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William F. "Bill" Kaiser

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IT IS WITH GREAT SADNESS THAT WE REPORT THAT MR. KAISER PASSED AWAY FRIDAY, JULY 4, 2014. MR. KAISER APPRECIATED ALL HIS FANS AND WOULD THANK YOU ALL FOR ENJOYING HIS BOOKS.

Welcome to the Appalachian world during the Civil War, also known as the War Between the States. William F. "Bill" Kaiser brings to life the strife within families, the struggle for food, the newfound relationship between a transplanted Yankee and a poor mountain man.

BLOODROOT carried me through snake bite, recovery, family sorrow and redemption in the Applachian mountains in the time of the Civil War. It is an intimate story of the resourcefullness of people during time of stress.  Maggie Bishop, mystery author

WILLIAM F. "BILL" KAISER
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photo by Douglas Stephen Kaiser

Bill was recently interviewed by Maggie Bishop for the High Country Writers' Journal. Click below to read the entire interview.

Click here to read the interview


NEWS

BILL SPEAKS BEFORE HIGH COUNTRY WRITERS

On Thursday, February 24, Bill spoke before the High Country Writers group at their meeting at the Watauga County Library on Queen Street. Following is the transcript of his presentation:
 

 

                HOW TO WRITE HISTORICAL FICTION

                     By William F, Kaiser

 

 

     I'm here as a writer who has a 60 plus year career as a non-fiction journalist. I have written just one historical fiction novel, "Bloodroot." I'm not a speech maker. I've written my presentation to you and hope I don't bore you too much as I read it to you.

 

To orient you about how come I am here to tell you about writing Historical Fiction I need to tell you a bit about myself.

 

I was born in Newark, New Jersey, and lived the first 18 years of my life in the suburb of Irvington, New Jersey. Irvington was where immigrants who struggled to rise to middle-class Americans moved into. Most of my school mates were first generation Americans. Their parents came to this country from Germany and Poland, Italy and England, Ireland, Holland and Russia. They were Jews, Catholics, Protestants and what have you. My parents came to this country in the early 1920s from Germany. My mother was a cook and waitress. My father was a musician and an insurance salesman.

 

The neighborhood in which I was raised was run by Mothers. We kids were raised by all the mothers. We ate in each others kitchens. My two best friends were Jewish and Polish. 


My mother was my guiding light and stern disciplinarian. She pounded on me to do my school work. She insisted I would become a professional man - a doctor, lawyer or engineer. She taught me to cook, do laundry, sew buttons, work hard and save money. When my sister came along I was nine-years-old. I learned how to take care of a baby.

 

My father tried to make a musician out of me. He tried to teach me to play the piano and violin. I was a roughneck; I broke both of them. He was also a voracious reader. One wall of our dining room was a floor to ceiling, door to door bookcase packed with books in German and English. I became a voracious reader. By the time I was 12 I was reading adult books - Balzac's "Droll Stories" and Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover."

 

I did well in school. My best subjects were history, geography, literature and art. I was athletic - I played football and was on the Track and Field team throwing the discus, shot put and lance.

 

Upon graduation from Irvington High School I was accepted to the University of Wisconsin. I began as a major in Civil Engineering and played freshman foot ball.

 

At age 18 Uncle Sam invited me to join the U.S. Army. For the first time in my life I went south to the heart of the south for basic training in Anniston, Alabama. I did well and was assigned to serve in the Military Police at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. For much of my MP service I directed traffic at a main intersection on campus. Often I worked a midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift at the remote north gate. No traffic - an occasional bear would sniff at the door of the gate house. I read - sometimes three books a night - mostly detective and mystery paper backs. 

 


When I received notice of acceptance back to the University of Wisconsin the Army granted me a discharge. I was back at UW in 1946.

 

I knew then I was not cut out to be an engineer. I switched to the School of Journalism. I earned my BA degree in Journalism with a minor in Advertising in June 1949. I told my mother - she attended my graduation - that someday I would write the great American novel.

