I’ve had a couple of requests to share this interview with people. My buddy, Phil Gerbyshak, interviewed me on his video podcast about how to make big changes in your life and tackle challenges like completing your first novel at age 54.
Here’s the whole thing on YouTube. I hope you’ll find some inspiration and a little entertainment.
Full disclaimer: I view Westerns like I view Super-Hero movies: I know that most of what I’m seeing or reading is as much mythology and wish-fulfillment as history, but that’s okay as long as they’re fun. I’m also aware that there are political and social ramifications associated with them. I just maintain a healthy skepticism/cynicism about it all and enjoy the ride. Some people, though, take the whole “Wild West” thing very seriously and that’s where today’s interview comes in.
Anthony Whitt is a darned good writer from the Austin, Texas area. He’s currently working on a trilogy about the hardy settlers that scratched a living out of the Texas Hill Country surrounding Austin after the Civil War. Hard Land to Rule is first in the trilogy that takes the reader on a ride through treachery, greed, lust, and death in a riveting tale that’s more than just another western.Cold Hard Ride continues the story as the characters battle their inner demons and devious enemies in the hills and the hellhole known as Austin. His goal is to create a trilogy with continuity, but make sure each book delivers a compelling story in its own right. The third book has a release date planned in the spring or summer of 2016.
So briefly, what’s the Hard Land to Rule trilogy all about?
Hard Land to Rule is a story of faded love, forbidden temptations, treacherous adversaries, and the conflict of competing interests on the Texas frontier. Returning from the Civil War where he served as a sergeant, Matt is forced to deal with a marriage complicated by a tragic death and the alienation of his wife. He can’t seem to find the right combination to patch things up despite his dedicated efforts to provide for his family and maintain his ranch in the hills. The times are economically tough after the war and opportunistic carpetbaggers prowl the countryside searching out targets for their aggressive efforts to secure ranchlands burdened with overdue taxes. Raiding Comanche complicate the harsh conditions he faces in the Hill Country while he is also forced to battle the unscrupulous politicians and businessmen that call Austin home. Surrounded by overwhelming problems it’s no wonder that an attractive neighbor with a struggling marriage of her own tempts him with her siren song of seduction. A proposition to serve as a Texas Ranger seems to offer an answer to his tribulations, but opens him to a plague of personal doubts and uncertainties that threaten to undermine the life he has worked hard to mold out of an unforgiving land.
Besides a higher than usual loathing for Texas politicians, what is it about the story that grabbed you?
Throughout the early years of my youth, my grandparents and their tales of the old days exerted a heavy influence on me. My grandfather often talked about his time as a cowboy working the ranches in the rugged hills west of Austin. During the first years of his marriage to my grandmother they actually traveled and lived out of a covered wagon to follow the work wherever it was available. As a young boy on family drives through the Texas Hill Country I can still recall them pointing out the locations of Indian trails they remembered seeing in their younger years.
My grandfather also regaled us with tales of his grandfather, a sergeant in the Civil War and a famous Texas Ranger with a colorful history. One of the favorite stories I grew up hearing from him was about an Indian raid on his grandfather’s homestead west of Austin. Despite my great-great grandfathers reputation as a well-known Texas Ranger the Indians gave him little respect and singled his place out for a raid. The tale always fascinated me and I set out to write a fictionalized short story about the event unaware of where the decision would lead. After the story received early praise, it transformed into a full-length novel that needed room to grow. As a result, the decision to write a short story became a life changing moment that gave birth to the Hard Land to Rule Trilogy.
What’s your favorite scene in the book?
It’s hard to pick a favorite scene in Hard Land to Rule because I strived to stitch the chapters together in a cohesive flow of storytelling. But if I have to select my favorite scene it would be the one where three innocent characters are oblivious of their danger as they stroll into a Comanche ambush guaranteed to inflict death and perhaps rape if things proceed as the warrior plans. The reader is fully aware of their impending peril and is forced to take the walk with them unsure of their collective fate. The buildup of tension is such that my editor advised me not to change a single word in the scene. Naturally I was delighted to receive this kind of advice.
