Continuing the guest blog posts by independent authors, best-selling author James D. Best tells us the background of his novel, Tempest at Dawn, plus some other interesting facts about him I didn’t know prior to reading this post.
Tempest at Dawn is free for today only, and you can pick it up if you click here or type in http://amzn.to/TpKMPA into your web browser. A friend of mine at work has read it and said it was great, and I have added it to my Kindle – grab it today for free while you can!
The United States Constitution is one of our country’s two most revered documents. It’s one thing to write a history book about the Constitutional Convention, but a novelization could be seen as trespassing on sacred ground. When I started Tempest at Dawn, I knew the gravity of the project, but I had no idea how much work it would entail. It was twelve years between the first word and publication.
How did I get myself into this predicament? When I left corporate America to become a consultant, I found myself traveling a lot. My longest engagement was in Boston. I grew up in Southern California, where anything over fifty years old was ripped down to build something entirely new. My hotel room in Boston overlooked Faneuil Hall, which had been an active meeting place since 1742. All of a sudden I had history all around me. I went to a bookstore looking for nonfiction about Boston, but ended up buying Decision in Philadelphia, by Christopher Collier. I found the book and the convention fascinating and bought book after book on the subject. I had never known how much drama hid behind the dry narratives I had received in history classes. The real story was raucous, thrilling, perilous, and filled with colossal characters.
Drama, great characters, a happy outcome, how could it go wrong. It didn’t go wrong, it went long. In the end, I believe I read every history book ever published on the convention. I wanted to treat the framers honestly, so I read at least three biographies of each of the major players. I studied Madison’s notes (over 230,000 words) on the convention and made sure everything I presented inside the Independence Hall was true to his notes. A good historical novel must present the period accurately, so I read dozens of books on how people lived in the late eighteenth century. Then I studied events that occurred during the convention, but were not directly associated with the proceedings. These included Washington having a carriage built, John Fitch demonstrating his steam ship, horse races, Charles Peale painting a portrait of Washington, balls, and other events that I used to add variety between the deliberations.
Tempest at Dawn is tightly structured. The point of view alternates each chapter between James Madison and Roger Sherman. This allowed me to present the perspectives and prejudices of the two opposing forces within the convention. I had to build elaborate timelines so I could know well in advance whose point of view I would be using when something happened.
I was a stickler for accuracy. I bent rules a little to make it a better story, but I wanted to know specifically when I was diverging from historical fact. This even came to the lodging. I tried to put each character in the home, inn, or boarding house where they actually stayed. Roger Sherman gave me a problem. No matter how much I looked, I couldn’t find where he stayed. I knew he wasn’t rich, so I guessed he would stay at a boarding house. Finally, I picked my wife’s maiden name and plopped him at Mrs. Marshall’s boarding house.
I visited Philadelphia several times. On one trip, my wife found an illustrated map of Philadelphia in 1787. It had been created for the bicentennial. It was perfect. I bought two. When we returned to our hotel, I went over the map in detail from left to right, block by block until I got to the lower right hand corner. There it showed a building with the caption, “Mrs. Marshall’s Boarding House, where Roger Sherman stayed.” I was dumbfounded … and encouraged. I took it as an omen that this book was something I was supposed to write.
Getting an agent for the book was ridiculously easy. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. While he shopped the book, I wrote a Western. This was about 2005. After all the structure of Tempest at Dawn, I wanted to let my imagination run free. I self-published the book because the Western genre was moribund. Unexpectedly, The Shopkeeper, A Steve Dancy Tale sold very well and became a highly successful series. On the disappointing side, Tempest at Dawn did not sell to a publishing house. So away it went in a drawer while I wrote westerns and contemporary thrillers.
Around 2009, I noticed increasing interest in the Constitution. I dug my book out of a figurative drawer (actually a file folder on my computer) and reread it. Oh, oh. First, it was way too long—well over 200,000 words. There were too many characters for a reader to remember. My penchant for accuracy caused me to use speaking patterns and language of the day. In fact, I had used direct quotes whenever possible. Except the quotes came from written records. Until email and texting, people wrote more formally than they spoke. I did a major rewrite. I modernized the language leaving only hints of the eighteenth century. I cut ruthlessly. I combined characters. Although I put the debates in a logical sequence, I did not alter the arguments or events inside the chamber. The book remains true to Madison’s notes.
Now I believe the best thing to happen to Tempest at Dawn was that I learned the craft of storytelling with my other books. The book sitting idle for several years also lent creative perspective. It now reads like a novel … yet it remains truthful, even if it’s not always precisely accurate. (There is an author note in the back that identifies the deviations from historical accuracy.)
The Kindle version of Tempest at Dawn is free on November 28, 2012. I hope you enjoy it as much as previous readers who have given it 4.6 stars.
I’m the author of The Shopkeeper, Leadville, Murder at Thumb Butte, Tempest at Dawn, The Shut Mouth Society, Principled Action, and The Digital Organization. I’ve also ghost written several books, written two regular magazine columns, and numerous journal articles. As a conference speaker, I made presentations throughout North America and Europe. I was a guest on the Glenn Beck Show and many radio programs. The Beck appearance was when he had a regular feature called Founder’s Friday, and I appeared on the James Madison program. I belong to Western Writers of America and the Scottsdale, Arizona Corral of Westerners. In a past life, I was president of Vista Software, The Scottsdale Center for Business Technology, and the Grand Circle Corporation. I now write full time, and live with my wife, Diane, in Paradise Valley, Arizona.
Thank you, James! Remember, Tempest at Dawn is free for today only so grab it now while you can. You can check out James’ other Kindle book offerings if you click here, and be sure to check out James’ blog at http://jamesdbest.blogspot.com/