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The Light: Tales From a Revolution – New-Jersey

I know it’s been a long time coming, but it’s here at last!  Available in paperback or ebook format of your choice, my second novel of the American Revolution has already been lauded for its beautiful prose and attention to historical detail.

See what all the excitement is about, and get your copy today!

The-Light-Cover-Design-SmallThe Light: Tales From a Revolution – New Jersey

206 pages
Brief Candle Press, 2013

As his world erupts in open warfare, Robert Harris’ Quaker faith guides him away from the use of violence for any purpose, even if the war could lead to the loss of his freedom to practice that faith. Finding a balancing point between this existential threat and the commands of his inner light, while struggling against the chance effects of war, Robert must also face the challenge of an implacable foe, determined to destroy him at any cost. He must rely on the quiet guidance of his conscience to keep his family safe, and lead them to freedom.

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Packing and Preparing

Now that I’ve done all of the hard work toward getting The Light into your hands (okay, there’s still the small matter of fulfilling the Kickstarter rewards – I expect to have those out next week!), I am increasingly feeling the itch to start writing again….

Scenes bubble up in the back of my head, and I want to start delving into what they look like, what they smell like, how they taste.  Characters are whispering to me, begging me to start writing down their words, their thoughts, their lives… I just have to reassure them: “Soon, my friends, soon you will live and breathe on the page.”

It’s akin to the anticipation leading up to a long road trip–there’s some inconvenience attendant to making sure that things will be taken care of in your absence, and a few things to be loaded up that you’ll need along the way, but there’s also the thrill of heading into the unknown.  I don’t know what I’ll find along the way, exactly, but I do know that there will be wonders, detours, delays, frustrations… and tremendous discoveries.

Meanwhile, I’m reading history, thinking about what sort of story I will tell this time, hoping that it is an easy labor, without the need for massive interventions, and that the result is beautiful, sparkling, informative and that my readers find it worth spending a few hours with it.

Just a few more weeks…

At Long Last

I’m exceptionally excited to announce that The Light is now available for pre-order, in print and e-book, here.  (There’s also some fun swag available, as well as book club options.)

I know that many of you have been waiting for an awfully long time, and I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your persistence and interest.  I am very pleased with the design of this volume in the series, and I cannot wait to share it with you all.

Thank you very much!!

Writing What I Do Know

One of the highest compliments I ever received was from a working historian, who told me that there was nothing in my novel that couldn’t have happened exactly as I had written it.  I take my research very seriously, to the point where I’ve tossed pages of otherwise perfectly good writing… just because I discovered something that made it so that my fiction couldn’t be squared with the facts.

This serious approach to the history in my historical fiction has now led me to a role that I am deeply honored to have been offered, as a contributor to the Journal of the American Revolution.  Writing for them will not only allow me the opportunity to delve more deeply into topics that catch my interest, but it will also improve my skills as a researcher, as the rigor demanded of a non-fiction article is quite a bit more than is required even for high-quality historical fiction.

So far, they have published my articles on the currencies of the Revolutionary era, a topic that I had brushed against in my research for The Light, and an article on the amazing accomplishments of Bernardo de Gálvez, who animates the pages of The Wind, my current work in progress.  In addition, they have published an article on the state of medicine during the Revolution, a topic that hasn’t made a direct appearance in any of my books… but which may well do so in the future.

I am excited about this development in my career as an author, and I hope that you enjoy these and future articles I contribute to this fine journal.

Losing My Best Teacher

It’s hard for me to write today, but I want to take a few minutes to share with you a loss that is affecting me deeply.

As I was growing up, when I didn’t understand something happening in the world around me, I’d ask my Dad about it.  As often as not, he’d wind up telling me a lot about the history that led up to the event I had asked about.  His passion for that history was infectious, and it was only natural that I follow in his footsteps as an historian.

Last week, my Dad died, taking with him a lifetime of accumulated knowledge, things that he’d delved deeply into, information he’d spent long hours poring through in order to come to a deeper understanding of what lay behind some event that had grabbed his attention.

I’ll miss being able to ask him for guidance, and all I can do is to try to live up to his example.  As you read my books, if it seems that I’ve gotten fascinated with some obscure aspect of the story, know that you’re hearing my Dad’s voice in my writing, and that his passion for the details of history inspired me to dig further.

I’m deeply grateful for the experience of having had such a fine teacher, and I hope that I am able to live up to his example.