For what it’s worth, I think your strongest writing is in the action scenes, so I tend to agree. Where can people learn more?
If you read enough history, especially military history, you realize that while every war is different, each also is similar. There’s bravery, individual heroism, and personal battles within the bigger ones. There’s also the death of innocents, the death of innocence, destruction and an aftermath seldom sung about in legend. That’s where Don Kean’s book, “I Didn’t Sign Up For This” comes in.
Don, tell us a bit about yourself, and where the idea for the book came from.
I was practicing General Dentist for 25 very long years. I gave it up in 2012 and have since been employed in retail management . I enjoy reading and writing about the American Civil War. I love that time period in history and I find so many of the people who served on both sides of the conflict to be truly inspiring. I also enjoy automobile racing and fishing. My greatest passion is fishing at Kentucky Lake. While their on my honeymoon in 2008 I took a sightseeing trip to Fort Donelson. While visiting I was deeply moved by the fact that this terrible war happened in my home state of Kentucky. The background for the story in “I Didn’t Sign Up For This” takes place in that very region.
In a nutshell, what’s the book about?
The book tells the tale of a young man from remote Western Kentucky who
decides to join the Confederate Army at the war’s outbreak. Young Joshua takes part in many of the largest battles in the Western Theater of the war. He is deeply traumatized by the carnage and destruction. His self-worth and Christian faith are challenged. At war’s end he reluctantly returns home feeling that it will not be the same. He begins to struggle with recurring nightmares and terrifying flashbacks about his experiences in the war. He struggles greatly to cope and his faith and sanity hang by a thread. An old childhood friend begins to romance him much against his will. She remains strong and persistent despite his rejection of her advances. Along with the aid of unseen spiritual forces he slowly heals The spiritual intrigue is a slowly unraveling mystery throughout the narrative. He eventually finds love joy and blessing seeing that his life has truly always been blessed.
While the war itself is a strong theme of this story it is not the central one. It’s about choices in life and the fruit they may bear. Young Joshua’s post war struggle with a P.T.S.D. like illness is a terrible fruit of his earlier choice to go to war. Ultimately it is a story about the love of an almost angelic like woman who nurtures a hurt mans heart. It is a story of triumph over heart rending tragedy. It is a story of God’s unconditional love, Redemption and Deliverance.
There’s probably a three-beer conversation to be had about the confluence of faith and warfare… I’m dealing with that in my own new book set in the Crusades, and I suspect we differ on that, but styles make fights… and books. What’s your favorite scene?
I think my favorite scene would be the one where he spends his first evening at a field hospital after the bloody Battle of Shiloh. He awakens in the middle of the night to a chorus of suffering. He compares it to what Hell might be like, a place of unending pain and suffering, a place where there is no hope.
Where can people learn more about you and your book?
I’m always looking for stories I don’t know, in time periods or characters that aren’t familiar to me. Enter Ed Morawski’s book, Goddess of Grass. It tells the tale of the fateful meeting between the Spanish and Aztec kingdoms, through the prism of a young female interpreter. Don’t read that every day, do ya?
Ed Morawski has written numerous works of fiction and non-fiction. After
serving in the U.S. Air Force for 8 years, seeing action in Vietnam, he returned to the U.S. to Edwards AFB and after his discharge began a career in security and law enforcement. He became an expert in physical and electronic security, alarms, and video surveillance. He resides in Southern California.
So tell us about Goddess of Grass…
Before there was America, before there was even Mexico, there were the Aztecs. Back in the 16th century, they were not called Aztecs, but known as the Mexica, a Nahua people who founded their metropolis capital city Tenochtitlan on a raised islet in Lake Texcoco. The Mexica came to dominate the other tribes of the land south of what would someday be North America and formed a vast and feared empire ruled by Montezuma, which probably consisted of a million or more subjects. While sophisticated and cultured, the Aztecs had a bloodthirsty dark side: they practiced human sacrifice on a scale never before known. These sacrifices consumed so many victims that the Aztecs waged war solely to obtain captives for their rituals.
