Okay, full disclosure. I love pirate stories. Like a little kid, I dig all sailing stories, although I get violently seasick and wouldn’t last two days on a real sailing ship. Doesn’t mean they’re not fun to read, which brings us to this week’s interview with Harry Nicholson, about his newest book, The Black Caravel.
So, Harry. What’s your deal?
I live in Eskdale, near Whitby, in North Yorkshire. My first career was in
the British merchant navy as radio officer on cargo ships sailing the huge triangle between Europe, India and the USA. A second career followed in television studios. I now spend time on art, poetry, storytelling, and the teaching of meditation.
I believe the word is eclectic. At any rate, what’s the story about?
‘The Black Caravel’ is my second historical novel. It is double stranded, but intertwined. It centres on a farming family in the North of England at the time of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the year 1536, when the North rose in rebellion against Henry VIII’s seizure of the abbeys and monasteries. The head of this large family, Tom Fleck, is married to an illegal immigrant, a Jewish woman; a dangerous situation in 16th century England.
We meet his daughter, a blind girl with her dog, on the Durham shore. At home, her mother has a letter from London. Husband, wife and blind daughter must journey to London through the chaos of rebellion. Meanwhile their two eldest sons are crew of a venerable and worn out trading ship, at risk of wreck and the violence of pirates.
It’s funny, I don’t care about the Tudors at all, but love me some pirates. These are the “Barbary” (Moorish) kind. What’s the draw for you?
I’m attracted to this period of history. It is just prior to the recording in English parish registers of the events in the lives of ordinary people. Unless individuals were noble or notorious we have no means of knowing of their existence. I try to bring life, at least a fictional life, to lost generations who are the ancestors of many today.
I try to honour ordinary people, their landscape and the wild creatures that live in it; so perhaps my style has a touch of the poetic and heartfelt.
It’s an unfair question, but what’s your favorite (or favourite, I’m bilingual) scene in the book?
I most enjoyed writing of the ancient merchant ship drifting lost, through dense fog, and the response of her crew when the fog suddenly lifted to unveil the danger they faced.
Where can people find The Black Caravel?
‘The Black Caravel’ is listed on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.
My little writing exercise, “The Last Good Cigar Day of the Year” was the “Story of the Day” on Scriggler.com.You can read it on the Scriggler site, along with the kind comments from total strangers. Yes, my neurotic need for approval from complete strangers is in full roar right now as I search for a publisher for my new novel. I’ll take this gladly….
One of the most intriguing novels I’ve read in a while is Gary Lindberg’s “Ollie’s Cloud.” It’s a big (and a bit messy) sprawling book that takes on Islamic Messiahs, American Revivalism, and even the birth of the Mormons, as seen through the eyes of a young Anglo-Persian man. If that sounds like an ambitious undertaking, well I agree. I had to reach out and ask him exactly what he was thinking.
So what’s the Gary Lindberg story?
I traveled around the world to research The Shekinah Legacy. As a writer and film producer/director, I won over one hundred major national and international awards, and was the co-writer and producer of the Paramount Pictures feature film That Was Then, This Is Now starring Emilio Estevez and Morgan Freeman.
As an author, I’m fascinated by the power of belief, and how strong beliefs are often indistinguishable from facts in the mind of the believer, possessing the power to shape behavior and sometimes wreak havoc. I’ve published four consecutive #1 bestselling novels and lives in Minnesota with his wife, Gloria, and his Jack Russell terrier Joey.
Not for nothing, but Gary is also the founder and CEO of Calumet Editions. a publisher of quality fiction and non-fiction.
So, this book is about a lot of things, but what’s the basic story?
This is the story of the spiritual journey of two nineteenth-century Persian boys who both want to grow up to be great mullahs (Islamic clergy). Best friends since birth, Jalal and Alí become separated when Alí, who is only half Persian, is kidnapped by his English mother and brought to London for rearing by his as a
proper English Christian gentleman. Left behind, Jalal becomes a follower of a young prophet who has established a new religion in his native Persia.
In England, Alí is christened “Ollie” by his mother and grows up as the scion of a wealthy newspaper family. But after suffering a string of great tragedies he comes to despise God and dedicate himself to the persecution all men of the cloth—Christian and Muslim—who perpetrate the “lies” of religion. In Persia, Jalal becomes a leader in the new religious movement and helps recruit hundreds of thousands of new adherents, which causes the Persian leadership and Islamic clergy to launch fierce persecutions; the authorities eventually kill over 200,000 followers of the cause.
