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#WomeninHistory: Esther de Berdt Reed -An American Lady of Liberty, by Nassem Al-Mehairi

Today, I have the delightful pleasure of introducing the next author in my Women in History series is my son Nassem! Those who know Nassem understand that though he’s just 18, he’s quite the history prodigy, with a love for American History. Not to mention he’s an extraordinary author. His article below on Esther de Berdt, who formed the Ladies Association of Philadelphia and raised money to clothe the Continental Army in time of dire need by General George Washington, is well-researched and written. I know I learned something! If you liked the article or want to discuss please feel free to leave him comments below. Take the floor, Nassem!

Esther Reed portrait by Charles Peale.png

Esther Reed, Portrait by Charles Peale / Wikipedia

 

Esther de Berdt Reed: An American Lady of Liberty

by Nassem Al-Mehairi

War had been raging on for five years by May of 1780. The Continental Army had just suffered the worst defeat of the war in Charleston, where, after six weeks of siege, Major General Benjamin Lincoln was forced to surrender his forces. General George Washington, taking stock of the present state of his army, worried that the patriots would not have the strength to fight on. Washington wrote to the Continental Congress near the end of May in 1780 that his soldiers were forced to sustain themselves on rotten and limited rations and were clothed in torn, dirty, and poorly-made clothing. Many men were eternally loyal to the Patriot cause, but some grew wary of enduring these conditions in the pursuit of a goal that eluded them and remained abstract. Washington knew something needed to be done to prevent mutiny among his men and continue the fight against the British.

The answer to this call to action came from an unlikely source. A broadside entitled Sentiments of an American Woman appeared on the doorsteps of Philadelphia’s war-weary citizens. The broadside proclaimed that it was time for women to be “really useful” like “those heroines of antiquity” and act on “our love for the public good.” The author of this broadside, Esther de Berdt Reed, just having recovered from a bout of smallpox, founded the Ladies Association of Philadelphia and saved the Continental Army.

Esther de Berdt was born in October of 1746 in London to English businessman Dennis de Berdt and Martha Symon de Berdt. Esther, a charismatic girl who loved books, grew up near the Houses of Parliament. At the age of seventeen, Esther met Joseph Reed of Philadelphia while he was in London to continue his education in law. The duo, by now in love, sought to marry but Dennis refused to consent. Dennis, though partial to Joseph, was not enthusiastic about his daughter moving to Philadelphia with him if they married. Over the next five years, Esther and Joseph, separated by the great Atlantic, nevertheless remained in contact and did not break their engagement. In 1769, Joseph returned to London and reconciled with Esther. Dennis de Berdt had died, leaving his family with substantial debts. Joseph dedicated himself to settling the family’s finances before marrying Esther in May of 1770 at Saint Luke’s Church. The couple decided, then, to move back to Philadelphia together, bringing Martha with them to ensure her financial stability.

Esther and Joseph quickly moved up the social ladder. Joseph became a successful lawyer and political leader. The political uproar that had lingered as a whisper over the colonies soon grew to grip every facet of life. As a native Englander, Esther was initially wary of rebellion against her birth nation. Her views resembled that of many in the colonies, dismayed by the actions taken by the British and the lack of representation in decision-making but also afraid of what open rebellion may cause. Her husband, on the other hand, was an ardent patriot. After the conflict at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, Joseph facilitated the sending of sums of money to the rebellious colonists in New England. He was elected as a member of the First Continental Congress and he and Esther became close friends with the likes of George Washington and John Adams. Esther, during this time, came to see the revolution as one seeking to reaffirm the right of liberty for all in the colonies. In July, she wrote to her brother that “every person [is] willing to sacrifice his private interest in this glorious contest” and that the revolution was about “virtue, honor, unanimity” and “bravery.” With both Reeds united in the Patriot cause, they soon were forced to separate.

In 1775, Joseph left his law practice in Philadelphia to join his friend, the newly appointed General George Washington. Washington personally requested the industrious and honorable Reed join his staff as an aide and a military secretary, appointing him to the rank of colonel. Esther during this time cared for her family, which would eventually grow to include six children, and handled the affairs of the family. Esther was forced many times during the war to leave Philadelphia with her family and always had an escape plan in her back pocket. When the British took over Philadelphia in September 1777, Esther had evacuated her family to Norristown. Joseph spent that cold and bitter winter of 1777-1778 in Valley Forge working with General Washington.

Throughout this winter that tried many souls, Esther, her mother, and her children endured both the separation from Joseph and one of the most dangerous periods for the Patriots. By the time the Battle of Monmouth proved that Washington had built a disciplined and determined army at Valley Forge, Esther’s young daughter Theodosia had died of smallpox.

The spirits of the Reeds soon changed when Joseph was elected as President of Pennsylvania and the family reunited in Philadelphia. Esther, known now as Mrs. President in Pennsylvania, had gained the position she needed to make a real impact on the war effort. She simply needed her chance.

