Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Interview with AllAuthor

Several weeks ago, Mady Joshi at AllAuthor.com contacted me about doing written interview. Naturally, I agreed. Here is the interview.

Don Kesterson Interview Published on: 09, May 2022

Who was the most influential person to you growing up?

This is a more complicated question, than you would think. I grew up in sports, just about every sport I could think of but two individuals stuck out to me over time, Chicago Bear’s running back Gale Sayers because of his quiet, but driven demeanor plus he was a strong Christian. The other athlete was two time gold medal Olympian Edwin Moses, who was undefeated for one-hundred-seven consecutive races covering from September 1977 to June 1987. His consistency of excellent was inspirational. Again, a very quiet but driven athlete.

Did you always want to be a writer?

Not really. During my school years, I was not drawn to reading let alone consider writing. My geology career started my writing career, if you will. Intense research forced me into reading, yet still not drawn to the craft of writing books.

Who introduced you to the world of books?

My mother was an avid reader but that “vaccination” didn’t really take in my youth. It took a little longer. In my business there was so much wait time that soon I was carrying books, fiction and non fiction on the job site to kill the waiting time. The first novel that really captured my interests was American Falls by John Calvin Batchelor. He used a very rich style of writing, which began to open my eyes to the power of words.

How and why did you choose the Historical Fiction genre?

It chose me, I didn’t choose it. I wrote a very large still unpublished history book. It was part of a very large research project. During that research and writing I discovered many hidden truths. Then upon sitting down with my editor at lunch reviewing one of my chapters. She made the comment that a segment of that particular chapter could be made into a novel. She elaborated a visualization she saw while reading and BOOM. I was intrigued. Shortly after that revelation, I also learned the difference between writing scientific reports and novels were diametrically opposed. It was so much fun writing scenes.

What inspired you to write the novel, Gold of the Spirits?

All my writing, novels or the memoir, are based on a true and accurate historical timeline. This novel was written as a prequel to The President’s Gold, which I had planned to be a stand alone novel. While still learning to write, the fun I was having led me to want to write Gold of the Spirits, the prequel to The President’s Gold to explain how the gold got in the Philippines.

How did you come up with the story of Chop Stix: Chinese Spies Among Us?

This novel actually evolved from Gold of the Spirits. I sprinkled “several seeds” in that novel from a historical timeline, chasing Chinese spy, that I had always planned to finish. Plus, there was an unfinished confrontation between my protagonist and my antagonist. It all really worked out quite well. Also, the timing was perfect considering the current rate of the United States government uncovering Chinese spies.

Who inspired the character of Frank Young in The President’s Gold?

Frank Young is a fictitious representation of my martial arts instructor, many years ago. I respected him so much and sadly have lost touch with him but I wanted to write it as a tribute, in a fictional sort of way. Frank is also the main protagonist in Tarnished Gold, the last novel in the gold series. This saga covers the gold buried in the Philippines during World War II and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Because of my knowledge on the subject of the buried gold, I have appeared on several TV documentaries regarding those related subjects. I should note that I have withheld some of the more dangerous discoveries I have made.

How do you try to keep your stories interesting and from becoming repetitive?

That is easy, find the right elements in history. Make sure they are interesting, exciting and there is a deep hidden background story. I love revealing the background story to the front end story to give the reader real insight into the historical event.

Are you friends with other authors? If so, how have they helped you in your journey as a writer?

Yes, I am a member of the Chapin, SC Writers Group, who have been very inspirational. My wife was a writer before she contracted Multiple Sclerosis. She would have me read her materials prior to submitting. Her dialogue portion to her stories was sensational. She showed me that you can write and let the reader feel like you are in the scene not just reading about it.

What are some of the things you know now that you did not know when you first started writing?

The business side, which despite my day job dealing with business every day. My own writing career began as the internet was taking off. At that time your writing could only be marketed via agents, publishers, bookstores, etc. Breaking into that market was insurmountable and quirky. You had to find agents who sought works that dealt with their interest or strengths. However, this industry has now evolved, if you have your own public relations people, know how to pick the key words you can be successful and not be tied by contracts which more often than not, restricts more than help you.

What is one thing that you, as a fiction author, would never write about?

Another great question. At the moment, I avoid Hallmark style or love themes. It is a great market, don’t get me wrong but it is just so far out of my reach and desire, it is just a non-starter.

Have any negative reviews or constructive criticism come your way for Pawns: Magic Bullet? How do you handle it?

No. I actually got a Kirkus review right as I published Pawns: Magic Bullet. They gave me a really good review. As I wanted to make sure this was tight. Plus, I knew any writing that dealt with President Kennedy has always been topical to the general public. I might add, in writing this novel, my historical research revealed a connection I had never seen anyone come up with regarding the assassination of President Kennedy and the ties to the Vietnam Conflict.

What does Don Kesterson’s Saturday looks like? What are some things you enjoy doing in your free time?

