HAROLD TITUS: CROSSING THE RIVER TOOK ME 17 YEARS
Posted by Ognian Georgiev
Harold Titus published his book Crossing the River three years ago. The history novel received very positive feedback (av. 4.4 stars from 10 Amazon reviews). We are very happy that the author was kind to tell us something more about his writings.
– What is your book Crossing the River about?
– Crossing the River is about the singular experiences of both famous historical figures and ordinary people engaged April 19, 1775, in frightful combat. It is about why British Commanding General Thomas Gage was compelled to send an army of 700 redcoats out of Boston to Concord to seize and destroy illegally stored gunpowder, cannon, and military supplies and why the colony’s rebellious Provincial Congress wanted to confront him. It is about major and minor mistakes made by both sides, bloodshed at Lexington, courage, stupidity, honor, callousness, fear, rage, empathy, selfishness, and senseless slaughter. It is a portrayal of all aspects of human nature. It is a detailed, accurate depiction of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the fierce combat that occurred during the British army’s harrowing retreat to Charlestown, told through the viewpoints of its participants. It is a story about crossing the river, about not being able to turn back, about individual beings choosing to risk all to attempt to obtain great reward.
– How did you decide to write the story?
– I am a retired eighth grade English and American history teacher. I love historical fiction. I was provided by my school district the early retirement opportunity to write student reading material about major historical events. I knew enough about the details of the Battles of Lexington and Concord to recognize certain elements that eighth grade readers would find fascinating. I wrote a 100 plus page manuscript that was too much summary, not enough character development, too little subjective narration, and inadequate dialogue. I decided to expand the novel to make better use of information I had obtained about participants in the battles. I wanted to do serious writing. I wanted to employ the techniques used by excellent writers of fiction, skills I had observed as a literature teacher. I wanted to challenge myself. 17 years later I submitted a 413 page manuscript for publication.
– What was your biggest challenge during the write up process?
– Narrating action and writing dialogue are easier for me to accomplish than are communicating feelings and expressing abstract thoughts. It took me many revisions to produce the following:
In his study one hour each afternoon, recalling past friendships, recreating personal and professional accomplishments, Thomas Gage warded off his anxieties. Intermittently, he indulged in flight of fancy: Tom Gage, suave, virile lothario; Thomas Gage, vanquishing general/enlightened prime minister. Revitalized, he returned to his duties primed to vanquish each new outrage directed upon his competency. Once or twice every fourteen days or so his methodology of self-renewal failed him. This afternoon his apprehensions and resentments had not receded.
The biggest challenge, however, was the enormous, time-consuming task of turning ordinary writing into lucid, articulate expression.
– Tell us something about your main character? Is it close to someone from your real life?
– The novel has many characters. The major events of April 19, 1775, are the aggregate of their varied experiences. I enjoyed creating especially these three individuals:
Lexington militiaman Simon Winsett attempts to assist a redcoat deserter while trying to resolve his neighbors’ and his family’s ill regard of him.
Acton school master James Hayworth seeks to avenge the death of his dear friend and neighbor, minuteman commander Isaac Davis.
Redcoat corporal John Howe spies for General Gage and seeks to rise above his station. None of these characters resembles anybody I know personally but all possess character traits that readers easily recognize.
– How much time did you need to finish the story and to publish it?
– It took me 17 years, spaced around other activities of my life. Crossing the River is lengthy. Writing isn’t easy. I discovered I couldn’t just “turn it on.” There were moments when my brain was working and words and phrases came to me cooperatively but more often they did not. About two hours a day at my computer was about the time I allotted myself because I knew staying at the task longer would be counterproductive. I learned not to spend much time the next day editing what I had just written but, instead, to come back to it weeks, if not months, later. Reading what I’d written with fresh eyes was a humbling, necessary experience. Like most anything people do, the longer you do something, the more you improve. I believe I am a better writer now than I was five years ago, certainly better than I was ten years ago, and definitely better than when I started.
– Do you have another published book?
– Who are you?
– 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 in 1958, moved afterward to Contra Costa County in Northern California, and taught eighth grade English 29 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 adult years I enjoyed playing golf. I live with my wife in Florence, Oregon. For ten years I was a political activist. I am an avid fan of the San Francisco Giants and 49ers and UCLA men’s basketball.
