Friday, June 14, 2013

A Few Statistics


49 Americans died on the first day, April 19, 1775, of the Revolutionary War. At least another 39 Americans were wounded. 5 more were declared missing. As many as 5,000 Americans were involved during the day's fighting. As the British column fought its way from Concord to Charlestown, militia units arrived at various places, volleyed, followed, expended their 36 to 40 rounds of shot, and departed.

73 British soldiers were killed. 174 were wounded. 26 were not accounted for after the army had returned to Boston. One historian calculated that only one American musket ball out of 300 hit its mark. On average only one American out of fifteen was injured or killed by British regulars. Much of the inaccuracy can be attributed to the fact that the musket was somewhat accurate only up to 100 yards and much of the firing occurred beyond that distance. Almost all of the Americans that were killed were trapped inside houses or were surprised by flanking parties. Very few Americans were shot by soldiers on the road.

Enter Martin Frobisher


The exploratory voyage of Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas to North Carolina’s Outer Banks in 1584 was not the first English expedition to the North American mainland.  Four voyages – three by Martin Frobisher, the first in 1576 -- preceded it.  England had entered the race to colonize North and South America late.  Spain had discovered great treasure in Mexico and South America.  Each year its heavily laden treasure fleets returned from Panama and the West Indies.  By the time Elizabeth became Queen of England in 1558, Spain was the most powerful nation of the world.  King Philip II wanted to expand Spain’s power.  Any colonial endeavor that Elizabeth sanctioned risked overwhelming reprisal.

English merchants and investors believed they could compete with Spain economically if they could use exclusively a shorter, quicker route to the East Indies and Asia than the route used around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.  Sailing around the tip of South America took too long and was extremely dangerous.  Spain controlled overland passage of trade goods across the Isthmus of Panama.  If the merchants could find a seafaring Englishman willing to locate a northern route to China by sailing west, well then, maybe …

Enter Martin Frobisher, mariner, adventurer, pirate, privateer.  Born around 1539 with connections to Yorkshire gentry and a well-to-do London merchant family, Frobisher could have advanced himself in Elizabethan society had he not been so ill-suited.  He was barely literate.  He was graceless, undiplomatic, and too high-spirited to have become even a successful businessman or a governmental functionary.  His career had to be made at sea, his adventurous, impulsive nature causing him early on to embrace piracy. 

Captured when he was 23, he was held hostage at the Portuguese fortress of Mina in West Africa.  Three years later the Spanish ambassador complained to Queen Elizabeth that Frobisher had plundered the rich cargo of the Andalusian ship Flying Spirit.  He escaped a lengthy jail sentence by offering his services to the Queen: first to hunt down and arrest fellow privateers and smugglers, and then to fight Irish rebels.  A year later he became a privateer.  He discussed with the Spanish ambassador a plan to assist the cause of Irish Catholics.  Probably because he had begun to be looked upon by influential merchants as a bold yet expendable leader who could be persuaded to lead a dangerous voyage of discovery, he was not punished.

He was approached by an acquaintance, Michael Lok, the director of the Muscovy Company, an English merchant consortium, to do just that, find a northwest passage to China.  Lok probably introduced Frobisher to the learned Dr. John Dee, a famous cosmographer admired by Queen Elizabeth.  Dee would contribute the scientific expertise.  Mariners such as Christopher Hall would be included to improve Frobisher’s navigational skills.  In 1576, financed by the consortium and given the Queen’s approval, Frobisher set sail June 7 in command of three small ships: his flagship the Gabriell (about 25 tons), the Michaell (about 25 tons), and a pinnace (10 tons).

The pinnace was lost in a storm.  Intimidated by the ice near Greenland, the Michaell sailed back to England, its crew declaring upon arrival that the Gabriell had been lost at sea and Frobisher drowned.  Undaunted, Frobisher sailed on, past Resolution Island, off the south-west coast of Greenland. On July 28, he sighted the coast of Labrador.  Several days later he reached Frobisher Bay, in the south-eastern section of Baffin Island.  Ice and wind had prevented him from sailing farther north.  Believing he was entering a strait, he would now travel westward, to reach, he hoped, an open sea. 

One of his officers, George Best, would write that Frobisher saw “a number of small things fleeting in the sea far off whych he supposed to be porpoises or seals or some kind of strange fish.  But coming nearer he discovered them to be men in small boates made of leather.”  The Inuit natives paddled their kayaks up to the Gabriell.  Frobisher believed they were Asian.  “The land on his right sailing westward he judged to be the continent of Asia.”

