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We all remember Kevin Costner’s best movie, Dances with Wolves, in which Mary McDonnell played a white woman who had been captured and raised by the Sioux.
This wasn’t the product of a Hollywood scriptwriters’ imagination. It was a fate shared by many, the most famous was Cynthia Ann Parker.
Which leads us to this book: The Captive Boy.
I don’t do usually run posts promoting anything, and I don’t do reviews or interviews – so don’t ask me! But in Julia’s case, I’m making an exception.
Because it’s just a fantastic book. Her writing style reminds me of Cormac McCarthy, she’s that good. So after I read it, I asked her over for an interview.
A little about your writing background. You were a journalist for many years, right?
I was a journalist for twenty years; I covered everything from cops to features to investigative stories.
One of my most memorable stories involved following the blood trail made by a drug dealer who was fleeing another drug dealer.
The guy (I refuse to call him a victim) burst into a stranger’s house, seeking refuge, but his assailant tackled him and cut his throat.
I didn’t know anyone could bleed that fast.
Well, the throat’s a sensitive area, I guess. Now one sentence: what’s The Captive Boy about?
Col. Mac McKenna recaptures August Shiltz from the Comanche and becomes his foster father, only to see August flee back to the tribe and become his greatest enemy.
What inspired you to write this novel? Is this based on a true story?
Inspiration? I wanted to show readers that America’s frontier army was a brave group of men. We should be proud of them. I know I am.
Boy is based on the lives of many white captive children, taken here in Texas. They ended up as sad people. Many witnessed the murder of their families, and were then forced into a culture completely different from anything they had known.
Many adjusted and were even happy with the Indians. Most Comanches loved their children and did not draw a line between the adoptive kids and their birth kids.
But when the army recaptured the children (or they were, in some instances, traded back) they lost the Indian culture, and those parents, and were again bereft.
Most of these kids, if not all, ended up as unhappy and unstable people who were unable to keep jobs or maintain relationships.
August Shiltz, my captive boy, tried to recover his balance after the cavalry took him back. The reader can decide if he was successful.
How did you research this?
I read everything possible, and had a 100-page research book compiled before I even started writing.
I owe a lot to Scott Zesch, who authored The Captured, a non-fiction account about the fate of captured white kids.
What was the hardest part of writing The Captive Boy?
Every organization is detailed, but the Army runs on routine and rules and uniforms and bugle calls and so much I can’t even make a list.
And the Comanches lived in a traditional, rigid environment, so the writer better get it right.
Your favorite quote from the book?
I liked two places especially well. Here is part of the scene in which Asha (August’s wife) has been captured and is living (chastely) in McKenna’s house, and he discovers her in a revealing situation.
The scene is narrated by Eliza, Asha’s chaperone.
A few weeks ago, I offered to help Asha wash her buckskin dress. She’s a smart person and learns fast, so she took her dress off and dropped it in a tub of soapy water, and put on a chemise I brought for the occasion.
The chemise is very thin white cotton and clings, and Asha is dark, so it was possible to see things that a man should never see, and it also left her ankles and shoulders bare.
Between her braids and bare feet and her womanly aspects, she looked very fetching.
I heard something and looked up from the tub and was shocked to see Col. McKenna standing in the shadow of the door, wrapped in darkness, so rigid and still.
Had I not been there, he could have done anything and my dear, I know it’s indecent to say such things, but I felt he would have done something; if you know what I mean.
He never returns for the noon meal, and I had left the door ajar, as no one was in the house but myself and Asha. She stared at him like a bird hypnotized by a snake.
My dear, she didn’t even make an attempt to cover herself.
It seemed the colonel would stand gazing at her forever, his eyes traveling to places they should not have traveled, then he turned on his heel and left the house.
I really enjoyed that because it was fun to introduce sex and sexual feelings into the book.
Then, I also enjoyed the place where August, who was having a parley with Mac, threw a scalp at him.
Hair-raising scene, that one. Sorry. Now most people would classify The Captive Boy as a western. What do you say to people who say: Westerns don’t sell?
Well, it’s not a Western. A western has strict rules (as do all genres), none of which I’ve obeyed for this book. The Captive Boy is an historical novel, meaning it explores the reason why things happened in this time period.
You have a lot of Cormac McCarthy about your writing. How do you feel about that?
I’ve been told that, but I guess it’s just happenchance; I’ve only enjoyed one of Mr. McCarthy’s books, and that is All the Pretty Horses, which I consider an American classic, and perhaps the best American novel written in the last 25 years.
That said, I’m flattered anyone would compare me to him.
The scene in Horses where the protagonist crosses the Rio Grande and happens on the radio station is brilliant, and Jimmy Blevins, one of his minor characters, is one of the best characters in American fiction.
Are you working on another novel?
