Podcast: John Hamlin Gordon, a Historic Fiction and Family

Fueled by generations of family lore and by a father who was both a writer and a soldier, John Hamlin Gordon II has written his first book, “Liberty’s Flight,” a novel that starts with the Battle of Culloden in Scotland in 1745 and travels, along with its protagonist, to America. Hear about the series of books that Gordon plans along with the rich history from which he has drawn on this week’s Enterprise podcast.

00:00 Hello, this is Melissa Hale-Spencer, the editor of the Altamont Enterprise here this morning with a new author, John Hamlin Gordon. The second welcome. Thank you. I am holding in my hand a prototype of his book called Liberty's Flight and he plunges in to a war scene. I'm just going to read you the very, very opening culloden patches of reluctantly receiving snow drifts, sprinkled the frozen brown more while cold April wind drove stinging sleet, Lord Cumberland, second and favorite Song King George the second, along with 9,000 British regulars, Hessians and Loland sons were drawn up in front of us in battle formation. Our 5,000 highlanders were drawn into ragged lines. Most of the sporting clan tartans and the jacobite white. Say this word for me. Takei. What an opening guesses right in the middle of the battle of Culloden. So tell us why did you start your book there?

01:22 Well, it goes back to my grandmother who gave me a box when she died and she was the family historian for the Gordon's and Alexander Gordon was the first of our family to arrive in Philadelphia and it was about a year after Colloden, so I started the genesis of this tale based on that little bit of family lore.

02:00 Oh my goodness. So your family had someone there?

02:05 Well, that I don't know, but I do know that Alexander is buried in the Carlyle American revolutionary war veterans cemetery. So the timing was there. The timing was there for a Jacobite to come here and many were and attempt to reestablish liberty and as they saw it, knew it, lived it.

02:35 I'm in my youth. I traveled around following Johnson Boswell's route through Scotland in the highlands and was there. I guess I'm mispronouncing it. You say Colloton. I always thought, and it's just such a, such as site the way that we go, you know, to see Gettysburg Berg

02:57 or something. Exactly right, exactly right. Hollow ground, right?

03:00 Yeah. Yeah. So, um, have you been there?

03:04 No, I have never been to Scotland. I had to do a lot of research to pull us together and I was very, very lucky in that I have a Scottish brother in law who was a doctor out at Cornell and so he was able to tell me about the species. They're actually, I had found out things that he didn't know. Scotland apparently used to have goats, but when they reapportioned it and now it's cheap. So you know, things happen.

03:40 Yeah. Well, so what made you decide, how old are you?

03:47 I'll be 69 and the first of September.

03:49 Well congratulations. What made you at age 69 decide to write not just a novel, but what will be the first in a series of novels?

03:59 Well, I actually probably started it at age 60 and uh, for the past seven years or so I've been working very closely with my father John w dot Gordon, and we published one of his books. He had already published two and we also made an anthology of short stories. So I had a lot of time to work with him, kind of find the ins and the outs of the publishing business doing that. Going to do, you know, signings and whatnot. So it wasn't, when did I start it? Uh, I fell down an icy parking lot wearing cowboy boots and broke my shoulder and six weeks off so that time to start it. I retired three years ago. Pop died two years ago. And so it didn't take me long to finish this first book, about halfway through the second book in the series.

05:04 So I'd like to hear about the series, but I first want to back up. Okay. If that's okay with you and just Kinda tell us about your life growing up. I want to tell our listeners I handed Jack. You go by Jack.

05:16 Well, pop always was Jack and Jack, doesn't it?

05:20 Okay. Well I handed John this week's addition to the paper because he has a story about his book in it by rows, Schneider. And he was flipping through and found a picture of the beautiful Greek revival. How sound the main street in rents surveil and started launching into the story about that. So I just like to kind of back up in here a little about your family history. Who's in your family, where you grew up and how at least two of the members have become writers?