General Washington soon provided that chance in 1780 after the British captured Charleston in South Carolina. Washington reported to Congress in May of 1780 that the men in his army had long sustained themselves on rotten food and were forced to wear ragged clothing. He warned Congress that at this rate his men would not be able to fight on long enough to drive the British from the colonies. Esther, having just recovered from smallpox herself, seized the chance and founded the Ladies Association of Philadelphia. Because of her position as Mrs. President, she had gained the trust and friendship of many of the wives of influential men and women powerful in their own right in Philadelphia, including Benjamin Franklin’s daughter Sarah Franklin Bache.

Now that Esther had built the Ladies Association into a group of illustrious and influential women, she needed something to unify and focus the group’s efforts. She went to work soon writing a broadside to persuade more women to join the cause of liberty. Sentiments of an American Woman was published on June 10, 1780. The broadside warned women that their “barren wishes” for success were no longer enough and, in the spirit of “those heroines of antiquity,” the women of the colonies must fight to reaffirm that all are “born for liberty.” She assured that their “courage” and “constancy will always be dear to America.” She finished by asking women if any material possessions mattered if they did not truly live with their liberty unviolated and issued a call to duty for all Patriot women to donate what they could to ensure Continental soldiers had the supplies they needed.

 

Sentiments-of-American-Woman.jpg

Taken from the Monticello Website

 

A team of thirty-nine women canvassed door-to-door to every household in Philadelphia, distributing Esther’s (anonymously-published) broadside and soliciting donations to the cause. These women broke almost every social convention of the time but did not think twice. They were willing to do whatever it took to affirm their natural right to liberty.

The efforts of Esther and her Ladies Association of Philadelphia exceeded all expectations. Esther, no doubt proud of her fellow women of Philadelphia, reported to General Washington that they had raised over $300,000 continental dollars. When this amount was converted to hard coinage, it stood at the large-for-era amount of $7,500.

Esther believed that the money should go directly to the soldiers, but General Washington thought differently. Washington worried that soldiers might use their money for unnecessary luxuries and responded to Esther asking for the money to go directly to more useful items. Washington wrote on July 14th asking Esther if he is “happy in having the concurrence of the Ladies” he would ask that the much-needed donations go to “purchasing course Linnen, to be made into Shirts.” He wrote that “A Shirt extraordinary to the Soldier will be of more service, and do more to preserve his health than any other thing that could be procured him.” After a series of letters, Washington persuaded Esther to the prudence of his request and she enthusiastically moved to the next phase of her efforts.

The Ladies Association of Philadelphia, having purchased the linen, quickly went to work sewing shirts for the soldiers of the Continental Army. Esther, wanting the contribution of each woman not forgotten, had each seamstress sew their name into the shirts they made. Esther by this point juggled being away from her husband once again, who was back with the army, raising her children, caring for her aging mother, and running the operations of the Ladies Association. When she was struck with acute dysentery when an epidemic swept through Philadelphia in 1780, she no longer possessed the health to recover.

Esther de Berdt Reed died on September 18, 1780, a month before her thirty-fourth birthday. All the citizens of Philadelphia mourned the death of the woman who had organized a grassroots effort to save the Patriot cause but her efforts did not die with her. Sarah Franklin Bache, a pioneering and powerful woman in her own right, assumed Esther’s position and the Ladies Association finished what Esther had started. By Christmas of 1780, over two-thousand shirts were delivered to the Continental Army, supplying them with a necessity they had lacked for a long time. Newly-clothed and with the alliance with the French formalized, the Continental Army was ready to drive the British from the colonies forever.

Joseph Reed returned to Philadelphia after Esther’s death to serve his final term as President of Pennsylvania. During his tenure, while wearing the shirts made by Esther and her Ladies Association, the Continental Army emerged victorious at the Battle of Yorktown in October of 1781. After the war, Joseph returned to England for his health but died in 1785, at the young age of forty-three.

 

Esther Reed grave.jpg

From findagrave.com

 

Esther de Berdt Reed’s journey from British subject to passionate Patriot in the course of a decade demonstrates the power of liberty for all people. Esther saw the fight for the Republic as an affirmation for the inviolable and inherent rights the new government would protect. She refused to abide by societal customs when the fate of her cause was on the line and organized a major association of illustrious women in Philadelphia to save the war effort. Esther persuaded women of all ages in the era that they had the right and the responsibility of being equal to men in patriotism. She forged a new path of passionate patriotism not only for women but for all citizens no matter their position. Her life was dedicated to that fundamental idea of a republic: liberty.

Nassem Al-Mehairi, Biography –

Nassem.jpgNassem Al-Mehairi is a senior at Ashland High School. Born and raised in Ashland, Ohio, he has a deep love of history and America, with plans to further his studies in college and run for political office one day. He’s an honors student, voracious reader, enjoys writing, and serves in various ways in his community.