Yes, I’m deep in thought about another historical novel set in 19th Century Texas–but there’s not an Indian in it, thank God.
What’s your future direction – do you have a plan? What are your dreams for your writing career?
I don’t have a plan. Each time I come up with something, I end up saying, dash it, foiled again. But I can honestly tell you that I want what every other writer on earth wants and the ones who deny it are liars: I want sales, respect and eternal fame.
What are your favorite writers. Who inspires you?
One of the reasons I write is to repay all the writers who have gone before me by helping to replenish the treasure house of books. They have saved my life; literally.
I can even remember books that enthralled me as a child. I remembered The Adventures of Remy (after fifty years). I searched for it on Amazon, read it again and loved it again.
I wish I had the room to wax eloquent about all the wonderful books in existence.
However, if anyone surpasses Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad, I hope it’s me.
What makes you laugh? What makes your cry?
Mrs. Duchek made me laugh. She’s a minor character in Del Norte, a novel I published in 2013.
Mrs. Duchek tried to stop Thomas, my hero, from capturing her husband and when Thomas failed to catch her husband, Mrs. Duchek said:
“Well, I guess that shows you.”
Many things make me cry.
I love Mac McKenna (from The Captive Boy) and his fate made me cry.
What are they going to write on your headstone, Julia?
Read my novels, you can find them at Amazon, or at your local library. Thanks, Julia.
Now although I write historical novels, I don’t write about history as such, and I have no especial fondness for the past.
I write stories, and as such I am interested in people, and why we do what we do, and why we feel as we do.
So this post and this following video is not about politics.
If you want to vote for a man with a deranged hamster sitting on his head, that’s your choice.
The freedom to express your opinions freely is called democracy.
What I want to draw your attention to here is story, particularly this story: the story of the human race. How chapters of that story are repeated over and over.
So I’m tagging a link to a news interview you won’t find on YouTube. It’s only 3 minutes long and it’s essential viewing.
Look out for what George Takei says at the end of this short three minute clip: “We don’t know our history and when we don’t know it, we don’t learn from our history.”
“We don’t know our history and when we don’t know it, we don’t learn from our history.”
The one thing that impressed me after many years as an historical novelist is not that Viking helmets didn’t have horns or that people in the Middle Ages really didn’t think the world was flat, it is this:
We do not know our history and that is the reason we keep repeating it.
We do it over and over and over. There is nothing in any way novel about Donald Trump or ISIS.
Knowing what has happened in the past is the only way we will ever find our way forward.
But George says it better. Click here for the link:
I wish this guy had taught me history at school … I might have stayed interested!
SAIL THE BATAVIA! 220 DAYS AND 219 NIGHTS CRUISING TO THE SPICE ISLANDS!
HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE MUTINY, RAPE, 80.06% CHANCE OF BEING MURDERED OR DROWNED AND GLORIOUS SUNSETS!
They didn’t have travel agents in the seventeenth century but if they had, that was perhaps how they could have promoted the maiden voyage of the good ship, Batavia, perhaps Australia’s most famous shipwreck.
She sailed from Holland on 27 October 1628, with 341 passengers and crew, bound for Batavia, (now modern day Jakarta), in Java.
She never made it.
During the voyage, the skipper Ariaen Jacobsz and one of the senior East India Company men on board, Jeronimus Cornelisz, hatched a plan to take the ship, and start a new life as pirates using the gold and silver on board to finance their sea change.
The skipper recruited some other starry-eyed dreamers among the crew and steered the ship off course, away from the rest of the accompanying fleet.
Unfortunately he steered it too far and the ship struck Morning Reef near Beacon Island in the Abrolhos Islands.
Only 40 people drowned in the wreck, the rest found themselves stranded on the islands, along with the mutineers.
Short of water, the chief Company official, Francois Pelsaert, and the skipper, Jacobsz went for help, sailing a 30 foot longboat around 1500 sea miles north to Batavia – it took them 33 days – one of the epic feats of navigation in maritime history.
Jacobsz would probably have made a very good pirate after all.
It didn’t end well for the mutineers on board however. The East India Company did not take well the loss of their ship or their gold.
They were found out and the bosun was executed and it is thought the skipper died in prison.
Pelsaert was sent back to the Abrolhos to retrieve the survivors but found only a handful alive, the rest had been murdered by Cornelisz and the other mutineers. Cornelisz even tried to hijack the ship sent to rescue them.
Pelsaert discovered that in his absence, Cornelisz and his followers had murdered over a hundred men, women, and children in cold blood – and raped the rest.
What is even more sinister is that he maintained that he himself never harmed anyone; he persuaded others to do the killing for him.
In another life I am sure he would have made it as a CEO of a multinational.
A replica of the Batavia, built at Batavia Wharf at Leyden in the Netherlands, was sailed to Darling Harbour in Sydney in 2000. It arrived this time without incident and was on display there for a year.
