When did you first consider yourself a writer?
After I received compliments from strangers who reviewed my Revolutionary War novel, printed in 2011, I ceased doubting myself as an author. I know what I can do; I also know my limitations. I know that diligence rewards. The desire to write began when I first started teaching – 1957. Believing that I could write effectively came much later after much practice.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
My interest in history probably began during high school with my reading of two Thomas Costain novels. Additionally, I was aware that my father’s ancestry went back to the Mayflower and the founding of Plymouth Colony. A charismatic junior college history teacher heightened my interest in the subject. I graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in history. I stayed another year to earn a general secondary teaching credential, my teaching major, history, and my teaching minor, English. During my three years at UCLA, I read a lot of historical fiction and non-fiction, mostly about the Civil War. Two weeks before I began my first teaching assignment, I was told that I would be teaching English instead of history, as I had originally been assigned. I did teach American history six years to eighth-grade students in the Orinda (California) School District, but every year of the 31 years I worked for the district I taught English. Exposing my students to excellent writing stimulated my desire to write. Writing historical fiction afforded me the opportunity to instruct as well as create.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I wrote my first fiction, an assigned short story, when I was a junior in high school – something about two hikers fleeing a forest fire. Drafted into the Army after my first year of teaching, I wrote several chapters of what I hoped might become a historical novel about General Grant’s eventual capture of Vicksburg. My roommate (I was living in a rented room off the military post), a college English major, read some of it and thought it awful. I am certain it was. One summer after I had taught English in Orinda for two or three years I wrote three short stories. I submitted them to several literary journals and national magazines. Having just read two or three short stories by Truman Capote, I tried to use brilliantly worded imagery. Here are two awful examples:
And the invective flushed Adams’s emotion like a cathartic in the blood stream rushing hate beneath the surface of his skin.
Like a Halloween paper skeleton, the character flaws of others illuminated his darkness, his incognizance of people, yet sightless, only his other senses could warn him of his own biting glow.
One of the stories was about a young girl who had lived with an indulgent aunt while her mother had been confined to a tuberculosis sanitarium. The mother had returned and had been harsh in disciplining her child. The girl, bewildered, wandering purposelessly outside her house, is befriended briefly by a youthful delivery man. I had just read J. D. Salinger’s Nine Stories. I mailed the story to a “critic,” who, according to his ad in a writer’s magazine, critiqued and suggested improvements of manuscripts for a fee. I am still amused at what he wrote. He suspected that I was J. D. Salinger playing a trick on him, submitting a story written in his style but far lacking in quality.
Assessing these stories now, I see a very inexperienced writer trying to portray character strengths and weaknesses, needs, and conflicts. I see him concerned about the human condition. I see him striving to stretch his ability. (There actually are several excellent passages in these stories) I am able to make these judgments now because during the succeeding years reading and teaching so much excellent fiction, I absorbed what good writing looks and sounds like. After I retired, I practiced the craft, on and off, 17 years writing my Revolutionary War novel, Crossing the River.
What have you written so far?
Crossing the River, published in 2011, portrays the experiences of individuals who volunteered or were forced to participate in Massachusetts Colony in one or more of the traumatic events April 19, 1775, most notably the Battles of Lexington and Concord. One reviewer (the entire review is posted on Amazon.com), wrote:
The author, Harold Titus, obviously thoroughly researched this story to present a realistic retelling of events along with a look at the inner feelings of the characters. The writing is well done throughout the book. Perhaps the most astonishing feature of the writing is the dialog, which seemed extremely authentic. This novel is also interesting in that it presents the story both from the British side (why Gen. Gage felt it necessary to attempt this) and from the American side (why a young farm boy would risk his life). Not only did this provide insights into both sides’ actions, the juxtaposition of narratives was fascinating. A nice bibliography of sources is also provided.
I am 28 chapters into completing the first draft of a novel about Algonquian natives at and near Roanoke Island in 1583 and 1584. The novel will end with the appearance of Englishmen intent on finding a suitable place to start a colony. The main characters are a 20-year-old Roanoke warrior and his 17-year-old sister, both independent-minded individuals impeded by a culture that requires of its people loyalty, conformity, and obedience.