Volunteering with and on substantial political and awareness campaigns since he was 12, he appeared in the video introducing President Bill Clinton at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and went on to serve as a Fellow for the Hillary for Ohio campaign in 2016. Besides being passionate about historical stewardship, liberty, and patriotism, he’s also an advocate for women’s liberation and educational opportunity.

You can read more about him on his blog, Seize the Moment, or follow him on Twitter.

Thank you for joining us for this installment of the Women in History (or Making History) series. Watch for more articles to come! If you’d like to participate, please let me know. 

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Celebrating Women Series: Nassem Al-Mehairi Talks about Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse-“The She-Merchant Of New York”

Welcome to the sixth article in the “Celebrating Women” for Women’s History Month! It’s my first series (author guest article series) to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to Nassem Al-Mehairi for offering the sixth article in this series. If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.

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Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse, otherwise called The She-Merchant of New York:
How She Became the Richest Woman in New York Circa Mid-1650s New Amsterdam (Present Day New York)

by Nassem Al-Mehairi, writer and currently authoring an historical novel on Baron Resolved Waldron

Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse. That’s a name you may not have heard of before, but she was one of the most successful businesswomen to ever live in the Americas!

Margaret Hardenbroeck Philipse was born in 1630. Little is known of her early life, but Margaret is thought to have received some education, as the Dutch were the only ones who provided primary education for females in Europe during the 1600’s.Margaret, brought up in a time when the Reformed Church advocated for equality for women and more liberal views were held by Dutch society toward women’s rights, brought these to the New World.

At the age of 22, in 1659, a determined Margaret came to New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony on Manhattan Island. Her job as a factor for her wealthy cousin allowed her to handle his New World affairs. She did not find working for others to her liking, so she began her own trading company.

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The Philipse Manor in New York

Margaret, needing to build her alliances with others to expand her business, married a successful merchant named Peter de Vries. In Dutch law, there were 2 kinds of marriages: a manus, in where the woman became a legal minor under the “guardianship” of her husband, and a usus, where the wife retained all the rights a Dutch man would have. Margaret chose usus, which allowed her to continue to build her wealth.

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Castello Plan Of New Amsterdam

 When Peter died in 1661, Margaret inherited his estate. This added his ships to hers and his power. By this time she was sending furs and other goods to the Netherlands and was acting as a middleman for valuable trade in New Amsterdam. The guilders were rolling in, and it was possible because of the Dutch culture which treated women much more fairly.

 In 1663, Margaret married a man by the name of Frederick Philipse. A self-made man, Frederick owned 52000 acres of land along the Hudson River and a huge mansion, Philipse Manor. This marriage grew Margaret’s power even further, to a point where it seemed she could not be stopped.

In August of 1664, the British seized New Amsterdam, and renamed it New York. The British were not nearly as liberal as the Dutch, especially on women’s rights. The British successfully kept down more and more ambitious women in the colony, but, as Margaret had built a vast trade empire already, they could not displace her.

As she kept her transatlantic trade empire flourishing, she had to “officially” start doing business in her husband’s name. The British stripped her of many of her rights, and she could no longer act as a legal agent or purchase goods herself. She worked the system to be able to continue her merchant business despite this, with the help of Frederick.

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Map Of New Netherland.

Margaret retired from business in 1680, and her sons took over the trade empire. Her business continued to thrive, and kept her descendents at the top of New York society for 300 more years. Not until the American Revolution would women have the rights that Margaret had during the Dutch rule of Manhattan. She lived for 11 more years after this, until her death in 1691. At her death, she was the richest woman in New York.

Nassem Al-Mehairi, Biography~

20140104-183355Nassem Al-Mehairi was born in 1999. Possessing unique viewpoints due to his heritage and the times, he is well-suited to understand the solutions to modern issues, such as domestic poverty, international relations, and women’s rights.

He aspires to higher education, law, and politics, as well as to continue writing.

Mr. Al-Mehairi is an author and currently runs the personal online column Seize The Moment. He is in progress of writing a novel about his maternal line ancestor Baron Resolved Waldron, who resided in New Amsterdam (now New York) in 1610-1690.

He resides in Ashland, Ohio.

See more of the articles and following along by clicking here:

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David Blixt and I Talk Serious on Rome, History, Religion, and the Biggest Social Issue We are Facing Today!

Today, I’m featuring the amazing David Blixt!  He’s the author of many historical novels, but the one we are showcasing today is his second book in the Colossus series, The Four Emperors. For blog purposes, I’m keeping the review shorter as I also have a fabulous interview with David that you won’t want to miss. Packed with information, but loads of fun too! David is one of the most interesting people that I know!  That interview will follow the review and book information below.

David is a very well-researched author and his books are very well-written with developed characters and historical plots and intrigue you can really get lost in. He immerses himself into his projects, painstakingly perfecting every chapter, paragraph, and line so that readers are entertained and educated. Being a novelist, and creating perfect stories to please readers, seems to be David’s innermost calling, because he does it with such finesse.

