We lost an amazing writer today. E.L. Doctorow is best known for the towering “Ragtime,” (all authors are best known by the works that got made into movies) although I prefer Billy Bathgate (great book, terrible movie) and Book of Daniel. Here’s a link to a tribute from the Chicago Tribune.
“(Writers) propose life as something of moral consequence. They distribute suffering so that it can be borne.”
I try to be an enlightened male, but at the end of the day, I’m a guy, and I feel the need on occasion to read guy stuff. In Historical Fiction terms, that often means military history, or at least stories based on battles set long ago. One of my favorite new indy/small press authors in that field is Peter Darman.
Pete writes nifty tales of wars that most of don’t know about. (Go ahead, name a famous Parthian. Okay then). In particular, I’m a fan of his series about the Teutonic Crusades in the Baltic, “The Crusader Chronicles.”
So what’s the Pete Darman story?
I have been writing on and off for 25 years but have only been a full-time author for the past three. After completing my master’s thesis on the Royalist cavalry in the English Civil War (1642–46), I was living in London where I worked in a number of unfulfilling jobs. Eventually I landed a position as a research officer with the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Intelligence Staff in Whitehall. Writing top-secret reports was at first exciting but ultimately frustrating because they were so classified that few people saw them before they were filed away, never to be seen again. So I decided to leave the Ministry of Defence and try my luck in publishing. As a result I spent over 20 years in the publishing industry as an editor, during which time I wrote a number of non-fiction titles in my spare time. Then came the great leap into the unknown in 2012 when I decided to become a full-time writer. It hasn’t worked out too bad thus far…
I first discovered your work with “The Sword Brothers,” and have followed the rest of the series. What’s the new book,”Master of Mayhem”, about?
‘Master of Mayhem’, a work of historical fiction, is the fourth book in the Crusader Chronicles series. It follows the adventures of Conrad Wolff, a brother knight of the Sword Brothers, a military order established at the beginning of the thirteenth century to battle paganism in the Baltic.
The book begins with Conrad, now a master in his order, as well as being Marshal of Estonia and commander of the Army of the Wolf, crusading with Bishop Albert, the founder of modern-day Latvia, against first the Lithuanians in the south and then against the Oeselians in the north. But the enemies of the crusaders are many and skilful and soon Conrad and the Sword Brothers are fighting for their very existence in the coldest winter in living memory.
When we think of the Crusades, we think of Palestine and Jerusalem. I know the book I’m working on now is set there (although I now see that’s a horrible cliche and I should be ashamed of myself.) Why the Baltics? It’s kind of obscure…
Because I started my writing career penning historical non-fiction I have always been interested in many periods of history, but particularly those periods that are little known. Everyone has heard about the crusades in the Holy Land but the crusade in the Baltic during the medieval period is not well known. As a result it sparked my interest. I originally envisaged the central character of the series being a member of the Teutonic Knights. But closer research revealed that another military order pre-dated them – the Sword Brothers.
The Crusader Chronicles is not only the story of Conrad Wolff but also the Sword Brothers, who are now largely forgotten. It was they who laid the foundations of the modern states of Latvia and Estonia.
I’m familiar with your other books, but let’s bait the hook for new readers. What’s one of your favorite scenes in the new work?
One of my favourite scenes in the book is when Conrad plays host to William of Modena, a Papal legate sent to the crusader kingdom to act as adjudicator between the Sword Brothers and the Danish king, who at the time possessed the northern half of Estonia. A medieval Papal legate was extremely powerful and spoke with the full authority of the Pope. A legate could raise armies, excommunicate individuals, including kings, and possessed the power of life and death over not only individuals but also kingdoms.
It was nice creating a scene where Conrad and the legate could discuss their very different upbringings and positions in a time when social mobility was all but impossible. When the legate asks if Conrad always knew his fate, Conrad replies: ‘Yes, to die a hundred yards from where I was born.’ In a time where nobility and wealth were signs of social superiority the legate, himself from a powerful Italian family, reminds Conrad that in the end everyone, high born or lowly, serves a higher power and that perhaps they are not that different.
That’s great. Conrad is something of a #@%@%$ disturber, which is what makes him a strong hero. Where can people find you and your work?
Friends often wonder why I’m a history freak, and why my favorite stories are based in real times and places (albeit long ago and far away). The fact is, that real people are at least as interesting, maybe moreso, than anyone you could invent. Case in point is the main character in my novel, “The Count of the Sahara.” (Note, the title has changed just a week prior to publication!)