In one of the most fateful events in history, Hernando Cortes arrived in that land we now know of as Mexico in 1519, the exact year an ancient Aztec prophecy predicted a god would return from the land of the rising sun. With less than 500 men and a few horses and cannon, Cortes conquered the Aztec empire in a blindingly short time. What was his secret weapon? A 17 year old native slave girl named Malinalli, who would come to be known as La Malinche. This teenage girl was given to Cortes as a gift to be his slave. But instead of accepting her fate, Malinalli used her own abilities to seize upon a unique advantage, thereby making herself indispensable to the Spanish Conquistadors. Goddess of Grass is the story of Malinalli, the unknown heroine who fought alongside professional soldiers, who negotiated with hostile native tribes, who stared down Emperor Montezuma, the most feared man in Mexico, and who bore as her child the first offspring of a Spaniard and native Indian: the first Mexican.
This story doesn’t seem a natural for someone with your background. What drove you to tell this story from such an unusual point of view?
I was inspired to write Goddess of Grass solely by Malinche. Here was a young teenage girl who instead of remaining a slave, turned her fortunes around to become the most powerful woman in Mexico for a period of time and literally changed the course of history. Unfortunately, though Spanish and native history records Malinche’s exploits, there is little known about her.
Without giving away the goods, what’s your favorite scene in the book?
Probably my favorite scene is when La Malinche comes face to face with Emperor Montezuma and instead of looking down as the law commanded, she eyes him directly as she translates for Cortes. Montezuma is so unnerved by her actions and the prophecy, he willingly becomes a prisoner in his own palace.
Where can folks learn more about you and your book?
One of the things I love best about interviewing other Historical Fiction authors, is that you learn what stories obsess them, and how they view these stories through whatever personal experiences they have. Case in point, if I told you there was an Asian-American author whose previous book was a translation of Chinese romances, would you expect their latest book to be about the Trojan War?
See what I mean?
History teacher, banker, finance executive–Hock Tjoa has turned to writing for
his “third act.” He published The Battle of Chibi, (if you ever saw the movie Red Cliffs, that’s the story)selections from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms that he translated in 2010 and Agamemnon Must Die in 2014. He is married and lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California.
Seems to me that the definitive book on the Trojan War was done a while ago. What’s this story about?
The “mother of all wars” (the Trojan War) is over. All the people of Mycenae want is peace and normalcy. But the gods have a crowded agenda for them. There will be blood and pain, even quarrels among the gods.
The royal family of Mycenae has a bloody, monstrous history. Agamemnon returns with his war trophy, the Trojan Princess Cassandra, whom he unthinkingly flaunts before his queen. After an epic sword fight in his own banquet hall, Agamemnon is killed. Cassandra has her nightmares/visions of the gory and unspeakable deeds of the House of Atreus; she is led away to be executed. Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus have their respective reasons, but this regicide must be avenged. Or so say the voices in Orestes’ head. He must avenge his father. He must kill the regicides. He must kill his own mother.
Hmmm, no wonder so many neurotic syndromes have Greek names. There’s a lot going on there. What inspired you to write this particular book? Why this story?
The story is based on the Oresteia, the sole surviving classical Greek trilogy, by Aeschylus. I was assigned (an English translation of) this book in a humanities course at college with the introduction that this was a key work, a part of the foundation of Western civilization, etc.. I did not get it (just as I did not get Moby Dick).
Over the years I have read almost every translation that has appeared, hoping for the light to go on. I decided a few years ago, to write this story myself, as I understood it and not necessarily as my professors might have wished.
Sounds like there’s probably a Greek name for that kind of thinking but we’ll leave that to a therapist. What’s your favorite scene in the book?
Hm, every scene was difficult to write and a delight in the end, but I’ll pick the
chapter that deals with Cassandra, a minor character with an unusual gift and a sad fate. It also includes portions in verse, something that I experimented with in this book.
You can find Agamemnon Must Die and Hock’s other work here:
I am thrilled to be part of two panel discussions and a book signing at the Elgin Literary Festival January 29-30 in Elgin, IL.
