July 16, 2014

Deborah Hill's The Heir - Guest Post

Here’s the question: how does the writer wrap the plot around history?

I take it as given that history can't change. Nor am I fond of narrative, which I use very sparingly. My characters, by their actions, have to tell us what is happening. A segment of The House of Kingsley Merrick, the second novel of the Kingsland Series, demonstrates the possibilities and the problems.

The scene is Cape Cod, the era is the beginning of the Civil War. One problem is that nothing happened on Cape Cod that relates to the war, except, of course, for young men volunteering. I struggled on through it 35 years ago, when I first wrote and published these books. This victory, that victory – frankly rather boring, but I didn’t know what else to do, and eventually the war ended, thank goodness.

But now! With the internet at my fingertips, I made a wonderful discovery: THE STONE FLEET.

The Fleet consisted of defunct whaling ships in New Bedford, MA, bought for a song by the government, fitted out with removable plugs and loaded with stones from the fields of local farmers. At a certain date the fleet was to sail for Charleston, the plugs pulled, and the ships sunk in the harbor, blocking it. Well, if not exactly on Cape Cod, New Bedford is close enough.

Was there a possibility that Kingsley could watch the fleet leave? If he could get himself to the top right of the map, sail south-west down past Falmouth, the ships would be sailing right past him.

As it turns out, he boards a schooner hired by old captains, helping the father of his beloved to climb on, along with the beloved herself. (Not an easy feat to arrange, but I persevered.) History was not violated, the action involved the Cape, and my characters were there, witnessing the event while starting to move forward and into their love affair.

In fact, the dithering and delay of the Union army and navy caused the fleet, which was sunk on schedule, to break up in the tides and currents of Charleston Harbor, providing no barrier at all. But this was not my concern! My characters are living in the moment, when everyone believes the fleet’s mission to be viable.

More troubling was the fact that the date of departure from New Bedford was top secret. But I decided that the captains knew someone important (after all, they’d spent their lives at sea and must have been acquainted with naval personnel of one sort or another.) Deep water mariners stick together; surely someone would be willing to humor them.

Someone does. Problem resolved. The story moves on and into the love affair, which we all have been waiting for. And that is, at least, one instance of how the plot can be made to wrap itself around history.

About the book
In the third book of a series chronicling 200 years of an American family’s triumphs and troubles, a young man returns to his roots to reclaim his heritage.
“I married into this family. Its ancestors did interesting things, and since they aren’t my own, I was able turn their story into historical fiction with a lot more freedom anyone related to them could have done.”-Deborah Hill, The Kingsland Series.

Thirty-five years ago, while living in Cape Cod, author Deborah Hill became captivated by the memoirs of her husband’s mariner ancestor and began to research the family’s history. In a pre-Internet world, Hill found herself pouring through old library books and ancient church records, and began to piece together the saga of the fictional Merrick family. The result was The Kingsland Series, a historically accurate, adventure-filled, spicy trilogy, which will conclude with the release of The Heir in March.

The Heir follows Steven Sinclaire, who grows up with the malicious husband whom his mother, Emily Merrick, tricked into marrying her. Steven endures the humiliations this man inflicts on him by escaping into his memories of Kingsland, the Merrick family’s estate on Cape Cod Bay. Refusing to study at Harvard University, as is expected of him, Steven flees to Kingsland where he learns to value the skills and hard work of the countrymen he meets. When he saves enough, he attends the college of his own choice, and then enters the world of corporate America. Years later, after having inherited the Kingsland Estate, he again returns, hoping to find an alternative to his generation’s frantic post-war climb – and a way to restore his own honor and that of his family.

This is the House, the first book in the Kingsland Series, was originally published in 1976 and sold over 700,000 copies. Set on Cape Cod in the years following the American Revolution, it is the story of Molly Deems, a woman who marries Captain Elijah Merrick in order to escape her mother’s shame. The captain is the ancestor of the author’s hus-band, and the story is based on his own memoir, which Hill has also edited and published as Recollections of a Cape Cod Mariner. The second title in the series, The House of Kingsley Merrick, picking up twenty years after the previous novel ended, follows the title character from Cape Cod to Australia and back to Cape Cod, where he seeks retribution for persecutions he endured as a youth. Both books were re-issued two years ago, coinciding with the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

About the author
Deborah Hill graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Creative Writing and was an elementary school counselor for many years. She currently lives in Brockton, Massachusetts. The Heir by Deborah Hill (published by North Road Publishing, RRP $17.95, e-book RRP $10.99) is available online at retailers including Amazon.com and all good bookstores. For more information, please visit www.DeborahHillBooks.com.

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