As the first dry breezes that herald the coming of Fall whistle through the eaves of my home here in the fertile, idyllic farmlands of Northwest Ohio, I pause to reflect on my first decade of writing. It was 10 years ago, during winter of 2009 – 2010, that my first work, “The Trans-Appalachian Wars, 1790-1818: Pathways to America’s First Empire,” went into print. At that time, I was nearly 55-years-old – rather old to begin a new career, especially one as mentally taxing and frustrating as writing. In the 10 years between 2010 and 2020, I produced five books and one compendium of essays – not an insubstantial body of work. There has been some critical acclaim and a few awards along the way. However, in those 10 years what I really have learned is a bit about my style and what I hope to accomplish by writing.
I found that my philosophy of writing is a rather eclectic synthesis of the work of comedian Andy Kaufman, actor Willem Dafoe, writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, impressionist artist Edouard Manet, and the musical rock group Queen. Hopefully that got your attention! While Andy was alive, his comedy was created mostly to make himself laugh. If others laughed along with him that was fine, but basically his comedy was created for self-satisfaction. Willem Dafoe essentially verbalized this attitude with his own comment: “You know, often I’m not thinking about the audience. You know, you can’t, because then you start to get away from your experience and you start imagining what people need, and that’s always a problem.”1
I think if many artistic personalities were completely honest, they would confirm Kaufman’s and Dafoe’s perspectives. I completely understand this now, and have adopted that attitude as an underpinning of my writing. I have realized that I write to express myself and establish – in writing – some of the thoughts and positions that I maintain. In short, I basically write for myself and hope that a few people along the way enjoy what I write. My books are independently published, so I do not have to answer to any editorial boards or academic review committees. This is very important, for as F. Scott Fitzgerald notes, “As soon as I feel I am writing to a cheap specification my pen freezes and my talent vanishes over the hill.”2 By maintaining independence, I am free to espouse positions as I see them. I would not have it any other way, even though to bow to the dictates and desires of others would almost certainly result in much greater financial rewards. I do not write for financial reward, only to produce works that reflect truth and creativity. Manet illustrates my quest and method with his quote: “There is only one way to be truthful: at first glance, put down what you see. If it works, it works; if it doesn’t, you go back and start again. Anything else is a waste of time.”3
Next, the influence of the rock group Queen highly impacted me. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many musical groups had early creative successes, but then had a huge hit with one particular song. After that, the record company executives and producers pressured them to write songs similar to that huge hit. This was to replicate that success and essentially make money off of it, at the forfeiture of all other considerations. I can think of several of my favorite groups that traveled down that path – the path toward creative mediocrity.
However, in the mid-1970s (which concurrently was also in the middle of my college career) a musical group named Queen came onto the rock scene. Queen was quite different than many other rock groups – you might even consider them unique. The songs in each individual album were very different from each other, and each album was very different from the album that preceded it. While you might have liked some of their works and didn’t like others, you could always count on Queen to come up with something new and innovative with each successive album.
In the mid-1970s, Queen produced a song called Bohemian Rhapsody which was nearly six minutes long. The conventional wisdom at that time was that rock songs suitable for airplay on contemporary radio could be no longer than 3 ½ to 4 minutes to be commercially viable. Queen was under pressure to cut the playing time of Bohemian Rhapsody to a length which the record company thought would be viable for commercial success. Queen resisted this attack on their creative freedom, to the point where they severed ties with the record company, even though they didn’t have another company lined up with which to sign a contract. Remaining true to themselves, Queen forged ahead, eventually secured a contract with a new record company, and recorded Bohemian Rhapsody “their way.” Bohemian Rhapsody was a huge creative and commercial success, became Queen’s trademark song, and even became the title and theme song for an immensely successful movie depicting their career. The rest, as they say, is history.
I was so impressed with Queen (even while not liking all their songs) that I unconsciously adopted their form of creativity and creative control. As you read my works over the years, you may find different types of writing, basically revolving around the themes of history and historical novels. Almost all my works are completely different than each other. You may like some in totality, you may dislike others, and you might like certain portions of some works while disliking other parts. However, what I hope you will always find is that each work is fresh, original, and stimulating.
Finally, I decided to stay true to my own creative instincts, and essentially evolved a slightly unique writing style. One reviewer has labeled the style “imaginative realism.” This could be loosely defined as the creation of precise and vivid period set-piece fiction woven into a storyline, which appears so close to reality that it is virtually indistinguishable (even to critics) from true reality. This has become my trademark style in novels and short stories, as has been used in illustrating portions of history as well.
Self-consciously, I have often felt that it is a little arrogant of me to share my thoughts on writing and creativity philosophy, let alone boldly undertake to write books. After all, who am I? I’m just a humble farm boy – born, bred, and eventually to pass away in the obscurity of the rural Midwest. Then I came across the following quote from Marie Forleo. Her words have meant a great deal to me; so much so that I have taken them to heart and even have them framed for inspiration upon my writing desk. I hope Marie will forgive my inability to provide an absolutely exact documentary credit, but her words are so powerful that I feel they should be shared as I close this evaluation of my first decade of writing:
The Real Cost of Not Using Your Gifts
You were born on this planet for a reason, and if you don’t use your gifts to the fullest of your capacity, the world will lose something that it can never have again. One of the things that we need to get as individuals – is that people devalue their voice. They don’t think they matter. They don’t think that what they have to offer this world, or what they have to say, and their perspective, is actually going to make a difference. And…it will! How do we get individuals around the world to understand that they were born for a reason, and that there is something that they have inside of them that no one else in this world will ever have…and that it’s their job, while they’re here on earth, to figure out what that gift is and to give it? You have the power to change your life, and you have the power to change the lives of those around you.4
1 Inside the Actor’s Studio, Season 23, Episode 23. Director: Rik Reinholdtsen, Host: Pedro Pascal. Guest: Willem Dafoe. Filmed at: Pace University, NYC Campus, Schimmel Center; Monday, May 13, 2019; 7:00 p.m. First Aired: October 27, 2019.
2 Ann Margaret Daniel. F. Scott Fitzgerald: ‘I’d Die for You’ and Other Short Stories. (New York: Scribner, An Imprint of Simon &
Schuster, Inc., 2018), xviii.
3 Isabel Kuhl. Impressionism: A Celebration of Light. (New York, et. al., Parragon, undated), 144.
4 https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=marie%20forleo and/or https://www.marieforleo.com/ Paraphrased.