I’ve read several other of David’s books, but I think the Colossus series really adds to the whole Roman history genre, taking place in a Rome under and post-Nero. Nero, known for his diplomacy and trade, but yet also his swift executions and extravagant and impulsively driven character, also persecuted Christians and is now assumed to have set the great fire to Rome. Too cowardly to perform the suicide he wanted, he made someone else kill him and then ensued the era of chaos known as the Four Emporers, which is the time that David’s second book takes place.

David’s character Titus Flavius Sabinus is caught in the emotional and political turmoil that is created as four people joust for the throne. David’s gives us an intricate and dimensional view of Sabinus, written with depth of character and feeling. We can feel the struggle that Sabinus must contend with in order for safety.  As big statues are erected by tyrants who rule (kind of like they are building a public display of their egos), so must they topple and Sabinus is caught right in the middle of the drama that is civil war.

The writing of David Blixt is descriptive and beautifully authentic. He truly knows how to set the visual scene, enamoring and engaging readers in a hypnotic way. I dare you to NOT read David’s Colossus series, because it’s a must-do for any true fan of any type of historical literature that is well-versed and intelligent. Synergetic of today’s mass crumble, this book is a must read on several levels!

The Four Emperors

COLOSSUS: THE FOUR EMPERORS, Snyopsis~

Publication Date: April 7, 2013
Sordelet Ink
Paperback; 406p
ISBN-10: 061578318X

Rome under Nero is a dangerous place. His cruel artistic whims border on  madness, and any man who dares rise too high has his wings clipped, with fatal results.

For one family, Nero means either promotion or  destruction. While his uncle Vespasian goes off to put down a rebellion  in Judea, Titus Flavius Sabinus struggles to walk the perilous line  between success and notoriety as he climbs Rome’s ladder. When Nero is  impaled on his own artistry, the whole world is thrown into chaos and  Sabinus must navigate shifting allegiances and murderous alliances as  his family tries to survive the year of the Four Emperors.

The second novel in the Colossus series.

Interview with David Blixt~

Hi, David! So happy to finally have you here on the blog for an interview! I always enjoy your books and you’ve been by Hook of a Book before with an amazing guest post, but I think my readers are looking forward to me picking your brain. How has the Fall season in Michigan been treating you, much like mine in Ohio?

David Blixt

David: Hey, Erin. Thanks so much for having me. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here. The Fall has been lovely so far. The summer Shakespeare season is down, with all four shows getting lovely reviews. The kids are in school, and while I’m shuttling madly back and forth between Chicago and Ann Arbor, I am grateful to finally be able to jump back into writing!

Erin: You’re life is always so busy and seems fun every minute. Let’s get started then! Let’s hop in an Aston Martin and go for a drive and see how many questions we can ask on the fast turns (for readers who don’t know, David is a huge James Bond fan!)

David: Entirely true. Though I prefer the Swing-era jazz to Bond’s softer 50s-style. So let’s turn on some Benny Goodman and get started.

Q:  You are a very interesting and well-rounded individual. You are an actor, playwright, novelist and a jack of all creative trades. What makes you tick? For example, what makes life worth living for you (outside of your wife and little cute children, of course)?

A: (ducking head in an ‘aw shucks’ manner) You’re very kind. What makes me tick? Hm. Short answer – history, Shakespeare, Looney Tunes, and being able to hop from project to project. Part of what I enjoy about theatre is that it’s a very project-based profession. The same is true about writing. I like diving deeply and completely into a subject/role/idea and exploring it to its fullest. I like finding out new things and sharing them, in what I hope is an entertaining fashion. I once had a professor at U of M tell me it didn’t matter what I learned, so long as I learned to learn deeply. That has always resonated with me. Diving into the deep end of a thought or question or story and exploring it to its fullest – and then being able to move on to something entirely different. It’s my joy.

There’s a punny motto in my family – “Follow your Blixt.” Terrible, but true. At the end of the day, my bliss is writing, giving form to thought and discovering where it takes me. Writing is as much exploration as story-telling. I know the ultimate destination, but I really enjoy finding my way there.

(The other name-based joke is “Ignorance is Blixt”. I use that a lot).

Erin: Love it!

Q:  In all your time acting and performing and directing in endeavors such as the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, how do you fit in the time to write with a busy family and all as well? What is your best used tactic to getting research and writing completed?

A: The research never ends. And the truth is, whenever I’m stuck in my writing, the research will save me. I’ll find some fact or quirk of history that leads me down a path I had no idea existed.

As for writing, I need to allow myself long stretches of time. I’m teaching less this semester, for which I’m very grateful, as I now have more time every day to write. I’m at my desk by 8:30 in the morning, and while I’ll read the news and do Facebook for awhile, I usually am into the writing within an hour. And I won’t really emerge until the kids come home, or until I have to be somewhere. If I have less than four hours, I can’t really build up a head of steam.

