Astrodene's HNF Blog
An Interview with Les Eldridge
- Created: 24 October 2010
- Last Updated: 06 January 2015
- By David Hayes
What can you tell us about Rory Dunbrody and Tobias St. John's new adventures in The Pride of Pascagoula , without spoiling the plot for readers?
This novel completes the American Civil War portion of the saga, and returns the lads to the Pacific Northwest where the tale began. Tobias and Rory experience the chilling waters of the English Channel off Cherbourg as the Kearsarge sinks the Alabama. Rory survives the sinking, thanks to Tobias. Then, Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory sends Rory and a cadre of Rebel officers to the Pacific to arm a raider in Victoria, British Columbia, intent on capturing a Union gold shipment from San Francisco. They aid the CSS Shenandoah in attacks on Union whalers, while Tobias is aboard a Union sloop of war in hot pursuit, determined to defend the whaling fleet against destruction.
What fascinates you about the Civil War period and its naval events?
It was a time of compelling and startling maritime change: from sail to steam, round shot to exploding shells, wooden hulls to ironclads. Mines, submarines, torpedoes and large-scale amphibious landings all were first tested in combat in this war. Conservative men of the sea had to cope with their nautical world turned upside-down. Then, there’s the little-known story of sailors from the lowest social orders of the day, Irish and African-Americans, comprising significant percentages of the competing navies, and recognized for their talent and bravery.
Where did your interest in the sea originate?
My father was a World War II boatswain’s mate, and started me reading C.S. Forester when I was eight. We lived close to a Seattle naval base, and my first memories were of warships under way. I grew up rowing and sailing, and was fascinated by naval history.
What drew you to write your first novel?
From my studies in Irish and American Civil War history, I was aware of the large numbers of black sailors and Irish sailors in the war. I began to formulate a plot, with two protagonists, and when I finally retired, my family said, “write, or these characters will die with you.”
How do you undertake your research?
I have a large personal library, and access to several library research sources. When I establish the actual historical events I want to include in the plot, I research them and decide how to integrate my fictional characters.
How do you approach each new novel? Do you outline the story in advance of writing?
I do a spreadsheet with the actual events and characters horizontally, and the time line on the vertical. Then I outline the timeline, so I don’t ask my heroes to travel 400 miles in one hour. If I have to depart from an historical event, I explain in the historical note in the back of the book how I’ve “fudged.” Most of the battles are actual. You’ll find The Head of the Passes, Port Royal, Hampton Roads, JEB Stuart’s Ride “Round McClelland, the New York Draft Riots, Alabama v. Kearsarge, the CSS Shenandoah, submarines in Charleston, and Pickett’s attack on New Bern. The appended character list denotes actual and fictional figures.
The book jacket indicates the series will continue beyond the Civil War period. What direction will it take now?
The next book is set in the 1866 war between Spain and two Pacific republics, Chile and Peru. Peru hired former Civil War sea officers to help, and the lads become “sailors of fortune.”
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
Historical novelists are fortunate in being able to populate their novels with the most interesting of the actual characters alive during the period. My readers will meet George Pickett, John Singleton Mosby, Alan Pinkerton, Gideon Welles, James Dunwoody Bulloch and many, many more fascinating leaders in the War Between the States. I have tried to place these players where they were in history, saying what history tells us they might say, and of course, interacting with our two heroes. Those two sea officers and best friends, separated by the war, .one black, one Irish, were forced to fight bias in addition to the sea and their enemies. I hope you all enjoy the yarn!
The Pride of Pascagoula is published by Leeward Coast Press.