Title: Glenfiddich Inn
Genre: Historical Fiction
Synopsis: It’s America in 1915— The still distant Great War in Europe creates unexpected opportunities for the Morrison and Townsend families in Boston, while, at the same time, they watch with dread as the ferocious conflict reaches across the ocean. William Morrison’s boss, the bank president, Joe Finnerty, is also a relentless con man. Whether, it’s elaborate stock frauds, war profiteering or just dipping into a widow’s trust account—Finnerty’s ever-cheery amorality, both captivates and repels William. William’s wife, Margaret is also captivated—but for her it is with wireless voice transmissions. It’s called “radio,” and while she is certain it will soon transmit a voice, even music, for as much, as several miles, she is dismayed by its use on the battlefields of Europe. Margaret’s sportswriter brother, Byron Townsend, covers the Boston Red Sox and its simpleton teenage sensation, Babe Ruth. He believes the World War will be the defining event of his generation and he intends to go to the front lines as a journalist. Byron’s wife, Helen, shares Margaret’s passion for radio. They form a strong bond in their quest for independence—a bond that will be severely tested by love affairs and patriotism. But after a German torpedo sinks the ocean liner, the RMS Lusitania, no one’s life will ever be the same again.
Alan Geik, Author
CH: Today’s Guest Author is Alan Geik. Alan has been a radio host, music producer, and now, a writer. Welcome to my blog, Alan.
CH: Please tell us in one sentence, why we should read this historical book about World War I.
AG: The WWI era is so rich with extraordinarily transformative events— the automobile, silent movies, and radio were all developed then— any one of them would be a vibrant scene set for a novel.
CH: There are several themes in this book, how did you come up with the premise for the book?
AG: I was lucky in that the fictional characters were immersed in the dramatic events of the era—almost, as if they gravitated toward them. The premise evolved quickly, but shifted and changed as I moved forward.
As just one example—Henry Ford’s Model T began mass-production for the first time right before the war began in Europe in 1914. It allowed people, for the first time in history, to travel great distances in a motorized vehicle—no horses. It was an extraordinary change in the way people connected with each other.
Or imagine when someone saw for the first time a silent movie being projected onto a big screen or even onto a barn wall. These early viewers were changed forever as the magic of moving pictures took hold here and all around the world.
CH: Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole concept?
AG: As this is my first novel, I can’t speak too much about where my ideas usually come from. I probably would not have begun writing, if there were not two events that would greatly change America
One of those events occurred just as the first cannons were fired in Europe in August 1914—an awkward, naïve teenager arrived in Boston to join the Boston Red Sox. George Herman Ruth, and because of his size and gullibility was given the name “Babe” Ruth, and he was, for the decades that followed, to deeply imprint America’s social fabric in many ways.
Another event that profoundly changed the way we humans interacted was the development of communications technology. A few years before Glenfiddich Inn begins, wireless Morse code was installed on trans-ocean liners—and so, as fate would have it, distress signals were sent out when the Titanic struck an iceberg. Nearby ships came to the rescue and, as a result, we are still telling the tales of the survivors, instead of just another tragedy being relegated to “lost at sea.”
After wireless Morse Code, the next frontier for electrical engineers was “wireless audio transmissions,” its enthusiasts called it simply “radio.” One of the audio laboratories in America was at Tufts College, just outside of Boston. Two of the female fictional characters, Helen and her sister-in-law Margaret, are captivated by the possibility that perhaps one day a news program, or even a musical performance, could be transmitted a few miles on a cold New England winter’s night into a desolate farmhouse living room.
These are just two of the transformative events of the era. As a radio host for twenty-five years in Los Angeles, I am keenly aware of the unique intimacy of radio—it is in the listeners’ ear at the beach, in the bedroom, and while jogging. Surely, less so, now than for most of the previous century, but it was for many decades the technology that so greatly impacted the world
CH: Why did you decide to write this historical book?
AG: As I was researching this era for an HBO project, fictional characters emerged from some of the historical signposts, such as the sinking of the Lusitania or the comical search by the U.S. Army for Pancho Villa in the barren hills of Northern Mexico—I felt compelled to follow the growing cast of fictional characters through their journey.
Perhaps the most interesting surprise was how much the characters pushed and pulled me in directions other than that which I had envisioned. I would have never thought that possible, even though I was aware of novelists describing this experience.
CH: Did you have to do any special research to write this book?
