Today starts an occasional series featuring writers who use history as their muse (aside from me). 🙂
When I discovered that W.H. Payne shared a love for Winslow Homer’s Civil War era paintings, I knew I had to feature his books here. W.H. is a Vietnam veteran and life long history enthusiast. He also plays in a band!
W. H. graciously took the time to pick from this great list of questions: 50 Good Questions to Ask an Author to talk about his writing process. He has published three works of historical fiction:
The Veteran in a New Field, The Sharpshooter on Picket Duty, and Prisoners from the Front.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
My first novel; The Veteran in a New Field is set at The Catskill Mountain House in 1866. The then world -famous resort was built in 1823 and over the years hosted Hudson Valley artists including Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, Jasper Cropsey, and other luminaries including James Fenimore Cooper, Oscar Wilde, US Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. By the 1960s however it had become an abandoned wreck. My first pilgrimages were to hike the trails, as a teenager, and explore the ruins of the great hotel. On January 25, 1963, the state Conservation Department burned the remains of the Mountain House, and I witnessed the conflagration as a sixteen year-old high school student from the valley below. I have hiked around the site many times since and it inspired my writing. I have made many trips to Ireland and to Civil War sites and battlefields researching my novels as well as a non-fiction book that I am currently writing.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I have drawn inspiration and enhanced my research from the works of these friends who are authors writing in the field of Civil War studies:
Joseph Thatcher; Confederate Coal Torpedo, Chuck Veit; A Dog Before a Soldier and Raising Missouri, and Jamie Malanowski; Commander Will Cushing; Dare Devil Hero of the Civil War.
In conversations we have explored both the compilation and evaluation aspects of research as well as the style of language and thought in the Civil War/mid-nineteenth century era.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Both. Since my books each contain mysteries for my hero to solve, I write them to be complete stories within each book; i.e. to stand alone. But, as my characters move through history, their adventures are carried on in the subsequent books. This apparently works as I desired as I have heard from two of my readers one in Saratoga, NY and one in Florida, that they had each read the middle book; The Sharpshooter on Picket Duty, not knowing that it was preceded by the first. They each reported that the book gave them an enjoyable reading experience and they went on to the other books in the series.
5. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Not too surprisingly, my favorite under-appreciated ‘novel’ is actually a trilogy by Thomas Flanagan;
The Year of the French, The Tenants of Time, and The End of the Hunt. Together the stories span the struggles for the freedom of Ireland from English rule, from the Rising of 1798, to the Fenian Rising of 1866 to the War of Irish Independence 1916-1923 .
6. What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Truth. Some of my characters are drawn from people I have known; an officer I served with in the New York Guard, a woman I worked with as a parole officer for example. I owe it to them to portray them, although I have fictionalized their personas and put them back in time, with respect and appreciation for their real struggles and accomplishments.
7. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
As I noted above, I am currently working on a non-fiction book; A Stone of the Heart about my great-uncle Patrick Delaney who served in the Irish Republican Army in the War of Irish Independence.
8. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
My research includes visits to libraries (most recently for the second time, to The National Library in Dublin Ireland) as well as museums, historic sites and time on the internet. Once I have gotten a reasonably good idea of the basics of the time and place I am telling about, I get underway with the writing. I continue with the research as the work continues up to and after the book is done. I review and add or subtract as new research indicates prior to publication. My current work, on my great-uncle, includes those research methods as well as my family’s recollections gathered both in the past and the present, in the US, Ireland, England and New Zealand.
9. How do you select the names for your characters?
I used my maternal grandmother’s maiden name for my hero in the first book; Seamus Delaney. I will use other appropriate names particularly with regard to ethnic preferences in names. Many mid-nineteenth century names in the English speaking world had Biblical, historical, classical and even Shakespearean inspiration. I try to name my characters with inferences to the traits of the figures they may have been named for.
10. Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
***Adrienne is smiling and wondering what those secrets are!
Thank you so much for sharing your body of work with us and for serving our country. Come back some time and tell us more about your music as well!
You can contact Mr. Payne at:
firstname.lastname@example.org or his website: www.whpayne.com.
The Veteran in a New Field:
“In the summer of 1866, young Seamus Delaney, a former colonel in the Irish Brigade and a Union veteran of the Civil War, checks into the Catskill Mountain House, a grand hotel perched on a summit overlooking the Hudson Valley. Seamus is still employed, in a clandestine capacity, by the government, but has been ordered by his superior, the shadowy Secretary, to take a rest. On the morning of his arrival, his path crosses that of the lovely, ethereal Emily, and later in the day he rescues her when her horse accidentally stampedes and her buckboard nearly plummets over the Kaaterskill Falls. What first appears to be an accident soon seems to Seamus to be attempted murder. Early the following day, a murder is committed, and the victim is not Emily, but a man shot from behind while attending a prayer service on the piazza of the hotel.
Luther Van Bronc, a black man who, like Seamus, is a veteran of the Civil War, is accused of firing the fatal shot. At the request of Luther’s employer, the owner of the hotel, the wealthy Mr. Beecher, it falls to Seamus to clear the accused before a lynch mob renders its own justice.”
BIO BILL PAYNE
Bill served on active duty in the United States Marine Corps from October 1968 to July 1970. He served in Vietnam from July 1969 to July 1970. He was Honorably Discharged from the Marine Corps Reserve in 1974 with the rank of Sergeant. He was commissioned a Captain in the New York Guard in 1992, was activated for the terrorist attack on 9/11/01 and retired as a Major in 2015.
He began his career in December of 1970 as a Probation Officer in Dutchess County, NY and was later promoted to Senior Probation Officer serving in various positions including Juvenile and Adult Officer and in all courts.
In 2011, he received the Middle Atlantic States Correctional Association (MASCA) Founders Award. He has been a member of the MASCA Board and Policy and Procedure Chair. He remains a member of the Corrections and Youth Services Association of New York State and on October 27, 2016 was presented with their Executive Board Rutherford B. Hayes Award.
Bill devotes much of his time as a volunteer in veterans’ services. He is Past Commander of Lamouree-Hackett Post #72, American Legion, Saugerties, NY and is Past Commander of the Ulster County American Legion. He is a life member of the Marine Corps League, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Disabled American Veterans. On May 22, 2012, his efforts for veterans and the community were recognized by NY State Senator John Bonacic who sponsored his induction into the NYS Senate Veterans Hall of Fame.
He is co-curator of the Post #72 Veterans History Museum and in 2018 assisted in writing a successful grant application for the US WWI Centennial Commission and The Pritzker Military Museum100 Cities Memorials initiative. The Post #72 museum was one of only 100 locations that was awarded the grant.
Bill writes historical fiction and has published three novels set at the time of the Civil War. He also belongs to the Veterans in a New Field; a musical group that performs and records songs of the Union Irish Brigade. He reenacts a Union Marine of the Civil War with the United States Naval Landing Party. He presents to groups on historical topics.