During the later 1920s and early 1930s, Prorok undertook a series of expeditions in Africa of dubious scientific value, pursuing ancient legends and eventually came to believe he had found evidence that proved Atlantis lay in North Africa, the true location of the fabled Biblical land of Ophir and what he supposed were the ruins of an ancient temple where Alexander the Great “became a god”. In addition to these tremendous ‘discoveries’ he also claimed to be a member of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Royal Archaeological Institute and The Royal Geographical Society.
His numerous critics say that this “count” Byron de Prorok was neither a real count nor an archaeologist, was expelled from The Royal Geographical Society (allegedly in 1932), who had “a vivid imagination” and “was given to gross exaggeration”. He was, however, an active member of the Adventurers Club of New York.
The story tells of his most famous expedition in 1925, which was splashed all over the front pages of the New York Times, as well as his fall from grace the following winter in the snows of the Midwest. There’s bootleg hooch, stolen gems and Pinkertons, as well as warlike Tuaregs, desert heat and camels.
From time to time I’ll post other tidbits about Byron and other folks I find fascinating. Meanwhile, let me know if you’d like a review copy of “The Count of the Sahara”, coming soon from TheBookFolks.com.
Okay, so why am I a history freak? Because you can learn from it. This is especially true in business. There’s a book here somewhere about great business lessons from history. This is a YouTube video I made a couple of years ago to illustrate the point.
Are you listening to your chickens or drowning them?
Remember the motto of this blog: Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Those who do, still can’t do anything about it, but we get to smile smugly and say “told ya.”
When I think of Historical Fiction, a couple of things come to mind. The first, are great events in history and epic time periods. Second, I think about tales of great passion: war, or romance, (and whether those are the same or different, you may discuss among yourselves) but they paint with a broad brush. Yet there are quieter stories as well. Troy Kechely has taken a fascinating period of American history (The Depression of the 1930s) and a great setting (the mountains of Montana) for an intimate story of a man and the healing powers of a dog and brought them together in Strangers’s Dance
Okay, so what’s the Troy Kechely story?
Most people like to use the word ‘complex’ to describe me. This is because how I came to be who I am is not a simple tale but I’ll summarize as best I can.I was conceived out of wedlock to a young woman in Elmira, New York. She left the U.S. to study for a semester in West Berlin, Germany (yes back in the cold war days). She was unaware that she had a stowaway but learned quickly after arriving. While carrying me she looked into having an abortion but was turned down because it was illegal after a certain stage of pregnancy. She instead chose to put me up for adoption by a U.S. Army officer and his wife who were stationed in Germany. So by God’s grace I grew up not in upstate New York or Germany but on a ranch at the base of the Continental Divide west of Helena, Montana. Something I am very thankful for.
My day job is a CAD manager for an engineering firm. On the side I’m a canine behavior instructor and author as well as the founder and current board member for a non-profit rescue group dedicated to finding loving homes for Rottweiler’s. What sets me apart from some is that I have no college degree and only nine fingers after an accident four years ago. This resulted in me having to relearn typing so Stranger’s Dance was a big test for me and my editor.
Sounds like that’s a pretty good story waiting to be told. What about Stranger’s Dance?
In 1930s Montana, no one kept dogs as pets.Unless a dog happened to be a darn good herder and happened to wash up on a sheep ranch, dogs were pests. Chicken killers that ought to be shot.
Who could afford to give scraps to a stray? The high ranchlands were spared the worst of the Dust Bowl, but most families still had to take work off the ranch to make ends meet. That’s why Frank Redmond carved tombstones on the side. Even with such work—both lucrative and in steady supply—he and his small family struggled to keep up with their loans. Frank was ready to call it quits, walk away from the ranch, his wife, his father, the creditors. Then the dog showed up.
Stranger’s Danceis a novel about death and infidelity and how people learn to strike truce in the presence of hard things. That stray dog, the one Frank wanted to shoot, eventually endears himself to Frank’s father, then to his wife, and slowly to Frank. Over time, the land and its creatures bind the frayed human relationships.
What is it about this story that intrigued you?
Our world is so full of technology and distraction, the simplicity of rural ranch life in that era appeals to me. Having grown up in the region and on a working ranch I know how hard it can be to keep a ranch running and the idea of doing the same work but without the luxury of tractors and electricity made it a good setting for the story. It allowed me to focus on true life struggles that people faced every day. Unlike now where we worry about our WiFi connection, people in that time often lived hand-to-mouth. Given that animals were rarely viewed as pets but as coworkers or pests to be shot, the involvement of a dog in that struggle allowed for a unique perspective and window to that time.
I was also fortunate enough to be able to interview people who were alive back then and living at the location of where my book was set so I got firsthand knowledge of what it was really like. This definitely helped with solidifying my decision on the time and location of the story.
Not to make this about me, but I had a farm dog, Rover, get shot for sucking eggs when I was a kid, so I know what you mean. Where can folks learn more about you and your writing, as well as your work with dogs?
