Character Interview: Lieutenant Colonel “Black Dan” Scott

January 1777; Chatham, NJ. I recently had the opportunity to interview Lieutenant Colonel Daniel “Black Dan” Scott of the New Jersey Militia, who appears in the novel A Nest of Hornets. Below you will find my questions and his answers. (NOTE: his answers were editing to remove profanity)

Robert Krenzel: Lieutenant Colonel Scott, please tell us a little about your background.

Dan Scott: Not much to tell, really. I was born in my family home in 1749. My father was a merchant; some of the ships that called at the Landing near our home came from across the globe, so I learned a fair bit about the world that way. I didn’t care much for school; I suppose you could say I was a bit of a trouble maker. I joined the militia when I was sixteen, and naturally for someone of my upbringing and talents I soon became an officer. When the war started I played quite a role in getting the Middlesex County Militia organized, so in 1775 I was raised to lieutenant colonel.

RK: You join us having already established a fierce reputation. How did you acquire the nickname “Black Dan?”

DS: [with a grin] It’s for my black hair.

RK: I’ve been told it has more to do with your actions than your appearance.

DS: You can’t believe everything you’re told. But…I suppose it’s a black day for him when a tory finds himself my prisoner.

RK: As I understand it, your troops don’t capture many Loyalists.

DS: Capture or bring into prison? There’s a difference. We’ve captured plenty. They just tend to die of their wounds or are killed trying to escape or some such thing. Whatever the cause, they just always seem to die. [Grinning] It’s a pity, that is.

RK: I see. So…you are married, are you not?

DS: Yes, of course! To my beloved Kate! We married in 1774, and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me!

RK: How did you meet?

DS: At a gala in New Brunswick. Our fathers arranged it, but for me it was love at first sight. We were married not long afterward. She is a fine, cultured woman with impeccable taste and good connections. We lived quite a happy life. Until the [multiple expletives] British came, that is.

RK: You used to reside in New Brunswick, but now you are in Chatham. Why is that?

DS: [turning red in the face] Because a [expletive] regiment of Hessian [expletives] is quartered in my [expletive] house right now! If I’d stayed there, the [expletives] would have hung me from the nearest tree and left me for the ravens. We had no choice but to leave. Fortunately our current residence was conveniently vacated.

RK: Your current home actually belongs to a Loyalist family, does it not?

DS: Yes. And I’m caring for it a lot better than my house is being looked after, I promise you that. Besides, I doubt they’ll be coming back for it.

RK: Have you heard from the current owners?

DS: No, and I don’t care to. May they rot in hell.

RK: The current war has been hard on New Jersey and its population; are you hopeful for the future?

DS: Oh, yes! Very much so! Some doubted our prospects, but I have never waivered in my belief in the Cause. Now, after Trenton and Princeton, it is fashionable to be optimistic, but I have always believed that we would come through this war stronger and more unified.

RK: What do you think it will take to heal the wounds left by this war?

DS: Two things: First, we beat the British and their craven, beef-witted, Hessian lackeys. Then, we hunt down every [expletive] Loyalist [expletive] who darkens this land with his filthy shadow: we hang each and every one from a tree and stretch his neck but good. Once that is done, everything else should sort itself out.

RK: Lieutenant Colonel Scott, thank you very much for your time. This has been truly…informative.

DS: Any time.

You can learn more about “Black Dan” Scott in Gideon Hawke #3, A Nest of Hornets!

A Nest of Hornets on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NBI511Q/

The Plot Thickens: Rowing Upstream

As I waited to receive the proof copy of A Nest of Hornets I found myself inevitably drawn to working on Gideon Hawke #4, A Constant Thunder. I have already written several scenes, or at least the shells of those scenes, but I still have a lot of work to do on sketching out the flow of the novel. I had identified the chapters and was trying to flesh one of those chapters out when inspiration struck with a glance at a map.

It is no secret that Gideon Hawke will find himself in Daniel Morgan’s Provisional Rifle Corps, and thus will move north to confront Burgoyne’s “Canadian Army” in late summer of 1777. I had intended to focus one chapter on the movement north. I had a sketchy idea that there were boats involved at some point in that undertaking, but I had not yet tried to envision how that journey looked. So, last week I sat down to try to sort out how Morgan’s Rifle Corps got to the Albany area.

Hudson emplacementI knew the destination, so the next step was to identify the starting point. In poking around I discovered that Morgan’s headquarters was in the Hackensack, New Jersey area around the time Washington ordered Morgan to join the Northern Department. Having start and end points, I looked at the map and was hit with a blinding flash of the obvious: Hackensack and Albany both lay along the Hudson River. Given the primitive condition of the American road network in the 1770s, the fastest, cheapest, and easiest was to get five hundred men and assorted family members the roughly 130+ miles between these two points would have been to move straight up the Hudson.

