I have the opportunity today to welcome author Deborah Hill to The Maiden's Court. Deborah has written a trilogy of books, based to some extent on the history of her husband's ancestors on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The series appeals to me because the setting is not typical for historical fiction and it is set close to home. Read on to learn more about her writing and works.
Your novels are based on a memoir of one of your husband’s ancestors. Can you tell us a little bit about how this memoir inspired you to write your novels? What about Elijah Cobb's life called out to you for the novel treatment?
I’d known about Elijah since I first walked into the family home: his portrait, done in France while he was waiting to get his indemnity money in 1794, was hanging above the mantel. You couldn’t miss it, and when I asked about it, my future mother-in-law gave me a brief introduction, down-playing his accomplishments like a good Yankee does (or, at least, did). So I didn’t think much more about it until I was married and we had two children and were living in the same town for a while. The bi-centennial was approaching, and I’d always wanted to write a book. Historical novels were my favorite – an easy way to learn history – and here was a start, already written! Of course, I couldn’t quote it, or even narrate it, because that would be boring. But if I thought of Elijah as a real person, rather than an ancestor, I could breathe life into his memoir, and if I invented him a wife, I could breathe life into HIM. And so I did.
What has been the family reception?
Believe me, I never asked!
You re-released This is the House in 2011, after an initial printing in 1975, and the others in the series then followed. What types of things did you revise for this second printing and what led to this revision?
I suppose most authors think about the things they could have done differently, once their work is irrevocably completed. I did; I thought about it for 10 years and actually began to revise all three novels in the series 20 years ago. I “tightened” the style up, deleted as many words as I could in order to render them a little less “florid,” and made sure my history was firmly in place (which I could do because of the internet.)
You lived in the New England area while writing your books – did this factor in to your research for the novels? What sources, besides the memoirs, were valuable to your writing?
Yes, it did. We had two small children while I was writing This is the House, which meant that Mother (me) needed to stay close to home. Fortunately everything I needed was at hand, besides the memoir, specifically the ancient church records (which were the town records in the early days.) I wanted to pick up the little things – like the bounty on muskrat ears or blackbirds – the mill disputes – the sale of pews in the newly built meeting house. And most of all, the library where I could read and reread books on American history and the research that had been done, up to then, on the home and habits and customs of early Americans.
The Kingland Series follows the Merrick family from Revolutionary America up through modern times. Why write a family epic? As the memoir you had to originally work with was set in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, did you draw on any other family history for the later portion of the series or did you have some other sources?
Cape Cod, up until recently a remote outpost, reflected and responded to the developments of American history in microcosm, generally 50 years later than the events themselves. So it’s like a mirror, and provides a little space for the observer who can see where it’s all heading. An interesting perspective, to say the least!
My husband’s family was the perfect “vehicle” because they did things that reflected the Cape Cod microcosm without standing too far out from their contemporaries. Elijah did have a fascinating career, but he was just one of many early American mariners who did the same thing – though I don’t hear of anyone else meeting Robespierre! Kingsley’s prototype actually did start a coaching company in Australia, and while this is fairly unique, it happened far away so that when he returned home, he was just one of a number of early Victorians who were rising to great wealth. They were perfect “foils” that reflected their times. Though I invented Molly Deems, the fact was that the original Kingsley did marry his talented cousin (whom I’m sure I’ve distorted badly in order for her to reflect the constraints under which women labored in those times.)
And Augusta? And Alice? And Emily? Tim, Charles, and Steven? Bits and pieces of them are real, and most is fictional. I will discuss this in my blog, but not just yet, as The Heir wasn’t available until last March. It needs a little more time before dissection can take place.
Do you have any plans for further writing? If so, what can you tell us? If not, what are you doing in place of writing?
When you function as your own publicist and marketing director, a lot of your time gets absorbed. I’m loving this aspect of publishing, and am really glad I had a chance to do it, but it does limit the amount of time I have to write. I plan on blogging for a bit, which uses quite a lot of creative energy. If I do dream up another historical novel, I’ll probably post it there.
Deborah Hill entered the world of writing at age 11, producing “Peggy’s Troubles” for her sixth grade classmates. Majoring in Creative Writing at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, she found that although she could write and loved doing it, there was, as yet, nothing to say. She needed more experience in the “real world” and so moved on to marriage and a partnership with her husband that included building houses on Cape Cod. Their children, coming home from elementary school, brought much enthusiasm for the upcoming bi-centennial, and Hill became interested in both American history and the experiences of her husband’s ancester, a mariner whose memoir described the young nation’s struggles with France and England after the Revolution. Ahah! Now there was something to write about! Hill published This is the House in 1975, The House of Kingsley Merrick in 1978, and Kingsland a few years later. Now all three will be issued under the series title Kingsland, with the third volume renamed The Heir. With the help of both computer and internet, neither of which were available 35 years ago, all three have been edited and in some cases rewritten. The memoir has been edited, too, and is available wherever This is the House is sold. The House of Kingsley Merrick will be available summer 2013 and The Heir summer of 2014.
You can find Deborah on her blog.
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