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Author Interview: Bruce Gardner

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Tripti Kandari is talking with Bruce Gardner, author of Seeing Glory: A Novel of Family Strife, Faith, and the American Civil War.

FQ: What do you believe is the biggest challenge(s) of writing an historical fiction novel?

GARDNER: For a historical novel like Seeing Glory—in which the plot, fictional character portrayals, and dialogue are very closely intertwined with real historical events and people—undoubtedly my biggest challenge in writing is deciding on the proper amount of historical background/context (b/c) details to include and how to work them all into the story as “seamlessly” as possible. If such details are incorporated effectively, they can significantly enhance the reader’s understanding and appreciation of the historical events, trends, and philosophies of the times. This in turn can provide great insight and lend credibility as to why and how fictional and historical characters think, talk, and act the way they do in the story. If overdone, however, those b/c details can easily bog the story “speed” down and/or create reader distraction and confusion. And so, the biggest challenge really comes down to deciding on which historical b/c details need to be included to ensure understanding and credibility (while also stimulating interest!), and which details need to be let go in order to provide a more engaging, faster-moving reading experience for my target audience.

FQ: Does the fact that your first novel, Hope of Ages Past, was an award-winning novel put you under any extra pressure in terms of the response to Seeing Glory? If yes, how do overcome this?

GARDNER: In all honesty, although receiving the awards for Hope of Ages Past was a great honor and I’d love to “keep a good thing going,” I couldn’t really allow that to influence my writing of Seeing Glory. Reason being that, if I did, I could end up “tailoring” my writing to what I thought would most please the whims of award judges...and that wouldn’t represent the real mind and heart of “Author Bruce Gardner” and what he truly wants to express and contribute to the world of literature., I did not feel an inordinate amount of extra pressure in that regard.

FQ: Who was the most difficult character to portray in Seeing Glory and why?

GARDNER: The most difficult character to portray in Seeing Glory was Catherine Hodge, the eldest daughter of a southern Virginia plantation owner. Held to unreasonable standards by an abusive father from whom she nevertheless desires love and affection; kind to young slaves and yet ingrained in the southern religious rhetoric of the day that attempted to justify slavery; and loving her younger sister while at the same time carelessly betraying her … Catherine’s character, emotions, and actions were a volatile study in contrasts. Of the novel’s four main protagonists, Catherine and her arduous journey through gut-wrenching life and faith experiences in order to discover for herself the true meaning of “Glory” was definitely the most challenging.

FQ: How much study goes into creating a narrative with accurate historical backgrounds and characters?

GARDNER: Creating a “well-researched, accurate” historical novel like Seeing Glory or Hope of Ages Past requires a TON of non-fiction book and internet article reading relevant to the novel’s time period and the specific events, societal/cultural thinking, and physical settings that were associated with it. Note In Seeing Glory, I included a “Select Bibliography” at the end in order to clarify some of my main sources and to provide readers with additional opportunity to learn more themselves if desired. In fact, the number of books and internet articles read as research for Seeing Glory totaled well over two hundred.

FQ: All of the characters in the narrative aspire for "glory," which corresponds to the title of the book. What was your inspiration behind the subject of Glory?

GARNDER: My inspiration for focusing on the subject of “Glory” in this novel was initially sparked by observing how frequently the word is referred to in connection with the American Civil War. E.g., Battle Hymn of the Republic; letters between soldiers and families frequently and emotionally referring to the term; novels and movies referring to it (e.g, the 1989 movie Glory starring Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freeman). The word has always had strong religious connotations and is mentioned frequently in both Testaments of the Bible. I then became motivated to explore in historical novel format how that important word and the powerful emotions it conveys could be used to inspire both good and bad thinking and deeds during the Civil War … on and off the battlefield. In the end, the novel will hopefully lead all readers to one inescapable and inspiring conclusion about the true meaning of “Glory”!

FQ: Which writers (if any) have had the most influence on your writing style?

GARDNER: Ken Follett and James Clavell were two writers of “epic historical fiction” who definitely had an influence on my writing structure and style. Some of the character portrayals in Seeing Glory were also influenced/inspired by some of the Civil War classic movies/documentaries such as Gone With The Wind, Glory, Cold Mountain, Gettysburg, and others.

FQ: Is there any character in the novel who was inspired by a real person?

GARDNER: Two fictional characters in the novel who were most inspired by real characters were: (1) Emma (the younger Hodge daughter) … inspired by the life and activities of the famous female abolitionist from South Carolina, Angelina Grimké; (2) David (Hodge’s only son) … inspired by the life and activities of the Virginia abolitionist minister and radical writer Moncure Conway, who fled north to Ohio in 1855 to avoid being tarred and feathered by his southern opponents.

FQ: Tell us about your path toward becoming a writer after working for thirty years in national aerospace and defense systems engineering. What did flare the writer in you?

GARDNER: My path to historical fiction writing began the day in June 2012 when my wife and I visited the Hradschin Castle in Prague. I happened upon a small plaque by a window on the 7th floor of one of the castle towers that said something to the effect of: “Here in the year 1618, three Bohemian Catholic provincial governors were thrown from this very window by the opposing Protestant governors...marking the beginning of the horrific “Thirty Years War.” I was fascinated to delve into the story behind this, and when we returned home, my wife suggested instead of just reading about it that maybe I could try writing about it! “Time in your retirement life to move beyond engineering and science and display some creativity,” she said (lovingly, of course!) After some stops and starts and a few writing “lessons” from experienced authors, six years later in 2018 my first historical novel—Hope of Ages Past: An Epic Novel of Faith, Love, and the Thirty Years War—was published.

FQ: Do you have your sights on writing another historical novel, or perhaps going in a completely different direction in your next work? Would you give our readers a little peak into what’s next?

GARDNER: Next historical novel on horizon for publishing in Fall 2024: The Rocket Man’s Daughter: A Novel of Moral Testing, Faith, and Resistance During the Nazi Era of Germany. Personal values and Christian faith will clash with romantic yearnings, family loyalty, nationalistic pride, and the international clamor for retribution against Hitler’s infamous SS and the “V2 Rocketmen” in this suspenseful tale of life in the Third Reich between 1934 and 1945.

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