Welcome to the start of a new week. Today we meet Harold Titus in the guest authot interview:
Please introduce yourself, who are you and what do you do?
I was born in New York State, moved to Tennessee when I was seven, and moved with my parents and sister to Southern California when I was nine. I graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in history. I taught one year in the Los Angeles City School District, was drafted into the army, moved afterward to Contra Costa County in Northern California, and taught eighth grade English 31 years, drama 6 years, and American history 6 years in suburban Orinda. I coached many of the school’s sports teams. During my teenage and middle years I especially enjoyed playing golf. I live with my wife in Florence, Oregon. I have been a political activist the past 9 years I am an avid fan of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers and UCLA men’s basketball.
What first inspired you to start writing?
Reading exciting fiction during my adolescent years caused me to want to write. I began writing for the heck of it when I was in the army. I was stationed at Fort Ord, in California, and was living off the post in a three-room rental cottage. My roommate hitchhiked to Southern California on the weekends, so I had plenty of time to fancy myself a Civil War historical novelist. One day my roommate stole a look at what I had written and declared it “pretty bad.” He was right.
I became serious about writing after I retired from teaching. My English classes and I studied excellent writing. I had my students write narration and dialogue that stressed visual clarity and character emotion and conflict. Loving language and the ability of certain authors to utilize it, having thoughts of my own about the nature of man, I wanted to express myself.
Do you read in the same genre that you write?
Most of what I read is historical fiction. This must be because of my interest in history. A historical novel should educate as well as entertain. I want to learn how people lived at a specific time, what they thought, and what they valued. I want historical generalizations agreed upon by historians individualized by the people, real and imagined, that the author chooses to depict. I want the fiction to be unique, not subject matter that other writers have portrayed. Here are several excellent examples.
John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
MacKinlay Kantor, Andersonville
Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels
Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Wallace Stegner, The Big Rock Candy Mountain
What is your favorite song lyric?
I don’t have one. I did enjoy lyrics written by rock groups I listened to in the 1980s and 1990s. I watched recently a TV documentary about the Eagles and enjoyed some of Don Henley’s and Glenn Frey’s lyrics. Example: from “Hotel California:”
Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said "We are all just prisoners here, of our own device"
And in the master's chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can't kill the beast.
If you could work with any author, who would it be and why?
It would be Winston Graham, the author of the Poldark series of novels set mostly in Cornwall, England, at the end of the 18th and into the 19th century. His subjective narration seems effortless. I find expressing feelings and abstract thoughts to be difficult. I admire also Mr. Graham’s depth of characterization of women.
Are you a planner? Or do you prefer to just start writing?
I am a planner. I follow a skeletal outline of scenes that lead in a specific direction. Crossing the River adheres to a chronological time-line: spying activity, preparations for the British expedition to Concord to destroy rebel munitions, rebel preparations to resist it, the actual events of the expedition as experienced by specific individuals (mostly real and some imagined) who are participants, the immediate aftermath, again experiences of specific people. Within each scene I allowed myself to free-lance, while staying true to the accuracy of the main events.
What advice would you give new and aspiring authors?
Learn to recognize your weaknesses as a writer. Study how your favorite authors deal with the problems you have narrating. Also, don’t be in a hurry to submit your manuscript for publication. You will never get what you’ve written “just right.” But try to. Some of your best writing will be what you come up with on your seventh or twelfth rewrite.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am researching the events and people involved in Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempts to establish a British colony on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the 1580s. I’d like to write a novel that depicts how self-interest and excessive power trump idealism and societal constancy and how individuals, powerless to thwart this, must find ways to survive and experience happiness.
Tell us about your latest work and how we can find out more.
My only published work is Crossing the River. There is my blurb on the book jacket.
Standing on Lexington’s town common, humbled by the veneration of hundreds of militiamen, conceding that he had instructed them, encouraged them, in the end incited them, acknowledging that he, with others, had brought them to the river that could now be called revolution, Doctor Joseph Warren gives full credit to whom it is due. They, not he, knowing fully well the danger, had attacked the master. Standing at the river’s edge, they, of their own volition, had crossed over.
Joseph Warren is but one of Crossing the River’s many historical figures that bring to life General Thomas Gage’s failed attempt April 19, 1775, to seize and destroy military stores stockpiled at Concord by Massachusetts’s Provincial Congress. Characters of high and ordinary station, choosing to or forced to participate, must confront their worst fears. Revealing the internal conflicts, hubris, stupidity, viciousness, valor, resiliency, and empathy of many of the day’s participants, Crossing the River is both a study of man experiencing intense conflict and the varied outcomes of high-risk decision-taking.
The novel’s title is a metaphor for such decision-taking, be it Massachusetts militiamen seeking greater independence from Great Britain, General Gage’s attempted seizure of the provincial arsenal, two junior British officers’ risk-taking to earn quick promotion, an Acton schoolmaster’s compulsion to avenge the death of his dear friend and neighbor, a Lincoln youth’s attempted atonement for cowardice, a Lexington resident’s impulse to assist a redcoat deserter while he tries to resolve his neighbors’ and family’s low regard of him, or a British soldier/spy’s desire to rise above his station.
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Thanks to Harold for sharing his thoughts with us, on Wednesday Elizabeth Newton takes her turn in the hot seat.