Using sign language, Frobisher and the Inuit attempted to communicate.  Frobisher came to believe that there was an Inuit on shore who was willing to pilot his ship.  Frobisher sent five men out in a boat to bring the Inuit to the Gabriell.  Disobeying Frobisher’s instruction, the men rowed out of sight around a point of land.  Minutes later, the boat reappeared, with two men – not five -- occupying it.  The ship’s crew yelled, shouted, made frantic gestures to persuade the two men to return.  The men chose to row back out of sight.

Frobisher remained with the ship at anchor all that day and next night.  Resorting to trickery to provide a way to retrieve his men, he lured an Inuit close to the ship by ringing a bell, suggesting to him that it was a gift.  Crew members seized the Inuit.  Frobisher’s attempt, thereafter, to communicate the idea of an exchange of captives failed, quite probably, he concluded, because his men were dead.

Inuit oral history tells that the men lived among the natives for several years before they attempted to leave, unsuccessfully, in a self-made boat.  Perhaps they had intended to escape temporarily, if not the cramped quarters, the strict discipline aboard the Gabriell.  Maybe they had wanted to trade individually for personal gain.  Perhaps they had wanted to avail themselves of the Inuit girls.  Fear of punishment may have kept them ashore too long. 

The weather worsening, Frobisher recognized he had to leave.  Snow had fallen on the ship’s deck.  He had only 13 fatigued and sick sailors now to operate the ship.  Several days previously Frobisher had sent a party of men ashore on a small island at the entrance to the Bay to collect items indigenous to the territory.  His purpose was to provide the Queen evidence of his voyage’s authenticity.  George Best wrote: “One of my men brought a piece of a black rock, which by the weight seemed to be some kind of metal or mineral.  This was a thing of no account in the judgement of the captain at the first sight. And yet for novelty it was kept, in respect of the place from whence it came.”

Also brought back to England was the Inuit captive, additional proof that Frobisher had reached a distant, strange land.  Finding himself a prisoner, the native “bit his tongue in twain within his mouth,” Best wrote.  “He did not die thereof, but lived until he came to Englande.”  He lived long enough, indeed, to shoot swans with arrows on Queen Elizabeth's lawn at Hampton Court, before dying of what Best called a “colde.”

Believed to be dead, Frobisher had arrived at London October 9 to a hero’s welcome.  A London assayer, Burchard Kranich, claimed that the black rock was high grade gold ore.  Frobisher's backers, led by Michael Lok, used the assessment to lobby immediately for a new voyage. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Conducted by LMHTWB of

Hi Harold! As the person conducting this interview/chat, I'd like to first ask you to summarize your book. I could do it, but since it's your book, I think it's more appropriate that you do it.

"Crossing the River" begins with a veteran British officer commenting in his journal Jan. 8, 1775, about Commanding General Thomas Gage's request for volunteers to become spies to locate munitions stored by Massachusetts's illegal Provincial Congress. It ends May 11 of the same year with the desertion of one of the three soldiers chosen by Gage to spy.

The first four chapters narrate the experiences of the spies. The reader is then introduced to important senior British officers who are major characters in the novel and to Dr. Joseph Warren, who is conducting rebel operations in Boston, and Paul Revere. The reader learns of the pressures placed upon General Gage by the King and his ministers and Gage's plans and how the rebel leadership intends to counteract them.

On the evening of April 18, approximately 700 soldiers are rowed across Boston's Bay Bay to a landfall near Cambridge. Paul Revere is rowed across the bay to Charlestown, evades caputre by two officers detailed to intercept express riders, and arrives at Lexington to alert Sam Adams and John Hancock of the British army's expedition. Lexington militia captain John Parker sends three militiamen out to locate a group of British officers that have ridden through the town seeking the whereabouts of Adams and Hancock. The British army moves slowly toward Lexington. Revere and the three militiamen are captured between Lexington and Concord by the group of officers.

Lexington militiamen meet to decide what to do when the army arrives, Revere and the captured militiamen are released, and the group of officers ride back through Lexington to join the advancing column of soldiers.

Six light infarnty companies, led by Major John Pitcarin, arrive at Lexington at dawn ahead of the column's six companies of grenadiers. Approximately 50 militiamen on the town common face them. Pitcairn orders the militiamen to relinquish their arms and disperse. A shot is fired from somewhere off the common. Two lines of the company nearest the militiamen fire volleys. The militiamen flee. Soldiers chase them. Belatedly, the soldiers' officers take control. Eight Lexington men have been killed.

The expedition's commander, Colonel Francis Smith, decides to march his forces to Concord, as ordered, to locate and destroy the town's stored munitions. The soldiers occupy the town without encountering opposition. Four companies are sent to the farm of Concord militia leader James Barrett to locate hidden munitions. They return to Concord after hearing distant musket fire. Smoke had risen from the town. Rebel militiamen, positioned near the top of nearby Punkatasset Hill, had advanced on the bridge crossing the Concord River, had fired upon the three redcoat companies guarding it, and had driven the soldiers back to Concord. The militiamen return to the hill, the soldiers return safely from the farm, and, having found little of what they had come to destroy, the army prepares to return to Boston.