You will find my articles about and excerpts from both novels on my blog site.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
Currently, first, I established the historical facts. Then I determine the strengths and weaknesses of my primary characters and the conflicts that they will experience, all within the context of those facts. I know where I want to start; I know where I want to end; I know two or three important events between the beginning and end of the novel that I want to reach. How I get from intervening peak to peak is determined by what I imagine during the writing and what the characters seem to want to make happen. I also have in mind broad concepts that I may wish to convey, one being that in certain respects mankind does not change, the passage of time and economic, scientific, and technological accomplishment notwithstanding.
How do you feel about indie/alternative vs. conventional publishing?
The days are gone when somebody like me could submit the first two chapters of his manuscript to a literary agent who would actually attempt to find a mainstream publisher who might be willing to print his work. After accumulating a year’s sum of rejection messages, I read internet complaints criticizing frequently used POD (print on demand) publishers. Educated, I sent my Revolutionary War manuscript to Booklocker.Com, which asserts that it is choosy about what it accepts. I am satisfied. I recognize that I will not make money writing. It is enough to believe that people who choose to read what I write will probably be content.
Is there any marketing technique you used that had an immediate impact on your sales figures?
No. One outcome is worth mentioning, however. Because Crossing the River is historically accurate, nearly four years ago I sent over a hundred free PDF versions of the book to high school history teachers in Oregon and parts of California and Washington. I was hoping that some of them would purchase my paperback. One did, ironically the American history teacher in the school that my grandson was attending, the teacher not knowing of the boy’s existence until I told him. Recently, my publisher informed me that this past March somebody had purchased 26 copies of my paperback. The same teacher or somebody else having his school buy a class set?
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
Alsoomse and Wanchese, yet to be finished, chronicles the tribulations of a seventeen-year-old Algonquian sister and twenty-year-old brother at and near Roanoke Island from the fall of 1583 to August of 1584. Their village, Roanoke, is part of a confederation of six Algonquian villages ruled by its mamanatowick (king), Wingina. The weroance (chief), Piemacum, of one of the six villages is attempting to usurp Wingina’s authority.
Wanchese is the son of the recently deceased war chief of the previous mamanatowick, Wingina’s father. Recognizing Wanchese’s potential, Wingina selects him to be a member of a four-man mission to travel up the Chowan River to trade with another confederation but also to learn if Piemacum has sent his own delegation there to trade. Wanchese proves himself to be a fierce warrior prone to committing reckless acts. His impulsiveness leads his immediate superiors, and Wingina, to suspect that his judgment cannot be trusted. Wanchese seeks to convince them otherwise. Wanchese carries the guilt of not being present to prevent the death of his impetuous young brother Kitchi, who, before the novel begins, has drowned attempting to navigate by himself a canoe in the ocean, beyond Roanoke’s nearest barrier island. Wanchese’s commitment to teaching his Roanoke chief’s petulant, disobedient son how to become a man reveals the softer, empathetic side of his character.
Alsoomse feels stifled by the rules of her culture. She is inquisitive; she is creative. She is a story-teller, a natural teacher, an outspoken critic of injustice, a young woman whom males have said desires to be a man. She is envious of Wanchese’s travels. She fights conformity. She is also vulnerable. Not attractive physically, she mourns the recent death of her mother and, therefore, the lost opportunity to receive guidance about how to relate to men and how to choose a husband. Given finally the opportunity to participate in an adventure that removes her from the drudgery of women’s tasks, she must decide which is more important to her: her ambitious goals and the hope of finding a suitable mate or the responsibility that she has reluctantly accepted of looking after the needs of vulnerable individuals dependent on her.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?
The satisfaction of having written a historical novel regarded favorably enough by reviewers motivated me to start another one. I had enjoyed the necessary research, the creative process, and the lengthy editing. After about a year of attempting to market the novel, in the spring of 2013, I began my research of the Algonquian culture and the Albemarle Sound and Pamlico Sound environments.
Why did I choose these people, this time, and this location for my second novel?
After I retired from teaching, I wrote a manuscript about the Roanoke story for eighth-grade students. It was an early retirement project that was more a summation than a portrayal of events. My focus was on the Englishmen who came to Roanoke, not the natives. Having dipped into this water once, knowing the historical story but not knowing enough about the natives and their culture, wanting to write a story from their point of view, I began a very different account.
I was familiar with the Roanoke story from its inception to the “disappearance” of John White’s colony well before I retired. The story – about cooperation, deception, betrayal, savagery, misunderstanding, tragedy – fascinated me. My novel will end where the Roanoke story — Walter Raleigh’s ship captains’ attempt to locate a suitable place to establish a colony in the middle latitudes of North America – begins.
Want to connect with Harold?