05:53 Well, my great grandfather, a Reverend John Ogden Gordon came to rent Seville and the 18 seventies as a Presbyterian missionary. Uh, in the summers he conducted the services well into the 19 twenties and the church, there were several different reverends went in and out that summer. Um, my grandfather, uh, they had a summer house. He built it in 18, 92 now owned by the kesslers. It's got big Greek columns on it and all. And he was also president of Howard University back when they didn't have equal opportunity. They were lynching black people for no good reason. Uh, so he was quite a guy. Uh, his son, my grandfather, he lost his leg in the first world war. And my great uncle was also gassed. He was an artillery man. A GRANDPA was a pilot and shot down, crashed a hit a tree. They didn't have parachutes. He was flying a French plain and newport 17 and after three amputations and gangrene, he recovered and went on and had two children.

07:20 Uh, Catherine and Jack, the infamous lucky Jack who was sent to Yale at age 18 and ran away, joined the Canadian infantry, uh, after deeply being stirred by the Winston Churchill address, we'll fight them on the beaches, we will fight them in the cities, etc. And I had a profound impact. Plus his fAther had been, you know, really badly mangled In the first world war. So he ended up in the royal canadian air force as a navigator, a trained in western Canada and rotated to scotland to today [inaudible], believe it or not, which was the home of torpedo squadron to. And they trained for action against the germans in Tunisia, rommel, the africa corps. Their mission was to sync to german suppliers, shipping. And that was an operation. They're flying twin engine wellington's doing that. I'm romel disobeyed hitler, pulled out in north africa, a pop, got shipped to India.

08:45 Um, ord wyngate was his commander. He always named his dogs or they were big dogs off dogs and Pop, uh, joining the United States army air corps in I think like team late 43 and was the same to the 27 troop carrier which was basically flying the c, 40 sevens across the hump from him foul and the to una China. And it was japanese airspace. So he almost got shot down. He was lucky jack. He was on planes that made it and planes that he should have been on. It wasn't, didn't make it just lucky jack, you know. So that name really stuck now. Yeah. So at the end of the war he came back and he took my grandmother avery to a play. The play was, I do, I would never marry a man from yale was the name of the play. That was the name of the play.

10:01 And he commenced to go to cornell agriculture college farm for the rest of his life writer, author four of us baby boomers who is a justice piece myself. I'm next, even though mary ella will say I'm old list and sandy former legislator here, 16 years. And our babysitter pam, was still on the original farmstead. And where is that original is in the town of broom scoharie county on the backside of that big forest preserve by what is now parks and recreation training hills farm. It is today. I got all kinds of critters and horses and beef and whatnot. How nice for you to still have your family homestead? We have, we don't have it all, but we have, um, we have a good chunk of it.

11:05 Fascinating. Family history and war played such an important role for all the men in the family. What about yourself? I see. Just so listeners know, I'm. John is wearing a very colorful shirt and eagle is holding an american flag and a banner runs through that says these colors don't run. So tell us about your own military history.

11:32 Semper paramus. As the matter of the United States coast guard. I enlisted the United States coastguard and 16 October, 1967. I served there for four years. How old were you in? Nineteen 67. He just turned 18. so as soon as you were able. As soon as I was able. But in those days, there was a thing called the draft. My father informed me about infantry and why not to be in it. And I, uh, went down and took the asfab, scored very high and uh, gotten the coastguard. Um, upon getting out of basic training in cape may, New Jersey, I was assigned to coast guard cutter cocoon two k, one eight, six out of honolulu, Hawaii. He, which was known as the workhorse of the coast guard pacific fleet. we were these, we serviced loran, which is part of aids to navigation. We were under aidS to navigation. That's a division of the coast guard.