Militia companies from towns near Lexington and Concord have arrived and taken positions off the road to Lexington. The British column is severely punished. It is rescued by approximately 1,000 soldiers, reinforcements sent by General Gage and led by Colonel Hugh Percy.

Savage fighting occurs in Menotomy and at Cambridge, where Percy evades massed militia companies expecting him to attempt to cross the Charles River to reach Boston by land. Instead, Percy directs his army to Charlestown, arriving safely at Bunker and Breeds Hills at dusk. His forces are then rowed across the bay to Boston.

Missing from this summary are the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of the novel's many characters, most of whom were real people. Their experiences personalize these events, dramatize human strengths and failings, and provide fodder for thought about war, religion, coincidence, and cause and consequence outcomes.

How did you come to write this story? After all, you live on the West Coast of the US and not in New England. Have you always been interested in the Revolutionary War?

My general secondary teaching credential major was history. I've always been interested in American history. I taught it to eighth grade students, along with English, the last seven or eight years of my teaching career. Early on during that career I subscribed to American Heritage Magazine. The publisher came out with a set of books for elementary school children that covered many historical subjects such as whaling and the building of railroads. I bought the set for my older son and read all of the books. One book was about the Battles of Lexington and Concord. There were unusual aspects about those battles that intrigued me. I shared that information with my history students. I wrote a brief, fictional account of the battles for future students at my school to read upon my early retirement. Later, because I had enjoyed the reasearch and the writing and because I love literature (I had taught English my entire career), I challenged myself to convert the Lexington and Concord manuscript into a novel for adults.

I traveled to Massachusetts twice during my writing and visited the historical landmarks: the taverns, Lexington's common, Concord's North Bridge, Punkatasset Hill, the road the British army traveled between Lexington and Concord, the locations of certain houses along that road. Primary and secondary source material also helped give me a feel for time and location.

My branch of the Titus family and related families lived in New England at the time of the American Revolution. John Titus, my great, great, great grandfather, fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Deliverance Parmenter and his son Oliver, both of whom appear briefly in my novel, also fought in the Revolutionary War, Deliverance, as I have depicted, firing his musket at redcoat soldiers retreating from Concord April 19, 1775. Oliver was also a great, great, great grandfather of mine.

Oh, that's soo interesting! To have relatives that actually fought in the battle you write about.

So, other than visiting the site and having taught the material, what other kind of research did you do? And in general, did you enjoy the research part?

At the back of my book is a four-page bibliography. One of the requirements I had to meet to earn a general secondary teaching credential to teach history was to write lengthy term papers based on the use of original sources like personal letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles. Two of my term papers were about Revolutionary War subjects. I thoroughly enjoyed the research and, somewhat less, the struggles I had attempting to write coherent narratives.

I enjoy anecdotes about people. Reading about the histories of Acton, Reading, Lincoln, Woburn, Sudbury, Lexington, and Concord, I came upon information about specific people who had participated in the events of April 19, information that was absent or not fully presented in secondary sources. I also utilized genealogical information I was able to find about family members of characters I featured in my narration. Three of the British officers in my book maintained journals during their stay in Boston. Secondary sources like "Paul Revere's Ride" by David Hackett Fischer offered especially useful excerpts of original sources. For instance, Revere wrote about his experiences beginning with his crossing of the Back Bay April 18 and particularly about his capture between Lexington and Concord. Revere revealed much of the dialogue that took place between his captors and himself as well as much of what was said during the scene at Reverend Clarke's house in which John Hancock argues with Dolly Quincy, his future finacee.

Doing research is part of the fun of writing historical fiction. The other part, eventually, is devising effective ways to utilize it.

You read all these primary sources which are basically narratives. And that had to be very interesting and helpful in writing the story. But how did you write the dialogue? The choice of words and the cadence seem so very authentic that I was flabbergasted! I've read a fair amount of Napoleonic naval historical fiction and with some authors, the dialogue feels very contrived. With some authors, namely those who have been to sea, the dialogue seems much more natural. So, what is your secret to write authentic mid-18th century dialogue?

Thank you, Linda, for the compliment.