The only sadness in my life at present is that I have very little time these days to read for fun. Most of my reading is research, so I feel I’m missing out on books by authors I adore. Thank heaven for Audible, so I can at least listen to my fellow travelers in the car.

Q:  Your love of Shakespeare is evident and I loved reading Her Majesty’s Will, featuring Will Shakespeare of course! But you’ve written several other sets of books, the Star-Cross’d series, which is set in Verona, and then the series we are on tour for now, Colossus, which is “a tale of Jews, Romans, and the Rise of Christianity.”  Which has been your favorite to write and why?

A: The Verona books will forever be dear to my heart. The Master Of Verona was my first real novel (the prior attempts live in a drawer), and I discovered so much – about myself, about the craft, about history – that I’ll look on it fondly for the rest of my life. I hit a lot of highs, and that novel just poured out of me in the space of a year. The sequels have allowed me to continue both to grow and to play in a sandbox I adore.

Her Majesty’s Will was probably the book I had the most fun writing. It’s unlike anything else I’ve done, just a mirth-filled romp, and I was grinning the whole time I was at it.

All that said, the Colossus books are probably the most direct writing I’ve done. The story is very, very clear in my head, and the characters even moreso. As there are very few fictional characters, I can just allow the history to carry me on. Each series has its own tone and style, and for Colossus the writing is my most straightforward, which I hope means also the most accessible. And Rome resonates with me more than any other period of history – probably because there are so many parallels to our present day.

Q:  For the Colossus series, what was and is the major inspiration for you in writing about this time period?  What themes or historical lessons are you teaching?

A: The initial inspiration was physical – I was in the Saint Clement’s Basilica in Rome, exploring one of the city’s best-kept secrets – the excavation under the church. Rome is a city that his built itself up and up over the last 2500 years. At San Clemente they’ve dug down, allowing tourists to travel back in time, layer by layer, all the way down to a first century cobblestone Roman street. I’ve been back three more times. After the last, I determined to do something about that remarkable place. But what?

So I started researching Saint Clement, the fourth Pope. And, without spoiling my own ending, I found a story that inspired the whole series. From there, I started tracing the historical elements back to the Fall of Jerusalem. I wrote a book, and my agent said, “Great. Now you have to write the novel before it.” After I disposed of his body, I did just that. It was vast, so I split it into three parts – Stone & Steel, The Four Emperors, and Wail Of The Fallen (coming in 2014). After that comes The Hollow Triumph, and probably two more – we’ll see.

The themes have a lot to do with man’s relationship with the divine, but also with honour and family. Over the long haul, it will explore the idea of a “good” death.

colossus 1

Colossus: Book 1

Q:  Do you feel that the Colossus books address issues of today by teaching through history? Why or why not?

A: I think a huge portion of our trouble today is failing to learn the lessons of history. Doomed to repeat it and all. But we don’t even know our own origins. We don’t know how deeply the conquering of Judea affected Rome, and how Rome in turn altered the nascent Hebrew sect of Christianity. It’s just like people making assertions about the American Founding Fathers without reading their writings. If we don’t know how our past shapes our beliefs, we cannot understand why we believe what we believe, and challenge those beliefs when they come in conflict with our experience.

Factoid – America was very much seen by some founders as a “New Rome.” In fact, Washington DC was originally called just that. They tried to rename the river the Tiber. The Capitol had a space for an eternal flame, just like the Vestals had. The Washington’s monument is an obelisk, just like the ones Rome stole from Egypt. In the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln is posed like a Roman consul. All of these are deliberate. But, being modeled on Ancient Rome, we are in danger of falling into Roman traps. The more we learn about what went wrong in Rome, the more we can resist the forces pulling us in the same direction. I hope.

Erin: I hope too!

Q:  How did you do your research about this Roman era, around 60-70 AD, in order to write the Colossus novels?  What is the most interesting thing you came across in your research, something that surprised, shocked, or amazed you?

A: There are any number of sources I could cite. Two books on the Year Of The Four Emperors alone, one by Kenneth Wellesley, the other by Gwyn Morgan. Books on Nero, on Josephus, Vespasian, Domitian. Plutarch, Suetonius, Livy. All of it is grist for the mill. Tons of reading. Then it all distills into the story that needs to be told.

The shock, to me, was Nero himself. I knew about some of his depravity, but it is simply beyond my understanding how he was able to last even as long as he did. No wonder the senators hated him – he threw parties where their wives were forced to submit to any man who came along. The rape-culture in the novel makes my skin crawl, but is if anything toned down from some of the reports.