The watercraft of choice in late Eighteenth Century America was the bateau: a flat-bottomed, shallow-draft vessel ranging in length from under twenty to over eighty feet in length. These craft carried both passengers and cargo, could maneuver in shallow water, and were relatively easy to transport overland. They could be propelled by sail, pole, or oar, and were critical to commerce and transportation in Colonial and Revolutionary America.

Before this I had never paid much attention to the lowly bateau, even though it features prominently in any discussion of the Saratoga Campaign. But now I find myself rearranging A Constant Thunder to include several chapters describing a bateau journey upstream. Not only will this be a great way to highlight a little understood aspect of life in Revolutionary America, but it will also serve as a metaphor on several levels. Without giving too much away, I am thinking about questions like: Who is in that boat with Gideon? What challenges does such a journey present? What other challenges might Gideon and his fellow characters face? What other life journeys might Gideon be on? What awaits at the end of the journey? What goes through a young man’s mind as he sails (or rows) day after day? Is this journey a trial, a quest, or both?

Writing historical fiction can be full of surprises. Occasionally a seemingly inconsequential bit of research can turn your story on its head. In this case, a glance at a map opened up an entirely new adventure.

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Update: A Nest of Hornets is now officially a book!

At long last I am holding a proof copy of A Nest of Hornets!

anh-cover-_frontAfter months of researching, writing, rewriting, editing, rewriting some more, and even designing the cover, what was once an idea has become something tangible: a novel.

The next steps? Check, check, and check again! I have a trusted agent (my father-in-law) going through it page-be-page. I also had Ben, my incredible graphic artist, take a look and approve the print quality of his beautiful maps.

Next I get to read my own book, cover to cover: ultimately it is up to me to decide what must be fixed. Does the cover look right? (I love it!) Did I get the width of the spine correct? (No…not quite. I will have to adjust that) Is the interior the way I envisioned? (So far) Does the “cream” colored paper really go easier on the eye and remind the reader of bygone days? (Yes, I think so) Are there typos? (Still checking)

I already found one minor issue, and I am certain I will find a few more things. Hopefully they will be all be quick fixes, and A Nest of Hornets will be available in time to be an excellent stocking stuffer! (Which reminds me…I have to check and make sure the 6” x 9” trim size really does fit in a stocking!)

In the meantime: Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tedious but Enlightening Research

As I have said before, one of the great challenges of writing historical fiction is GETTING IT RIGHT! While it was a treat to visit the Saratoga Battlefield, research is not all fun in the sun!

For the first three novels in the Gideon Hawke Series I was fortunate enough to find print books with rosters of the actual units to which I assigned Gideon Hawke. Those days are over! In Book 4, A Constant Thunder, Gideon and a few of his comrades decide to join Morgan’s Provisional Rifle Corps. In doing so they march into a unit for which records are scarce! We know a great deal about the exploits of Morgan’s Riflemen, but rosters are difficult to come by, and the sources available are often incomplete or contradictory. The most helpful source I have been able to find is a list of participants in the Battles at Saratoga prepared by Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County, NY. It is a lengthy list, not quite complete, but it provides basic information on known participants. For example:

WRIGHT, Barrick             NY

             Drummer, Capt. Wright’s co., Col. Van Cortlandt’s regt., from 14 Jan 1777 to Jan 1782. 

So, I went the tedious exercise of pouring through tens of thousands of names looking for the phrase: “Captain James Parr’s co.; Col. Morgan’s Battalion.” I don’t think the list is quite complete: I only came up with 32 names, including Captain Parr, a sergeant, a corporal, and a few dozen privates; other sources claim Parr marched with a few lieutenants and 50 enlisted men. There are also a few discrepancies in the assignments of a few other members of Morgan’s Rifles: in one instance, Private Timothy Murphy is listed as belonging to Captain Hawkins Boone’s Company, but other sources indicate he was in Parr’s Company. While there may be a few inaccuracies, I am confident I have gotten a feel for the actual men who marched north in August, 1777 to reinforce the Northern Department against Burgoyne. This was a long and tedious exercise, but it had unintended benefits. You see, an exercise like this yields fertile ground for an author with an imagination. Here is one example:

CHURCH, John                   CT          

              Served under Gen. Arnold; helped Arnold from his horse when he was wounded at Saratoga.

Additional military information: Served under Arnold at Quebec, 1775. Other: He was born 1755 in Chester CT; died 1834 in Winchester CT. He married Deborah Spence, 1780; they had at least one son, Isaac who married Sylvia Maria Clark and one daughter, Lucy, who married Asa Gilbert Olds.  He was placed on pension in 1832, for over nine month’s actual service as private in the Connecticut troops.

Now, I have walked on the very spot behind the Breymann Redoubt where Benedict Arnold was wounded, so Private Church and I have trod upon the same ground, albeit separated by 239 years of time. For me having this bit of information makes Private John Church a fascinating and familiar character. I am not quite sure how yet, but I am certain he will have a cameo in A Constant Thunder.

