The Lusitania Conspiracy – an interview with author Ronald J. Walters

The Lusitania ConspiracyMany readers know that I’ve been obsessed with World War One ever since I began researching my grandfather’s role in that dreadful conflict. The sinking of the Lusitania figures prominently as an event that helped shift public opinion in the United States against Germany and influenced America’s entry into the war two years later. Erik Larson’s Dead Wake released recently to great acclaim and now we have Ronald J. Walters’s fictional account, The Lusitania Conspiracy.

I’m very pleased to have Ronald on A Writer of History.

You’ve written The Lusitania Conspiracy about the unusual circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Lusitania. Can you tell us what drew you to that story?

The Lusitania (for the most part) has been a forgotten historical event that had tremendous significance on a global scale. I never understood why the story of the Titanic was so well covered and the Lusitania story was cast into obscurity. My goal was to entertain and possibly enlighten the reading and viewing audience with a new take on a 100 year old story.

As a history buff, what attributes do you think set historical fiction apart from contemporary fiction?

Historical fiction is rooted in historical facts, with the writer’s creativity and imagination being the added element. About 75% of my book is factually based. Real characters, real events, as opposed to fiction where all of the characters, events and happenings are creations of the writer.

What did you do to “understand the mindset” of the historical figures you’ve written about?

Read as much as possible, from as many different sources as possible.

How did you research and prepare for writing about the Lusitania?

Read, read, read, watch documentaries and read some more.

What did you do to create the world of 1915 ocean travel for your readers?

I could have been more descriptive and elegant when visualizing the travel conditions and ship to the readers but I wanted to stay away from looking too much like a documentary. Non-fiction only has this technique to entice the reader. When writing historical fiction you can always create a character or situation that livens up the story.

Which historical fiction authors have inspired you?

Louis L’Amour, Ken Follett and Agatha Christie.

I understand you are preparing for a movie version of The Lusitania Conspiracy. How would you compare writing a film script to writing a novel?

Actually, I wrote the screenplay first. To me writing a screenplay is easier. For one it’s shorter and action is at a premium. You need to engage the viewer every minute. With a book you have an outline and shape the story chapter by chapter. The book has over twice as many pages and you have time to expand on characters, give them a distinguishable identity. In a screenplay you cannot tell a character’s whole story so you have to select the most interesting parts of their lives, to give a synoptical version that will tell the viewer just enough so they are not confused but not enough to test their patience.

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THE LUSITANIA CONSPIRACY: May 7, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, the event that catalyzed the United States involvement in World War I. Though the ship’s sinking has guaranteed it a place in our history textbooks, the conspiracy behind it remains shrouded in mystery. Did the British Navy have advance knowledge of the attack? Was the attack preventable? Was the ship deliberately put at risk?

While the answers to these questions may be lost forever in time, there is no shortage of theories as to what really led to the German attack on the Greyhound of the Seas. Bringing to life such influential historical characters as Nikola Tesla, Mark Twain, and Winston Churchill, as well as a host of fascinating characters created by the author, this gripping novel delves deeply into one of the greatest unsolved conspiracies in history and offers a unique look at what secrets might still be lurking in the ship’s dark past.

The Lusitania Conspiracy follows Tesla, perhaps the most brilliant scientist who has ever lived, as he endeavors to make the world a better place through his groundbreaking work with radar and tonal oscillation. But the Allied forces have other plans for Tesla’s inventions namely, a super weapon that would bring Germany to its knees and ensure the Allies victory in the so-called war to end all wars.

As imaginative as he was scientific, Tesla is joined in his never-ending quest to remain a force for good by his assistant, Li Yín Huo , who shares his boss’s quick wit and penchant for adventure. Once aboard the Lusitania, Tesla and Li find themselves tangled in a web of intrigue, where nothing is as it seems and no one is to be trusted.

FOR MORE POSTS ON READING AND WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION, follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (use the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Favourite Historical Fiction

Downith, a blogging friend and fellow Canadian, tagged me to write a post on The Alternative Booker Award sharing my five personal favourite books and asking five more bloggers to share theirs.

The notion of ‘favourite’ is difficult for me and I am prone to forget past novels as more recent reads push them aside like a surging crowd. And then, of course, there’s the tricky aspect of genre. A favourite non-fiction is difficult to compare with a favourite historical or mystery – I read them for different reasons and they prompt different pleasures. Stop dithering, Mary, and get on with your list.

Not surprisingly, my list concentrates on historical works.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje still lingers in my memory and I often dip into it for inspiration as I struggle to create a scene. Who can forget the author’s lyrical writing and the anguish of lost love amidst the certainty of death?