12:39 So we would bring is, um, well it was an emergency thing actually, uh, it was just before the tat in 68 and we had been refueling loran stations on our way across when we were headed to the Philippines. I'm, all of a sudden, they slapped all these 20 ton buoys on a sea buoys. Uh, they had decided that they weRe going to take the mekong delta all the way to the cambodian border. Uh, the river coming into funding two runs up to saigon, verba, pow, etc, etc. And they were going to make all these bad boys read brighton returning beCause you remember Vietnam had been french and the french don't know about red bright and returning and our colleagues of the United States naval academy didn't know about french movies. So wouldn't, you know, they call on the coast guard, said you guys are gonna, put these buoys wherever they're supposed to be. So for 19 months I was on kukui and um, we haul buoys. We built piers, we built runways, we were on islands, we're in the Philippines. Uh, we did not do onshore operations at um, and the Vietnam we delivered there, but we didn't actually, you know, cbs did it there.

14:13 and then I went back to New York while I went back to California to governor's island, New York in july, 19, 69. and a lot had changed. The first thing that had happened is when I was in san francisco and went to call home, they wanted to know my area code and I go, it's middleburg. Never forget that. And so we had a lung go around, but we finally found the area code and got home a 16 weeks on governors island, uh, was by that time and he for radar man. And I luckily graduated toward the top of the class. I saw my old skipper from southeast asia, bagpipes, moser, what a character, world war, two veteran, etc. Real tough guy, but great guy and scotsman, he used to play as pipes under the bridge. And if you were to stand in a watch and you're looking around to see what's out there and all of a sudden the big pipe start to pump up.

15:20 It makes almost jump over to savings would be an unusual thing to hear their gosh. So long story short, uh, then they went to two eight gb, two eight, one Coastguard cutter, westwind polar breaker built world war two. Uh, we did two trips to way up north in greenland, north of too late. Um, did one, a great lakes tour. And then the fourth tour, we Started down chesapeake bay. It was out above curtis creek next to baltimore. and instead of hanging a right headed for the Panama canal, we pull the left and we went to greenland in october, november, december, a strategic air command had a cable broken up there. They wanted us to go get it, fix it, and make it good. Uh, we had to abandon that at 65, below zero, 24 dark when, uh, we had two danish spreakers with us too, as well as the first nuclear powered icebreaker.

16:34 Uh, John Macdonald, canadian, we would break ice all day trying to get to the spot and he would catch up to us in an hour. That thing was an animal. Um, our evaporation flat broke down. That's where you get your fresh water from its see, uh, we limped into newfoundland finally at about 35 below zero when you spent a pellet, hits the deck, ting, ting, ting, and your breakfast frozen. And at 40 below, you better put something over your face. And at about 55 below, if you're trying to bang on a, a shackle or have turned pen or whatever, it may break, the hammer may break. So you just, you can't do anything in that cold. So. So you went from extreme heat. Extreme. Yeah. Extreme bugs to newfoundland. We pulled into a Rhode Island, uh, got the evaporation flat fix. I remember I called my grandmother because it was just before christmas and I said, and she said, well, I'll just come down and I'll write that captain a check and I say, grandmother, you stay the hell away from the ship.

17:51 So you had a very involved family or

17:53 my grandmother, complete motivator. What are reddis? Winnie the pooh took us all kinds of places. And her brother, who was also a world war one pilot, he actually trained my grandfather and he had the watch. My grandmother journeyed all the way from long island to a, just about where lackland air force base is now, where they trained and he was an instructor and he had the duty. He was the officer that day and he said, beat my friend John Gordon. We call him ham bone. And uh, she's had, this was hilarious. The next thing I knew we were upside down flying through the hot Texas air. And she said it was so wonderful. So he took her up and barrel roller and one her and after he was loaned. Oh my goodness. Oh yeah, she was. She decorated blair house one time. She was an interior decorator.

19:00 Oh yeah. Well, I noticed you mentioned winnie the pooh. What, what literature shaped you growing up? What, what led you to write the way that you do?

19:14 He's writing well, writing my writing of my favorite authors, you know, a kind of a blend. Um, I read every single louis l'amour book that's ever been written I read can file it, a northwest passage. It was affected in my next book. I'm going to cover that little foray of roger's going to st francis.

