I like to welcome historical novelists to my blog every now and then. Suzanne Adair is an old pal from my early days trying to get my medieval mysteries published and she writes Colonial mysteries and thrillers. She’s an award-winning novelist and a Florida native, who lives in a two hundred-year-old city at the edge of the North Carolina Piedmont, named for an English explorer who was beheaded. Her suspense and thrillers transport readers to the Southern theater of the Revolutionary War, where she brings historic towns, battles, and people to life. She fuels her creativity with Revolutionary War reenacting and visits to historic sites. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, dancing, hiking, and spending time with her family. A Hostage to Heritage, her second Michael Stoddard American Revolution thriller, was released April 2013.
Please join me in welcoming Suzanne Adair!
Can you tell us about your current book?
Sure. A Hostage to Heritage is the second of my historical thrillers set in Wilmington, North Carolina during the American Revolution, with redcoat Michael Stoddard as the criminal investigator. The story picks up just a few weeks after Michael’s first chronicled adventure ends (Regulated for Murder).
Here’s the description from the back cover:
A boy kidnapped for ransom. And a madman who didn't bargain on Michael Stoddard's tenacity
Spring 1781. The American Revolution enters its seventh grueling year. In Wilmington, North Carolina, redcoat investigator Lieutenant Michael Stoddard expects to round up two miscreants before Lord Cornwallis's army arrives for supplies. But his quarries' trail crosses with that of a criminal who has abducted a high-profile English heir. Michael's efforts to track down the boy plunge him into a twilight of terror from radical insurrectionists, whiskey smugglers, and snarled secrets out of his own past in Yorkshire.
Why this time period?
The atmosphere of the late eighteenth century brought a revolution in the way many people thought about the world. Development of the sciences was accelerating, so there was a thrust to evaluate natural phenomena with logical analyses instead of emotion. The benefits to keeping religion and politics apart were pretty obvious and discussed in the open. Georgian culture was relatively earthy and permissive, especially compared with what followed. Those magnificent tall ships were sailing all over the world, enabling exploration and cultural exchanges. Except for the lack of antibiotics and certain technological conveniences, it was probably an exciting time to be alive. And men could sure rock lace and heels.
What caught your interest about telling this particular story?
A big sub-plot in this book deals with child soldiers, an issue that’s plagued humans throughout history. As I’ll discuss in my essay on Crime Fiction Collective on Friday 3 May, this topic hits home with me.
I also wanted to explore how a detective who didn’t have access to modern technology and forensics would deal effectively with a hostage situation. The clock was ticking on the victim’s life. How would the detective and abductors communicate and negotiate without a telephone? What techniques would the detective use to track down the criminals?
And, of course, A Hostage to Heritage, along with Regulated for Murder, represents my efforts thus far at showing the strategic importance of North Carolina during the American Revolution. The Eighty-Second Regiment (redcoats) occupied the town of Wilmington for almost all of 1781 and kept the Continental Army from moving troops between South Carolina and Virginia most of that time. Now why do you suppose those sorts of victories on the part of Crown forces don’t make it into American history texts?
What tidbits of research did you discover that made it into the book? What didn’t?
Here are some historical tidbits I folded into this book:
- A woman and several children were traumatized from witnessing a massacre. (See my Thursday 25 April essay on the Mysteristas blog.
- Two local rebels performed drive-by shootings down the streets of Wilmington.
- General Cornwallis’s soldiers were on the campaign trail so long, their uniforms faded to orange.
Readers will also find nods to Robin Hood and Jacobites. And swashbuckling. Where would an adventure set during the eighteenth century be without swashbuckling?
What didn’t make it? Some information about William Hooper, one of North Carolina’s signers of the Declaration of Independence, because I’m still researching it. My research trail has led me to a thesis by a professor in Louisiana. I hope to include that information in the next Michael Stoddard thriller.
I love to play with my medieval weaponry. What’s your favorite bit of hands-on research?
Ahh, women and weapons. I noticed how well you handled both sword and dagger when you visited the library in my neck of the woods November 2011. So you carved up a roast with those blades? Just one roast? I won’t ask why a nice lady like you is amusing herself with deadly weapons. I amuse myself with eighteenth-century muskets, bayonets, and pistols a good bit, especially when I’m dressed in period clothing for a reenacting event. These covers on my earlier trilogy (Paper Woman, The Blacksmith’s Daughter, and Camp Follower) showcase some of the weapons from my collection. And the model should look familiar.
What shaped your character’s personality? Was it the era, circumstances, a traumatic event?
All of the above, I think. Michael Stoddard was born in 1754, in Yorkshire, England, son of a poor stonemason. When he was eleven, his prosperous uncle Solomon arranged for him to work for a local nobleman, tend Lord Crump's falcons. Three years later, Michael discovered that Lord Crump’s gamekeeper and steward were embezzling from him and brought his observations to his lordship. Lord Crump and the butler devised a way to track the thefts and entrap the two men, resulting in their dismissal.
When Michael was almost seventeen, Uncle Solomon approached Lord Crump about assisting in the purchase of Michael’s ensign's commission. Grateful for Michael’s keen observation skills in that embezzlement incident, Lord Crump helped purchase the commission and later sponsored Michael’s lieutenant’s commission. (Ah, but did Lord Crump have an additional reason for being so generous? Read A Hostage to Heritage to find out.)
After Michael shipped to America, several commanding officers assigned him to investigate criminal activity. Upon his regiment’s arrival in Wilmington, North Carolina, Major James Henry Craig assigned him the position of lead investigator. Michael promptly selected Private Nick Spry as his assistant.
How easy or difficult is it for you to sustain an historical series?
Since Michael’s series deals primarily with North Carolina in 1781, I’ve made things easier on myself. I rely on Gregory De Van Massey’s Master’s thesis from 1987, “The British Expedition to Wilmington, North Carolina, January–November 1781,” as a baseline for mapping out the external conflict and overarching direction for the series. The beauty in this approach is that I get to showcase some important events from 1781 North Carolina that didn’t make it into history textbooks. Since I don’t plan to change history—Lord Cornwallis will surrender at Yorktown in October 1781 and thus bring an end to the Eighty-Second Regiment’s occupation of Wilmington—I’m developing an internal conflict and Hero’s Journey for Michael that makes sense in the context of the external conflicts.
A question for our budding writers out there. Do you write by the seat of your pants, just going with the flow, or do you have to outline? Or is it somewhere in between?
I do a combination of outlining and writing by the seat of my pants. Before I begin a first draft, I know how and where the book should end as well as several plot milestones in the middle that I must hit. After I turn my characters loose to develop, I depend upon them to help me hit those milestones, but the manner in which the milestones are hit is often unpredictable at the beginning of the first draft. That’s why I’m glad I can trust my characters.
What’s next for you? What can we look forward to from Suzanne Adair?
More Michael Stoddard, of course. I estimate that it will take him around three more books to get to the Eighty-Second’s evacuation of Wilmington in November 1781. But by next spring, I’m also hoping to release the first book of a science fiction series set in the 24th century. Yes, I do experience some time travel whiplash.
Thanks for the interview, Jeri!
Thanks for stopping by, Suzanne! You can reach Suzanne and her books in all sorts of places:
Quarterly electronic newsletter: http://tinyletter.com/Suzanne-Adair-News
Web site: http://www.SuzanneAdair.com