Here be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman transported me into the medieval times of the 13th Century, telling the story of King John, Llewelyn the Great of Wales and Joanna, “daughter to one, wife to the other”. It is no wonder that Penman was listed the number one favourite historical fiction author in my 2012 survey of readers.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel was an exhilarating read. To me, Mantel probed the depths of Thomas Cromwell’s mind in a way that was compellingly insightful. She deserves all the accolades received for this work.

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson is historical non-fiction at its best. Truth is preserved but the telling is like a marvellous story that facilitates both enjoyment – if such a word can be applied to a time when Hitler’s grip tightens into a stranglehold – and learning.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is a celebrated story of WWI. My copy is heavily underlined not only with historical facts but also with examples of Faulks’ wonderful writing style. This novel is often cited as an important work for its descriptions of the Battle of the Somme and life in the trenches.

Selecting five books seems an impossible task in the realm of historical fiction and non-fiction, but I believe these will still be remembered years and years from now.

Tagging others for their picks – as a proud breaker of rules, I’ve decided not to restrict myself to five 🙂

Jenny Quinlan of Historical Editorial

Evangeline Holland of Edwardian Promenade

Sophie Schiller author of Transfer Day who writes a blog under her name

Dianna Rostad who posts on Facebook and tweets and pins

Theresa Hupp who blogs at Story & History

Judith Schara who actively comments on my blog and writes historical fiction

Jack Durish who blogs under his own name

Kirstie Olley who blogs at Storybook Perfect

Debbie Robson who blogs under her own name

Char Simser who used to blog at A Librarian’s Life and now tweets and is very active on Facebook

Anyone who wishes to participate and does not maintain their own blog, is welcome to guest post on mine.

Flight From Berlin – a novel by David John

On Friday, along with millions of people from all corners of the earth, I watched the opening ceremonies of London’s olympic games. A copy of David John’s Flight From Berlin lay on the coffee table, a slip of paper marking the page where I left Richard Denham and Eleanor Emerson about to risk further danger. The note on that slip of paper said “When I want to flip to the last few pages and peak at the ending, I know that the story really has me”.

Tragedy and scandal have occurred at other Olympic games: a bombing in Atlanta in 1996, the 1980 boycott of the Moscow games, athletes shot and killed by a terrorist group in 1972 Munich. But imagine Berlin in 1936, Hitler’s power and increasing daring, the rest of the world wondering when he would stop or whether he could be contained. This is the time David John has chosen for his story, a dark, sinister time.

From page one mystery draws us in. Initially David John threads two story lines, one focused on Richard Denham, a journalist bent on exposing the Nazi menace, the other on Eleanor Emerson, an Olympic athlete from the US. When they meet during a party hosted by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, the pace quickens as Hitler’s goons threaten Hannah Liebermann, a world-class fencer and Friedl Christian, a former actor with a dangerous secret. Then the Nazis turn their sights on Denham.

The reader is plunged into pre-WWII Germany complete with SS officers, Hitler youth, thuggish Brownshirts, and growing anti-semitic hysteria. Amidst the intensity of competition we feel the brutality of Hitler’s world. Eleanor’s scenes reveal the controlling nature of Avery Brundage, head of the US Olympic mission who openly admired Nazi Germany and deliberately excluded two Jewish athletes from the relay team. Through Denham we see those who fear Hitler cannot be stopped.

David John blends real and fictitious characters to create a high stakes scenario in which Denham and Eleanor are unexpected heroes. Having read In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, I was delighted that Mr John included William Dodd and his daughter Martha. They seemed like old friends. He also situates figures like Goebbels, Goering, William Randolph Hearst, Hugo Eckener, Helen Hayes, Jesse Owens, Himmler and Adolph Hitler to great effect.

Structured like a three act play, Flight From Berlin has all the ingredients of a great story. Part I ends with a dramatic turning point and compelling questions. What was the mysterious dossier? Why did the Nazis think it was in Denham’s possession. Will Richard and Eleanor survive? In Part II the shocking contents of the dossier are revealed and tension heightens as David John reveals the couple’s daring plan. Part III is full of back and forth action that keeps the pace taut until the very end.

Do I have any caveats? Eleanor Emerson is not as well developed as Richard Denham. She begins as a stereotype, a brash American whose bold impudence gets her dismissed from the US Olympic team. Her transformation into loving partner and skilled espionage agent came too quickly for me. A second comment has to do with the ending. No spoilers! I found several spots where I thought ‘here’s where it will end’ but the story continued with another twist.

Neither caveat takes away from David John’s well constructed, tension-filled novel. He has another in the works – I hope it has the same exciting blend of history and story.

Note: A Writer of History was not intended to include book reviews but when a woman from Harper Collins asked, I could not resist a story set amongst the same world events as Unravelled, a novel I have written.