Saturday, June 25, 2016

Longshot Series - interview with Civil War / Irish history bestseller Keith R. Baker

Today's guest is Keith R. Baker, author of the sensational Longshot series, who achieved an impressive bestseller rank in the categories of Irish history and the American Civil War without the help of a big publisher. The hero of his series, Rob Finn, is an Irish Famine refuge with an remarkable marksmanship talent that makes him a very coveted man in a very precarious time.

MJN: The Potato Famine was a launching point for many Irish immigrants. The same tragedy that forced them to seek asylum in another country also opened up new opportunities for the select few who survived. It's very tempting to romanticize the Irish-American success story. What about the untold stories of failure? Was your protagonist's story typical or rather an exception to the rule? 

KB: As much as I try to remain true to the facts that I have uncovered during my decades of genealogical research, the greatest truth that comes forth in response to your question is that I often don't have sufficient detail to complete a life story to its ending, so some of it is imagined of necessity.  And, yes, the temptation to romanticize it always lurks at the keyboard when I write.  After all, I'd like to sell scads and scads of books, and the highly romanticized works of other authors seem to do well with the reading public.  Alas for my poor wife and family!  That is not who I am.  If anything, I tend to steer to what I perceive as the more real side of life–that which is laced with some misery, sorrow, suffering, pain and failure.  This is the stuff that the vast majority of humankind has experienced in the history of our species on this planet.  The true success stories are few when compared to the masses of lives that have passed through in anonymity, poverty, etc.  But that does not mean it is all sad.  Really heartfelt joy comes from those little things in life; especially in those moments when we love, appreciate, share and/or help other creatures we find in need.  That's my take on the experience called life, anyway.

MJN: The image of an Irish-American has evolved over the centuries. What kind of social gimmicks would an Irish person in mid-19th century resort to in order to him/herself an air of respectability in a society dominated by the Anglo-Dutch elite? 

KB: While the characters in the Longshot series don't use such things, the gimmicks you refer to were and are quite common.  The first of them would be to totally hide all traces of Irish patterns and accents of speech, followed by dressing in finery beyond the means of the wearer.  Then, since many Irish immigrants were physical laborers without the means of keeping themselves meticulously clean, they often exuded considerable body odors. Disguising these was not a matter of social politeness in those days as everybody had a bit of stink about them.  Life itself in those years had a stench to it that our modern culture in the US has sanitized away. So a person dousing themselves in some form of (especially cheap) colognes or perfumes or soaps to mask their natural aromas became known for "putting on airs".  (Most common in low-level political aspirants, labor organizers, etc.  I guess things haven't changed all that much.)

MJN: I am sure you are familiar with the Songs of the Irish Volunteer collection - an anthology of Civil War tunes reflecting the experience of the Irish soldiers who fought on both sides of the conflict. Is there a particular anthology you would recommend for your readers? 

KB: I rather assume that this link is to David Kincaid's excellent work: Songs of the Irish Union Soldier 1861-1865, is the one you have in mind.  The only thing lacking there, is that there are as many songs arising from the Irish troops engaged under the flag of the Confederacy in those same years.  The Irish soldier songs on both sides of the war were often based upon older songs and ballads from Ireland, and always had similar instrumentation and voicing to the tunes, melodies, beats, rhythyms and such from the Celtic home origins.  Among the better known Confederate songs that can be attributed to the Irish are Dixie, The Bonnie Blue Flag, and The Irish Brigade (actually a Union version and a CSA version of this last one).  I have no favorite anthology to recommend, but there are many CDs available online that have excellent and authentic collections performed on them.  Any that I have listened to work well to evoke the strong emotions or loneliness, sadness, glory and honor that the warriors of that war heard while soothing their souls from the fearsome environment surrounding them. If still available, the sound tracks from the movies, Gods and Generals and also Gettysburg, contain some wonderful renditions of the tunes from both sides.

MJN: There is often a certain naivete about highly gifted individuals. Sometimes they can fall prey to an unscrupulous individual with questionable motives. Gifted individuals often find themselves in a place where they cannot tell good from evil. 

KB: Oh dear!  So true!  To say more might be a spoiler for Longshot #3 and beyond!

MJN:  Let's talk about the covers in your series. The background remains the same, featuring a hole from a gunshot, but the foreground image changes subtly.

KB: You know, there's a bit of a story about that.  There always is when interviewing authors, no?  Hahahahahaha!  More seriously, Monica Haynes, owner of The Thatchery is the very gifted and talented designer of those two covers.  I had made (what I now think of as an amatuerish) suggestion regarding using the bullet-hole theme for the second book, and she turned it into the wonderful masterpiece that you now see.  Again, I won't spoil the third novel by revealing the title at this point, but I have NO idea what the cover will look like.  Okay ... spoiler alert ... the name Longshot will be part of the title, and thus part of the cover, on the next book.  Or so I think.  Just now.  But to be certain, we'd have to ask Monica, and she's not around here at the moment. In fact, she and I have never met face-to-face.

MJN: Clearly, your novel is very popular and very well-received. You would have no problem attracting a big publisher. Is there a reason you chose the independent route? 

KB: Two main reasons apply: First is my unbridled impatience with such things as committees and bureaucratic processes, (both of which I find traditional publishers to practice) coupled with my intense personal dislike of rejection.  My second reason being that I don't work well with others, having never mastered the art of getting along with the other children. None of these conditions are improved by my being in my seventh decade, so I could see no other way forward than the Indie route!

No comments:

Post a Comment