Why the Pilgrims Still Matter
How we view this period was set by the greatest spin doctor on earth — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” It’s powerful — the beginning we all wish we had.
For me, King Philip’s War is the great what-if? What if there hadn’t been a war of annihilation with the native peoples of New England 100 years before the Revolution? Would there have been a different attitude, at least in New England, when it came to the Revolution?
On Writing Maritime History
The book changed how I view my home. You drive Route 128 or 495 [in Massachusetts] and there’s Medfield, site of one of the bloodiest battles. Or you have Taunton. I had been there but ne ver saw it as anything but a town that was not in its best years. But the whole Taunton River — that was a revelation, to see how the rivers provided a real highway through the country.
These kinds of books are not easy to write because you have to go into somebody else’s voice, figure out what happened, and then recast it for a modern audience. It’s easy to quote from something and just dump it in there and say that’s what happened. The harder thing is to try and internalize that and yet be truthful. Some of the language of that time is wonderfully evocative and needs to be part of the story, but it’s finding that line between keeping the voice of the book while keeping an authentic resonance with the voices of the past.
I relate to the past through the people. I don’t think anyone can truly begin to understand the past unless there’s an emotional connection to what happened and the people who lived through it. One reason we love survival tales is because we all say, “What would I have done?” I know I was asking, What would I have done that first winter? And I don’t know. I do know that when I’m hit with a cold, it really nails me, so I probably wouldn’t have made it past January.