Thursday, March 29, 2012

Civil Inspiration

I had always wanted to write a novel.

I was telling stories long before I could even write. I'd stand up in front of class in first grade and tell stories, stuff I made up or scenes I had played out with whatever action figures I used the night before.

But the writing the novel goal just never seemed to materialize. There were various attempts. There are numerous notebooks tucked away in the KCM archives with partial stories I had created and gave up on.

It wasn't until I read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and the other two books in the Civil War trilogy – Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, both by Jeff Shaara – that I saw potential for a novel. And it wasn't just one, it was three.

That's how my career as an author began.

I thought I might take a look back at some of the authors that have inspired my work. Not to give away too much of the speech I deliver to various historical societies and libraries, but my novel Sons and Daughters of the Ocean and its followup, Breakwater, would never have happened had it not been for the works of the Shaara's.

It really was the movie Gettysburg that inspired it all. I first saw that film at the State Theater in Portland, with the full sound system that made every cannon boom shake the walls and ring your ears. I loved that movie, and it quickly became one of my favorites. Afterall, its historical, its has a great music soundtrack, it's about Maine and it has some family connections (my great grandfather's brother was in the 20th Maine) – all things I like.

The movie made me want to read The Killer Angels, the book that the film was based on. After reading that, and loving it, I followed with Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure. Ted Turner later made a movie version of Gods and Generals as well.

What I liked about those books was how the author took certain major characters during that period and brought them to life. It was a non fictional tale written like a novel, not a text book. I came to learn a wealth of things about such vital historical figures like Joshua Chamberlain, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. I can almost guarantee if you see me eat a lemon, I'll make some sort of Stonewall Jackson reference – because I learned that Jackson loved lemons by reading this series.

For anyone interested in the Civil War, this trilogy is a must. It inspired me to create a historical series on my ancestors that made for a must read, whether it be about the privateering age or life of a small shipbuilding community.

I subsequently read Jeff Shaara's work on the Revolution – A Glorious Cause and Rise To Rebellion. Both were written in the same style of the Civil War trilogy. They're historical novels in the truest sense. I may read them again, just to bolster my knowledge as I write my next historical novel.

During that period of time, I had spent many years researching family history. I had produced two books as a result. One was on the Mills family and another was on the life of my grandfather. I printed a batch of copies for various family members and then went looking for another project. I had unleashed the creative beast within and not had to feed it again.

I concluded that my next move was to write a novel. With all that family history swirling around in my head and the work of the Shaara's fresh on my mind, the idea of my own trilogy was born.

Sons and Daughter's of the Ocean would be first. It would be a historical novel based on my ancestors that were shipbuilders and merchant mariners in Brooksville, Maine. I'd follow that with another historical novel set during the Revolution and one of my ancestors that was a privateer. The third book would be based on the life of my grandfather or father.
I knew I had the makings of my own trilogy and went to work. As it turned out, Sons and Daughters of the Ocean was published and subsequently Breakwater followed in December. I switched up the order, which has a long story in and of itself. Sea of Liberty, a tale about the privateering age is currently in the works.

For both Sons and Daughters of the Ocean and Breakwater, there were numerous authors that inspired, informed and help shape the books that were eventually published. Just like more authors are helping as I write Sea of Liberty.

But the Shaara's came first. As a journalist, I've learned to "write what you know". I knew my family history, and the Shaara's showed me how to tell its story. Following their lead and being inspired by their work, I achieved the goal I had had for decades.

 Now if Ted Turner would just call to offer to make the movie versions, I'll be good to go.

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