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
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.
wanted to write historical
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.
figure that inspired you to
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.
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.
part of your revision
I love revising; there’s always a better way to say something. The challenge is the technical part, all