Sometimes, historical fiction is about people living inside a specific historical event. Other times, the period is primarily a backdrop to personal stories that just happen to occur then. Such is the case with Carmen Scott’s “Anne”. Rather than the heroine being swept up in history, the times serve as the backdrop for this intimate story of one woman making her way in 18th Century London.
Carmen Gross, pen name Carmen Stevens, was born in Fargo, ND, March 1992. She currently resides in Detroit Lakes, MN, where she is a recent college graduate and works part-time. Carmen published her novel “Anne” in July 2013-an exciting, richly-written historical work about a young English girl who makes many bad choices throughout her life and then struggles to find redemption.
In a nutshell, what’s Anne’s story?
‘Anne’ takes place in eighteenth-century England. The plot revolves around a haughty, homeless, orphaned girl and her struggle to achieve a life that is much better than her present one. Anne is hardened by a sense of self-preservation and very strong-willed, and she is willing to do anything to fulfill her dreams.
You’re a nice mid-westerner. What is it about that time period that intrigued you?
I really like the fashion of this time period, though maybe not the corsets. But I think the dresses that the well-off women wore were unique and quite lovely. I dislike the class structure, however. But I’ve always been very interested in old England and the way that this country used to be, especially within its large cities like London. I love the history of the country. I’ve never physically visited England, but I’ve researched it so extensively that I feel like I have been there. When I decided that I wanted to write a novel, the setting of old England came to my mind right away because I have such an interest in the country, and hope to be able to visit there someday.
That’s true for a lot of us. Writing is a way of traveling places we’ve always wanted to go. Without giving away spoilers, what are a couple of scenes you particularly enjoy?
It think it’s the small, poignant scenes rather than sweeping historical events. The first scene involves Anne visiting a person whom she once loved, but now hates,in an awful place. The young man whom Anne visits bitterly confronts her because of what she did to him. Anne remains calm and cold throughout the confrontation, displaying no remorse, for what she did to the young man she did to achieve her dreams.
The other touching scene is actually one of the last scenes of the novel. Anne has a long chat with another young man, but her demeanor and composure are completely different than the other scene. Also, the young man in this scene listens to Anne carefully with an attitude that is also different than the other man’s. Within this scene, the themes and morals of the overall story are vivdly described.
One of the really fascinating periods in history for me is the early 20th Century in China, Shanghai in particular. I’ve come across a new acquaintance who shares that fascination and, more importantly, has done something about it.
Quick, what’s the Tony Henderson story?
Born near London, and since leaving home as a teenager I’ve lived more than half my life overseas, in Spain and Hong Kong. I earned my living designing computer systems, but on retirement ran a Spanish estate agency with my wife for eight years. I spent a couple of years researching my family back to the 18th century and found ancestors with the British Army fighting in the Opium Wars in China, the Crimea, India, and even fighting with the Spanish against Napoleon. So I was far from being the first in my family to travel to the Far East and Spain. I now write novels to keep my brain ticking over, and play golf badly to try and keep fit. The third novel is now released under the series name, ‘Chinese Circles’, but the first book is The Shanghai Circle..
With a series, I always like to start with the first book. In a nutshell, what’s it about?
Briefly, The Shanghai Circle can be summarized as – Taipan meets Triad in Pre-war Shanghai.
Davina Guest, a young and feisty Taipan, must help steer the family trading house through tumultuous times in 1936. The imminent Japanese invasion and the rise of Communism threaten her beloved company, but unbeknown to her another deadly menace lurks in the shadows.
As heir to the Sung Society, Joseph Cheung must learn the ways of the triad. Vice and violence dominate Shanghai’s criminal world, but for Joseph, a personal vendetta remains unfinished business. Irina, a young beautiful stateless Russian woman, unwittingly falls into the clutches of the triads and fights to escape.
What is it about that time period or character that intrigued you and motivated you to write about it?
My ten years living in the Far East was one of the best experiences in my life, so I chose Shanghai in the 1930’s as a city with all the ingredients for a fascinating
story. My life in Asia meant I experienced working for an old British trading company, living among 6 million Chinese, being in frightening typhoons, but especially what it was like to be an expatriate in a Chinese environment, with all the noise, smells and the amazing colourful people who live in this magical part of the world.
Why Shanghai? The authoress, Stella Wong, said of Shanghai, “no city in the Orient, or the world for that matter, could compare with it. At the peak of its spectacular career the swamp-ridden metropolis surely ranked as the most pleasure-mad, rapacious, corrupt, strife-ridden, licentious, squalid and decadent city in the world.” When I researched this amazing city I found she was right.
Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene or event in the book?