The biggest challenge I had regarding dialogue was demonstrating differences between social classes, especially between the British officers and the soldiers in the ranks. What helped me greatly was the fact that I had read Winston Graham's entire series of Poldark novels and all of Patrick O'Brian's seafaring novels. The tone, word selection, and sentence structure of upper class and lower class characters in Graham's novels sort of "sunk in," I believe. I also made notes of characteristics of how Graham's lower class characters spoke. For instance, these characters couple the word "do" with present tense verbs making them contractions, the "o" of "do" being left out. I have Corporal Howe speak this way: "You d'think he's set a trap?" (page 54). Patrick O'Brian offered a treasure chest of British vocabulary and phraseology. As I read each book I made notes and compiled a glossary of words and expressions, which I used extensively. Here is a brief sample of expressions in my glossary that begin with the word "I."

I beg pardon
I cannot in fairness
I dare say
I don't give a bugger for
I don't give a curse for
I'd dearly like to
I have been practiced upon
I must crave
I should like it of all things

Since you went to all the trouble of compiling a glossary, does this mean that you have another historical novel from this period in mind?

Another question I have concerns the structure of the book. Some parts, mainly the first sections, are told from the British point of view, while the rest are from various American points of view. Why did you decide to write it from both points of view and not just say from the American? Did you find writing for the British to be harder than the American?

I've written a rough draft novel about the settlements of Roanoke in the 1580's, but probably won't return to it. I have no other projects in mind.  [Actually, I have returned to it]

I began with the British point of view because the reasons for General Gage's decision to seize and destroy munitions at Concord and his plans to do so had to be established. I also needed to establish early the characters of Gage's important subordinate officers -- Smith, Pitcairn, Percy, Mitchell. The rebel response logically followed. There being at least two sides to any conflict, and human beings being the imperfect entities that they are, I didn't want to present a slanted version of the events. I tried to present the characters as I judged them based on what I had researched, keeping in mind that most people in normal circumstances are neither completely villainous nor totally virtuous. From what I have read, not experienced, war can do terrible things to people, the Action schoolmaster James Hayworth being a case in point. I am currently reading Kenneth Robert's "Oliver Wiswell." The book presents the loyalist side of the American Revolution. These people were driven from their homes, forced to live in abject poverty, and, ultimately, compelled to leave the country soley because they refused to agree with a point of view they believed to be unjust. Kenneth Roberts asserts that the American Revolution was America's first civil war. He makes an excellent case. I was feeling that when I was writing my book. There were villains on both sides. I did not have any difficultly presenting either point of view.

One question I always like asking authors is what did you learn about writing and yourself from writing this book?

Writing is difficult. I can't just "turn it on." There are moments when my brain is working and words and phrases come to me cooperatively but more often they do not. About two hours a day at my computer was about the time I allotted myself because I knew staying at the task longer would be counterproductive. Also, I learned not to go over what I had written the next day but to come back to it weeks, if not months, later. Reading what you've written with fresh eyes is a humbling, necessary experience. I learned that some aspects of writing fiction are easier to do than others. Narrating action and writing dialogue are easier than communicating feelings and expressing abstract thoughts. Expressing emotional responses in scenes involving dialogue is always a challenge. (You can have your characters frown, scowl, and glare only so much) One remedy is to examine how authors you admire deal with the problem.

You learn your limitations. I would write passages that clearly needed revision and after five or six attempts to improve them, I would find them only slightly better. Sometimes the remedy was subtraction. Cut them out. Or, sometimes, on the seventh try, my mind would open up and the problem would be solved.

Like most anything people do, the longer you do something, the more you improve. I believe I am a better writer now than I was five years ago, certainly better than I was ten years ago, defiinitely better than when I started.

I firmly believe that there are thousands and thousands of people in this country that have the ability to write qualtiy, enjoyable fiction. I suspect that lack of time and perseverence keep many from doing so. Then there is the problem of finding a publisher. Websites like LibraryThing do fledgling writers and avid readers a great service.

Expressing emotional responses in scenes involving dialogue is always a challenge. (You can have your characters frown, scowl, and glare only so much) One remedy is to examine how authors you admire deal with the problem.

This brings up a couple of other questions, which aren't related except in my mind.

First, what authors do you admire? You have mentioned Graham and O'Brian, but are there others?

Second, did you feel constrained by the actual historical events and/or characters?

Steinbeck, William Styron, A. B. Guthrie, Jr. Young adult novels: Cynthia Voight, Robert Cormier.

I did feel somewhat constrained by the historical events. My primary task was to portray the events accurately by narrating the experiences of actual participants. I tried to keep their thoughts, emotions, and words in line with what I had learned about them; but to make some of them more multi-dimensional, making inferences, I employed creative license. Lieutenants Sutherland and Adair were both aggressive types given to acting independently, so I created a scene in which they verbally abuse an artillery lieutenant they happen to come across while scouting the Lexington road.