And yet, if one writes about a historical villain, one should try to humanize him. Otherwise he’s a caricature of evil. Nero was awful. But he was granted ultimate power as a teenager. What does that do to a boy? A victim of incest, taught murder by his mother, it’s no wonder he ended up murdering her in turn. He was not interested in pain so much as shame. You look at his actions, he was out to shame everyone. A kind of revenge. So much of what happened was due to how he was raised, what he came to think was normal. There was some serious mental illness there, married to unquestioned power. The one part that is touching, or could be, was his desire to be a great artist. More and more, he felt the pull of theatre and music. He was a disaster for Rome – for anyone whose path he crossed, really – but he’s also pitiable. He desperately wanted to express himself. The horror is that he chose all the world as his palate, and used people for his paints.

Q:  We are still linked in so many ways to our Roman trailblazers.  What do you think were their worst faults? And then, their best efforts? 

A: Starting with their best, their ideals are great. They took the Greek notion of democracy and crafted it into a workable frame, one we specifically use today. They were incredible engineers. They created the first standing courts, the first set of inalienable rights. The notion that all citizens were equal was at the heart of Roman life.

Their worst? A tendency to back themselves into political corners that resulted in military or unconstitutional solutions (crossing the Rubicon was Caesar’s acknowledgement that the law no longer functioned). They institutionalized racism and slavery. They started revering men above their fellows, despite their determination not to do so, which led to an accruing of power at the top. Worse, privatized arms makers and mercenary armies replaced the state-run ones, creating warfare as a for-profit industry. Once standing armies came into being, it created the need/temptation to use them, causing a state of constant warfare.

Oh sorry – were we talking about Rome?

Q:  Why is studying the rise of Christianity so important to learning about history, even if someone might not be religious? How did it change or shape history?

A: Early Roman Christianity (separate from the Christianity that existed prior to Peter coming to Rome) borrowed so much from other religions. There are elements of Isis, Horus, and Osiris, as well as Mithraism. The birth stories of Moses and Romulus are blended into Christ’s. Rome was the Caput Mundi, the capital of the world, the place where all ideas met and merged. It was inevitable that Rome would change the nascent Christian cult. And when, a couple hundred years later, Christianity replaced the Roman pantheon, it was not a pure switch. The saints took on the roles of the old gods, who were each prayed to for individual needs.

So much of this is obvious, and yet unknown. We disdain other religions without understanding them. As religion is the biggest divider in all of history, the fact that we remain so ignorant even of our own is horrific, perpetuating the cycle of Christians hating other Christians, much less Muslims and Hindus and anyone else who prays to God by another name. How many people know about Martin Luther nailing his tract to the church door? How many understand what that was about? Or Saint Augustine renumbering the 10 Commandments so that coveting a neighbor’s wife got its own slot? Or that Jews number them differently than we do?

One of the biggest unknowns, and one that I’ll touch on at some point in the series, is Judas Iscariot. The trouble is, there is no word Iscariot. It doesn’t mean anything. But Sicariot – that’s a huge word. It means ‘the knifeman’. This was a group in Judea who assassinated prominent Romans and any Jew collaborating with the Romans. Their hope was to provoke a war. So if it was a simple transposition in an early text, Sicariot to Iscariot (two letters!), that changes our whole understanding of Judas. If he was a revolutionary who wanted outright war with Rome, betraying Jesus might have been his way of starting that war. But if he expected Jesus to fight back, he was disappointed. No wonder he killed himself – he had betrayed his teacher for nothing. The war wouldn’t come for another 30-odd years.

So history is shaped by religion, and religion is shaped by our own ignorance of it.

Q:  You are such an amazing individual with so many interests in various historical time periods, as well as I mentioned previously, James Bond, and further, Spiderman and comics! What kinds of topics such as these does your brain flip between on a daily basis? How do you handle your many interests? *smile*

A: Comic books are a frequent habit. I have a Batman story I’d like to write someday. Doctor Strange, too. Old Time Radio is a nightly habit – I fall asleep listening to Gunsmoke or The Saint or The Shadow. Lately it’s The Adventures of Rocky Jordan and Dragnet. Shakespeare is a constant, thanks to my profession. Classic cartoons are another constant, in that I’m trying to raise my kids right.

But during the day, I flit between all my upcoming books. Plot points, twists, details, characters – there’s no telling what book I’ll be thinking about at any given moment. If it’s not the one I’m working on, I’ll jot the idea down and hopefully find it before I start on that project down the road.

Q:  What are some of your favorite superhero or comic book story lines and why? There’s been resurgence in graphic novels, even those on historical subjects. Why might this be a good way to teach literature and history? (I enjoy the art myself!)

A: I’m a Spider-Man guy. But great writers bring great things to otherwise forgettable characters. I’m a Bendis fan – Ultimate Spider-Man, New Avengers, All-New X-Men. I’m a huge fan of Jim Starlin’s work (Dreadstar), and Howard Chaykin (American Flagg, The Shadow). John Byrne in the 80s was unstoppable, and his X stories with Chris Claremont are utterly brilliant. Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men was superb. Batman goes in spurts, but the recent Death Of The Family was fantastic.

None of this even touches things like Fables, Sandman, Y The Last Man, and more. I like good writing. Go figure.

