Monday, August 1, 2016

Lars D.H. Hedbor - novelist of the American Revolution - ordinary people involved in extraordinary events

Lars D.H. Hedbor is a novelist of the American Revolution whose work speaks to me in a special way, as his mission is very similar to my own: to explore the obscure stories. He is an amateur historian, linguist, brewer, fiddler, astronomer and baker. Professionally, he is a technologist, marketer, writer and father.  His love of history drives him to share the excitement of understanding the events of long ago, and how those events touch us still today.

MJN: You state that your mission is to explore the lesser known episodes from the American Revolution. I feel solidarity with you in that regard, as it is my own mission to uncover hidden gems and illuminate obscure figures. That presents a potential challenge from the marketing perspective. On one hand, you don't want to write an umpteenth fictionalized account about George Washington. On another hand, you want the characters to be somewhat recognizable. Some readers gravitate towards the familiar, and others gravitate towards the obscure and previously unexplored. How do you find that balance?

LH: One of the animating principles of my writing is the fact that events are shaped not only by those who stride across the pages of our history books, as mythical colossi, but also -- perhaps mostly -- by ordinary people, making daily decisions about how best to muddle through.  

Too, as you note, many of the stories of the powerful and famous have been explored ad nauseum in fiction, and there's not much that I think I can add to those accounts.  I have discovered that there's a hunger for stories that readers can relate to their own lives, too, and only a small fraction of any potential audience consists of people who will be historical figures in a future classroom text.  ;)

Beyond that, though, the American Revolution is often reduced nearly to caricature -- the brave and heroic Minutemen facing down the craven Redcoats in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia -- and the complexity and context of the familiar events of that struggle are lost.  There were good and brave men (and women!) on both sides of the contest, people with less-noble intent, and lots of folks just muddling through while events beyond their ken unfolded around them.  

Their stories are no less compelling for being less-known, and I like to think that by telling them, I can help to right the many injustices committed by simplistic teachings of our national origin story.

MJN: You list playing fiddle as one of your passions. I imagine, you have endeavored playing some of the English, Scottish and American tunes from the Colonial period. 

LH: Oh, I wish I had enough skill to play those!  In truth, I would love to take them on, but time for practicing on the fiddle is quite limited with everything else that I do.  Now you've got me wondering where to find some sheet music, though... so perhaps soon.  

MJN: Tell us about your publisher. It looks like it's a small tight-knit group of authors. Is it a thematic co-op, or a traditional small press that occasionally opens to submissions? 

LH: I started out published by a small indie press.  After my first book, which enjoyed modest success in their hands, they developed an interest in going in other directions than traditional historical fiction, so I struck out on my own, founding Brief Candle Press.  Later, I had the tremendous good fortune to acquire a handful of solid midlist science fiction books by truly gifted and well-reviewed authors.  Since then, I have taken on a couple of new titles, but being essentially a one-man show, I do not at present have the luxury of developing a "slush pile," although that may change in the future.

MJN: The titles of your novels are terse, even Spartan in their brevity. The Prize, The Break, TheSmoke, The Light. Is there a deliberate motive behind the titles of the novels? 

LH: In titling my books, I have tried to capture their central themes in a single word.  The Prize refers both to Carleton's Prize, a tiny island in Lake Champlain that figures heavily in the story, and to the prizes of liberty and love that my characters seek.  The Smoke evokes both the smoke of a campfire, and the brutal destruction suffered by the tribes of the Iroquois Confederation as they were forced to choose sides between the British and the Americans.  And The Light reflects the deep introspection of its Quaker characters as they seek the moral clarity of their inner light as they consult with God to find a way forward between the violence of the Revolution and their core beliefs, at risk of British suppression.  

I'll confess that I sometimes struggle to find a title for a new book that fits this now well-established pattern, but then I'll go back and re-read the book and discover that there is a central theme that I'd like to bring to the fore.  With their subtitles (e.g., The Prize: Tales From a Revolution - Vermont), they would be pretty unwieldy names for books, too, so this practice works well for a number of reasons.

MJN: The blurbs of your novels also have a similar element, referencing a seemingly ordinary protagonist: "another farm boy", "a simple sailor", "an ordinary young woman". There is something special about everyday people who hold no political power witnessing or participating in events of historical significance.

LH: I think that most of us feel that we are people of limited political power in our own lives, and I would like both to entertain my readers with stories of how "just folks," while they might sit outside of the limelight of the historical record, helped to create that historical record -- and also, more subversively, to cause my readers to realize that they are capable of leaving their own marks on history, even if their names are not recorded in its hallowed halls.

I believe very strongly that we can best understand our present (and work to shape our future) by understanding our past, and while it is informative to study the lives and choices of those whose names we do remember, I think that it's even more interesting and useful to understand how regular people lived and what choices they made.


1 comment:

  1. Absolutely brilliant interview! I so agree about the importance of the ordinary and look forward to all these books. :-)