I don’t have free time. I don’t like free time. Between my day job as a petroleum geologist, writing, volunteering as a high school basketball coach, distance runner and working out, my days are full. So my work is my free time, what’s the saying “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”. I am blessed by God, I love life and what I do every single day.

Which is the next book you are working on? Give us an insight into it.

Currently, I am writing a science fiction novel. It is about a German soldier going back in time to change the outcome of World War II. What is interesting, I’m still following the historically accurate time line, with the added twists of science fiction. Been fun writing.

Where do you see yourself as an author in 10 years time? Are there any goals you hope to accomplish by then?

As long as I can come up with ideas to build a plot around, I intend to keep writing. When I started in the writing business almost thirty years ago, my plan was to write a Southeastern Asia history book. I have had individuals read it, their analysis was anyone going into the diplomatic service in Asia should read it prior to serving in the designated country. I wanted to make money writing and I thought I could with an agent and publisher. As discussed earlier, changes in the writing business no longer a makes that a necessity. Unless you are famous and get a huge signing bonus, you don’t make money writing books. Have you noticed everybody is writing a book? Which is fine because only those with a passion to write remain in the industry.

What do you think of AllAuthor? Has this website been helpful to you? What are some things you would change if you could?

The AllAuthor’s website has been very helpful. I did a considerable amount of research before I signed up. There are many writer websites out there, so there are many choices. I chose AllAuthor because it was professionally organized, it didn’t make any promises of followers and the like. Yet, it provided an excellent market for self-promotion. Plus, it got me this interview, didn’t it? I’m not trying to be funny. In the beginning of my writing career I hired someone to teach me about social media, what worked and what didn’t. About writing blogs and subject material. Their instruction was keen on what websites to select and what to avoid.

The Past in the Present

I’m an author of fiction. Political thrillers. Historical fiction. It sometimes strikes me as odd to write a scene set in the 1960s in which one of my characters opens a metal can of Hunt’s Snack Pack Pudding or spoons Sanka Coffee into a percolator coffee pot, only to finish writing my scene and then pop a K-Cup into my Keurig, or warm a pastry in my microwave. This odd juxtaposition of the past and the present may fill my days, but it cannot fill—or even momentarily appear in—my stories.

It’s crucial for a writer of historical fiction to perform due diligence in research. Given that the World Wide Web is a click away, and Internet search engines put facts at our fingertips, there really is no excuse for sloppy errors of misinformation in our work. (Always verify information found on the internet with at least two sources, as inaccuracies abound on the Web). Your local library is a fantastic source for reference books, and most librarians make wonderful research liaisons.

Accurate portrayal of pop culture icons can anchor a scene in a specific year or era, as can the popular slang and the music of a particular decade. You may also want to include references to the social climate of the year in which your story is set. For example, the novel I’m currently writing is set in early 1960s America, and racism was a hot-button issue of the day. I may include in my story references to Martin Luther King, Jr’s powerful speech, or to the racially motivated murder of Medgar Evers. These events are vivid memories in the minds of many readers who lived through them, and it’s crucial that I depict and refer to them accurately.

Take care when adding historical facts to your story that you do not slip into a history lesson. If a reader wants that, she’ll pick up a textbook, not a novel. Allow your characters to make a brief, natural comment in dialogue about a current event during their time, but don’t force it. Reference the history, but don’t slip into it, because doing that removes the reader from the action at hand.

Your story must move forward. Action is crucial. Active voice is critical. However, with attention to detail, accurate portrayal of historical facts, and authentic references to social, economic and cultural happenings, your readers can move forward while traveling through the past.

Do you have any tips on researching historical details for your fiction? Share with us here, and let’s compare notes.

That Ghostly Image in the Rearview Mirror May Be Real

In honor of Halloween, I thought I would tell you about a real ghost. Several years ago, when I set out to research my assignment regarding the heritage of some gold, it led me into a fascinating world of very real characters. The gold I sought was once in located in the Philippines. Naturally, my research led immediately to Ferdinand Marcos; however, there was another shadowy character who continually jumped out at me. His name was Santa Romana, and he also lived in the Philippines. At first, my research on Santa Romana turned up little information, almost as if the man didn’t exist.

Determined, I continued to pursue this mysterious man. I discovered that he was a deep CIA operative, working with individuals at the highest level of our government. But another fact jumped out, even more shocking. He had been a Roman Catholic priest and went by the alias Father Antonio Diaz. Before World War II, I have been told Father Diaz had been given the responsibility, by Pope Piux XII, to protect and move gold from Europe to the Philippines, because everyone feared Hitler would take the gold. Father Diaz, a.k.a Santa Romana, I believe supervised this move. This massive quantity of gold not only belonged to the Church, but some of it belonged to many of the wealthy families of Europe. I have even heard that, if successful in protecting the gold, Father Diaz was promised he’d be elevated to the rank of a Bishop. At the beginning of World War II in the Pacific, the Japanese took the islands of the Philippines and thus the gold. So instead of Germany getting the gold, it fell to the Japanese.