More importantly for me, reviewing this list of names has brought me closer to the subject matter by making Saratoga very much more personal. I did not originally want to engage in such a tedious task, but once I did I stumbled upon poignant entries such as this:

EASTMAN, Joseph             NH

              1st N. H. Regiment.  Died 30 Oct 1777 of wounds received at Saratoga.

This entry provides very little information about Joseph Eastman, other than his name and unit, but I know enough about the clashes at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights to know that on both occasions the 1st New Hampshire Regiment went toe-to-toe with the best the British Army had to offer, and it covered itself with glory. I also know enough about those battles and about 18th Century medicine to deduce that Private Eastman fell on October 7th, 1777, and endured over three weeks of agony before succumbing to his wounds. I also found hard evidence confirming that the regiments heavily engaged at Freeman’s Farm and Bemis Heights paid dearly for their role. The list is replete with members of units like the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd New Hampshire Regiments, Dearborn’s Light Infantry, or the Albany County Militia, who suffered many killed or mortally wounded on September 19th and October 7th, 1777.

It is my sincere hope that in some small way A Constant Thunder will help preserve the memory of soldiers like Drummer Wright, Private Church, and Private Eastman: Americans who fought in fields many miles from their homes, and who in many cases gave what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”

Many thanks to the men and women who did the inglorious work of preserving, compiling, and organizing these data, helping to preserve the legacy of the Americans who fought their fledgling Nation’s independence along the banks of the Hudson in 1777.

Heritage Hunters of Saratoga County, NY: American Participants at the Battles of Saratoga: http://saratoganygenweb.com/sarapk.htm#Top

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Musical Inspiration

Sometimes my imagination needs a jump start. Sometimes it needs some help keeping it “in the zone.” Sometimes it just needs a taste of the historical period I am writing about to keep the juices flowing. At times like these music is my source for inspiration. I know some writers prefer to write in absolute quiet, but not me!

I have managed to find a number of albums from Fife & Drum groups; these are excellent for taking me back to the Eighteenth Century. I find these especially useful during the action scenes, when Gideon Hawke and his mates are trading shots with the British or Hessians. While in the Army I participated in enough ceremonies to understand the power of martial music over a group of soldiers, so when I wrote one of my favorite scenes, the fight on Breed’s Hill (a.k.a. the Battle of Bunker Hill), I had The British Grenadiers playing on a continuous loop. The effect was so profound I included a snatch of the tune into the text, and I got in the habit of including the “rat-tat-tat” of the drums urging the British forward.  Of course, when I write scenes in which the Americans have the upper hand, there is no substitute for Yankee Doodle! That song was born as a British insult toward the American “Provincials” but was embraced by the Americans and became a symbol of American resistance. Many a British soldier fell on the battlefield to the accompaniment of Yankee Doodle.

But it’s not all fifes and drums, of course! I also have a couple of go-to contemporary (-ish) groups and artists whom I can rely upon to help me focus. I find that Lord Huron, with their sweeping instrumentals, smooth vocals, and gritty lyrics help me put my world aside focus on Gideon Hawke’s world. (I am listening to them right now, in fact!) What’s more, I can always count on their song She Lit a Fire to help me get in touch with Gideon’s feelings for Ruth. On the other hand, I think Brother brilliantly captures the emotions that men feel toward one another as they face hardship or combat together; that song reminds me of the relationship between Gideon and Andrew Johnston.

When I need to slow things down a bit, or feel especially inspired, Sarah McLachlan never lets me down. If nothing else I find that her incredible talent helps me to de-stress. When I am exploring characters and relationships, Sarah’s music helps me get in touch with a completely different set of emotions. She also throws in a few curveballs; her song Monsters was one of the inspirations behind the character of Kate Scott, who makes quite a splash in my forthcoming novel A Nest of Hornets.

Of course, it was not all fun and games during the Revolution. War takes a toll, and I find that many of the songs on the Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms evokes those feelings of war-weariness and loss. (Yes, I realize I just dated myself, and I’m OK with that!) I feel the title song brilliantly communicates the feelings of brotherly love in extremis.

There are many more, of course. Were someone to browse my musical selections I am sure the term “eclectic” would come to mind (or perhaps something a bit harsher). Whether it’s rock or reggae, Buffet or the Beatles, AC/DC or the Maytals, it all has a place, and I am certain that the flavor of the music comes through on the pages. I hope my readers enjoy the beat!

I am curious to hear what music inspires other authors, or if readers have favorite background music to accompany a good a good book. What say you?

 

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Join the Revolution!

imageAct now to join in the success of my new novel, Times That Try Men’s Souls!

Click this link: Times That Try Men’s Souls to access the crowd funding site.

The manuscript is complete and with my editor. When we reach the funding target, anyone who contributes to the fund will have earned a free copy of the novel, as well as a share of the royalties! (In the unlikely event we don’t reach the target, you get your money back) This is an exciting new publishing model via Pentian Publishing. It is also an exciting opportunity to own a share of the Gideon Hawke Series!

Click the link to learn more and join the Publishing Revolution!

http://pentian.com/book/fund/1554