Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Interview with B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Dean Hamilton

Please join me in welcoming B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Dean Hamilton to A Literary Vacation!! Dean was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. He spent the first half of his childhood chasing around the prairies and western Canada before relocating to Toronto, Ontario. He has three degrees (BA, MA & MBA), reads an unhealthy amount of history, works as a marketing professional by day and prowls the imaginary alleyways of the Elizabethan era in his off-hours.

Much of his winter is spent hanging around hockey arenas and shouting at referees. He is married, with a son, a dog, four cats and a turtle named Tortuga. THE JESUIT LETTER is his first novel of a planned series called THE TYBURN FOLIOS. A short prequel novella, BLACK DOG is also available on Amazon.
A sequel to THE JESUIT LETTER, called THIEVES CASTLE, is currently under development and expected to be completed sometime in 2017.

Hello, Dean, and welcome to A Literary Vacation! To start off with, please tell us a little about your book, The Jesuit Letter?

The Jesuit Letter is historical fiction, set in England in 1575. Most fiction embedded in the Elizabethan era tends to be tales of Court intrigue, set amidst the silken splendor of palaces. Mine tends to hang about in ale-soaked taverns, muddy streets and fetid back-alleys where cold-steel by lantern light offers redemption or grim death by turns…

The main character in
The Jesuit Letter, is an ex-soldier turned play-actor named Christopher Tyburn . Tyburn abandoned the war against the Spanish in Flanders, but remains haunted by his brutal wartime experiences. Now returned to England, he is the newest member of The Earl of Worcester’s Men.
Since the inn yards of London are closed due to plague, the troupe are on the road, touring the market-towns of the Midlands. When Tyburn accidentally intercepts a coded letter from a hidden Jesuit priest in Warwickshire, he is entangled in a dangerous conspiracy, caught between a secret group of Catholic recusants and their hunters. He must track down the Jesuit to clear his name... or die a traitor's death. His only hope happens to be an eleven-year old glover's son named William Shakespeare.

What drew you to tell this story, about this particular time and place in history?

I’ve always had a deep fascination with all aspects of the Elizabethan era and the Renaissance, and in particular a long-standing interest in the life of William Shakespeare. The Elizabethan era is really one of the first recognizably modern periods in history, marking the shift in the Western world from a medieval worldview to a more modern state. It saw a flowering of literature, theatre, art, music, science, exploration, government and politics that permeated and utterly changed the culture that preceded it.

It also had its horror stories, and one in particular that stands out is the massive shift in English religious beliefs that permeated the century and the often horrific results that transformation created. The English Reformation saw the country transform from Catholic to Protestant to Catholic and back to Protestant, all in a time period of less than 30 years. For the average person, landing on the wrong side of the fence at the wrong time could mean anything from fines to imprisonment, savage torture and death.

I’ve tried to reflect some of that ambiguity in the world of
The Jesuit Letter, with the dangerous political machinations of the various powers, the nobility and the monarchy, and the quiet, secret lives of recusants and priests that saw themselves as trying to bring about the religious salvation of a country while others saw them fomenting a violent and inescapable political turmoil and treason.

Toss in some dangerous conspiracies, a hidden Jesuit priest, coded letters, a little romance and an eleven-year old future Bard of Avon, and you have a fun mixture for story-telling.

It sounds like The Jesuit Letter is a wonderful mix of real people, places, and events from history mixed in with fictional elements. How did you decide where to stick to the facts as they are known, and where to alter what is known or add your own touches?

I tried to stick to factual events, locations and historical characters as accurately as possible. The reality is that historical fiction requires hard and meticulous research, a critical eye and the ability to parse from history the day-to-day that governs your characters and your settings. Changes that deviate too widely from the real-world elements of the era pulls the reader out of the period and the setting, detracting from the story-line and the overall credibility of the tale. Research, context and, more importantly, being able to reflect and mirror the feel for the era in the story, are critical elements in making historical fiction work.

I think writers of historical fiction need to be careful that research doesn't overwhelm storyline. It is very easy to suffer from excessive inclusion - the need to make certain that your depth of research is reflected on the page. It is very easy to get distracted by the need to explain and the temptation, when a terrific piece of research needs to be incorporated into a scene, is to make the scene about the research rather than the character or the story. When something takes you days or weeks to research and plan, the urge to have that fictional moment encompass more to justify all the hard work that went into it, can be an easy and common trap.

Historical fiction is best when the author is painting in the corners, dropping in the innocuous and oft un-noted details that help make the era and the landscape come alive in ways that the reader barely overtly notices, but builds and supports the overall world and setting. It is found in the canted timber walls and the worn pasteboards, the sour warm ale and the mud-caked cobbles, the taste of spiced wine and the rancid stench of a urine-soaked alley. The research leads the writer, helping enter into that world, where they need to critically pick the elements and moments to entrap in prose, and pull the reader into their time-warp and an engrossing story.

What sort of research went into writing The Jesuit Letter? Did you do any traveling as part of your research?