I’ll be part of a panel on “How your real job influences your writing” as well as one on various methods of publishing. I’ll also be talking about how working with a “middle way” publisher like The Book Folks helped me get The Count of the Sahara out into the world.
Not for nothing, but I’ll also be signing and (hopefully) selling the book as well.
Like many fledgling writers, I have spent a lot of years reading Writers Digest. From the early 80s til last month, I would read the articles and think, “Man, you must really know what you’re doing to get an article published. Wish I could.”
Fact is, while 15 years of my life looks like a black hole on my business resume, nothing has prepared me in life like the time I spent telling jokes to drunk people for a living. I’m happy to have shared the lessons learned with other writers.
Has anything really changed as a result? Probably not. I may have sold a few more copies of Count of the Sahara (in Kindle, of course, because other writers are as broke as I am.) Am I a better writer for having done this? Did I make any money on it? Did my ego really need more reinforcing that doesn’t actually improve my lot in life? The answers to all those are a big old no.
The weird part? Someone out there is reading that, envying me. Life is strange, huh?
Every human being sees history through their own eyes, but too often readers get to see it from essentially one side… a cynic would say the winners’, but more likely those who write primarily for an English speaking audience. However, we all know any time human beings are involved, everyone has their own take. That’s what makes historical fiction so fascinating. Case in point… when was the last time you read about a WWII battle from the German side?
Christoph Fromm studied at the film academy (Hochschule für Film und
Fernsehen) in Munich from 1977 to 1981. He has worked as a full-time screenwriter since 1983. He started early with writing prose alongside his work on screenplays.
In 1984 he published the short story collection “Der kleine Bruder”. After working on several movie and television screenplays, he founded the publishing house Primero Verlag together with children’s books author Tina Lizius in 2006. In the same year he published the political thriller “Die Macht des Geldes”. In 2013 he published his novel “Stalingrad: The Loneliest Death”which was a great success. In 2015 it was translated into English.
His third novel “Amoklauf im Paradies” will be published in spring 2016.
In a nutshell, what’s the book about?
In September 1942, the few survivors of a Sturmpionierbataillion stationed in Northern Africa are sent to the Eastern front. During the decisive battle of Stalingrad – which claimed more than two million victims – the soldiers lose all their moral inhibitions and confronted by trench warfare, close combat for every single house, hunger and arctic cold, madness is their only remaining refuge before dying anyway…
Young lieutenant Hans von Wetzland is forced to recognise that these conditions do not allow him or his soldiers to stick even to the most basic moral principles.
What is it about that time period or character that intrigued you and motivated you to write about it?
My novel is based on extensive research in the course of which I was also able to talk to numerous contemporary witnesses. I was especially fascinated by the letters from my mother’s former fiancé who was stationed at the Eastern front as a lieutenant of the German general staff, later as an artillery captain, and who went missing in action in February 1945. It is alarming to recognise how contemporary his longing for personal happiness, romance, and his escape into religious, conservative, apolitical areas appears.
What interested me most about my fictive protagonist was his transformation from a war romantic to a war defector. The cauldron of Stalingrad shocked me with its existential and extreme situations. The vast majority of the soldiers could not remain human under these inhuman conditions, but were overpowered by madness which did not even stop at cannibalism and taking the law into their own hand.
Stalingrad was a nightmare for all participants, although most Americans know little about it. What’s your favorite scene in the book (without giving away any spoilers)?
That would be chapter 48 in which the soldiers are demoted and have to shovel snow off a street inside the cauldron of Stalingrad. When they are completely exhausted and finally achieve their target for the day, they recognise that the murderous strain was completely in vain as they cleared this street only because of an administrative error.
Where can people learn more about you and your work?
You can find my eBook on Amazon and if you have a Kindle Unlimited account it is also available for lending.
Had a great time doing this one-hour radio interview with Dr. Joseph Schuldenrein on November 18. We discussed Byron de Prorok, why presentation skills matter to scientists, and why I could never…. ever…. be a real archaeologist.
It was a wide-ranging interview, and a lot of fun. Take a listen: