Eliot Pattison is the author of Blood of the Oak: A Mystery of Revolutionary America. We ask him five questions.
How did you get interested in writing historical mysteries?
Since an early age I have had insatiable appetite for history, and have long been astounded at the way so many people ignore our past. As Michael Crichton famously said, “If you don’t know history, you’re just a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.” I began to realize that historical novels are often more effective than history texts at connecting people to their past, because the novelist can bring people and events to life with much more compelling depth and humanity. I wanted to write mysteries, but I also wanted to help reconnect readers with the extraordinary history of America in the 18th century — so the Duncan McCallum series was born.
What are you reading right now?
I am reading the latest installment of Bernard Cornwell’s “Saxon Stories” series. Cornwell is a master of what critics call “adventure” historical novels and his books make for great escapist diversion for someone interested in history (I find this Viking period fascinating on many levels), memorable settings (Saxons and Vikings struggling over ancient Roman cities!), and richly developed characters.
What’s the one book that you recommend to people, over and over?
Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith.
Who are some of your writer mentors? Do you find that’s changed over time as you evolve as a writer or do they remain the same?
Let me answer both questions by saying my writer mentors thirty years ago were Shakespeare, Ray Bradbury, and Joseph Conrad. Twenty years ago they were Shakespeare, Martin Cruz Smith, Dorothy Dunnett, and Kurt Vonnegut. Today they are Shakespeare, the Sung dynasty poet Su Tung P’o, and Patrick O’Brien.
What is your most prized book possession? A first edition? A gift? Please describe.
That’s an unfair question since I have so many treasured volumes. If I have to pick just one it would probably be my set of the original Encyclopedia Britannica published in the mid-18th century (sadly, not a first edition). Those books fill me with excitement and wonder every time I open one — and they are a great antidote to the myopia that would have us believe that nothing interesting happened in science and the arts until our modern age.