One challenge I had was to provide variation in my narration of the British retreat. I did this by ascribing fictional experiences to certain militiamen. The most extreme example is Simon Winsett. I knew he had been sent out by Lexington's Captain Parker to locate and report back the location of the approaching British column. I knew who his family members were. I knew about his no-account cousin, Jason. who indeed was killed in Benjamin Cooper's tavern. Everything else about him (and his famly members) in my story was fictitious. Most everything I wrote about James Hayworth was true. What was fictitious was the emotional trauma he experienced while resting near the red-roof house and the ice-fishing scene he shared with his two brothers and Isaac Davis. He did have a sweetheart; I gave her a name and how he happened to meet her. Did I feel guilty fictionalizing these real people? Yes, enough to change their actual surnames. The fictionalizing did not alter, however, the accuracy of the day's major events.


Conducted by Wapiaponi

Why did you become a writer?
I’ve always enjoyed authors that offer instructive social commentary and exhibit a command of language.  Teaching English to eighth grade students for 31 years required me to read thoughtfully excellent works of fiction and evaluate their merit.  It also permitted me to instruct my students in basic aspects of writing fiction.  I dabbled a bit with short story writing before I became a teacher, so the desire to express myself was always present.  It wasn’t until I retired as a teacher that I accepted the challenge of writing a full-length historical novel.
What kind of books do you read?
I enjoy historical novels especially.  My college major was history.  I enjoy learning about how individual people lived at a given time, how they attempted to resolve their particular conflicts, and how their flaws and strengths of character defined them as human beings.
What is the easiest aspect of writing?  The hardest?
Narrating action and writing dialogue are easier for me than communicating feelings and expressing abstract thoughts.  Examples, for Crossing the River:
Having served the two officers their food, she watched the blonde-haired servant finish his tankard of ale.
Smiling across the kitchen at her, he placed the vessel noisily on the table. Straightening his legs, leaning backward, he sighed.
She walked over to him. “The bigger one in the other room. The one with the thin nose. I know him.”
His eyes flashed. “Oh, I don't think so. They be strangers to the county, like I said. They've not been here before.” He looked at her guilelessly.
Oh, he was good, likable, convincing.
In his study one hour each afternoon, recalling past friendships, recreating personal and professional accomplishments, Thomas Gage warded off his anxieties.  Intermittently, he indulged in flight of fancy: Tom Gage, suave, virile lothario; Thomas Gage, vanquishing general/enlightened prime minister.  Revitalized, he returned to his duties primed to vanquish each new outrage directed upon his competency.  Once or twice every fourteen days or so his methodology of self-renewal failed him.  This afternoon his apprehensions and resentments had not receded.
How long did it take to write the book?
It took me seventeen years, spaced around other activities of my life.  Crossing the River is lengthy – 413 pages.  Writing isn’t easy.  I discovered I couldn’t just "turn it on." There were moments when my brain was working and words and phrases came to me cooperatively but more often they did not. About two hours a day at my computer was about the time I allotted myself because I knew staying at the task longer would be counterproductive. Also, I learned not to go over what I had written the next day but to come back to it weeks, if not months, later. Reading what I’d written with fresh eyes was a humbling, necessary experience.
I learned my limitations. I would write passages that clearly needed revision and after five or six attempts to improve them, I would find them only slightly better. Sometimes the remedy was subtraction. Or, sometimes, on the seventh try, my mind would open up and the problem would be solved.
Like most anything people do, the longer you do something, the more you improve. I believe I am a better writer now than I was five years ago, certainly better than I was ten years ago, and definitely better than when I started.
How did you come up with the title?
The river in the book title, Crossing the River, is, literally, the Charles River.  It is crossed several times by British soldiers and Massachusetts patriots.  It represents a boundary that separates individual safety from possible misfortune, perhaps death itself.  Characters, crossing over, must confront their worst fears.  The novel’s title acts as a metaphor that delineates risky decision-taking from unpredictable consequences.   The earliest indication that the book title has symbolic meaning is found in this passage:
“Disdained by Parliament, the aristocracy, and the British mercantile class, these compatriots, these commoners, these Massachusetts toilers this day had attacked militarily the master, their action imperiling that which each man held sacrosanct! Yet they had cheered him. It was true that he had instructed them, encouraged them, in the end incited them. He, with others, had brought them to the river that could now be called revolution. They, knowing full well the danger, had, of their own volition, crossed over!”
Do you have any favorite characters?
The novel has many characters.  The major events of April 19, 1775, are the accumulated results of their varied experiences.  I enjoyed especially creating these three individuals:
Lexington militiaman Simon Winsett attempts to assist a redcoat deserter while trying to resolve his neighbors’ and his family’s ill regard of him.
Lincoln school master James Hayworth seeks to avenge the death of his dear friend and neighbor, minuteman commander Isaac Davis.
Redcoat corporal John Howe spies for General Gage and seeks to rise above his station.
How do you define success as an author?
I write, first, for myself.  I want to feel that what I have produced is my very best.  For me, self-satisfaction equals success.  Second, I believe I have been successful as an author if the majority of my readers judge what I have written to be worth their expenditure of time and energy.