AG: Actually, Cheryl, this question brought a big smile to my face. The truth is that almost every paragraph had points that needed to be researched for accuracy, and during that research new plot and character doors opened. Just a few examples occurred in the prologue—William Morrison, a main character of the story, is in a hotel overlooking Pier 54, the pier from which the Lusitania has set out on its fateful trans-Atlantic voyage in May, 1915.
A bellboy knocks on the door with a hat in his hand. William Morrison had given it to him several years earlier and now the bellboy wanted to return it. What kind of hat would William have worn, given his social class and the season of the year?
William has binoculars in his hand. What kind of binoculars would he have had then? The binoculars became a far more important item in the story, than I had initially intended.
The internet makes this kind of research and fact checking relatively easy. Google was my best companion during the writing—that, and of course, a thesaurus. The New York Historical Society and The Library of Congress were great sources for historical photos, some of which I used for the cover art and publicity. I also owe a thank you to the help desk at the New York Public Library.
I can only imagine the enormous amount of time and energy expended by earlier generations of historical novelists in libraries hunting down the minutest detail, now available on the internet with just a click.
CH: What is different and exciting that you bring to your readers through your writing style?
AG: My experience, as a film editor at Paramount Pictures, proved to be an invaluable, and unexpected, asset. I had a sense of how much detail, and how wide the brushstrokes needed to be.
Writing this kind of novel, with so much historical scene set, there is always the need to constantly monitor how much is enough. Leaving reams of film figuratively on the editing room floor was similar to the process of “killing your children” in writing, i.e.. losing large and small passages because, no matter how “brilliant” they may seem to the author, they didn’t serve the flow of the novel.
CH: Where do you get inspiration for your historical characters?
AG: As a surprising by-product of my research and the arc of the story, I first met some of the historical characters, while writing. They entered the narrative quite effortlessly, as my fictional characters gravitated toward them.
One historical character was Lee DeForest, who in the early part of the 20th century developed the Audion tube—a simple tube that allowed for all three functions necessary for the development of radio. But also, DeForest had many character traits that were fascinating to me and attracted the fictional characters to him in unexpected ways.
Another generally unknown historical character is Dr. Robert Welch. He was the pioneer in public health services in America. Before him there was little interest in this now widely accepted branch of medicine. It was long understood that in many, if not most, wars far more fatalities occurred from the spread of disease, than from actual combat.
Dr. Welch, a man of both resolution and quirkiness, sent teams out to quantify how disease affected the foot soldiers at the Western Front, as the war progressed. Little did he, or the world, ever expect that the most lethal breakout of a worldwide pandemic was about to occur with extraordinary speed. But I prefer to not be a spoiler of my own novel.
CH: Who was your favorite character to write?
AG: Oh, Joe Finnnerty for sure. Joe is a fictional character—the youngest bank president in Boston. The most charmingly self-aggrandizing and amoral of people—he is as delighted to lift a few bucks from a widow and orphan’s trust fund, as he is to engineer a sizable stock fraud.
I never intended to devote as much space to him in the novel, as he ultimately required or demanded. The other characters viewed him with disdain—especially the Townsends, the publishing family of a progressive, well-respected, and fictional Boston newspaper. They had a front row seat to some of his many maneuvers. Surprising to me, and an outcome I never planned, Joe Finnerty does an awesome, life saving turn for William Morrison, a main character of Glenfiddich Inn.
CH: Which character was hardest to write?
AG: George Creel is another real-life historical figure—as were the two I just mentioned earlier, Lee DeForest and Dr. Welch. Creel also had an enormous effect on America of the early 20th Century.
When we first encounter George Creel, he is a crusading journalist, who had received considerable publicity for his book that exposed the horrors of child labor. Half way through our story he becomes publicity director for Woodrow Wilson’s presidential re-election campaign in 1916. Soon after the inauguration, despite Wilson’s attempts to keep America out of the ferocious war in Europe, he finds himself with no other choice, but to enter the conflict.
Creel is given the daunting task of cobbling out a unified support for America’s entry into the war. That meant the mounting of an intense propaganda campaign.
Creel goes from an admirable exposer of social abuses to a contemptible bureaucrat. His interactions with the Townsends, the progressive newspaper family once his friends, turn bitter and confrontational.
It was hard for me not to inject my own contempt for him, as the story unfolded.
