I spoke with my friend and fellow author about his latest book, a work of historical fiction. He had lots of interesting insights to share.
Ann Bracken (AB): Congratulations on your new historical novel, Good Endeavour. Can you talk about what compelled you to write the story as historical fiction rather than nonfiction?
Ned Tillman (NT): When we lost the farm, it was a very emotional time for each of us. I felt this deep family obligation to preserve as much about the farm as I could – especially the stories that I grew up with. I realized I knew more about the farm than anyone else, so I sat down to write as much as I knew about my ancestors and the challenging times they faced.
Once I collected as much memorabilia and writings as I could, I realized that aside from the last three generations, there was little detail as to the personalities of my ancestors and even less insight into on what they did. To try to reflect the reality of each generation, I felt like I needed to create characters who were composites of many people that lived at the same time, and then breathe life into them. So, I placed these characters into scenes reflecting a past epoch and watched how they responded to the major issues of their time. Many of the episodes reflected events that I discovered from the family tree.
AB: Can you talk about your research process? What kinds of family records did you use and what sources did you use to glean the ins and outs of Maryland history?
NT: There were extensive records of the 20th century. There were also books about the family published in the 19th and 18th centuries. Maps showing the original plat are available at the Historical Society in Harford County under the name, Good Endeavour. The family had collected a library full of books, plays, weapons, artifacts, and certificates, and a barn full of farming equipment.
AB: The novel opens with a family of settlers in a place called Joppa Towne. Did you have family artifacts from this far back? How did you go about constructing family life from 1695?
NT: The genealogical records that I have allowed me to trace some branches of the family back at least into the 17th century, when parts of the family landed on the Chesapeake. Other books track different limbs of the family to the Mayflower. I read widely and also followed many of the stories presented by Ric Cottom, PhD, formerly Editor of the scholarly Maryland Historical Magazine.
AB: I think people would be very interested in knowing how you discovered so much about the Native Americans who inhabited the northeastern corner of the Maryland Colony.
NT: I have visited museums in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania to learn about the various first people in these areas. The studies reveal how so many of them died from the diseases brought to this country. Many of the remainder had to figure out how to fend for themselves with the continued influx of Europeans. The State of Maryland has published maps showing areas where different groups lived.
AB: You have some interesting facts about the role of oyster shells in the process of making iron. What drew you to that topic?
NT: I like to explore the woods and have found many signs of old limestone kilns and iron manufacturing sites that was widespread in the Chesapeake region. Lime from rock formations and oysters were needed as flux in these smelting operations
AB: What was the most challenging part of writing this novel? How did you overcome that obstacle?
NT: Trying to be true to the composite characters and how they reacted to the settings where I introduced them was challenging. I also struggled to keep the book to a reasonable length. There is so much of our past that is rarely well understood and I wanted to keep the reader actively engaged as we all learned more about our past.
AB: Your novel spans the time from 1695 when Maryland was a colony right up to 2002. What were the most significant pieces of history from your family that helped you tell this fascinating story?
NT: I have the most information from family records starting at the Civil War and progressing through the turn of the 20-th century. Our country boomed during the industrial age and changed dramatically, much like the past 50 years. But so many people don’t know this history well. I believe it is critical to have a historical perspective on today’s challenges and I hope this book will inspire more people to investigate their past to help them navigate the future
AB: Lastly, congratulations again, Ned. Where can people find your book and find out when you are doing an event?
Thank you, Ann. Your questions help me relive the writing experience which was a delightful passion to keep me sane during the pandemic. All my books are available on Amazon.com, Goodreads, and Barnes and Noble.
Visit my website, www.SavingThePlaces.com. Events should be listed. You can also ‘Follow’ me by going to my Homepage and clicking on the gray tab in the upper right corner. By getting on my email list you will receive my newsletters. I have a dozen events coming up in the fall.