Conducted by Michael Brookes

Please introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?
I was born in New York State, moved to Tennessee when I was seven, and moved with my parents and sister to Southern California when I was nine. I graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in history. I taught one year in the Los Angeles City School District, was drafted into the army, moved afterward to Contra Costa County in Northern California, and taught eighth grade English 31 years, drama 6 years, and American history 6 years in suburban Orinda. I coached many of the school’s sports teams. During my teenage and middle years I especially enjoyed playing golf. I live with my wife in Florence, Oregon. I have been a political activist the past 9 years I am an avid fan of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers and UCLA men’s basketball.

What first inspired you to start writing?
Reading exciting fiction during my adolescent years caused me to want to write. I began writing for the heck of it when I was in the army. I was stationed at Fort Ord, in California, and was living off the post in a three-room rental cottage. My roommate hitchhiked to Southern California on the weekends, so I had plenty of time to fancy myself a Civil War historical novelist. One day my roommate stole a look at what I had written and declared it “pretty bad.” He was right. I became serious about writing after I retired from teaching. My English classes and I studied excellent writing. I had my students write narration and dialogue that stressed visual clarity and character emotion and conflict. Loving language and the ability of certain authors to utilize it, having thoughts of my own about the nature of man, I wanted to express myself.

Do you read in the same genre that you write?
Most of what I read is historical fiction. This must be because of my interest in history. A historical novel should educate as well as entertain. I want to learn how people lived at a specific time, what they thought, and what they valued. I want historical generalizations agreed upon by historians individualized by the people, real and imagined, that the author chooses to depict. I want the fiction to be unique, not subject matter that other writers have portrayed. Here are several excellent examples.

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
MacKinlay Kantor, Andersonville
Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels
Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Wallace Stegner, The Big Rock Candy Mountain

What is your favorite song lyric?
I don’t have one. I did enjoy lyrics written by rock groups I listened to in the 1980s and 1990s. I watched recently a TV documentary about the Eagles and enjoyed some of Don Henley’s and Glenn Frey’s lyrics. Example: from “Hotel California:”

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said "We are all just prisoners here, of our own device"
And in the master's chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can't kill the beast.

If you could work with any author, who would it be and why?
It would be Winston Graham, the author of the Poldark series of novels set mostly in Cornwall, England, at the end of the 18th and into the 19th century. His subjective narration seems effortless. I find expressing feelings and abstract thoughts to be difficult. I admire also Mr. Graham’s depth of characterization of women.

Are you a planner? Or do you prefer to just start writing?
I am a planner. I follow a skeletal outline of scenes that lead in a specific direction. Crossing the River adheres to a chronological time-line: spying activity, preparations for the British expedition to Concord to destroy rebel munitions, rebel preparations to resist it, the actual events of the expedition as experienced by specific individuals (mostly real and some imagined) who are participants, the immediate aftermath, again experiences of specific people. Within each scene I allowed myself to free-lance, while staying true to the accuracy of the main events.

What advice would you give new and aspiring authors?
Learn to recognize your weaknesses as a writer. Study how your favorite authors deal with the problems you have narrating. Also, don’t be in a hurry to submit your manuscript for publication. You will never get what you’ve written “just right.” But try to. Some of your best writing will be what you come up with on your seventh or twelfth rewrite.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am researching the events and people involved in Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempts to establish a British colony on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the 1580s. I’d like to write a novel that depicts how self-interest and excessive power trump idealism and societal constancy and how individuals, powerless to thwart this, must find ways to survive and experience happiness.

Tell us about your latest work and how we can find out more.
My only published work is Crossing the River. There is my blurb on the book jacket.
Standing on Lexington’s town common, humbled by the veneration of hundreds of militiamen, conceding that he had instructed them, encouraged them, in the end incited them, acknowledging that he, with others, had brought them to the river that could now be called revolution, Doctor Joseph Warren gives full credit to whom it is due. They, not he, knowing fully well the danger, had attacked the master. Standing at the river’s edge, they, of their own volition, had crossed over.

Joseph Warren is but one of Crossing the River’s many historical figures that bring to life General Thomas Gage’s failed attempt April 19, 1775, to seize and destroy military stores stockpiled at Concord by Massachusetts’s Provincial Congress. Characters of high and ordinary station, choosing to or forced to participate, must confront their worst fears. Revealing the internal conflicts, hubris, stupidity, viciousness, valor, resiliency, and empathy of many of the day’s participants, Crossing the River is both a study of man experiencing intense conflict and the varied outcomes of high-risk decision-taking.