CH: Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
AG: There was no intention of a message, when I started writing Glenfiddich Inn. It could have logically become an anti-war novel—after all, never before in history were the battlefield fatalities so staggering.
And, it was so cynically waged! Almost all of the generals for every country came from a privileged class—part of their class superiority was revealed, when they intentionally never went to the front lines because, they claimed, seeing the staggering toll in human life would cloud their judgment.
However, the real message, and one extremely relevant, in today’s political world was the beginning of the relentless need for the government to sway public opinion.
I mentioned George Creel’s role in this effort. Immediately after America entered the Great War (as it was called at the time), Creel formed the Committee for Public Information (the CPI). They sent thousands of volunteers to street corners, concert halls, and movie theaters with simple talking points, as to why America was in the war. Many of these points were as deceitful, as were the ones we heard decades later, regarding Vietnam and, even later, to support the invasion of Iraq.
The CPI laid the groundwork for government censorship and heavy-handed manipulation of public opinion. I was completely unaware of this aspect of WWI, when I began writing the story.
CH: This book has been out for a couple of years, so what type of feedback are you receiving from readers?
AG: When the novel was first released, I gave copies to close friends and associates. I told them that reading it was in no way compulsory for our relationship to survive and, further, I would never ask them about it.
Keeping a distance from the potential reader, I think, proved to be a good strategy, as on more than a few occasions someone would contact me months later and tell me that they read Glenfiddich Inn. They would discuss minute details or large passages that indicated the considerable attention they gave to the story.
Similarly, many of the reviews posted on blogs or on Amazon or Goodreads provided interesting comments. I had never had a work of mine evaluated so publicly, by people I didn’t know—that was, and remains, a new adventure, even in the cases, where the story did not resonate completely with the reader.
CH:Who are some of your writing influences?
AG: Gore Vidal and Kurt Vonnegut are two writers, who have always interested me. Both, have a unique cynicism and sense of irony—told in completely different voices.
Gore Vidal adds a lush overlay to his historical narrative into which he inserts fictional characters. His detailed observations are insightful, and often amusing. I reread his Burr and Lincoln several times each—I doubt any history books could bring either period into sharper focus.
Kurt Vonnegut, for me, occupies a distinct end of the writing spectrum—he brings a concise; yet, penetrating voice to his characters and their flaws. Slaughter House Five is as vibrant an anti-war polemic as we will find; yet, filled with an amusingly ironic overlay.
CH: What can we expect next from you?
AG: I started a novel based on my own family. It’s a family of the 30s through the 80s, involved in criminal activity—labor racketeering, police corruption, mail and tax fraud, and Murder Inc. alumni. It’s titled Uncle Charley Killed Dutch Schultz. I think I love the title, more than I do the enormous work that will be involved to pull it off. Sadly, many of the keener observers of the family dysfunction are no longer with us to recount the crimes in the exquisite detail they warrant.
There is also a tug at me to take the characters of Glenfiddich Inn into the roaring 1920s of Boston and New York—an era worthy of journeying through and letting the characters find their way through the story, as they did in Glenfiddich Inn.
CH: What has been the most exciting thing to happen on your publishing journey?
AG: Sharing readers’ passion for historical novels and indulging ourselves in another time period. I often receive messages from readers speculating about some aspect of Glenfiddich Inn or about the era in which it is set.
Also, and quite unexpected, are the personal recollections of the era from people, who have attended book readings, especially, at several senior citizens’ centers. At the end of the Q&A, I ask, “do you have any recollections of your family’s involvement in the World War One era?” the responses are often poignant and sometimes harrowing.
CH: Can you give my audience your website address?
AG: I have been using my Glenfiddich Inn Facebook page, which I find more interactive than a website (listed below). Hopefully some of your readers can visit the page.
CH: How to Find Alan Geik:
CH: For my audience, where is your book sold?
AG: Amazon, kindle, and ibooks.
CH: Any closing remarks?
AG: Yes, Cheryl. I can’t thank you enough for giving me this opportunity to share some aspects of my novel with your audience.
CH: Thank you so much, Alan Geik, for taking time out of your very busy writing schedule to join me and my blog followers. It has been a real pleasure discussing your book with my audience. And readers, if you’re like me and would enjoy this book. I suggest you pick up a copy at your earliest convenience.
Note: Photos/Clip art are compliments of the Internet, Alan Geik and Cheryl Holloway.
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