Straight Talk on Writing: 20 Conversations with Authors about the Craft

By Scott Francis | Go to book overview

James Alexander
Thom

“Write twenty thousand
words or so with a quill
pen, by candlelight, with no
heat but an open fire, and
your clothes full of fleas…
that will qualify you to
write about ‘the good old
days.’”

James Alexander Thom, author of The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, believes that the way to understand history is to “be in it when it’s happening.” Readers of his nine deeply researched American frontier books consistently respond with the words he loves to hear: “I felt like I was there!”

Ranging from Colonial Virginia to the conquest of the West, his prize-winning epics, including Follow the River and Sign-Talker, have sold 2.5 million copies and are assigned as supplemental reading in history courses by teachers who trust the history in the tales. He shows the Indian Wars through the eyes and souls of both whites and Native Americans.

Thom, a Marine Corps veteran and former metropolitan journalist, has been involved with American Indian tribes and causes for a quarter of a century. He lives with his Shawnee wife, Dark Rain, in the wooded Southern Indiana hills, in a log house he erected using pioneer tools and techniques. “Everything you do is research,” he says. “The more you live and learn, the better you can write.”

Interview conducted by Lauren Mosko Bailey.


When did you know you
wanted to write historical
fiction?

It wasn’t until the United States Bicentennial, when someone from the Indiana Historical Society suggested that I might write a dramatic work on our role in the Revolutionary War. Before then, I had written only contemporary fiction.


Who was the first historical
figure that inspired you to
write?

George Rogers Clark, who seized control of the Old Northwest Territory from the British by a swift, brilliant expedition on the frontier—probably the most successful action in the Revolution. He was 25 years old.


For you, what’s the most
challenging aspect of
starting a new novel?

I am humbled by my ignorance of the subject and the period, and daunted by the job of research ahead. The challenge is in overcoming my ignorance. It’s like being a college freshman again every time I start a new story.


What’s the most challenging
part of your revision
process?

I love revising; there’s always a better way to say something. The challenge is the technical part, all

-60-

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Straight Talk on Writing: 20 Conversations with Authors about the Craft
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Acknowledgments i
  • Table of Contents ii
  • Introduction 1
  • Laurie Alberts 2
  • Barbara Baig 6
  • William Cane 9
  • Orson Scott Card 13
  • Sage Cohen 21
  • Sarah Dornet 25
  • Jeff Gerke 29
  • April Hamilton 32
  • Becky Levine 37
  • Donald Maass 41
  • Dinty W. Moore 43
  • Jessica Page Morrell 46
  • Steven Harper Piziks 49
  • Peter Seigin 53
  • George Singleton 57
  • James Alexander Thom 60
  • Fred White 62
  • Karen S. Wiesner 64
  • You’Ve Read the Interviews… Now Read the Books! 68
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