Oddly, I haven’t read that much in the historical GN field. Want to throw some titles at me?

Erin: There are alot of them out there for school age children. I think it helps them read, either for reluctant readers or for readers on the higher end. The visual propel them and the writing keeps their attention. Therefore, history that might be dry or boring to them, now becomes memorable! I’ve seen all the classic literature done into them, as well as straight history. I’ll come back with a list.

Q:  Who are some of your favorite authors and mentors?

A: Historical fiction authors – Dorothy Dunnett, Bernard Cornwell, Colleen McCullough, Sharon Kay Penman, Patrick O’Brian, CW Gortner, Raphael Sabatini, Mary Renault, Umberto Eco.

Other authors – Dashiell Hammett, Jonathan Carroll, Neil Gaiman, Robert Asprin, Robert B Parker, Ian Fleming, Ian Mortimer, Stephen Greenblatt, Tom Clancy.

Q:  What are some of your favorite movies and television shows? And why?

A: I’m pretty predictable – my favorite movie of all time is Casablanca. And I love the Errol Flynn trio of Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, and The Adventures Of Robin Hood. Raiders Of The Lost Ark is unbeatable. The original Star Wars films. Die Hard. Master & Commander. The Incredibles.

In terms of turning people on to films that are unknown but shouldn’t be, I always start with Truly, Madly, Deeply. Just incredible performances and writing.

For TV, The West Wing is a touchstone. Deadwood. The Wire. Brett’s Sherlock Holmes, and also the new Sherlock (BBC). Doctor Who. Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Game Of Thrones. I always try to turn people on to Jekyll, as well as Slings & Arrows, which is as close as anyone will ever come to making a show about the life I lead. 

Q:  What are some the biggest social issues we are facing today and how can literature help in creating a better society?

A: Education. First, we need to stop demonizing teachers and realize that, were we in their jobs, we’d be curled up in the corner crying with the lights off. Then we need to teach deductive reasoning, not a litany of facts. Dates are useless compared to the ability to draw your own conclusion. We are not teaching that. As someone who is in a classroom a few hours every week, I can say that students are desperate for it. They want to know not what, but why.

We have un-linked Cause from Effect. “You mean if I do X, Y happens? Nonsense. Y happens because of gay marriage, or legalizing pot, or (currently) Obamacare.”

Much of what’s wrong in society stems from not knowing our own history. Oh, you think labor unions are bad? You like weekends, don’t you? Unions did that. 40-hour work weeks? Unions. We’re taxed too much? The highest tax tier in the 1950s was something like 80%. The Founding Fathers wanted a Christian nation? Read the Treaty of Tripoli. Why are we repeating the mistakes of the early 1930s? Because we don’t remember them!

I’m coming off as fairly liberal, and I suppose by today’s standards I am. But today’s liberal is a 1950s conservative. I look at what Eisenhower believed and I say, sign me up. Guy planned D-Day and interstate highways? Believed in small government and Social Security and unions? I like Ike. So, in the history of the 20th century, I’m pretty moderate. Only in the 21st century are my beliefs screamingly liberal.

But even saying that depends on remembering history. We forget our history. That’s what literature can do – remind us not of where we are, but how we got here.

Erin: I love that last quote, especially! But totally get what you are saying politically too, so true.

Q:  You have quite a few books in Star-Cross’d series and Colossus series. Will there be more? Will there be more Will and Kit novels?

A: At the moment, I’m projecting eight novels in the Star-Cross’d series, and six for the Colossus. I’m sure Colossus will finish first – by this time next year, the two series will be tied. After the next Star-Cross’d novel (The Prince’s Doom) I’m taking a break from Verona to focus on other books and recharge those batteries.

I have an idea for another Will & Kit book, with the hapless spies facing down the Spanish Armada. It has the worst title in the history of literature: Will’s Will Will. We’ll see if I have the will to stick with it – but it makes me smile every time I say it, so it’s looking good.

Erin: I’d love another Will and Kit book! The first was so entertaining!

Q:  Beyond those, do you have any other time periods of history to write about? What might be next for you past those you are already writing within your present series’ of books?

A: I have three books vying for dominance in my brain. One is a stand-alone Roman novel, set at the founding of the Republic. Another is an early 16th century novel dealing with Othello. And the third isn’t historical fiction at all, though it features many historical figures. It takes place in Hell. I’ve been wanting to write that one for a decade – even took a crack at it once, with middling results. Had the wrong protagonist. I’ve got a better story now. For the Othello book, I’ve got the frame and the characters and outline, but not the voice. So the Roman book may get done first. We’ll see.

Q: Have you thought of writing an espionage novel?

A: No. Apparently I should? (I do have an Elizabethan Noir novel that’s about 30% done. Close enough?)

Erin: YES! You have a passion for it and I think you could do a grand job, just work it into some of the historical intrigue and make a go of it! *smile*

Q: Your favorite part to play on the stage and why?