 

During my senior year at UW I worked nights for the Wisconsin State Journal. I learned how to attend a School Board meeting, take notes, type up a news story and turn it into the city desk.  Then I'd see my story in print pretty much as I'd written it.

 

Returning to New Jersey after graduation I immediately got a job as a beat reporter for the Newark, NJ, Evening News.

 

For the next 60 years I wrote non-fiction. I wrote for newspapers, magazines, radio, television. I wrote publicity releases and product advertisements. I got pretty good at it and worked for several major corporations and associations. I traveled throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico; Europe and Asia. My specialty was writing about people involved in events - I wrote about kings and queens, presidents and corporate leaders, scientists, pilots, astronauts and a murderer about to be executed. I learned their backgrounds, mannerisms, likes and dislikes, how they got to be in the news event I was covering.

 

In a way I was writing historical non-fiction. To understand the background to events I read a lot of historical non-fiction biographies. Which brought me to reading a lot of best-selling historical fiction novels. I gobbled up James Michener and Gore Vidal. I was inspired by Michael Shaara. John Jakes is my guiding light. His Kent Family Chronicles are my bible.

 

One evening some 25 years ago I met James Michener at an awards banquet. He'd recently published "Texas" which had shot to the top of the best seller list although literary critics snubbed it. I had the opportunity for a one on one discussion about historical fiction. What I learned from him was the best of historical fiction is character driven. Secondly, don't screw up the historical facts.

 

In the years leading to my arrival here in North Carolina I had the experience of managing three weekly newspapers and owning and operating a monthly travel magazine. For several years I was the executive secretary of the Aviation & Space Writers Association. I had a short hitch as business manager of a graphic arts company and served briefly as president of the fledgling Shipboard Satellite Network.

 

I came to this region of the North Carolina in 1993 - some 18 years ago - how and why is a personal history story I've written about - some of you may remember reading the manuscript - I became involved with the short-lived Northwest Journal where I met schuyler kaufman - that's another story. My wife and I settled in the Powder Horn Mountain community in the Triplett region of Deep Gap. In 1995 I got involved in writing a weekly Triplett Community news column for the Watauga Democrat - how and why that happened is another story.

 

In December 1994 my wife Joyce died. As some of you know losing a long-time mate leaves a big hole in your life. After remembrance gatherings at the Powder Horn Mountain clubhouse followed by another in our church in Chester, New Jersey, I had to reorganize my life. I reverted to what I knew best - writing.

 

One day in 1997 schuyler phoned me to tell me I had to join a newly organized association of writers - the High Country Romance Writers. I did. At that time there were 13 women members and me. I met Maggie Bishop, Judy Geary, Lila Hopkins, Dottie Isbell, Jane Wilson. I didn't write romance. Most of the members did not write romance. So in 1998 the name of the group was changed to High Country Writers - as you know it now.

 

Over the years of writing non-fiction I'd made many attempts at writing a novel - failed attempts. I have a big box of a dozen or so incomplete manuscripts. I could not get a handle on a story line that inspired me to go on.

 

At High Country Writer meetings we heard from published authors the advice - "write what you know." I know some things about a lot of things. One thing I knew a lot about was the American Civil War. The history of that war intrigued me. I had read and collected over one hundred books about the Civil War - mostly non-fiction; some historic fiction such as Shaara's "Killer Angels" and Joyce's trilogy "North and South."        

 

When I came to these North Carolina mountains I wanted to find out all about where I lived. I joined the Watauga County Library where I found John Preston Arthur's "A History of Watauga County North Carolina." I devoured it. When I read chapter 12 "War Times and Afterward" I found my muse - Bloody Madison, Keith and Matilda Blalock, Col. George W. Kirk, Camp Mast, The Battle on the Beech, Stoneman's Raid.

 

I began evolving fictional characters based on real people.


I remembered Michener's advice - make your story character driven.