Meeting My Readers

One of the genuine joys of being an author is getting to meet people who’ve read my work and appreciated it.  I recently had a signing event at a nearby bookstore, and got to meet a number of folks who were glad to tell me what they’d thought of my book.

In addition, when I get a review from someone on Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads, I feel like I’m getting to meet those readers, as well.  The reception that The Prize has gotten has been particularly gratifying, and I’ve gotten a lot of really invaluable feedback that way – insights that help me to improve my writing and do a better job of telling the stories that are important to me.

I’ve also gotten passionate requests to continue the stories of the characters my readers have come to know and love.  While my Tales From a Revolution series doesn’t really lend itself to continuously recurring characters, it’s not impossible that I’ll go back and revisit some of our favorite folks from my stories in one form or another.  Captain Mallett of The Prize, in particular, demands to be heard from further, so you may expect to see his name again in the future.

Please do keep on writing and posting reviews, and keep sending me emails and notes – I do my level best to respond to all communications in a timely fashion, and I love hearing from you, whether you have a bone to pick with me, or (even better) just want to tell me how my work has affected you and your understanding of our national origins.

Excerpt from The Light

Editing and revising The Light, it’s interesting to see how the arguments of the day find themselves in the mouths of my characters.  One that was dear to the hearts of the Quakers who form the central figures in this story, and which, with our knowledge of what was to come later in history, is that of slavery.

“The sheer, unmitigated gall of that man, who styles himself as the ruler of all Englishmen.   He is not fit to rule a chamber pot, much less these colonies!  Submit or triumph, says he?  Well, I for one know which I believe it will be.  How will an independent Republic on these shores strike him, one which answers not to his dominion, but which may at some date in the future deign to have relations with him for the sake of trade alone?”

“I fear that he will find out, William, if he does not repeal these intolerable acts.  These Colonies have been stretched to the breaking point by his disregard for our position in his empire.  What will happen if he persists in these provocations fills me with unease for the future.”

Shaking his head, Robert continued, “Can these Colonies indeed form a nation independent of the protection of Britain?”  He paused for a moment, then plunged on with his thought, come what may of his neighbor’s untested position in the question he was moved to raise.  “Can we indeed form a nation at all, when half of the self-styled ‘states’ tolerate and support the abomination of one man claiming ownership over another?   How can any nation claim to have a foundation in liberty while tolerating such a practice within its borders?”

William nodded thoughtfully.  “‘Tis a problem, Robert, though one that we may be able to leave for some future generation to face, with the greater wisdom of their time.”

Robert replied, “I think not, William.  If thou witnessed a man robbing someone, wouldst thou turn aside, and leave it to someone else to stop the thief?  Or wouldst thou apprehend him and see justice done as swiftly as possible?  And how much worse is it to steal a man’s whole life than a loaf of bread?”

The older man was taken aback at the vehemence of Robert’s tone, but paused a long moment before responding.  “And if the law said that the thief were justified in taking that loaf of bread, how then would you propose to address that injustice?”

Robert raised his finger pedantically.  “Ah, but dear neighbor, if we are to form a new nation, might we not have the opportunity to enshrine true justice in the laws of that nation?”

William’s eyes narrowed in thought.  “Indeed such laws might well be possible, but would they be practical?  Will not the thief resort to violence against a citizen who attempts to restrain him?  I fear that the same would be the outcome should these colonies attempt to enforce justice in this matter.”

“So shall we just permit injustice to live among us, because we fear those who commit those injustices?  Is that any basis for a nation of virtue?”

“We shall be, as we are now, a nation of humans, Robert, in all our imperfections and glory, regardless of what high ideals we may subscribe to.  I agree with you that slavery is an abomination, and indeed, like you, I would see it abolished throughout these colonies tomorrow, were I granted that power.  But I know, too, that virtue and reality do not always get along in this world of sin.”

Robert sighed.  “I do understand what thou art saying, William, but this is not a matter of mere expediency.  Hast thou ever seen these miserable people working in bondage?  When I started as an apprentice to George at the smithy, he held a slave to work in the shop, primarily employed at the forge, keeping the bellows.  This man worked harder than any other three men I’ve met, and when I spoke with him, and asked him how he could possibly work so hard, he just smiled and said that George was the easiest master he’d ever known, and he was glad to be here.”