A: Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing. Petruchio in Taming Of The Shrew. And Macbeth. Used to be Mercutio, but I got too tied to it. And I’m far, far too old now.

Q: Where can readers purchase your novels?

A: Links to everything at www.davidblixt.com. Or you can visit my Amazon author page at: http://www.amazon.com/David-Blixt/e/B001IQZJME/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A: I have a blog, but I can be reached most every day at my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/David-Blixt-Author/22822113504

Erin: Thank you so much, David, for joining in this discussion with me today! It’s always a pleasure to speak with you! I wish you the best of luck with Colossus and all your pursuits, as always. Now, I’ve got to try to run a comb through my wind-blown hair, you really like to take those wild turns at the speed of light! Were we being chased by spies?

David: Those aren’t spies. Those are angry Oxfordians, trying to silence my refutation of all they hold dear.

Thanks for having me. This interview was exhausting, and I don’t think it was the driving. But it was a heap of fun. Though I’m surprised we didn’t get around to discussing the best Bond actor. Save that for next time. Cheers!

Author David Blixt, Biography~

David BlixtAuthor and playwright David Blixt’s work is consistently described as  “intricate,” “taut,” and “breathtaking.” A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play  EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS’D series,  including THE MASTER OF VERONA, VOICE OF THE FALCONER, and FORTUNE’S  FOOL) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy  HER MAJESTY’S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept  spies).

His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. As the Historical Novel Society  said, “Be prepared to burn the midnight oil. It’s well worth it.”

Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, David describes himself as  “actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order.”

For more about David and his novels, visit www.davidblixt.com.

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On Starting to Write My First Children’s Series–Outline on My Book Idea!

I have put my mind to the goal of writing my first children’s book this year. I’ve been waiting for years it seems for just the right idea to pop into my head. Something that would just take off in my mind. Initially, I always thought it would be a children’s picture book. I think that mostly because not only do I love words and books, I also love art and the essence of both that picture books bring. In fact, as an adult, I like to collect children’s books for myself as well as my children. Beautiful words and images in a book are like little art gallerys to me. I wanted the pictures to come to life in my mind, and then I thought maybe the story would come.

My mind tends to race in many different directions, not only with all the demands of life—kids, home, several start-up businesses, health, etc.– but with ideas too! Creative juices!  It just became real to me one day towards the end of last year as I was watching my girls, ages 7 and 3. I realized how often they play together, or maybe even put up with each other, but at the same time how opposite they really are. I spent time listening to their conversations, sometimes laughing, sometimes amazed, sometimes it was upsetting, but I really saw how different their interests are and how unique it makes each of them. And it came to me, I could write a book stemming loosely from their relationship.  A 7 year old girl who is girly, yet likes sparkly skulls,black,  jeans, art, mystery, pop songs, and is super subdued unless spiked by her sister compared to a girl age 3 who is the total princess package including pink and more pink, dresses, dance and ballet, classical music and song who really lives oblivious to anything happening around her. Basically no fear while her older sister is full of questions and concerns. 

So I have come up with the name Monster Princess and Little Diva because it seems to fitting to me. I ran it past my older daughter and she thought it sounded just like them and is very excited. So I am wondering what kind of trouble I might get them both into with a picture book, which I still want to start with because of the art element. I can just SEE the characters in my head, you know?  I’m having the most issues with getting this one started, even with less words, because I don’t know where to have it go in short amount of text. I see way far into the future already with these books.  I am a writer than tends to overwrite and am very detailed. I am thinking that chapter books for ages 7-9 would be great. I have this great idea to encompass my love of history and adventure and the fantastical genre in the books and with different adventures would come different titles. My very rough outline includes the girls having to move with their single mother to a new town and/or state in New England. In doing some reseach, Salem, Mass. is the frontrunner due to its overwhelming amount of history and the fact that the Peabody Essex Museum, a grand art and history museum, is located there. I’d like their mom to be a single mom who is an artist, and possibly getting a job at the museum while also pursuing her art or fine art photography at the local downtown scene.  Mom would have a studio at home and be very busy setting up this new life, and the girls would spend a lot of time alone together squabbling and who knows what. They may head off for a walk and end up at a old building or house, with a special key and/or door that opens and turns into an adventure or chaotic happening. The 7 year old would be the curious one, and also most fearful, while the 3 year old would be following along behind doing ballet piroettes and singing, totally not even seeing what is happening around her. The banter between them might be quite funny. I am also currently reseaching names for the two of them, based on maybe the early 1500 or 1600s. 

 I am nervous but hopeful that this initial set-up in my brain will take me somewhere further and I can write an initial picture book and chapter book by the end of 2011. I really need support and feedback since this is my first book. I welcome comments at any time and I hope to keep everyone updated using my blog! Please let me know what you think!

*Please remember that now that my ideas are down on paper, in several places, these are copyrighted and I really hope you don’t steal them. Especially since they are loosely based on my girls.

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