As a writer I like to poke the bear and in my case it’s the historical bear.
For example, Americans think of baseball as their game and there is no bigger name in the sport than Babe Ruth. Ruth hitting his first pro home run in Canada may rub some the wrong way. But Ruth did hit his first pro home run – his one and only minor-league homer – on September 5, 1914 at an old ballpark at Hanlan’s Point on the Toronto Islands.
I used that tidbit to start my first novel Gift of the Bambino. While we’re on the topic, did you know that Ruth hit his last three home runs – numbers 712, 713 and 714 – in one game? It happened on May 25, 1935, and it wasn’t with the New York Yankees but the National League’s Boston Braves. Ruth was near the end by that time.
It’s amazing how a fact from history can inspire a novel and it’s happened to me a few times. For Gift of the Bambino, I put my protagonist right in the stands for those two Babe Ruth home runs – the first and the last – with a 21-year gap in between.
I started writing my Holocaust novel The Last Witness when I learned about a horrific event involving SS guards at a hospital in Lodz, Poland – in the Jewish ghetto – on September 1, 1942. And it got into my book. But it was from the perspective of a three-year-old boy who saw it with his own eyes. Some ninety-seven years later when he is 100 years old, he hasn’t forgotten.
With the biblical-historical thriller QUMRAN, it was different. I had already labored over several drafts, but was later compelled to add something to the mix. Something that could upset a lot of people.
It was this bit about the Temple of Luxor in Egypt which stands intact today. What’s so upsetting? The walls of the temple depict New Testament biblical stories. The only problem was that the temple was built long before the time of Jesus and didn’t depict the story of Jesus but the pagan Egyptian god Horus.
Then there is the next novel Medicine Man, which is about the Iroquois Indians. Did you know that many facets of the U.S. Constitution were borrowed from the Grand Council of the Iroquois? But the early American leaders didn’t borrow everything. Like the rights of women. Women wouldn’t get the vote in the U.S. for another 150 years. Or the fact that the Iroquois never took slaves; captives taken by the Six Nations weren’t treated as slaves but adopted into the families, so there were no slaves.
A pretty big war was later fought over that one.
Or how about this? In 1779 George Washington wasn’t yet President. He was a general. But that year he unleashed his own generals to unleash havoc on forty Seneca villages in the finger lakes of New York. All the villages were destroyed. The Seneca, one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, were decimated.
In Medicine Man this sorry episode is told from the perspective of a young Seneca man who has a wife and infant son.
This is what I mean by poking the historical bear. Sometimes that bear is going to growl.