 

In my mind I had a main character - a mountain man - William John Truehill - Billy Jack. Then I borrowed the idea from Jakes' "North and South" about a southern man married to a Yankee woman - I gave her the name of Elvira May Heath.

 

I began putting sentences on paper. I visualized a scene as a movie in my mind and reported what I saw. I realized I needed to know more about how the people in these mountains lived, talked, thought, dressed and much, much more.

 

I also realized that writing a fiction story was somewhat different from writing a news report.

 

Members of High Country Writers showed me the way.  

 

Good historical research is vital to a good story plot and believable characters. Just how much research and how much of it you use depends on the historical time of your story. Michener uses scores of research assistants for each of his historic novels. His stories are packed with historical accurate details.

 

For research - I had me. I knew a lot about the big picture of the Civil War. I had to dig out the details about what happened here, the events, the people, the mountain society. I had to dig out the details from what little has been written about life in these mountains. Arthur's "History of Watauga County" was just the beginning. I found inspiration and characters in Trotter's "Bushwhackers." Also Kephart's "Our Southern Highlanders." I read dozens of other historic books that provided bits and pieces of details.

 


I was fortunate in meeting folks in Triplett who's lineage went back over a hundred years in these mountains. I listened to family stories handed down from generation to generation. I read letters written over a hundred and fifty years ago.

 

Along the way I came across "How to Write and Sell Historical Fiction" by Woolley. I recommend it to any writer contemplating writing a historical fiction novel.

 

The author goes into how much fact, how much fiction; tips for writing a novel that establishes your era; finding the voice, pace, point of view, the story arc.

 

The book "Everyday Life in the 1800s" was a valuable source of words and phrases and information I used throughout my novel.

 

Dialog is a vital way to establish your characters in your era. Dialog should be used to move the story. I use a lot of dialog - contrary to some literate critic advice. Peggy Poe Stern's "Mountain Talk" and Paul Fink's "Bits of Mountain Speech"gave me authentic dialog.

 

For some of you the Internet may be your choice for your research. Not for me. There were times I had my Internet guru - my son Doug - look up a historical entry. Be careful, I learned, there is a lot of misinformation people throw onto the Internet.

 

Words - proper words for an era. My era in "Bloodroot" is the mid-1860s. What word should I use for the vehicle in which Elvira May arrives at my fictional town of Somerset: buckboard? carriage? shay? buggy? I relied on The Oxford Universal Dictionary." It gives the date the word was first used in print.


I have a 1955 edition. It does not list "buckboard." "Carriage, shay, and buggy" were in use in the 1700s. I hunted through several of my Civil War books and found the word "buggy" was used by the U.S. Army for a light, two passenger, vehicle used by officers in the mid-1860s. Perfect for my story.

 

Be very careful of words you use. In thumbing through "How to Write and Sell Historic Fiction" I read the section on "Anachronisms." The author described using the word "okay" in one of her Shakespeare era novels. An English teacher wrote a blistering letter - "okay" is a modern, slang term."

 

Oops, I too had used "okay' in a conversation between two Yankee soldiers. I changed it to "all right."

 

Another caveat - do not mess with history. What happened, happened. There are a lot of people out there who will skewer you if you get the history information inaccurate. I had to be particularly careful. It is said there are millions of Civil War buffs out there. Many of them I know are readers of "Bloodroot."

If I'd screwed up a war sequence or date I'd get buried in e-mails and letters.

 


Even when you are right you may be judged wrong in the opinion of some reader. In "Bloodroot" I mentioned the U.S. Army won the battle at Shiloh in 1862. One reader jumped on me - "The Confederate Army won at Shiloh." True, Confederate General Beauregard, after the second day of battle in which his army pushed back the Union Army, sent a wire to Confederate President Davis announcing "A complete victory." But he lost 27 percent of his troops in the effort. The next day, as the Union Army, bolstered by an additional 20,000 troops, began an assault, the Confederate army withdrew to Corinth, Alabama. The Union Army held Shiloh and began the assault to drive the Confederate Army out of Corinth. Beauregard became the object of ridicule in the South as the result of his victory claim.