After many years, Ollie makes his way back to Persia, finding himself on the side of the Persian army in an epic battle between the Persian army, 10,000 strong, and a comparative handful of the new religion’s adherents led by his previous best friend Jalal.
Those are a lot of big themes. What is it about that time period (The mid- 19th Century) that’s so interesting?
In doing some personal research on religion I came cross the fascinating and adventurous account of the birth of a new religion in Persia in 1844. The details were stunning though not well-known to the general public. I was taken with how the story of the prophet-founder of this new religion, which is now recognized as a new world religion, echoed the same storyline of previous founders of religions such as Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad. I decided right then to write a novel inspired by this account, and chose one of the religion’s primary leaders on which to base the character of Jalal. The character Alí is wholly made up, as I felt there needed to be a more westernized character to attract the interest of western audiences.
I was caught up in how Ali/Ollie whipsaws between angry atheism and a need for faith… any faith. What’s your favorite scene in the book?
Perhaps my favorite scene is the story’s pivot point that takes place early in the book just prior to Alí leaving Persia for London. Prior to this scene we have learned that Alí is the son of the mayor of Bushruyih, who had purchased a slave girl—actually the captured daughter of an English missionary—and married her. This girl is Alí’s mother. In this scene, Ali’s mother, encouraged by a travelling Englishman, kidnaps Alí from the harem and escapes across the desert to a port where they board a ship bound for London. I like this scene because it is not only very dramatic, but such a turning point in the story. Everyone’s life changes because of the action of Alís mother, and on the following pages we get to see the surprising consequences.
Where can people find your books and Calumet Editions?
Calumet offers authors the benefits of traditional publishing with a unique business model that provides authors more flexibility, support and financial rewards. With a proprietary Twitter Network of 3,200,000 Followers who are book lovers, Calumet also has an unparalleled ability to help authors achieve exposure and name recognition, which are keys to selling books.
So I mentioned that there are a lot of Chicago area writers who love historical fiction, but that takes all forms. One of the genres that makes me a bit crazy is “YA” (there’s probably a whole rant here that you don’t care about) but anything that gets kids to read is okay in the great scheme of things. To that end, I’d like to introduce Danielle Grandinetti, author of “The Vanishing Kidnapper.”
Since 2008, Danielle has worked as a freelance editor and writing instructor, helping teens and adults become better writers. While mystery is her favorite genre to both read and write, she also enjoys historical topics, classic literature, and a good adventure. Her short stories and articles have appeared in several publications; her novel, The Vanishing Kidnapper was released in December; and her republished novelette, Choices Amid the Treeswas released as an e-book in August. Though a Chicagoland native, Danielle now lives in Wisconsin with her husband. She also enjoys a good cup of tea.
So what is The Vanishing Kidnapper all about?
Teenagers John and Kaitlyn Rivers have a simple life in their 1870s outpost, running their family’s general store for the surrounding communities and operating the stagecoach stop. But one stormy night, the stage’s visit is anything but ordinary. Kidnappings, attacks, and shady characters change a usually boring existence into a fight for life.
Confronted with their past, John and Kaitlyn begin to unravel a mystery that left them survivors of not one, but two kidnapping attempts. Their questions uncover facts different than the truth they had always believed. Now they have to decide whom to trust – and the lives of those they care about depend on it.
There’s been a real resurgence in local history writing lately, especially in the Midwest. What is it about this time period that you find so interesting?
The period after the Civil War is labeled the Reconstruction Era, in which it was hoped that deep scars would be healed and relationships rebuilt. Historians debate how well this happened and what impact those events have on the present. The tumult of this time is especially true of the Old West, or Wild West. That’s why I thought it served as the perfect backdrop to explore John and Kaitlyn’s discovery that people are not always what they appear to be.
Without giving away the goodies, what’s your favorite scene in the book?
My favorite scene in the book contains the biggest spoiler. It is wrapped around a character who fleshes out the main theme of the story. We as humans often put others into categories. The question is whether the definition of those categories really fit the people we’ve placed in them or whether people are bigger than the labels we give them.
How can people learn more about you and your books?
