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My Interview with Sheldon Greene
LB: Is historical fiction the genre in which you prefer to write?
SG: Given that all of my novels are set in the past, I suppose so.
LB Why or why not?
SG: No special reason. I get an idea for a novel and develop it.
LB: Have you written in any other genre?
SG: My first novel was set in the 50ís and could be said to be borderline magical realism. One reviewer described it as extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. It was a celebration of small town America among other things.
LB: How much research went into the writing of Pursuit of Happiness?
SG: Quite a lot. But itís mostly a work of the imagination.
LB: Which did you spend more time on, the research or the actual writing?
SG: Definitely the writing. The research was very focused. For example I read what I could find on the life of the sugar plantation culture in the Eighteenth Century-- memoirs for example. I wanted authenticity. What were the customs, the social structure, how did they get from place to place? Then I let my imagination fill in the details.
LB: Are you ever afraid that you will get some of your facts wrong?
SG: When I want to use a historical fact I take pains to get it as right as possible. For example, in the last book, Prodigal Sons, the hero fights in the Battle of Deganiah Aleph, a pivotal event in the Israeli War of Independence. That description in the novel is as accurate as the memoirs of the participants. Of course history is subjective. Even eye-witnesses to events are selective in their recollection.
LB: In the back of the book, you state that St. Catherineís isnít an actual island. Ile de Tortue is an island off of the coast of Haiti, though. Was Ile de Tortue somehow involved in the clandestine arms trafficking during the War for Independence?
SG: It could have. I created a fictitious island because it served all the elements of the plot. The clandestine arms shipments from France were factual. The French playwright, Beaumarchais was an arms dealer in his spare time and a fan of the American Revolution. The French controlled Haiti, cheek to jowl with the islands that the British controlled. One arms shipment was deflected by the British blockade and ended up in the Caribbean. I wanted the conflict in the novel to be more about the British as well as the Jewish population of the islands, the Africans, and even the Caribe Indian residue. So St. Catherineís and its mountain became the matrix.
LB: Why did you choose to make one of your main characters a Quaker? One of the characters is a General Greene (a high-ranking Quaker in the Continental Army). Was his character based on the life of one of your ancestors?
SG: As a kid I was an American History buff. Although I wasnít related to Nathaniel Greene, he was particularly interesting to me because of the common name. Also he was a Quaker and therefore a Pacifist. So given the fact that the novel is sourced in Philadelphia I decided to bring another Quaker into the War.
LB: Does the Quaker religion fascinate you?
SG:Iím interested in all the religions. Iím a Pennsylvanian and Philadelphia was where the Quakers established themselves.
LB: Are you descended from Quakers?
SG: No relationship at all.
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