Thank you so much for having me! Each of the standalone novels in the Tales From a Revolution series is set in a different colony or future state, and tells the story of events that took place there. There are many great books out there that tell the story of the Revolution as it was experienced by the names we all know – Washington, Jefferson, and now, Hamilton – but very few that focus on the experiences of ordinary people like you and I.
Those folks may not have made it into the pages of our history books, but they were impacted by the extraordinary events of the time, and – more importantly – helped shape those events. I’ve made it my mission to tell their stories.
As someone who is never likely to make an appearance in a history book, I love this idea.
Where did the idea for these stories originate?
When it came time to look at events in Virginia, I quickly realized that there was a wealth of material to draw from around the famous Battle of Yorktown – the final major military action of the American War of Independence – and that relatively little fiction had been written about the experience of that siege and battle.
Around the same time that I was mulling this, I visited the wonderful Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia for the first time. Though I am a founding member of that institution, living on the opposite side of the country complicated the process of getting there in person. There, I found a wonderful exhibit on the siege at Yorktown, and it really fired up my imagination, giving me the impetus to tell that story from the inside, as it were.
I was also aware of how tragically often combatants during the Revolutionary War were grievously wounded, and had read accounts of the treatment of those wounds, but again, relatively little fiction that dealt with the recovery process for those who were maimed in battle. I decided that having a wounded soldier return home to his quiet port town in Virginia was a marvelous way to place a witness to the history that was about to unfold in that little town, and from there, the story in The Siege unfolded pretty naturally.
What historical resources helped you bring Revolution-era America to life on the page?
I’ve been very fortunate in the opportunities I’ve had – from cooking on Ethan Allen’s own hearth, to walking through the cells in Edinburgh where captured Americans were imprisoned, I’ve gotten to personally build a sense of what the lives of the people of that time were like.
My most important resources, though, have been the ones that are accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Primary and close secondary sources abound in digital formats online. For The Siege, I had journals and letters, as well as newspaper accounts and standard histories to draw upon. I particularly like to read about events as set down by those who experienced them, as even the driest first-person account will inevitably have some nugget of emotion or a glimpse into the thoughts of the writer.
That’s a really great question. Many of the protagonists have elements of my own experiences in them – the attic in The Declaration is almost an exact account of the garage attic at my childhood home, for example – but most of my characters have reserves of strength that I had never yet had to draw upon in my own life. As strange and difficult as our present time is, theirs was even more challenging in many ways.
Caleb Clark, the protagonist in The Prize, is probably the closest to my own experience, though. Like me, he grew up on the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont – and like me, he finds himself drawn into a relationship with a strong-willed and brilliant redhead. True story: I wrote The Prize before my wife found me, and when we got married, I went back and consulted the advice that Caleb’s father gave him about how to make a happy marriage. I guess it’s pretty good advice, as we’re eight years in, and more in love than ever.
Which character do you feel you have the least in common which?
That’s an easier question to answer, as I’ve written a few pretty memorable bad guys into my books. Roger Black in The Break turns into a madman before the end, which I hope is nothing like myself, and Rufus Porter in The Light is a pretty unsavory character, as well. Jeremiah Harris, in The Declaration, is notable for his callous attitude toward the human beings he owns, and for those whose fate he controls.
Franklin Greene, from The Freedman, though, is probably the most coldly malicious character I’ve penned. Another slaveholder, he casually splits up a family he comes to own in the opening pages of the book, and takes part in organized violence both as a Loyalist and as a white supremacist, long before the term was even in use. Writing him convincingly so that the reader could both see how he was doing what he believed to be right, and that his belief system was anathema to the idea of liberty was a challenge, and I remain unsatisfied with his escape from accountability for his actions.
Did any scene in the Tales From a Revolution series challenge you as a writer?
In writing The Tree, which centers around a very detailed account of an early rebellion against Crown authority, I was constrained by the historical record into writing a scene of a brutal attack against not only the representatives of the Royal Governor of New-Hampshire, but even their horses.