The novel’s title is a metaphor for such decision-taking, be it Massachusetts militiamen seeking greater independence from Great Britain, General Gage’s attempted seizure of the provincial arsenal, two junior British officers’ risk-taking to earn quick promotion, an Acton schoolmaster’s compulsion to avenge the death of his dear friend and neighbor, a Lincoln youth’s attempted atonement for cowardice, a Lexington resident’s impulse to assist a redcoat deserter while he tries to resolve his neighbors’ and family’s low regard of him, or a British soldier/spy’s desire to rise above his station.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Not Smart, Pages 171-173


    “Easy, Mollie,” the dark figure whispered. “Put your hooves down gentle-like. We're not hurryin'.” Clopping across the road, the mare entered the dark shadows of several looming pines. Barely visible in his gray coat, the rider stopped the horse to listen.

     He was not going to let them get him. Captain Parker had wasted his words telling him to be careful. Simon Winsett was no fool. Not by any stretch of imagination. If he had to put a label on himself, maybe he was what townspeople said he was, a schemer. Maybe. Somewhat! Whatever it was that characterized him, he was putting that talent to use.

     He had figured everything out. Move along the road in the shadows and watch for redcoats under trees like the patrol that had gotten Patterson, Loring, and Browner. The three of them had blustered their way into Buckman's yammering and strutting, before Parker had gotten around to asking for the next volunteer. Not knowing it, they had let him know what to expect. Hearing 600 men marching and riding would be easy enough, he believed. It was who they had off the road that he had to worry about.

     The trouble was that the land here was flatter and more open than where Patterson and Loring had ridden. Maybe he couldn't hide himself so much, but he figured he could ride like Lucifer across a pasture if he had to. Find a barn, a clump of trees, a hollow, hell, he'd ….

     He heard behind him the rhythmic footfalls of an approaching horse. “Over there,” he said to Mollie, choosing a broad-based pine to hide behind.

     He hadn't expected anyone on the road coming from that direction! Whoever it was would definitely not be a Lexington man! A lone redcoat? Not likely. The patrol of officers that had grabbed Patterson had galloped through the town not quite an hour ago. Would they have sent somebody up the Bedford road alone? Not hardly.

     What passed him he would not have thought of in a hundred years. An old man in a sulky, going God knows where, without a suspicion of danger. He’d picked the wrong day for an early start to Cambridge or Boston, or wherever he was headed. Likely he was a rich merchant, a Tory probably, soon to experience the startle of his life!

     Simon directed Mollie back onto the road. Not dark enough here, he thought. Not enough trees. A gentle mist, though, was descending. Soon it would be plenty dark.

     Was that what he wanted?

     He guessed he wanted it both ways: bright enough to see the redcoats, too dark for them.

     He was getting jittery. He felt like a dozen redcoats were pointing at him! Ride back fast at the least thing suspicious! he told himself. Decide what to do first!

     He and Mollie continued another quarter mile, he stopping her repeatedly to look and listen, and to watch her ears.

     The predawn mist had dampened his face, hands, and the sleeves of his coat. So what? Should he have brought a towel? As to comfort, what mattered was he was damned hungry! Eggs and sizzling bacon an hour from now would settle that! Which he’d have to cook himself -- back at the family house -- because no one there gave a damn that he was doing something not just for himself!

     Not smart, getting yourself riled. Not smart at all. Keep your mind clear, he chided. The scouts that had gone out before him had gotten themselves caught. Because they’d been careless. Because they had not thought ahead. Which was the way his brother John did things. John, four years younger, ten years less responsible. John, the brother everybody, his family especially, liked! To hell with John! Just go slowly. Stick to your plan. Concentrate. Finish this. Afterward, they’d all damned well better take a better attitude!

     Off to his right something in the undergrowth moved. Simon swung the mare's head about. His heels jabbed. Great God, they had almost gotten him! he thought, looking back seconds later.

     No one came onto the road. He exhaled a long breath. He stared at the empty roadway a full sixty seconds.

     It had not been an ambush. It had been a noise … a raccoon, some nocturnal creature, he figured. After that, his imagination. Still, he had been wise to gallop off. A fool -- his brother -- would have stayed, or kept going, out of laziness, or out of expectation of good luck -- which most of his life John had gotten more than his share!

     Two men darted out of the shadows. Before he was able to react, one of them seized Mollie’s bridle.

     The one directly in front of him wore a scarlet coat!

     “Where d-did you come from?” Simon stuttered, the soldier, three feet away, pointing his pistol.