 

So who won at Shiloh, I ask. You can't change history. Especially when it is written by the winner.

 

Michener advised me that the best historic fiction is character-driven. Therefore I carefully based my fictional characters - major and minor - on real people I have researched.

 

In "Bloodroot" an important character is the location - the Northwest mountains of North Carolina. The geography and history of that "character" shapes the events and is part of all the other characters.

 

As with all my characters and events I researched the story of these mountains. I studied the geological history and how the geography of the mountains shaped the lives of the people.

 

To get an understanding of the mountains I hiked many of the  mountain trails and old roads I describe in "Bloodroot." I crawled through a rhododendron hell to a cave. I visited the Linville cave where army deserters where said to have holed up. I spent two days at a Civil War re-enactment where I handled Civil War rifles, pistols and swords. I watched the loading and discharge of a Civil War field howitzer. I handled a Spenser carbine. All of it went into my story.  

 

Fortunately, it didn't cost me anything but time.

 

However, if your historical setting isn't where you live you may want to travel to the site to get a feel for it. Woolley writes in her how-to book about her research in England for one of her Elizabethan-era historic novels.

 

She made it a business trip, kept detail records of all expenses connected with her research and was able use it as a tax write-off. The caveat there is you actually have to report an income as a result.

 

Judy Geary can tell you all about her trip to Italy to research her historic novel "Getorix."

 

Sooner or later or even as you do your research you have got to get down to the writing of your story. How you do that is your personal system.

 

My approach as a result of my background was to do it as a reporter. I pictured a scene - a conflict involving my main characters - as a movie in my mind. I had seen an illustration in "Sports Afield" magazine of a rattlesnake striking at a hunter.

 

I pictured my hero Billy Jack hiking along a mountain trail. He is struck by a huge rattlesnake. How huge is huge? The few rattlesnakes I've come across in these mountains are two to three feet long. I did some research in books about rattlesnakes. I learned that in earlier days - the 1700s and 1800s - the Eastern Rattlers in these mountains were measured up to five feet. I chose one of four feet for my story. While at it I studied the effects on a human being of a rattlesnake strike. I wrote the scene.

 

The key to the scene, my scene, your scene, is to put your protagonist into a difficult situation. Then the hook - what happens next? Does he, or she, die or survive? Is he/she saved? How?

 

Write another scene - action, conflict, end with a hook - what happens next. Show your characters desires, doubts, fears.  Use dialogue only when it tells your character's emotions and moves the action.

 

Your story must have an arc - that's a-r-c not a-r-k - unless you are writing about Noah. Have an idea of what is going to happen to your protagonist within the arc of the history of the time and place you have chosen

 

A story arc -  a-r-c - has a beginning - a looming difficulty, a problem met, dealt with, leading to another problem, ultimately leading to the big crisis. Your protagonist succeeds; your antagonist fails. A really gripping story has a memorable antagonist or several antagonists. 

 

Whose story is it - who's point of view. In "Bloodroot" I took a reporter's point of view - the omniscient point of view - the fly on the wall. But omniscient has its limits. You can't stand outside and see what is going on in a character's mind. To be able to give texture to my main characters I followed in James Joyce's footsteps. I stepped into my character's mind in clearly indicated paragraphs and wrote first person.

 

The question that arises in writing historical fiction is "how much" fact "how much" fiction. That is up to the author but you can't change history. Your events have to fit with the times or it is not historical fiction.

 

But it is fiction not text book history. Your story is about characters. They are acting on a stage that is a time and place in history.

 

John Jakes' historical American series "The Kent Family Chronicles" were hugely popular. The first three of the series were all on the same the New York Times best seller list. In comments at the end of volume seven "The Lawless" Jakes says his greatest pleasure was letters from readers who reported they had been motivated to seek out some good nonfiction in order to read about American history in greater detail.