19:46 So adventure is at the heart of your reader adventure. And tell us why you decided to make this a novel. Kind of give us the outline as a novel with this epic scottish battle. And where do we go and who's, who's involved,

20:03 who's involved. Recover, kind of gives it away at the top. You see the, um, the brits against the original painting shortly after the battle. Absolutely. Historically, correct with the highlanders on the south flank attacking hessians head on the next one without looking, of course, that's the scottish flag in the middle of the battle flag of scotland. Uh, we run into pirate, which, um, we befriend and free a slave and philadelphia and we become in the struggle of blacks in colonial America. We know ben franklin who lives near us and we also have a, a very close friend who's half tuscarora and half scottish.

21:06 So are you roughly following what your family's history ones in this or is it a fictionalized fiction? Perhaps had a. The good thing about fiction is you can make it up. That's true. So who's the main character in that?

21:21 Uh, Alexander Alexander and more a is, um, well first lover, then wife and mother of the clan. And no story is complete without a love story.

21:36 That's true. But it seems like adventure has the upper hand on this. It does. And uh,

21:44 that is an author struggle because you don't want too much adventure. I'd been want adventure, but you don't want to know.

21:54 Well, it seems like right from the first book in your series, and I want to hear about the others, you've isolated some of america's major themes that we're still dealing with today, the native americans, the role that they have and the people that were brought here from africa as slaves and still have struggles that despite emancipation, how, how have you coalesce these in the book? What's your main character? What was his name and what does he.

22:25 Well, he, um, sort of just through fans, you know, it goes from one little adventure to the next depending on who he meets and, and what they decided they're going to do. I'm the emancipation of, uh, the main black character. And the other thing is, is when I write the next ones, it has come to me that I can no longer write in the first person because you have to be where the narrator and the second person.

23:03 So this is the person that's in the first part. And the title itself, when I read it, I didn't know which way to read it. Is it liberties flight like it's running exactly. Or is it like uplifting? No flight is running liberties. Flight.

23:21 Yes. Parents fear.

23:24 Okay. So, um, the next book is the where and the time period. It started in the mid $1,700,

23:35 47 and it. And so about 17, 55. The next one will start.

23:42 So, so let me just think. 17 50 or the french and indian war. Okay.

23:49 War has just really started. And is he involved in this war? Oh, big time. Big time. So the english are revealing. The english empire collapsed from baton rouge. Go back. French had complete domination that Ohio valley, the french pushed the british all the way back to german flats from us. Swiggle. They push them halfway to albany, out of a, like george. And so he'll get very involved in a lot of local. Well I would say regional activities, you know, and pushing them out and um, he's also, uh, going to get wounded in the next book. He has to go home sometimes and.

24:46 Well there's an epic journey in return. Starting with the deceased were once he returns, he sort of sees things differently. Does this character

24:55 well? They have a family that's growing out about them and it can just, one of those things you just can't ignore and you have another generation coming up and uh, the oldest kid is going to be like an illustrator or sort of the pre news of the, of the day,

25:15 oh my god, you're going to work the honorable profession of journalism into this as well. Well, so just, I mean if he's fighting on the side of the british, he has basically a happy ending then because the french get pushed back,

25:32 pushed out. But there are a lot of nuances in there and we are going to develop several of the actual characters who were friends. Pushay is one. He was just a tremendous commander. He was in charge of the Ohio valley and then he ended up command of fort niagara, which was taken by sir William Johnson, William Johnson. I introduce in this book.

26:01 So you have real historic figures interacting with your fictional.

26:06 I take advantage of that rich tapestry of history and that is your guiding light. That's how you get, you know, from a vignette, a vignette, if you will.

26:18 So how do you work as a writer, like do you have an outline, as you say, from vignette vignette and think of how your characters are going to perform or like what process do you,

26:28 uh, it's dynamic. It's never the same, never the same. Um, essentially what happened was, is I was at a book signing for my and we were all at barnes and noble and we were like shoulder to shoulder and you know, it was really no room to move or anything. And I was standing next to a gentleman named vince and vince who is a regional firm here. I had one the seamus award for best detective novel in 2015. I really likable fella. And um, so I was just popping all kinds of questions and I said, well, how many words do you put? Because it looked like his books weren't all that big and book I was selling was this big and this high and probably

27:21 $200 indicating like a telephone book size. Just so listen to this.