Robert looked William in the eye, staring hard at him for a moment before continuing, “William, this man owed nothing of his own, not even the clothes upon his back.  He could be sold like a steer or whipped like a dog, and nobody would raise a hand in his defense… and this was the best life he had ever known?  I shudder to think of what his brethren in the southern colonies endure.”

William regarded Robert, his lips pursed in thought.  Finally, he shook his head slowly, saying “I agree with you, Robert, but I do not see how we can solve this problem today, you and I.   We can but pray for wisdom among those who are charged with the responsibility of weighing such matters.”

Robert nodded in agreement.  “I do so, on a daily basis.”

Up for Discussion

The Prize lends itself particularly well to book club and classroom discussions, with its rich and carefully realistic view of life at the edges of the English settlements, but at the center of the early days of the Revolution.

To facilitate these discussions, I’ve prepared a set of discussion questions. They’re broken out into five-chapter groups, which represent around 30 pages for each set of questions.  Meeting just once a week, your group can easily read and dissect The Prize in just over a month – or less than a case of Charles Shaw’s finest (unless your club is very thirsty).

Enjoy!

Discussion Questions

Cause for revolution

When any government, or any church for that matter, undertakes to say to its subjects, ‘This you may not read, this you must not see, this you are forbidden to know,’ the end result is tyranny and oppression, no matter how holy the motives. Mighty little force is needed to control a man whose mind has been hoodwinked; contrariwise, no amount of force can control a free man, a man whose mind is free. No, not the rack, not fission bombs, not anything – you can’t conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.

– Robert A. Heinlein, If This Goes On, 1940

This week marks Banned Books Week, and while there’s a part of me that kinda wishes that someone, somewhere would ban one of my books for the publicity value, the more serious part of me is deeply grateful that I don’t have to worry about this as a practical matter.

It hasn’t always been so – indeed, in the broad sweep of human history, we are living in a moment that is aberrant in its broad tolerance for dissenting voices.  Personal expression is protected, honored and defended to a degree that 99% of all humans ever to have lived would find foreign – and a large proportion of that 99% would probably find it repugnant.  We grow accustomed to the chains we wear, to the point of preferring them to the dangers of freedom.

Part of why I choose to write about the American Revolution is that it represents the first great eruption of the idea of freedom for all – not just a privileged few, who happened to be born with the “right” ancestors, or who cultivated influential connections, but for every farmer, every blacksmith, every prayer, every sinner… and every writer.

To be sure, the history of human freedom starts far, far before our Revolution, and has continued to make progress since it – and there are vast opportunities still to see its ongoing growth.  But the men and women whose struggles I try to relate were true pioneers in this long journey, even if they didn’t have a conscious sense of it as they tried to simply live their lives.

It is because of their victories that I can write about their lives, that I have the freedom to imagine and share what their daily experiences were like, what they thought, what blasphemies they uttered.  I cherish that freedom, and I’m proud to have the chance to exercise it.

Instead of urging you to read my book, today I’m going to urge you to find a banned book – one that some self-appointed arbiter of right and wrong thought you needed to be “protected” from – and do your bit to continue the journey toward universal freedom.  Thank you.  (There’ll be plenty of time to read my books, don’t worry… nobody’s thought of banning them… darn it all.)

Proof of Concept

Sometimes, my characters do things that make me wonder, “is that really possible?”  For instance, in The Prize, Caleb routinely paddles his canoe over what I came to realize were some pretty extended distances.  I’ve done a little bit of canoeing myself, but I wondered whether I was asking too much of the boy.

So the summer after I completed the manuscript, I got out onto Lake Champlain myself, first just paddling around the bay, but working up to longer trips.  Within a couple of months of irregular practice, I was pretty readily able to drive my canoe a couple of miles without resting – and I’m no paragon of physical fitness.

Based on this experience, I figured that a younger man, for whom the canoe was a primary means of transportation, and who was accustomed to the daily exertions of working on a family farm, would be more than able to perform the feats of canoeing that I depicted.

In addition, reading some accounts of canoe trips by modern-day recreational paddlers convinced me that the trips I wrote into the story would have represented a solid part of a hard day’s work, but I consider my conception of Caleb’s habitual travels around the lake to be completely plausible.

I’m tempted now to find out for myself just how difficult it is to shear a sheep with just 18th-century shears… but that’s another book (The Declaration) that’s not out yet.  Perhaps another time.