Throughout the remainder of Santa Romana’s life, he worked with first with the Army OSS (Office of Strategic Services), then later its successor, the CIA.  He led many lives under many alias. He worked behind the scenes with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos; however, he  always maintained his religious convictions or his priestly persona. Over the next several decades following World War II, Santa Romana’s primary black ops was to recover gold both for his own benefit and for that of those for whom he worked.

It was this research, plus the encouragement of my supporters, that led me to write the historical/political thriller The President’s Gold around living characters, such as Santa Romana. There were things about their lives that you could not make up—things so out there that they felt impossible to believe, though they were very real. Santa Romana was practically a ghost; there is very little official record of his existence or his work.

As an author of fiction, I found it quite a task to figure out how to keep my real characters interacting with my fictional characters, all the while maintaining accuracy with the historical research I’d completed on those real-life characters. Sometimes, such as in the case of Santa Romana, this becomes a difficult task, especially when there is little information available on that historical person. Therefore, I worked to compose a profile similar to how the police or FBI profiles an individual when a crime is committed with miniscule evidence. I sought (and fortunately, found) individuals who knew Santa Romana, which allowed my profile to expand.

What about you? Have you researched a living (or once living) character for your fictional writing? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Share your experience here, so that I, and other fellow writers, can learn more.

How Much Romance is Too Much Romance?

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 Photo by Graur Codrin

Walking the Tightrope in a Political Thriller

 

When I first started writing my novel The President’s Gold, I had a strong idea of what I wanted to cover in the story: the theft of Chinese war loot by the Japanese (referred to as Yamashita’s gold), and how Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos acquired it and kept it hidden—with US President Truman’s help. I wanted to aid in exposing the role the American government played in the scandal and the fraudulent dealings on which our world banking system is built.

What I didn’t want to do is write a romance novel. And yet, in many ways, I did just that.

Some of the best feedback I have received about my novel comes not only about the exposé of what is arguably the greatest state secret of our lifetime, but about the romantic relationship between my protagonist Franklin Young and his adversary-turned-lover Rosalita Laurel. Women, in particular, love this thread in the story, though I’ve had more than one man confess to having the hots for spicy Rosalita and her sometimes-wicked ways.

But how much romance is too much romance between fictional characters in a story that thrives not on only on action, but also on historic political events? The line is a fine one, indeed.

The Romance Writers of America (RWA) state that two basic elements are involved in a romance: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending. The President’s Gold did not have a love story as its central element, nor did it have an optimistic ending for the couple, though Frank and Rosalita’s story certainly does not end with this novel. However, the subplot of the story, which deals with how a man can find love and maintain his ethical beliefs and personal morals while spying on and being manipulated by his government, certainly underscores the risks one will take for true, romantic—perhaps unconditional—love.

Major motion picture movies, from the classic Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart to the more recent Mr. and Mrs. Smith starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, have proven the marketability of romance in politics. But is a romantic thread necessary, or even feasible, in a modern-day political thriller? Only if you want to capture a larger share of the market. In 2012, the romance genre raked in nearly $1.5 billion dollars in sales, according to Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2013. What’s not to love about that?

What do you think, readers? Do lovers of historical fiction and political fiction enjoy a scoop of romance atop their thriller? If you’re a romance reader, do you appreciate the suspense and thrill of action—even actual history—that buoys a romantic thread and keeps it moving at a fast pace? Share your opinions here, and let’s examine the tightrope that carries us from the ledge of a thriller to one of romance.

Bruce Willis, 3000 Pairs of Boogie Shoes and Presidential Discotheques

I have to admit . . . I was a more than a little surprised to learn that David Byrne (former front man for the Talking Heads) has a new musical about Imelda Marcos and her disco dancing days. The musical is called “Here Lies Love” (reviewed here) and features actress Ruthie Ann Miles portraying the First Lady of the Philippines shaking her groove thang.

Of course, surprise is one of those emotions that comes often to me as I’m researching scenes for historically accurate writing, which is what led to Imelda’s disco scene in my fictional novel The President’s Gold. For example, I was surprised to learn, while researching the layout of the Marcoses’ Malacanang Presidential Palace, that Imelda had a discotheque built atop the palace.

Sure, I knew about her shoe fetish—who hasn’t heard that she owned over 3,000 pairs of designer shoes? But a custom-built disco hall in which to wear your boogie shoes? I mean, can you imagine what we’d say if Michelle Obama spent taxpayer dollars on a mirrored disco ball and private performances by top rock bands, as Imelda did during her tenure as First Lady of the Philippines?

Too bad Imelda no longer hosts private disco parties, because maybe, just maybe, she could invite Bruce Willis and his friends to entertain her with a Boy Dance Party, as seen this past weekend on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

Research—and the surprising results to which it often leads writers—is one of the best parts of writing historically accurate scenes. What have you discovered recently when researching facts for your own stories? And while we’re at it, what do you think about a Presidential Palace with a private discotheque? Isn’t it amazing what stolen war gold can buy! 

 

–Don Kesterson