What can you tell us about First Voyage, without spoiling the plot for readers?
I imagined this book as a sea adventure story for boys, and so the focus is on Alexander Hope, a young teenager who finds himself on a Royal Navy frigate. He quickly makes friends—and enemies—as he tries to find his place and make himself useful in this unique world that is life aboard a frigate. This is something of an alternate reality in that in this world there is an aerial corps of gryphon flyers and some remnants of magic. Now imagine that Alexander discovers he has inherited some of this magical ability from his ancestor who defeated the Spanish Armada two centuries before. Suddenly Alexander isn't so ordinary anymore, and a great number of people will want to use him for their own devices.
What led you to bring together the age of sail navy with both gryphons and elemental powers?
I've always enjoyed the "what ifs" of history. For example, what if Napoleon had won at Waterloo? What if General Lee had smashed the Union line with the spectacular Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg? Just reading these examples here, I'll bet the imagination of any history buff is already churning with the possiblities. Historical fiction is all about imagining history, and if we take that one step further, we have gryphons and magic.
What have you planned for the future of The Sea Lord Chronicles?
The series will loosely follow the Napoleonic era and use that as a kind of "green screen," but I see the characters and story including some political intrigue and certainly more than a few independent cruises. This is also a coming-of-age story about Alexander Hope and his friends, so the question that arises is what kind of young man will he become when given this amazing power? Most of us make a few missteps along the road to adulthood, and I suspect Alexander won't be much different, only far more is at stake for him and HMS Resolution.
What inspired you to begin writing?
I've wanted to be a writer since I was in kindergarten, when I wrote a poem about the classroom parakeet that impressed the teacher. I know it sounds silly. When I was a little older, my favorite writer was William O. Steele, who wrote frontier adventure novels for children. I loved those books so much that I would invent my own adventures for my favorite characters, and write them down. When I got to high school I had some short stories and poems published, plus I was writing some small community news items that got into the local papers. Eventually I spent 21 years as a newspaper reporter and editor. I just always had this drive to write and I've never really stopped.
What fascinates you about the Napoleonic period?
I've always had a particular interest in the War of 1812, which is often seen as the North American sidebar to the Napoleonic wars. Where I live on Chesapeake Bay was raided frequently by the Royal Navy, and the local people tried to defend their homes and villages as best they could against this highly trained, very capable enemy. I often wonder what that must have been like and my interest evolved into a book called 1812: Rediscovering Chesapeake Bay's Forgotten War. You know, I think it's harder for us today to relate to the people of the Napoleonic era (and the American Revolution) for the simple reason that photography did not yet exist. Americans have this deep connection to the Civil War, I think in part because of the powerful photographs. What fascinates me about an earlier era is trying to get inside the minds of the people who lived then.
As you are writing a fantasy series, how important is real history to your stories?
History gives us a background and context for story. Previously, I've written historical thrillers set during the American Civil War. The most successful of these was Sharpshooter, about a Confederate sniper who attempts to assassinate Union General Ulysses S. Grant. My World War II thriller Winter Sniper takes a similar approach. Again, this is one of those fascinating historical "what if" questions that lend themselves to fiction. In the same way, in The Sea Lord Chronicles I tried to keep everything that was exciting about the Age of Sail—storms, adventure, the ships themselves, the way that men and boys were tested—and added in this additonal layer of fantasy elements. One reader described it as "Horatio Hornblower with magic and gryphons."
When and what do you read yourself?
As a reader, I'm like one of those people who snacks all day long: a few potato chips here, a handful of almonds, cookies, an orange. The healthy with the guilty pleasures. Right now I'm reading Young Nelsons: Boy Sailors During the Napoleonic Wars by D.A.B. Ronald and a Ted Bell thriller, plus a memoir by William Styron's daughter, with a little Entertainment Weekly and Washington Post thrown in. I'm always juggling lots of reading, whether it's a book or on my Kindle or my Mac.
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
If there's one thing I can share, it's that as an adult guy who reads I have a conviction that it's very important for us to encourage boys to read. The written word engages our minds and imaginations in a way that playing Xbox and watching YouTube videos does not. I don't want to sound like a curmudgeon, because Xbox is pretty cool, but as a parent you've got to wage a bit of a guerilla war to promote reading. One way to start is to give your kid a book at Christmas or on his birthday along with that new video game, or check out a stack of books from the local library and just leave them out on the coffee table. Good things will happen.
First Voyage is published by Intracoastal Media