Meanwhile only a few of the bodies buried on those wild and isolated islands have been recovered but archaeologists from the University of Western Australia and the Western Australian Museum are still on Beacon Island examining archaeological sites.
They discovered another skeleton as recently as six months ago.
It’s why I have never liked cruises.
During the 1940’s the name Errol Flynn became synonymous with silver screen swashbuckling and romantic heroism.
The truth was a touch less glamorous; when Flynn tried to enlist in the army in 1942, he failed the physical exam due to cardiac problems (at 33 he had already had at least one heart attack), degenerative disc disease in his spine, chronic tuberculosis and numerous venereal diseases.
He was a physical wreck; as far from an action hero as you could imagine.
But there was an actual romantic action hero in the Flynn family; his name was Sean Flynn.
Sean was Errol’s only son with his first wife, French actress, Lili Damita.
He first appeared on television when he was 15, in an episode of his father’s television show.
Four years later he filmed a scene in his friend George Hamilton’s movie, Where the Boys Are and then, in 1961, he signed a contract to appear in The Son of Captain Blood, a sequel to his father’s most famous movie.
He also recorded two songs for Hi-Fidelity R.V. Records in 1961: “Stay in My Heart” and “Secret Love” before making a handful of films in Europe including two spaghetti westerns.
But he soon got bored with it – his father’s life was not for him.
He wanted real action.
So he went to Africa and worked for a while as a safari guide and then as a game warden in Kenya.
But that was still too tame. So in January 1966 he went to Vietnam to try his hand as a freelance photojournalist, first for the French magazine Paris Match, then for Time Life and UPI.
It was soon clear that the same swashbuckling daring that his father had portrayed on screen was what Sean was actually good at in real life.
He soon made a name for himself, along with a group of other high-risk photojournalists, such as Dana Stone, Tim Page and John Steinbeck IV, men who would do anything to get a great picture, risking their lives daily on the front lines.
Soon Sean’s photographs were published right around the world.
In March 1966, he was wounded in the knee while filming a combat operation, but it did not deter him. After he recovered he made a parachute jump with the 101st Airborne.
The following year he went to Israel to cover the Arab-Israeli conflict but returned to Vietnam the following year. In 1970 he went to Cambodia when news broke of North Vietnamese advances there.
On April 6, Flynn and Dana Stone attended a press conference in Saigon. They decided to return to Pnom Penh on motorcycles, disdaining the limousines the majority of the press corps used.
After the conference Flynn and Stone heard a rumour that there was a checkpoint on Highway I manned by the Viet Cong, so they rode off to see if there was a story in it.
Before they left, another correspondent, Steven Bell, snapped a photograph of them.
It was the last time the son of Captain Blood was ever seen alive. His body, and that of Dana Stone, has never been found.
Over the next decade Flynn’s mother spent a small fortune searching for her son, but with no success.
In 1984 she realized her son’s fate would never be known and had him declared legally dead.
Braveheart won five Academy Awards on its release twenty years ago and took its place in the pantheon of iconic historical movie epics.
For a lot of people, it remains the one thing they remember about Scottish history.
Which is ironic, really, because as film critic Sharon Krossa noted: “The events aren’t accurate, the dates aren’t accurate, the characters aren’t accurate, the names aren’t accurate, the clothes aren’t accurate—in short, just about nothing is accurate. ‘
Mel Gibson, as William Wallace, and his fellow Scots look stirring before the Battle of Stirling, painted in woad and showing off their knees in fetching tartan kilts.
Trouble is, the Scots had stopped wearing woad a thousand years before and it was still another few centuries before they gave the world belted plaid.
William also has an affair with Isabella of France, by whom she has a son – the film implies that the boy becomes the future Edward the Third of England.
The problem with this plot point is that Isabella was three years old and living in France at the time of the affair, and only nine years old when William died.
A Scots friend of mine also assures me that William’s rallying speech before Stirling: ‘They can take our lives but they will never take our freedom!’ sounds implausible.
He reckons a true Scot would have said: ‘They can take our lives but they will never take our money!’
What is interesting to me is what a curious culture we have; directors and screenwriters can take outrageous liberties with history, yet we won’t accept even the smallest inaccuracy from historical novelists. No complaints: that’s just the way it is.
If I wrote Braveheart as a novel I wouldn’t get five awards – I’d end up like William Wallace – hung drawn and quartered. (Did anyone say tomatoes?)
We eschew historical fiction that is not properly researched, and rightly so I think; do it in a movie and it won’t affect your box office in any way.
A final note on Isabella. The real truth is that when she grew up, she became a very interesting person indeed, not just a hairy Highlander’s love interest.
She invaded England and threw Longshank’s son – and her former husband – off the throne.
Something Mel Gibson never came close to doing, with or without his woad and his hairy knees.