Probably writing about the actual typhoon which hit Hong Kong in 1937, killing 11,000 people including one of my characters.
If you’re interested in learning more, here are some links to find Tony and his work. Just don’t bother him on the golf course.
When I announced that my first novel, “Pith Helmets in the Snow” was going to be published, I got a lot of questions about who the publisher was. The answer, is TheBookFolksin the UK.
I have two reasons for telling you this:
First, I swore I wouldn’t self-publish my first novel. And I’m not–quit asking.
I have nothing against self-publishing. In fact, two of my best selling books are self-published. There’s a part of me that’s all about “death to the middleman and seize the means of production,” and all that. But I swore with my first attempt at a novel, I wanted someone other than my blood relatives to think I could write. I wanted an agent and a “big six” book deal. If not that, at least a “real” publisher.
Basically, I wanted someone I wasn’t related to validating my talent. I also know that my ego basically demands someone kick my butt in the editing process to have the best possible outcome. Left to my own devices, my book would be an embarrassing wreck.
While I didn’t find an agent, I did find a publisher who really believes in the book, sells books all over the world, and who seems to be hoodwinked into thinking I can write. A thousand blessings on his house and camels.
Secondly, I want to introduce you to the company I’m keeping.
The first thing I did after sending Erik the full manuscript was to check out the other writers in his stable. I can tell you that I’m in good company. I have read a lot of indie books lately, and most of them are abysmal. There isn’t one of the four I read that didn’t “deserve” to find readers, although some I enjoyed more than others. That’s what reading is about, right?
More than that, I am proud to be in their company. Thought I’d just share them with you.
So there you have it. I hope that answers the question and helps you find some new authors to check out.
I’m used to reading books that take real historical characters and build stories around them. But Sharon Cathcart has done something fascinating. She’s taken a fictional character and placed him…and his descendants… in the real historical world.
Her newest book–an omnibus of her stories set in Paris, London and San Francisco in the late 19th and early 20th centuries–In The Eye of The Beholder, In The Eye of The Storm, and the award-winning Through the Opera Glass is now available in paperback. This new edition includes expanded glossaries and historical photographs.
I think building on a world someone else created, then bringing it into the real world is a heck of a thing to tackle. What’s the book about?
The books tell the story of three generations of the Le Maître family, crossing Paris’ Belle Epoque, the modern art movement, the San Francisco Earthquake and World Wars I and II. It’s a mix of short stories and longer pieces that create that world.
You get extra points if you remember that Erik Le Maitre was the real name of the “Phantom of the Opera”.
What is it about that period of time that fascinates you…. and we might find interesting as well?
I’ve been an ardent Francophile since my high school years. My French teacher, the late Lois T. Sato, instilled in her students not only a love of the language but also of the culture. I learned so much in the process of researching these books that it just deepened my fascination. My first visit to Paris was not until 2013, but I felt like I knew every street where I strolled.
I know how you feel. I’m itching to get to the Sahara after writing “Pith Helmets”…Any other time periods you’re intrigued by?
I’m very fond of the Victorian era in general. There were so many innovations happening during that time that still impact our daily lives today.
That’s kind of odd coming from someone living in the heart of new technology….makes you wonder what people will write about us a hundred years from now, doesn’t it?
This is the first of many interviews to come with indie/small press authors of Historical Fiction. Our first guest is JR (or John, or Jack, he answers to all of them) Lindermuth, author of Watch The Hour.
He is a retired newspaper editor and currently librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with genealogy and research. He is the author of 14 novels and a regional history. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and currently serves as vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
So in a nutshell, what’s the book about?
In the 1870s in Pennsylvania ’s anthracite coal region, mine owners and their employees, particularly the Irish immigrants, are in conflict over working conditions. Private police forces commissioned by the state but paid by the coal companies are sworn to protect property of the mine owners.
Ben Yeager is one of these police officers. He does his best to follow orders while trying to be fair to the workers whose lot he sees as little different from his own. Despite his efforts at fairness, his job makes him the enemy of the Irish, and that’s the cruz of his troubles…. Ben is in love with an Irish girl.
What is it about this time period you find so fascinating?
I grew up in the coal region and many of my ancestors worked in the mines. A few even served as “coalies” (as these police were known). I write a weekly history column for two area papers and have published a regional history (Digging Dusky Diamonds) about the lives of the miners and their families in the 19th and 20th centuries.
So, hook us. What’s a scene in the book you think is pivotal?
A pivotal scene in the novel is when Ben is beaten into unconsciousness and laid out to be killed on the railroad tracks, an attack immediately attributed to the Irish. Without identifying the actual culprits, the incident is important because it solidifies once and for all the love between Ben and Jennie.
Sounds great. How can people find out more about you and your work?