Probably more research than was needed! The germ of the idea behind The Jesuit Letter came out of reading a biography of William Shakespeare but once the idea had been fleshed out came the realization that I needed to know more. The next three years were spent on immersing myself in the history of the period. I have at least three shelves worth of history books and biographies, and another of binders filled with articles, art and miscellaneous information. Historical fiction research is a bit like an iceberg, only about 10% ever shows up in the work, but the hidden 90% lurks under the surface. By way of example, there is one scene of cardplay in the book. This required extensive research into the history of playing cards, researching the rules behind primero (a card game), as well as some hours dealing mock hands at my kitchen table to understand the play and rhythm of the game…all for a scene that encompasses maybe two and a half pages.

The research still hasn’t stopped. If anything, it has broadened to encompass some wider aspects of the Elizabethan and Renaissance era. I’ve looked at everything from clothing and diet, card-playing, Elizabethan theatre, sword-play and fighting skills to spycraft and politics. I regularly bore people about the subject, if they make the mistake of asking!

With regards to research travel - unfortunately not at this point. I’m hoping to get a research trip in sometime in the coming year for a new book.

Was there anything you discovered as part of your research that you found surprising or shocking?

I think prior to becoming immersed in the era, that I had failed to grasp the complexity and nuanced view of the religious and political situation that Queen Elizabeth and her contemporaries had faced. They very much walked a knife-edge in dealing with both the multitude of Catholic recusants on one side and the hard-line Puritans on the other. It is very hard for a modern reader to get a clear appreciation of the religious absolutism that drove the Catholic Church to deliberately set about to undermine and destroy what they saw as a heretical power governing England – one that threatened the souls of an entire country and the validity of the Papacy. It ended up being an immensely political issue – to whom do people owe their allegiance, Queen or Pope? A wrong choice could, and often did, end fatally.

Historical fiction happens to be my all-time favorite genre and I find myself going back and forth between what periods of history are my favorite to read about. Do you have a favorite time period to write and/or read about, or do you enjoy jumping around as I do?
I tend to jump about, both in my historical fiction and in my history reading. The Elizabethan and Renaissance eras are one obsession, but I read ancient history as well, Greek and Roman history, the history of exploration and trade - the Silk Road remains a topic of much fascination, and the medieval era, as well as more modern works covering international politics, the World Wars and the post-9/11 world.

In historical fiction I will confess to reading *anything* by Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden, both of whom are superlative writers. I have a great fondness for George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series. I also highly recommend Arturo Perez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste series, which is both poetic and brilliant.

What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing and the rest of your life?

Writing and life are a tough balance. Squeezing in time to put words to paper is often frustratingly slow. I had the advantage of having a hugely supportive wife who helped me find the time I needed on weekends, holidays and evenings to drop in and out of the Elizabethan world and tell my story. The biggest single issue I ran into was, oddly enough, entirely seasonal. My son was enrolled in competitive hockey, so seven months out of the year, from September through to March, I was haunting hockey arenas four to five days a week. Between driving him to and from practices and games, writing time became a scarce commodity. I was able to scare up some time by dragging my laptop into the arena restaurant on occasion. Most of my “prequel” novella BLACK DOG was written sitting at hockey arenas. Once spring and summer arrive, it becomes writing season for me.

What drew you to independently publish The Jesuit Letter as opposed to seeking traditional publishing?

I spent about a year or so sending out agent query letters while researching self-publishing at the same time. More and more, it began to look like a viable possible alternative and the lack of response from agencies helped spur on the decision to look at new options. I finally just got tired of waiting for an agent to say yes and wanted to find out what readers thought of my work.

I wanted to present the most professional work possible, so I ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for hiring a professional editor and a cover designer. I successfully raised $3200 and after much work launched the book last year – on April 23rd, Shakespeare’s birthday.

During the last year,
The Jesuit Letter landed an Editor’s Choice selection from the Historical Novel Society (HNS), and was one of nine books short-listed for the 2016 HNS Indie Award. It was also short-listed as one of ten semi-finalists for the 2016 M.M. Bennet’s Award for Historical Fiction. And now, a BRAG Medallion! Obviously, I must be doing something right.

Wow, congratulations on all the accolades! How wonderful! Speaking of indieBRAG, How did you discover indieBRAG and what does it mean to you to have The Jesuit Letter awarded the BRAG Medallion?

Indie Brag and the BRAG Medallion are hard to miss, once you start looking at independently published books. They just keep turning up – really good books, all with a BRAG Medallion on them! It was fairly clear very early that the BRAG Medallion was a terrific sign of quality writing and quality books that any author would be honoured to have bestowed on their work.

There are just so many self-published books available on the market today, sometimes of highly variable quality, it becomes maddeningly hard to separate your book from the rest and effectively market your work to have it stand-out. The BRAG Medallion offers readers an independent evaluation and a visible symbol of a quality work, vetted and evaluated for that quality. It is a tremendous help for both readers and authors. I feel privileged and honoured to have
The Jesuit Letter to receive a BRAG Medallion. I literally jumped from my chair when I received the news.

Thank you for the chance to talk to your readers! I hope they enjoy the interview and take the opportunity to read
The Jesuit Letter.


Thank you so much, Dean, for answering my questions! The Jesuit Letter sounds spectacular!
You can learn more about Dean Hamilton and his books on his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter. You can purchase a copy of The Jesuit Letter on Amazon. You can also purchase a copy of the prequel novella, Black Dog, on Amazon.
A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Colleen has chosen to interview Dean Hamilton, who is the author of The Jesuit Letter, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ® , a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Past Encounters merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

No comments:

Post a Comment