Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Interview with Historical Fiction Author Kevin C. Mills
Hello, Kevin. So you’re a descendant of lighthouse keepers and mariners. That’s so interesting! Please tell us about your book.
Sammy Jones, Albert Miller and Sarah Dyer are products of that environment. Their families have rich maritime histories and all three characters are about to embark on a distinctive course in their lives that change them forever. They are not only products of their environment but also have their fortunes shaped by the ocean's wake.
Jones works on the harbor docks, eager to follow the sea like his father. Miller works his family farm and feels trapped by its borders. Dyer is the daughter of one of the town’s most prominent sea captains.
All three characters tell their individual stories from a first-person perspective. You feel their joy and hurt with their sorrows. You experience their fear and follow their lives from inside their minds and hearts. You don't just read about the age of sail and the people it evolves around, you live that life and step back in time with each of these characters. It isn’t just a historical novel about sailing. It is a tale of adventure, courage, love and destiny.
I love adventure stories like this. Where did you get your inspiration for this novel?
I had spent a couple years researching my family tree and putting together two volumes of family history for various relatives. When those projects were about complete, I was interested in writing a novel. As a sports journalist, I’ve always stayed true to “Write what you know.” So when looking at subject matter for my novel, the stories from my maritime heritage were still fresh in my mind. They made a nice backdrop to start with. I had a number of experiences from various ancestors to draw from and that provided the framework I needed to build from.
I also had read the Civil War trilogy written by Michael and Jeffrey Shaara. I was interested in writing a historical novel much like The Killer Angels and then follow it with a sequel and a prequel.
Sons and Daughters of the Ocean ended up being that book. I’m currently writing Breakwater, the sequel. It follows the Miller family generations later. Following that, I’ll write Sea of Liberty, a story about Eli Miller and the privateering age during the American Revolution.
I love reading historical fiction because I learn so much, especially about American history. You said that this story is based loosely on your own family history of shipbuilders, merchant mariners and lighthouse keepers. Did you have to do a lot of research before writing this story, and what kind of research did you do?
I already had the family tree with dates and facts. I wanted to go beyond those names and dates. I read through other books and diaries, contacted historical societies, dug through family archives and contacted relatives I’d never met. I sorted through various documents, like wills, census records, real estate transactions, schooner wreck reports and bills of sale for schooners. I asked questions and sought answers to those questions.
I also did a great deal of research through reading books about the age of sail. Among the half dozen books or so I researched, three of them were by my ancestor George S. Wasson. His work not only provided great insight and information on the schooner era but also gave me examples of the dialect of that time.
Wow! You did a lot of research. Leon Garfield said, “The historian, if honest, gives us a photograph; the storyteller gives us a painting.” In other words, a storyteller makes us feel part of the story as if we were actually there, and we can understand what our ancestors went through. Tell me your thoughts about this.
I didn’t know any of these ancestors, obviously. I had plenty of facts and details of their lives but knew hardly anything about their personalities. I took the foundational knowledge of these people and let their characters evolve and develop. It kind of brought these ancestors of mine to life for some of us, I think. But I think these characters serve as models of all people from that era. I think any reader can read their stories and feel as though they’re learning about their own ancestors in that time.
Writing the characters from the first person truly puts the reader in that character. So I think the book provides an accurate portrayal of people during the age of sail. The people I’ve heard from have loved the book. Whether they be related to me or not, I think the style of the book makes the reader feel as though they’re connected to these characters.
Now it’s time to tell us something about the real you that we’ll never forget.
My first experience writing about sailing was while working for a paper in Lynn, Mass. While in college, the co-operative education program set me up with jobs with the Boston Globe and Lynn Daily Evening Item. During the summer, the Item had me cover the sailing beat out of Marblehead. It was akin to sticking the newbie with the least desirable assignment. Much to their surprise, I took a liking to the coverage and spent the summers covering things like Marblehead Race Week and the Finn Class Olympic Trials. I recently ran into the current sports editor at the Item, who told me that they’ve never been able to replace me in the 20 years since I served as their sailing scribe.
Back then, I wasn’t even aware of maritime history of my ancestors. During those summers of covering sailing, I actually knew absolutely nothing about sailing. In fact, the first time I ever went sailing was years later when I had an afternoon sail on a Maine schooner in Penobscot Bay. I suppose it’s kind of like me covering professional hockey for 10-plus years and never having stepped on a sheet of ice wearing skates.
I understand what you mean. Thank you Kevin, for this wonderful interview. For those interested in learning more, you may visit Kevin’s Website and Facebook.