– What are your writing habits?
– 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), 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.
In portraying an actual historical person, I limit myself to what I discern in the person’s writing or what is written about the person by contemporaries and by respected historians. (Paul Revere wrote quite a bit about his April 18-19, 1775, experiences) Imaginary characters must contribute to the overall accuracy of my portrayal of day’s historical events.
I usually do minor editing of every two chapters that I complete before proceeding to write new chapters. I try to sharpen the phrasing, add sensory detail, and eliminate awkward sentences, knowing well that much editing (see my answer to question #5) will remain, especially after I have completed the novel’s first draft. I believe that a well-written novel is the result of layers upon layers of revised writing.
– Are you satisfied by the sales of the book and do you plan another one?
– I am more disappointed about reader lack of interest in the Revolutionary War than I am about sparse sales. I understand how difficult it is for an unknown novelist to inform the general public of the existence of his work. Many people don’t read books, period. Those who do usually focus on popular genres: mystery, romance, fantasy. Readers of American historical fiction seem to prefer the Civil War period and the era of World War II. Thus, my frustration.
I am writing a novel about the Algonquian natives at and near Roanoke Island from 1584 to 1586 when Englishmen first attempted to found an English colony in North America.
– What are you doing to promote by the best possible way your book?
– I have been a member of goodreads.com since the fall of 2011. I participate in group discussions, post blog entries, and write book reviews. I am a member of several other author/reader internet organizations but, because my free time is limited, I rarely participate in their discussions.
I maintained a blog site that features excerpts from Crossing the River, articles I have written about actual participants in the Battles of Lexington and Concord, articles about the struggles Queen Elizabeth had with internal and external enemies, explanations by historians of the disappearance of the last Roanoke colony, interviews I’ve conducted of debut American historical novelists, interviews done of me, book reviews I have done, and experiences I have had teaching school. The blog site address is http://authorharoldtitus.blogspot.com.
– You’ve been in the army before the Vietnam War. Did you participate in the War and are you considering writing something on that theme?
– I spent two years in the army stationed all that while at Fort Ord, California. Our country was not at war. I was primarily a file clerk and messenger assigned to the classification and assignment office of the installation’s administration unit. My knowledge of military life and combat derives mostly from what I have read. There will be combat in my Roanoke novel, but it will be much different from what most readers are accustomed to reading. The novel, however, will feature the motives for war universal in any time period.
– As a fan of basketball do you think that the generation of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal is possible to be compared with the times of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird?
– Basketball players are bigger and stronger today, but basketball skills remain the same. Teamwork remains essential. There is a good reason why the San Antonio Spurs, not the Miami Heat, won the NBA championship this past year. The players you mention all played on teams that won championships not only because of their individual talents but because complimentary players on those teams did the basic essentials. Size and strength of players today would probably be the determining reason for an excellent NBA team today defeating an excellent team 20 years past.
– Ask yourself a question (And don’t forget to answer!)
– Question: What aspect of writing do you enjoy seeing in other writers’ works that you try to emulate?
I want to see crisp dialogue with a minimum of “he said” intrusions and sensory detail that gives the reader a sense of presence and an awareness of characters’ emotions. I told my students that when they had to identify who was speaking, “Have the character do something. Then have him speak. Have both in the same paragraph. And please don’t generalize his action or tell the reader what he is feeling. Show what our eyes see, not what our mind interprets!”
Here is an example from my novel:
Captain Parsons returned. Hands clasped behind his back, he gazed at her. “My
soldiers are hungry. They will pay, with coin, what you will provide. They will be
kept here in the yard, well regulated. The provisions will be conveyed to them by
Meliscent snorted. Parsons’ eyebrows arched.
Jabbing her elbows against the backrest of her rocker, she scowled. “We are
commanded to feed our enemies.” Her hands worked combatively. “You cannot buy
good will. I will not accept your coin!”
Parsons stiffened. Anger colored his face. “A curious decision. Imprudent.
Obstinacy thrown in the face of courtesy. Madam, you invite resentment!”
Her eyes castigated him. From his coat pocket Parsons withdrew a shilling.
Scowling, he tossed it onto the lap of her frock. A second officer, freckle-faced,
exhibiting a swagger, added his own. Two nearby soldiers, observers, now
approached. Parsons’ angry eyes taunted her.