Today I am interviewing Silver Medal Award Winning Author for Historical Literature Fiction, Shaun J McLaughlin. He has written two history books—Patriot War Along the New York-Canada Border and Patriot War Along the Michigan-Canada Border—and a novel Counter Currents: A Story of Smugglers, River Pirates, Love, War, and Freedom Fighters in 1838. Today we will be discussing his book Counter Currents and his upcoming projects.
Hi Shaun! Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about your background?
Thank you April for this opportunity.
I have been a writer in some form since my father gave me an old Underwood typewriter when I was 14. After high school, I studied journalism. I followed that profession for a few years and then morphed into a technical writer in 1983 at the start of the high-tech revolution.
After 25 years of that, I semi-retired and began to focus my energies on becoming an author. That effort bore fruit four years later with my first novel, Counter Currents, and my first history book on the Patriot War.
Your character Ryan Lone Pine, of Counter Currents lives an exciting and adventurous life. I think Counter Currents could be especially enjoyed by young adolescent males. Is that the target audience for your book?
I never aimed at young males as the prime audience, though I know I would have loved this book in my teens. Because the book accurately builds on many historical events, I assumed my primary audience would be fans of literature and history. They are typically middle-aged folks, more often male than female. Of those I know who bought the book, most are in that demographic.
Your character Ada, of Counter Currents comes off as a bit of a narcissist. She assumes all of the men want her and even pursues her cousin’s love interest. (I think to prove to herself how irresistible she is to men). Does she have a personality disorder or is she really that coveted?
Ada Burleigh is based on a historical character. She was the cousin of the real-life Kate Johnston and did spend the summer of 1838 helping Kate run supplies to Kate’s fugitive father. And she was independent-minded and six-five in height, as portrayed in the story. Any woman in 1838 that tall would have attracted attention and would need to be overly confident to flourish in society. The real Ada was the well-regarded wife of a prosperous farmer. I made her the attractive, morally duplicitous, high society vamp portrayed in the novel because I wanted to experiment with a femme fatale character. Any personality disorder is surely a reflection of my own.
Hahaha gotcha :). That’s incredible how tall Ada was! And yes she was quite the femme fatale… What inspired you to write Counter Currents?
Back in journalism school in 1974, one prof asked us to write a 5,000 word feature on a historical subject. I discovered Bill Johnston and uncovered enough research to write a book. I saved that material thinking it might come in handy someday. Thirty-three years later an idea popped into my head for a short story about a young man that gets involved with Johnston and the sinking of the steamship, Sir Robert Peel. The story became a 16,000-word novella. Several literary friends read the story and recommended I make it a book. I took their advice.
That was great advice.
One of the best lines I think in Counter Currents is, “Grandfather says good name for you is Thunderfoot. He says you must hope all animals are deaf or you go hungry.” -When Ryan Lone Pine is being taught to hunt for the first time by his “adopted” Algonquin family. I think I laughed for twenty minutes over that one… Was that based on anything that happened in your life? Or pure fiction?
I am so pleased you laughed there—it was supposed to be funny. I chuckled when I first wrote it. Like many scenes in fiction, the event is imagination tempered with the author’s experience. I have lived in the country for over two decades in a densely forested area west of Ottawa, Canada. In attempting to stalk game for photographic or viewing purposes, I regularly marvel that people once moved through my forest as silently as mist. I can’t. I am Thunderfoot.
Hahaha I thought so! 🙂
What makes Kate Johnston so special to Ryan Lone Pine, a young man who personifies the term “free spirit”? How come he could picture himself settling down for her?
Kate was a real character and almost as legendary as her smuggler father, Bill. Kate was a river brat that rowed about the Thousand Islands on her own at 16 to help her father evade patrol boats. She was torn by two desires: to be an unfettered queen of the river and to be a wife and mother. Ryan is initially attracted to Kate’s wild side—recall the skinny-dipping scene—but like many young men, he is willing to consider settling down to keep the woman he grows to love. On a historical note: Kate Johnston married at age 29—very late for a woman in her era. I believe her wild side held her back for years.
Will there be a sequel to Counter Currents? Will we hear more from Ryan Lone Pine?
Yes. I have completed two-thirds of the first draft of the sequel. It picks up where Counter Currents ends. He sheds Lone Pine for a new name—one given by the aborigines he befriends. Entirely set in Australia, it spans ten of that country’s formative years including the world’s richest gold rush and Australia’s only armed rebellion.
Great, I look forward to reading that! Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I completed my second history book in the summer and now apply all my writing effort on the Ryan sequel, tentatively titled Black Southern Sun.
What genre do you write?
I write true history, focusing on 19th-century Canada-USA border skirmishes. And I write historical fiction.
What draws you to this genre?
I love history—always have. History offers me a limitless supply of story templates. Take any interesting segment of history, research it until you know the era and setting, and then weave fictional characters into the milieu. You can do so many neat things. In Counter Currents, I have Ryan befriended by a young lawyer, John A. Macdonald, the man who became Canada’s first Prime Minister. Such fun!
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Pick your genre. Write regularly and find ways to get peer feedback. Make sure you are flawless in the mechanics of writing: spelling, grammar, point-of-view, etc. Do not write to make money—write because it gives you joy. Make sure to read “On Writing” by Stephen King.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
I have two history blogs and a self-publishing blog, plus presence on many of the usual Web social networks.
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Shaun-J.-McLaughlin/e/B006X01QZO
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to participate in this interview!
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