Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Thomas Cobb

From a Q & A with Thomas Cobb, author of Shavetail:

What inspired you to set your novel in America's old west? The landscape and time period has obviously been heavily researched. How did you go about researching for this book?

Much of my research was simply growing up in the middle of the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona. The landscape of Shavetail is the landscape of my early life. Though I live in New England now, a part of me never left the desert.

I did to a lot of research on the 19th century Army and hope that I got a lot of it right, though I know I made mistakes. At one point I had to stop researching because it was becoming obsessive and interfered with the writing. I made myself recognize that the people who really knew life in the 19th century Army are all dead now.

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Your characters are relatable to today's reader, though they deal with issues that are unique to their place in history. Did you employ any methods to make characters of historical fiction relevant to modern readers? Are any of the characters in Shavetail based on anyone in your own life? Some of the characters in Shavetail seem to be treated with more compassion than others. While writing, did you feel any particular attachment to certain characters?

I don't believe that you need to modernize historical characters because you modernize them automatically. When we look at history, we look at it from our own point of view, with our own knowledge and prejudices. We can't think like the ancient Egyptians or the Greeks or medieval French peasants, because we know only what we know. So, the characters in Shavetail, while I struggled to make them as historically plausible as I could, are really modern characters, because I'm a modern writer. I can mimic some of the voice of a nineteenth century author, but I can't really adopt the view point because my knowledge base is so different from theirs.

All of my characters are a combination of myself and some others. And I will never admit that any particular character has any of the traits of anyone I know, though, of course, they do. And I love my characters -- I love Ned and Brickner, pretty much equally, though they are terribly different. Lt. Austin is the character who probably has the most in common with me. Since in my other life, I am a college professor, I try to hide that academic side as much as I can when I write. Austin is only of the very few characters I've written who allows me to indulge that side of me.

Read the full Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Shavetail.

--Marshal Zeringue