Guest Post: "The Inspiration behind The Cavalier Spy," by S.W. O’Connell
In many ways, The Cavalier Spy should have been an easy book to write. After all, it is the sequel to the first book in the Yankee Doodle Spies series, The Patriot Spy, so many of the characters, themes and settings were in place when I began the book. But ironically, that made the book all the more difficult. Why? Because I wanted The Cavalier Spy to stand on its own. I wanted readers who had not read the first book in the series to enjoyThe Cavalier Spy as much as those who did read The Patriot Spy. I had no idea how hard that would be. And starting out, I had no idea how I would do it. But then I began to write and the story took over, as it often does.
The story has three general settings. I think that helped. In fact, the settings are essential to the building of the tale. This is, after all, a historical novel and I am trying to portray history through fiction. And history is about places, as well as people. The first setting is New York. The second is the area around the Hackensack Valley of New Jersey. The third setting is “western Jersey,” the area along the Delaware River. During the time of the American Revolution New Jersey was often referred to as “the Jerseys.” The Jerseys were east and west Jersey. East Jersey is that part of the state that borders New York and the North (Hudson) River. West Jersey is the portion that borders Philadelphia and the Delaware River.
Since the first setting was the same as that of The Patriot Spy, and as I began to draw out the plot, I used the setting to refer back to events that unfolded in it. I did not plan this. It just came to me as I wrote. An example is when the protagonist, Jeremiah Creed and his men are sent behind British lines he decides to go by the post house in Yorkville. There he “re-recruits” young Thomas Jefferies to the cause. I use those scenes to flash back to how they originally met, and the events that drew them together. As Creed drives deeper into British occupied New York, people he encounters and venues provide opportunities to briefly let the reader in on what happened in book one. Another challenge for the writer is to do this without making things tedious for those who read the first book. The trick is to keep the flashback short. Usually a couple of sentences. The trick is to do this without tying up the story too much and break the flow. As the story progresses to the other two settings, the need and opportunity to do this fades away. Soon the story is standing on its own legs and the reader is caught up on what happened.
Another interesting challenge I faced was telling the tale of how my protagonist arrived in America. In The Patriot Spy I hinted that he was an immigrant. InThe Cavalier Spy, I show it. But how to get there without distracting too much from the main plot, Washington’s desperate attempt to avoid defeat and his use of intelligence to aid those efforts. The idea came to me suddenly. I would have Washington and his fictional “Senior Intelligence Advisor” conduct what is essentially a “subject interview” of Creed. They confront him on his mysterious past and want to “vet” him. He decides to tell all in a “confession” to his commander in chief. Don’t worry. He doesn’t really tell all. Some things have to be saved for future books. But we do get a several chapter flashback out of it. And I had a lot of fun writing it.
By time I got to the Hackensack Valley setting, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I was able to create a fictional village and spin some interesting characters in and out of it. But in doing it, I reveal an interesting and little noted fact about the American war for Independence. It was a complex struggle and a local one. New Jersey raised some impressive Loyalist troops for the King and one of those regiments plays a role. The Hackensack Valley had a significant Dutch populace. After all, East Jersey was part of the Dutch colony (along with New York) of New Amsterdam. This provided me some rich characters to develop. It is in this setting that I bring the strange case of “Mister X” into the story. Weaving a controversial historic figure into the plot was intriguing to me, the writer. I hope it is for the reader as well.
The last setting is West Jersey. This is the iconic “times that try men’s souls.” The new nation’s hopes are all but dashed. Washington escapes the British but is now ignominiously holed up on the far bank of the Delaware River and his army has evaporated. To have any hope of saving his army and the cause, Washington must send Jeremiah Creed back into the bosom of the enemy. A key ingredient, almost a character, in this setting is, believe it or not, Mother Nature. A cold winter is gripping the Delaware Valley and it has a role in everything. The characters (and their horses) are affected. The Continental Army is affected. And most importantly, the British Army is affected. The despair that unfolds in the first two settings culminates in desperation. And this desperation sets in on both the fictional and historical characters. Washington is desperate to save his Army and the Revolution. Creed is desperate to do his duty. And the British are desperate not to lose what they have achieved. But desperation breeds valor and resourcefulness. But it can also breed mistakes. And ultimately, the fortunes of men and of nations, can turn on mistakes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
S.W. O’Connell is the author of the Yankee Doodle Spies series of action and espionage novels set during the American Revolutionary War. The author is a retired Army officer with over twenty years of experience in a variety of intelligence-related assignments around the world. He is long time student of history and lover of the historical novel genre. So it was no surprise that he turned to that genre when he decided to write back in 2009. He lives in Virginia.
1776: His army clinging to New York by a thread, a desperate General George Washington sends Lieutenant Jeremiah Creed behind British lines once more. But even the audacity of Creed and his band of spies cannot stop the British juggernaut from driving the Americans from New York, and chasing them across New Jersey in a blitzkrieg fashion. Realizing the imminent loss of one of the new nation’s most important states to the enemy, Washington sends Creed into the war-torn Hackensack Valley. His mission: recruit and train a gang of rogues to work behind British lines.
However, his mission takes a strange twist when the British high command plots to kidnap a senior American officer and a mysterious young woman comes between Creed and his plans. The British drive Washington’s army across the Delaware. The new nation faces its darkest moment. But Washington plans a surprise return led by young Creed, who must strike into hostile land so that Washington can rally his army for an audacious gamble that could win, or lose, the war.
“More than a great spy story… it is about leadership and courage in the face of adversity…The Cavalier Spy is the story of America’s first army and the few… those officers and soldiers who gave their all to a cause that was seemingly lost…”
~ Les Brownlee, former Acting Secretary of the Army and retired Army Colonel
“Secret meetings, skirmishes and scorching battles… The Cavalier Spy takes the reader through America’s darkest times and greatest triumphs thanks to its powerful array of fictional and historical characters… this book shows that courage, leadership and audacity are the key elements in war…”
~ F. William Smullen, Director of National Security Studies at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School and Author of Ways and Means for Managing UP