Astrodene's Historic Naval fiction is pleased to have obtained an Interview with Tom Grundner who's new book Acre is now available in paperback and ebook formats worldwide.
What can you tell us about Sidney Smith's new adventures in Acre, without spoiling the plot for readers?
It takes place in one of the most dramatic periods of the Napoleonic era.
The British think Napoleon is trapped in Egypt when the French fleet is destroyed by Nelson at the Battle of the Nile. Alas, Napoleon doesn’t see it that way and decides to march his army around the eastern end of the Mediterranean toward Constantinople.
Sir Sidney Smith has been given command of all British warships in the eastern Mediterranean (both of them) and realizes he has to stop Napoleon at a nearly indefensible city called Acre. If he doesn’t, Napoleon could conquer Constantinople and either move east to invade India, or lead a half-million man army into Europe through the backdoor.
Horatio Nelson is in Naples and in Sicily, where he is hobnobbing with King Ferdinand I and Queen Maria Carolina. It is here that he meets his future lover, Emma Hamilton, for the first time. It is also where one of the darkest incidents in Nelson’s career occurs — the slaughter of thousands of French sympathizers when Nelson unilaterally cancels a peace treaty after the other side had surrendered and laid down their arms.
These three stories are intertwined as the plot hops from one location to the other.
It wouldn’t be a spoiler to report, however, that Sir Sidney Smith (a Naval officer) was the first person to defeat Napoleon on land! That defeat was what caused Napoleon to remark, “That man [Smith] made me miss my destiny.”
Where did your interest in the sea originate?
I want to say it began during my years as a U.S. Naval officer, one year of which was spent operating in-country Vietnam; but I think it began earlier than that. In fact, I can’t remember a time in which I was not utterly fascinated by water, be it ocean, lake, or river. When I discovered the history that had moved across those waters, I was a goner.
What made you decide to write a series about Sir Sidney Smith?
I didn’t. Sir Sidney made me to do it.
I keep telling people this, but no one believes me. I don’t actually write anything. The characters tell me what they are going to do and say. I just take dictation and cash the royalty checks. (Who knew there was a racket like this out there?)
The series started out with Lucas Walker being the main character. Sir Sidney was going to be a secondary character, and would appear only in the first book, The Midshipman Prince. Well, that didn’t last long. The next thing I knew Sir Sidney had taken over, Walker was the secondary, and I had to rewrite large portions of the book. In fact, if you read Midshipman Prince closely you’ll notice that Walker is taking the lead in most of the situations, something that only rarely occurs in the subsequent books. Then, Susan Whitney said, “If those two clowns are going off on a bunch of adventures, I am certainly not going to be left behind. Besides, who’s going to supervise them?” So she became (I think) the first ongoing female major character in any nautical fiction series.
Does using a real life person as opposed to a fictional hero create any difficulties when writing?
Yes, it makes it ten-times more difficult. With a purely fictional character, you can make him or her say, do, and be anything you like. With a real person, there are real things that really happened, and you can’t just go off in any direction you wish. Fortunately, with Sir Sidney, his life truly was truly incredible. He did things, that I would have never even thought of putting into fiction. If he ever got the credit he deserves for the things he did, his star would be equal to, if not eclipse that of Nelson.
How do you undertake your research?
I have a year by year time-line of all the major events in Sir Sidney’s life. Paralleling that is a time-line of other things that were happening in the world at the same time. I’ll look at that sheet and decide how much I want to bite off for the next book.
Then, I start a process of reading everything I can get my hands on about Sir Sidney during that period, as well as the other people and events. That gives me the rough sequence of things that will be covered.
Once I have that list, I’ll refine it by drilling down on each item. I’ll keep pushing my reading back until I am at the primary sources—people who wrote in the late 1700s and early-1800s about the things they actually saw or experienced. Their recollections, stories, and anecdotes are, I think, what gives my books much of their color and realism.
Finally, I fire up my word processor and type in: “It was a dark and stormy night.” That terrible opening will awaken Sir Sidney, Lucas, and Susan who will severally or together scream, “Take that out of there, you blockhead. What’s wrong with you!” Then, they’ll huddle for a few moments and say, “Okay, here’s how the book is going to start…” and off we go.
You have a busy career as Senior Editor of Fireship Press. Does this present any special challenges when writing your own books?
Yes! Bigtime! But that takes some explanation.
Fireship Press actually began about six or seven years ago, when I wrote a best seller (a golf book of all things) with Tom Wishon. But, my heart really wasn’t in sports writing; it was in historical fiction, and nautical fiction in particular. I was also sick and tired of the way authors (me included) were being treated by the publishing houses of the day, so I took the royalties from the golf book, attracted some additional investors, and started Fireship Press. I have since bought-out the other investors, so I am now the chief cook and a bottle washer at Fireship Press.
Launching a publishing house from scratch requires a HUGE investment of time and effort—more than I ever dreamed. That’s why there was such a gap between publishing The Temple and Acre. I was working on Fireship literally seven days a week, 10-12 hours a day; but, it’s all been worth it.
Fireship has been a tremendous success. Our revenue is running way above what we projected for this point (Recession? What recession?). Indeed, we now have authors jumping to Fireship from publishers like Scribner, Doubleday, Knopf, Penguin, Bantam, and the Naval Institute Press, to name a few.
But, the best part is the author’s I’ve been able to “discover” and bring to market. Alaric Bond, I predict, will become one of the best known nautical fiction writers of our day. Potentially in that same class are people like James Boschert (The Assassins of Alamut, Knight Assassin), Marina Neary (Wynfield's Kingdom, Wynfield’s War), Linda Collison (Surgeon’s Mate), and Steven Maffeo, the well-known nautical historian who has just published his first novel with us (The Perfect Wreck). I am really proud of these and all the author’s we’ve been able to attract.
What’s next in the Sir Sidney Smith Nautical Adventure Series?
Sir Sidney will be shadowing Napoleon in his retreat back to Egypt. Once there, Napoleon will hightail it back to France, and Sir Sidney will negotiate the honorable surrender of the French Armée d'Orient — except for one teensy problem. His political enemies back in England have arranged for Smith’s treaty to be annulled. This sets the stage for a bloody (and needless) invasion of Egypt by a combined British Army and Royal Navy force under the command of Sir Ralph Abercromby.
Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
Yes, two things.
First, I’d like to invite everyone to visit our website at www.FireshipPress.com. While you’re there, you might want to check out our offer of FREE books, including postage. All you have to do in exchange is write a review on Amazon. We don’t care if your review is good, bad, or indifferent (well… actually we do, but we’re not going to try to influence you); but we’d like those reviews.
Second, if any of your readers are also writers, we’re always looking for the next Alaric Bond. Alaric was once one of you. We learned of him because he was a regular contributor here at Astrodene's Historical Naval Fiction forum.
Acre is published by Fireship Press.