     “From behind a barn. We watched you the entire way, you effin’ poltroon!”

A Curious Movement of Hats, Pages 142-145

             The sound of the bell had brought most of Lexington’s militiamen to the Meeting House. Told by their captain, John Parker, that the redcoats were marching, malcontents had started a contentious argument.

     “We don't even know they're marching!” one militiaman shouted, addressing Parker. “It's been what, an hour, since you sent out your last scout? We should have heard something by now!”

     “Maybe he was arrested! Think, why don’t you?!”

     “We don’t know nothing!”

     “I'll send out another scout, right now, if any of you be willing!” Parker answered.

     He watched them turn their heads, a curious movement of hats, quick to criticize, not quick to volunteer!

     “I will,” a voice sounded. Parker located the young man, Asahel Porter, leaning against the back wall. Porter was from Woburn. He motioned Porter to come forward. As they conferred, the arguers continued.

     “We can stay here, and wait. Or we can go over t'the Tavern. It's warm there. It's just one night!”

     “Some of us, Jonas, live too far away. Our families are goin’ t’need us, close by.”

     “One night! What’s one night?!”

     “Say that again, Johnson! These ears don’t believe they heard what you said!”

     “I said my wife and children need me, close by.”

     “Horse crap! You want t’be gone, before they get here!”

     “If you lived where I live, Harrington, you'd do the same! Don’t be so quick to judge!”

     “Talk all you want, Johnson. Once you leave here you’re not comin’ back! I’ll wager anyone a crown!”

     “Judas, those of you leavin’, you'll all get back! We'll be firin' a musket, beatin' a drum!”

     “That’s if'n our scouts do what they’re supposed to do!”

     “We'll know soon enough!” Captain Parker bellowed. “Stop all this bickering!”

     He witnessed again their redirection of heads. Damn them! He would make them listen! “No more talk about whether they’re coming! They are! When they do, I expect every last one of you to be here waiting!” He dared them to object.

     “What I have t'decide,” he said, having daunted them, “is what we do once they get here!” Again, the hats. “Do we form up lines and stand against 'em?” It was the key point the Reverend had told him to advance.

     “I say we stay out o' the way and watch 'em! What can we do against five, six hundred?”

     “Get ourselves killed! That's your answer!”

     “If they molest us, insult us, then we fight! Otherwise, …”

     “We should stay over at Buckman's. Then go follow ‘em up the road.”

     “That’s right, Eaton. Follow ‘em wagging our tails!”

     “Listen! If there’s trouble at Concord, we'll be able t'help! Damn little we can do here!”

     “Enough!” Parker’s fierce demeanor silenced them. “Having fought the French,” he roared, “I know better'n most of you what it’s like standing against superior numbers!” He hooked his thumbs over the front of his belt. “When the time comes, we'll see what we have t'do. It seems t'me, though, that we should let them know what we think o' them, what they're doing!”

     “You mean fire on them?!”

     “No! Stand our ground! Show them we've got principle! We’ll stand aside in good order if they move at us.”

     He watched them twist about.

     “I'm not for hidin' here or hidin’ at Buckman’s like some cornered weasel!”

     “If we just stand there, in plain sight, showin' them we aim not t'shoot …”

     “They'll fire on us! Count on it!”

     “Ah, go home t'yer wife, Samuel.”

     “Go hide under your bed! Like Johnson here!”

     Three proponents continued to speak. It was clear to Parker that most, because they were silent, favored watching the redcoats pass leaving open the option to follow at a safe distance. It was what he would have decided, had he …

     “As I said,” he shouted, “when the time comes! When our scouts let us know the British are near! Then we'll decide!”

     “What good'll that do?!”

     “I’m for decidin' now! The hell with all this jabber!”

     “All right!” Parker raised his right hand. “All right! Then here it is!” Several standing men sat down. “If we don't change our minds, we'll not meddle with 'em! Sounds t'me that's what most of you want. We'll let them pass, if they don't abuse us.” He looked across the room at their attentive faces. “Those that want t'leave do so now. But listen for a drumbeat! Get back here then as fast as you can! Meeting over!”

     He heard the sound of their weight on the plank floor. Sharp words were exchanged as they crowded toward the exit. He had not convinced them, but he still had time. Questions. So many questions. What had happened to Patterson, Loring, and Browner? What would they say, when they returned, that would muddy the water?

     Musket shots outside the Meeting House startled him. For an instant the room was deathly quiet. What the hell! he thought. Outside, he found several young men, inside a growing circle, grinning.

     “We'll put 'em all on the ground, Captain!” one of them, brash John Winsett, shouted.

     “Just a little practice, Captain. Sorry about that,” the boy next to Winsett shamefacedly said.