27:25 Yeah, yeah. Uh, he said I shoot for 65,000 words. I'm like, okay. So I dial up all word perfect when I got home and found that my first volume was already 180. So you write on the computer you're writing. I have graduated to it, but I actually started on paper hand longhand, I think best long hand, but I'm getting to the point where I can do it on a computer.

27:54 Yeah. So where, where does your series go? Have you blocked out through history, how far you're going?

28:02 Well, I have aspirations, let's put it that way, but the first three, which now that you're committed, I've got to happen. Liberties, flight. Uh, and then the next one is going to be a french and indian war period. Probably ending with something like the stamp tax, you know, uh, the colonies are going to start heating up. They'll have that. There was a depression then also that is never good for peace. And um, that will be called liberty seedling. Something has been planted in. Is growing. Just started. Yes. Embryonic, right. Followed by liberties crucible and the crucible will be the american revolutionary war and it may be $180,000 because it's going to be big and I sort of, in the back of my mind it says that it is not complete because I'm looking to kind of layout history and an enjoyable, palatable way that people can sort of understand how we translated into what we are today. And I'm seriously thinking,

29:22 have a liberties, um, forged steel instead of crucible or. No? No, no. Civil war civil war. Do you skip over the war of 18 years?

29:36 Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We're got to do. We're going to, we're going to jump, right, right. We're going jump 65 into the future.

29:42 Probably all with the same characters. The same thing.

29:44 Um, well at that point those characters would be pretty awful. Either way you've gone through your generation will definitely be progeny or whatever. And uh, actually I have a family story about that. Let's hear it. My grandmother gordon, was it worth, that's the worst were from nantucket. Paul worth was the first american yankee or weller? W I r t h o r g, h just does it. Sounds okay. And um, he rounded tierra del fuego a streaks, streaks magellan and came back on. We'll ship beaver with $2,100 cash a whale oil from the pacific and he was the first guy to do it. He was also the first yankee to fly the american flag and a foreign port. So the worst we're on the target and that's kind of where they started a ben franklin. His mother was a priscilla fold juror who was a sister to one of my great grandmother's. So to, we're only like 14 families on that damn island. And actually as a kid my mother would say to us when we had done something profusely stupid, this is what you get with 100 years of inbreeding in nantucket.

31:27 So it sounds to me that you are richly informed of history by your family's history. Absolutely. And you're kind of drawing on how important it is to you to create characters that make it come alive. Does that sound pretty much the mission? Yeah. So our time is nearly over. But who should read this book? Who, who should pick this up in and delvin who is it? Who's a good candidate?

31:55 Well, here's the way I look at it was about 330 million people in the United States. If you got to what percent of them that would be 3 million readers a practice and you hope that a historians are going to like it. A school teachers are like, well, old school teacher, I don't know about new ones and I'm a reenactors. Have the people from the heartland, the people whose families, uh, it doesn't matter if first veteran in your family was from the gulf war. People who have skin in the game and people who are keenly interested in, you know, the history. And because as you pointed out earlier, a whole lot, it hasn't really changed since then. I mean, technology has changed in medicine has changed and where you've been on the moon and blah, blah blah. But as far as humans, same stuff, you know, you had your Harry Reid over in the house of commons, if you know what I'm saying. You had a, uh, you know, king george. The second was king george, the second. There's just nobody like him, you know, it's like there's no to donald trump's. There was no king george seconds. He was the last english king who sat in the saddle or the charge. So

33:35 thank you for talking to us with such vivid, vivid stories. I hope they leap off the page the way they come out of your mouth.

33:44 I try to do that. Um, I try to, uh, keep it as unwordy as possible. And as factual, historical facts are pretty much right on the money. And the fictional characters are fictional characters. Well, thank you john. Thank you.



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