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History Buff is a site
for history lovers everywhere. It is also a site very interested in women
of the past. Although I (sadly) no longer have time to continue these interviews, here is an archive of Q&As about women's lives
in history. And please feel free to stop by History Buff's
sister site for archaeological discoveries making news today. Enjoy!
historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the
past as it's unearthed and reimagined and brought to life. I spend a
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Q&A With Historical Fiction Author William C. Hammond
Tell us about your novel, FOR THE LOVE OF COUNTRY.
Richard Cutler, the main protagonist in the Cutler Family Chronicles historical novel series, hails from the seaside town of Hingham, Massachusetts. His extended family, which lives in both England and Barbados during the 1780’s, manages a shipping business, its principle source of income the sugar, molasses and rum produced on the family plantation on the island of Barbados. Early on in A Matter of Honor, the preceding novel in the series, Richard sails to Fareham, England to learn that side of the family business. There he meets the beautiful Katherine Hardcastle, a self-described “Daughter of the Royal Navy” who has grown up in the shadow of English aristocracy. She ultimately marries Richard, forsaking the love and devotion of a young English sea officer named Horatio Nelson. Together the newlyweds sail to Barbados where their first son, Will, is born while Richard is serving the infant republic at the Battle of the Chesapeake and the Battle of Yorktown.
Katherine Cutler is the love of Richard’s life, as is ever more evident in For Love of Country. Richard is often away at sea, but separation serves only to intensify their relationship. Two more children are born before Richard sails in an armed family schooner to Algiers to try to ransom his brother Caleb and his shipmates, seized by Barbary pirates and imprisoned under horrific circumstances. From Algiers Richard sails to Toulon, France after a savage sea battle with two Arab xebecs, to confer with Thomas Jefferson, American consul in Paris, and John Paul Jones, his former naval commander and President Washington’s choice as American emissary to the Barbary Coast. While in Paris at the start of the French Revolution, Richard discovers that a former lover is in danger of heading for the guillotine. You’ll have to read the book to find out how that comes out.
How important is history to your stories?
Nothing is more important. Although I majored in American history in college and have read many books of historical significance since graduation, I invested three years of research before starting chapter one of A Matter of Honor, my previous novel. There is more history in these novels than in most works of historical fiction I have read. And this history has been vetted by highly regarded historians. Simply put, I believe I have a commitment to my readers to present the history as accurately as possible in every scene of every chapter I write.
How do you undertake your research?
By reading and taking notes and maintaining files. In doing research for A Matter of Honor, for example, I read perhaps a hundred books, many of them original source material such as the log of Bonhomme Richard, not to mention countless articles on the internet. Research does not end when I start writing a novel. It continues right up to the point of reviewing the final page proofs. I pledged the same dedication to For Love of Country, as I will to every book in the series.
What intrigues you about the early American period in which the Cutlers lived?
First there is the Revolutionary War, a period that has long fascinated me, and in which I concentrated in college. How a ragtag band of farmers, shopkeepers and silversmiths could take on the world's mightiest military on land and sea, and carve out a new country in the process, is truly a saga for the ages.
On a societal level, this period is one in which the notions of loyalty, duty and honor were taken quite seriously. Men dueled and died over a perceived affront to one's honor. While I certainly am not advocating dueling as a means of settling disputes, I salute an era in which a handshake meant something, and a promise, even by a politician, was expected to be fulfilled.
What’s next in the Cutler Family Chronicles series?
At this point, four more novels are planned in the Cutler Family Chronicles. Book III, entitled The Power and the Glory, is set primarily in the West Indies during the Quasi-War with France. That novel is completed and with my agent. Book IV, A Call to Arms, on which I am currently working, is set primarily in the Mediterranean during the war with Tripoli. Book V has as its backdrop the War of 1812, and Book VI, the war against Algiers in 1815. All novels will feature the same supporting cast of characters as is found in Book I, and all novels will emphasize the strong interpersonal relationships that define the Cutler family in both America and England and make my work appeal so much to women readers.
For Love of Country was originally due to be published in Spring 2009. Can you tell us what happened?
In late January of 2009, just six weeks before For Love of Country was to be released, my then publisher, Cumberland House, went out of business. I was as surprised as anyone by this decision, but because Cumberland had posted the original cover of the novel on Amazon months before publication, the impression in the marketplace was that the book was available. In fact, it was not available then, nor has it been available at any time since then. Fortunately, I have an excellent agent, Richard Curtis, who immediately set about searching for a new publisher. We had several expressions of interest before gratefully settling on Naval Institute Press.
Can you describe your writing path to fiction set at sea?
I have always been interested in the navy and dreamed as a lad of attending the naval academy. (Alas, a serious high school football injury earned me a 4-F classification.) I have also been a reading addict since my early days, a gift I inherited from my parents and grandparents. So it seemed natural to combine those interests in reading sea stories of all descriptions, including nautical fiction. In the 1970s, I joined Little, Brown & Company.
William C. Hammond is a novelist, literary agent, and business consultant. A lifelong student of history and a sailing enthusiast, he frequently sails on Lake Superior and off the coast of New England. Bill lives with his family in Minneapolis. Visit the author at www.bill-hammond.com and join his friends on Facebook.