13 Questions with Joan Lesley Hamilton, writer behind the pseudonym William Sarabande and author of the internationally best selling eleven volume historical fiction series, The First Americans.
It's a great honor for me to be able to interact and communicate with Joan at this time. The First Americans is such an acclaimed series of books, well known for its accuracy to prehistoric times, and loved by its readers. The First Americans tells the story of first peoples coming to America in a bold move for survival. It's an amazing series of adventure in ancient times.
Joan is a historical novelist, and is now giving us insights into some of her thoughts and ideas.
1. How did you get started writing?
A science teacher read an essay I’d written on geology and told me that I had a talent for “painting” images of the natural world and conveying my emotions about it with words; although I was majoring in Art, she encouraged me to rethink my major and take a class in Creative Writing. I did. And loved it!
2. Where did the character names come from in your "First Americans" series?
Finding the names was a challenge. The time frame of the first four novels placed my characters in a prehistoric world that predated any known language, and yet I wanted my readers to sense a connection with the roots of specific ancestral cultures that would later evolve in the areas I was describing. Having grown up in a theater family, I did a lot of role playing and sounding out vowel and consonant combinations until names eventually fell in place and sounded right to me. In later volumes, those dealing with Clovis and ancient Maritime traditions, many of the names were drawn from native American mythology which, I strongly believe, to be an oral tradition soundly and largely based on historical fact.
3. What initially drew you to this prehistoric time period?
Life is strange. Maybe it does flow in circles? When I finished WOLVES OF THE DAWN, a novel of ancient Celtic Britain, my publisher was so taken with the book that he told me he’d love to see me set my hand to developing a new novel on one of HIS favorite topics: the coming of early Man to Ice Age Alaska. I was stunned. This was a book concept I’d had simmering on a “back burner” for years and hadn’t shared with anyone, and he had no idea that my great great grandfather was the first unofficial governor of the Territory of Alaska . . . or that, when I was a kid growing up in LA, one of my favorite places was a stretch of lake and parkland on Wilshire Boulevard smack dab in the middle of the city - the La Brea Tar Pits. It was - and is - one of the largest Ice Age excavation sites in the world! And I loved it! There are life-size statues of mammoths and other Ice Age megafauna all around. It was my favorite place to do my homework. As I said: life is strange and surely does seem to have brought me full circle. The creatures in the Ice Age world of my First Americans seem like old friends to me. Bringing them to life in the imaginations of my readers has been a joy - and a privilege.
4. You've obviously done your research for your novels. Where do you find your best information? Any great resources you would recommend?
Museums. University libraries. And, of course, the Internet is a great asset. Many of my sources are referenced in my novels. Monographs of Nineteenth Century explorers are a treasure trove as are sources too often overlooked by Academia - elders in small country towns or on “the Res” who are versed in the stories and life ways of their own elders. Also, when I have questions that reading and leg work can’t put to rest, I’ll write or call a source directly: Dr. J. M. Adovasio, executive director of the Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute could not have been more gracious when it came to fielding my many queries about the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania; Dr. Richard Michael Gramly, curator of the Great Lakes Artifact Repository Buffalo, New York, and Clovis Project director at the Richey Clovis Cache in Wenatchee, Washington even went so far as to send me what seemed his entire library of rare books on the Maritimes when I was blocking “Time Beyond Beginning” and “Spirit Moon”.
5. When you are outside in nature, do you feel stories coming to you? What inspires you to write these?
Yes. It’s really impossible to say just where inspiration comes from, save to say that I am immensely grateful for it and often deeply moved.
6. Is writer’s block something that you’ve come across yourself? If so, how did you get out of it?
Oh yeah! When on deadline I simply have to sit down and write and write and rewrite until I’ve worked through the dead zone.
7. Do you collect anything?
No. Not really. But “things” come to me from my readers, so my home has become a repository of some truly wonderful treasures.
8. It’s interesting to see how current research with DNA and new archaeological evidence changes what we know about the past. Is there any evidence that surprised you when you first discovered it?
Not yet! And I’ll be thrilled when it does! But I must admit that I have been surprised and delighted - and oh-so-relieved! - when my wild guesses have been proved right.
9. What museums have you visited or artifacts have you seen which featured Stone Age relics?
Too many to name! Recently, the First Nations Museum in Prince Rupert, Canada, had me literally on my knees with awe!
10. Who are your favorite authors, and do you read other historical fiction?
Loren Eisely. Gary Holstun Lopez. Carl Sagan. Thomas Cahill. John Steinbeck’s “To A God Unknown” is my favorite novel. And a good murder mystery is always a welcome diversion. I stay away from historical fiction.
11. When you aren’t writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Spend time with my two great kids. Invite friends over. Catch up on movies I’ve missed. Cut loose and drive up Coast Highway 1 here in California, no schedule, enjoying whatever comes, especially the sight of whales and orcas close to shore this year. Since I live in a four season mountain resort, in winter I’ll x-country ski a bit right out my back door when snow conditions allow. And now and then, I’ll do a little theater if the right part comes along.
12. Is there somewhere you would like to travel that you haven’t been to yet?
Too many places to name!
13. Finally, I read the exciting news where you mentioned you may be working on a novel set in the more distant past. Can you give us any more clues on this?
Not at this time. But I am jazzed about it. And hope my readers will be, too!
I can't wait to see what Joan's new book is all about! She is creative beyond belief. You can follow her on Facebook so that you can keep up with information regarding her new book and other updates! - Bryan Sloan, Black Forest Studio
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