I managed to keep most of the actual violence “off-screen,” but the results of that violence needed to be addressed, and I definitely needed to take a brisk walk to get that scene out of my head when I was finished writing it.
There was also a scene in The Freedman which held echoes of the sorts of brutality we see against too many African-Americans in the present day, and as difficult as it was to write about it, I felt that it was deeply important to bear witness to the fact that racially-motivated brutality is not a recent development in American culture, but one that we have an immense amount of difficult work to do in order to overcome.
Authors are often forced to make sacrifices when composing their stories and I always wonder what ended up on the cutting room floor. Is there a character, scene, or concept you wish you could have spent more time on while writing the Tales From a Revolution series?
Because I’ve set for myself the relatively narrow focus of writing about the American Revolution, there are tons of earlier and subsequent events that I would love to explore in greater depth. The early Republic is, in some ways, even more critical to our national character than is the Revolution itself.
Similarly, there are historical figures whose lives have been little examined in fiction, and I want so much to know more about them, and to share what I know already. Doctor Joseph Warren’s life and heroic death at Bunker Hill deserve a rich investigation. On the other side of the conflict, the same is true of Major John André, hanged for his role in turning Benedict Arnold to treason.
If you could pick a fantasy cast – anyone at all, living or dead, at any point in their careers- to play three or four of your lead characters in a big-screen adaptation of the Tales From a Revolution series, who would you cast?
Oh, goodness, what a question. The story in The Wind – of how the Spanish saved the American Revolution – is the one that I think lends itself most naturally to a film adaptation. The underlying true events are almost beyond belief, and the real-life characters involved were huge personalities.
As for who should play my leading characters, Moises Arias might be a solid choice for Gabriel, although someone like Diego Tinoco might also be good in the role, which would require both grit and humor. Someone like María Gabriela de Faría or Camila Mendes could bring Carlotta to life, with her inner strength of character. I could see Mandy Patinkin having the necessary gravitas to play the small but crucial role of Salvador Dominguez.
Of course, if The Wind were ever to get a big-screen treatment, the artistic decisions of a casting director would be out of my hands, along with nearly every other aspect of the production. My sense is that having a film made from our work is both the fondest wish and the worst nightmare for any author. My experience in handing over most creative decisions to the narrators of my audiobooks, though, gives me some confidence that I could embrace a respectful film treatment of my stories with at least some degree of grace… and console myself with the greater reach such an event would grant to all of my work.
What do you hope readers take from their experience of the Tales From a Revolution series?
Two things: first of all, the story of the American Revolution is not solely the legacy of those of us who can trace our ancestry back to immigrants from Great Britain. It was fought and won by people of nearly every race, creed, or national origin. The Revolution is all of our stories, and, as the final exhibit at the Museum of the American Revolution points out, the work of the Revolution – bringing liberty and justice to every American – continues to this day.
More importantly, history is made not solely by the great figures astride their white horses, heroically directing great forces as they gallop across the pages of our schoolbooks. It is just as much made by the quietly heroic actions of people like you and I, doing what we believe to be right. It was true during the Revolution, and it is true today.
What’s next for you? Any new writing projects in the wings?
I still have a second dozen or so stories to write about the American Revolution. In addition to continuing to work through the original thirteen colonies we’re all familiar with, I’ve already written Vermont (which was an independent Republic during the Revolutionary era), West-Florida, Nova-Scotia, and Maine. There are great stories of the Revolution to be told across North American and the Caribbean, and even as far afield as modern-day India. So, although I am twelve books into the Tales From a Revolution, I still have a lot more left to write there.
After that? I suspect that there will be more historical fiction, likely in different settings. The Silk Road has long fascinated me, as have the prehistoric civilizations of Scandinavia, both of which are rich veins to mine. Or perhaps I’ll feel compelled to double back and write more about incidents in the Revolution in places that I’d already visited in prior books, or to revisit characters whose fates after their first appearances in my pages are just too interesting to leave unexplored.
The vistas are broad, and the open road beckons.