As a member of the Chicago Writer’s Association (http://www.chicagowrites.org/), I’m thrilled to meet local writers who share a passion for Historical Fiction, even if they’re not always in genres or styles I normally delve into. In the next couple of posts you’ll meet a couple of these folks. First up is Pat Camalliere, author of the new historical mystery, The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods. It’s part of the Cora Tozzi Mystery Series.
You live just down the road from me… what should my readers know about you?
I became a mystery addict one summer when I was twelve and found a box of about sixty Perry Mason mysteries in my parent’s attic. I read them all by the end of the summer, exhausted the library’s supply, and then moved on to Rex Stout and Agatha Christie. (My first preteen crush was on Archie Goodwin.) Wayne’s note: me too! My grandmother left us boxes of books by Erle Stanley Gardner and Zane Grey and I worked through them all. In high school I wrote mystery stories for the school’s literary publications, then after college I set writing aside for a “practical” career in medical group administration. Administration is all about writing: memos, reports, letters, website content, procedures, etc. I was told I had a real knack for the written word.
My passion for local history came later, and increased after I moved to Lemont in 1998 and discovered the fascinating and quirky anecdotes and geography of the area. When I retired in 2007 I was ready to see if I truly had talent as an author. I had wasted too many years, and had no time to waste more. I bypassed the traditional route of soliciting literary publications to print smaller works; my first serious manuscript became my first novel, The Mystery at Sag Bridge. It was received enthusiastically and my fans demanded more, so I began work on my next novel right away.
So this is your second novel. What’s the tale about?
It was important to me to tell stories that would delight local residents with little-known facts about the place they lived and introduce nonresidents to a unique part of the Midwest. Of course, my stories had to be historical mysteries, and they had to be entertaining, with perhaps a bit of humor, whimsy, and a touch of the supernatural. Both books begin in present day and reveal a mystery that relates to another mystery from the past. The books then step into history and uncover the circumstances that led to the murder from the viewpoint character in that time period, and then return to the present and the amateur sleuth deals with both mysteries. I call them sandwich mysteries, the meat in the middle.
In my first book, The Mystery at Sag Bridge, the main character is being haunted by the ghost of a young Irish woman who was killed in an unsolved triple homicide in 1898. The protagonist must solve the murder to allow the spirit to rest, but in the process becomes emotionally involved and shows reluctance to have the ghost depart. My readers loved the characters, so I decided to write the next book as #2 in a historical mystery series. In my new release, The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods, the present-day characters are writing a book based on the memoirs of an American Indian woman whose only son was accused of killing a white man in 1817. To save her son the woman must find the real killer and bring him in, in an Illinois frontier with little more than vigilante justice. The writers soon receive a threatening letter and then are attacked: someone wants to prevent publication of their book. This is a book-within-a-book, in which the Indian woman tells her story in her own words.
So what brought you to the story and this particular time period?
I had always had little oddball events happen to me that I couldn’t explain: drawers that opened on their own, things that disappeared and then were found back in place. Little things like that. I asked myself: what if there was a real presence out there, instead of just coincidence? What might that look like? The Mystery of Sag Bridge came into being as I followed answers to such questions. Oddly, the ghost began in my mind as a Guardian Angel. It was only as I was conducting paranormal and religious research that I realized the behavior patterns I wanted the character to have fit a ghost better than an “Angel gone awry.” I put some of my own experiences into the story, as I had vivid memories of my own Irish grandmother that could be used to bring some color to the part of the story that was told in first person by the woman who later became the ghost.
The Mystery at Black Partridge Woods was actually the first story I wanted to
write, but I had absolutely no experience that related to the historic culture or time period, so I knew the research would be extensive. When I started writing I wanted to test my writing prowess more quickly, so this became my second book instead of the first. The idea developed from my interest in telling a story from the fur trade period, which again is part of the history of my town. I wanted to feature an American Indian woman. There were few stories that dealt with American Indian women as protagonists, especially the amateur sleuth sort, especially in the early 1800s. It took two years to research the time period to pick a date and assemble enough information to imbue the work with the history needed to make it come alive. But I knew from the beginning it would be set close to home, in the forests, bluffs, and swamps in the Des Plaines River Valley southwest of Chicago. I loved this time and place so much I wrote a six-page historical afterword for the novel.