the book.
- What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
I pride myself on writing accurate historical fiction. Thus, to get the dialogue right, I often use the historical figure’s writings, such as letters and diaries, to capture the essence of their thoughts and their use of words. I have eschewed using the English dialects of the era, about which I am writing, to enhance accessibility by my reader. I know how much I hate reading dialects in a book. It slows me down. So, I think it would be read negatively by my readers. I admit this is a concession, but it is one that I am willing to make to create a readable story but modern tastes.
I want everything to be exactly right about any historical figure I write about. I think it is essential to walk in their boots, so I travel to places where my historical characters lived, worked, and died. I try to understand not only what they were thinking, but why they were thinking it. Sometimes, this means coming to grips with the mores and norms of an era. Sometimes this means that something, which we would find to be offensive now, must be embraced, because it was the norm then. Thus, my characters are creatures of their times and climes.
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I have been reading history and studying history nearly all my life. So, in a sense, I have been researching for all of my years. I became interested in the Civil War in 1957. I read Bruce Catton’s works as they came out around the time of the Centennial of the Civil War in 1961-1965. I was a reenactor and attend the reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1963.
Specially, for my book Caledonia Lost: The Fall of the Confederacy, I travelled to Petersburg, Virginia on multiple occasions. For example, I spent time with the Pamplin Park Historian carefully walking through the terrain of the Confederate trenches where the Breakthrough Battle occurred. On another occasion, I walked the entire Breakthrough Battle, including Forts Gregg and Welch, with historians from what was then known as the Civil War Trust (now known as the American Battlefield Trust).
I visited the National Archives to get all the military records for James Augustus McEachern, who served in Hampton’s Legion. I found letters written by him, as well as other family records of his life. I read every book I could find detailing aspects of Hampton’s Legion in battle. I travelled to every battle site where Hampton’s Legion fought to walk the terrain to better understand the battles involved. Because he served in both the infantry and the mounted infantry, I had to learn some of what is entailed in involved in riding and caring for a horse.
- How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Presently, I am working on The Life of Levi, which will be published later this fall. At this point, I have about three-quarters of the novel written. My next novel after that will return to the Caledonia Series and will be entitled, Caledonia Redeemed: Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights. This novel will tell the tale of the McEacherns during the era of the War of 1812. The novel will highlight the naval war, the invasion of Canada, and the Battle of New Orleans. Andrew Jackson, who was a character in New Caledonia: A Song of America, will, of course, figure largely in this work. Minor characters will be both Sam Houston and Davey Crockett. I have about a tenth of this work done.
Besides these novels, I am planning the last two novels of the Casting Lots Series: Logos will deal with the Evangelist John, while A Shepherd’s Tale will center on Mark. These are still in the research/planning stages. Only preliminary things have been written to date.
I have several books of poetry, as well as a book of short stories, which are all done. I don’t know if any of these will ever see the light of day. I did not get back much feed back on my poems which were in the Appendix of Casting Lots.
I have the ruins of several novels of modern day, one of which I will return to one day. This tells the tale of a man, James, who loves a woman, Suzanne, who loves another man, Lt. Commander _____. When James finally gets over Suzanne and falls for her best friend, the Lt. Commander runs off and marries the best friend of Suzanne. Suzanne then marries a man other than James. Of course, in time, Suzanne and her best friend both get divorces. How does James cope with all of this? Now, you see why this may never see the light of day. Unless done right, this descends into a soap opera.
- How long on average does it take you to write a book?
My first book, Casting Lots, which was published in 2014, took seven years to write. Thereafter, I have managed to write a book a year.
- Do you try more to be original or do you deliver what the readers want?
I want my stories to be as original as possible. I do not try to cater to the current dictates of readers, because I want to write books that are enduring and speak of some truth.
I have been asked to put more sex in my stories, for example, to sell more books. I will introduce a sexual encounter only if I think it will further the story or the reader’s understanding of a character. I will not write gratuitous sex merely for the sake of sales. Having said that, I have dealt with adult topics in my stories, such as rape in New Caledonia: A Song of America, or assassination in Casting Lots.
- Do you hide secrets on your books that only a few people will find?
Yes. Some of my secrets are meant to be caught by all of my readers. For example, the true identity of Lucinius is revealed on the last page of Casting Lots. Although his identity is revealed then, I have learned that some of my readers still do not know the true identity of Lucinius. Why? They did not read the “Translator’s Foreword”; they skipped the whole premise of the novel, by not reading the beginning of the novel.
Some of my secrets are to be found by astute readers, because some of the secrets are in one book which are then revealed in a subsequent book.
Even though Caledonia Redeemed: Free Trade and Sailors’ Rights is the fourth book to be published in the Caledonia Series, it will be the third book chronologically in the series. Thus, certain characters and secrets in book two, New Caledonia; A Song of America, will be revealed there.
- If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I was a practicing tax attorney specializing in estates, trusts, wills, and related taxation issues for over forty years. Now, I am a full-time novelist and I am enjoying life tremendously.
- Do you base some of your characters on real people, if yes, then what do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
I find qualities in the people I know. Some of these qualities wind up in my characters. But because these are the qualities of humanity, I do not at all indicate from whom in my real life I have noted the subject quality.
- What does literary success look like to you?
I find that I love speaking to audiences about my books, the eras my books concern, the personages of these eras, the events, culture, fashions, traditions, and activities of day to day life in these eras. This is true success: to be happy, to enjoy what one is doing, to bring happiness to others.
- How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
When I published Casting Lots, I found out how to write a novel. I had tried many times before to write a novel and I found out that everything I had been taught about novel writing, in fact, everything I had been told about writing, did not work for me. I found that I had to let me characters be free to grow, change, live their lives, and love whoever they wanted to love, rather than trying to plan and outline the novel. A novel is an organic thing for me: it will go where it wants and not necessarily where I want. I find this gives the novel the quality of life and reality.
- You have won two awards after writing four novels. Tell us about that.
I was blessed to have been selected as a Finalist for the Book Excellence Award for Best Historical Fiction of 2017 for my novel, New Caledonia: A Song of America. My first thought was: How do I write better such that I could win the award? So, I tried to examine what I did in writing New Caledonia: A Song of America. Then I realized, that is exactly what I do not want to do. I wrote the novel spontaneously and I wood continue to do so. I have my voice and it is apparent that other like my voice. I am not going to change what I am doing, because then I would lose what I have.