Hello everybody! Today I am very happy to welcome Bernie MacKinnon, author of “Lucifer’s Drum” to Coffee and a Keyboard. Thank you so much for being here!
I wrote my first story at age 6, a one-pager about a soldier in combat. But it didn’t really kick in until I was 12 and 13. The emotional waters are especially roiled at that age, and the intellectual imagination is really crackling. Stories—and poems too–were a natural way for me to channel both, I guess. There were a lot of unfinished stories. They tended to be exotic adventure, time travel, space travel—what you might expect for a boy that age. It’s significant to me, though, that my first two published novels “The Meantime” and “Song For A Shadow” (Houghton Mifflin) were young adult. The emotional rawness and vividness of that period still drew me, years later.
I’m originally from Virginia, so I was surrounded by historical Civil War sites. Have you always had an interest in the Civil War or was there something else that inspired you to write, “Lucifer’s Drum?”
I came at the Civil War from the outside, since I am Canadian by birth. Film depictions of the war sparked my interest, but what really got me occurred at that crucial age of 13. For Christmas I got a Civil War board game called “Battle Cry,” which came with an illustrated booklet on the war. In retrospect it was a very able and concise introduction to the subject. It was where I first heard of Jubal Early’s 1864 raid on Washington, D.C., on which “Lucifer’s Drum” hinges. It’s an episode that naturally lends itself to suspense, since it was such a close call for the Union.
What books have influenced your writing or life the most?
No story had a bigger impact than “Flowers For Algernon.” I was 13—that age again–and read it in school. I knew nothing about Daniel Keyes, the author, but when I heard he had died a few months ago I unexpectedly choked up. Edgar Allan Poe also got hold of me back then, and his morbid appeal remains. In high school in Yarmouth, Maine, I had a great teacher named Carol Burdick who fostered my development, introducing me to Hemingway’s stories and Orwell’s essays. Even more important to me—and this is a title you don’t hear much these days—was Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio.” I was awed by how Anderson slipped into the skin of each character—a whole range of them, old and young, rich and poor, male and female, sane and crazy—and made a three-dimensional universe of that town. I wanted to practice that kind of sorcery.
As for books since then: For sheer beauty and insight, “The God Of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy. Also Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto.” For hypnotic narrative majesty, Marquez’s “One Hundred Years Of Solitude” and “Love In The Time Of Cholera.” For psychological shrewdness, Austen’s “Emma.” For historical suspense, the books of Alan Furst and James Ellroy. For Civil War fiction, Howard Bahr’s “The Black Flower” and Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels.” For other U.S. historical fiction, Larry McMurtry’s thousand-page miracle “Lonesome Dove.” For memoir, “Wild Swans” by Jung Chang and “Another Life” by Michael Korda. For short stories, Anton Chekhov (I need to get back to him) and the Louisiana marvel Tim Gautreaux. For contemporary detective fiction, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Walter Mosley and James Lee Burke.
What book(s) are you reading now?
“The Heist” by Daniel Silva and “Home Truths” by Mavis Gallant.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Blending the research with the story and then getting the pacing right. For a story this big and from this many perspectives, that part had to be especially painstaking.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Jot down your ideas and observations and keep them in a safe place. Look at them every so often. Once a pattern is formed and reaches critical mass, a story idea will ignite. Also, only spend your precious months and years working on stories that really grip you.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I work security at a church-affiliated children’s center, where I get to greet day care and kindergarten kids and their parents. And to watch them growing up. I’m usually trying to catch up on reading periodicals, which tend to be my downfall. And watching TV and movies with my wife Loel, who teaches at the University of Memphis. And walking our dog Frankie. And listening to NPR—come to think of it, I owe them a check.
My website experience has been lousy so far, in part because I’m all thumbs when it comes to social media. But I have a tech-savvy friend working on the site and THE FLAWS WILL BE FIXED. Specifically the site is for Pine Badge Press, which is my own imprint. Info on the book is of course available on the Amazon site. See also Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/bernie-mackinnon/lucifers-drum/. I’m in the process of getting on Goodreads—I know, I know, I’m really lagging. And there’s the book’s Facebook fan page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lucifers-Drum/1476392889288199?skip_nax_wizard=true
And of course, last but not least…do you have a favorite brand, flavor, type of coffee?
Café Verona. But really anything dark and potent.