 

One final comment about writing fiction - historical or any genre of fiction. As I studied the principles of fiction writing vs. non-fiction reporting I was told by many successful novel authors that if you are doing it well your characters will take over the story.

 

I didn't believe it. I was in control.

 

On the third re-write of the first 100 pages of "Bloodroot" Billy Jack and Elvira May took control and told me who they were and what they would do and not do. 

 

I get great pleasure when a reader asks me if Billy Jack and Elvira May are real.

 

I hope I've given you all something to think about.

 

Thank you.

 

                           -- 30 --

 

BILL WINS HIGH COUNTRY WRITERS BOOK AWARD

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Bill receives his HCW Award for Historical Fiction from Nora Percival.

In a ceremony held at the Watauga County Library on Queen Street in Boone, NC, on May 22, 2008, Bill Kaiser received a 2007 High Country Writers Book Award for Historical Fiction for his novel BLOODROOT.

"Thank You," he said as he accepted his plaque.

"A Year Ago at this High Country Writers Book Awards Program Bart and Peggy surprised me with the first copy of - My oh so long in the works novel - Bloodroot.

"After umpteen years of diddling with it Peggy demanded I turn over to her the text and design for the covers. She and David printed the first edition!

"Since then it has gone through several editings and proofings by Peggy and Doug, corrections by Nora and re-printing by Catawba Publishing in Charlotte.

"It has been a labor of frustration and accomplishment. High Country Writer members have been my guiding light, prodding and nagging me. You all have a share in this Book Award.

"I share this Award with Maggie Bishop for founding HCW; first known as High Country Romance Writers. I share this Award with Schuyler Kaufman for making me join HCRW. When I joined, the organization consisted of 13 women. I fell in love with them all.

"I guess my joining was one of the reasons the designation 'Romance' was dropped from the name.

"An especial share of this Award belongs to my son Doug who designed this eye-catching cover.

"Thank you all."

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Bill and Maggie Bishop (author of Murder at Blue Falls and Perfect for Framing) "tag-teamed" a signing at the Todd General Store on Sunday, August 17.  Both reported good sales; so they plan on doing again in the fall. For more information about the Todd General Store, go to http://www.toddgeneralstore.com (l to r: Bill, store owner Bob Mann, and Maggie)

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Bill poses with ArtWalk owners Richie and Leigh Jacobs while selling BLOODROOT at their store.

 William F. (Bill) Kaiser will be discussing Civil War and Post-Civil War events in the North Carolina Mountains and autographing his historic novels "BLOODROOT" AHELLEBORE@ on the following dates at the following sites: 

JUNE 2012

SAT 16 - TODD GENERAL STORE

         3866 Todd Railroad Grade Road, Todd, NC

         11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

 

SUN 24 - MOUNTAIN GROUNDS COFFEE & TEA SHOP

    154 Highway 105, Banner Elk, NC

    10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

 

SAT 30 - BANNER ELK INDEPENDENCE WEEKEND

    Banner Elk Elementary School

    9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

 

JULY 2012

 

SUN  1 - BANNER ELK INDEPENDENCE WEEKEND

    Banner Elk Elementary School

    9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

 

MON  2 - BANNER ELK JULY 4TH CELEBRATION

    Banner Elk Elementary School

    9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

   

TUE  3 - BANNER ELK JULY 4TH CELEBRATION

    Banner Elk Elementary School

    9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

 

SAT  7 - CRAFTS ON GREEN

    Newland Town Square

    9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

 

SAT 14 - MOUNTAIN GROUNDS COFFEE & TEA SHOP

    154 Highway 105, Banner Elk, NC

    10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

 

SAT 21 - TODD GENERAL STORE

         3866 Todd Railroad Grade Road, Todd, NC

         11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

 


SAT 28 - VALLE CRUCIS AWARD SHOW

    Banner Elk elementary School

    9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

 

SUN 29 - VALLE CRUCIS AWARD SHOW

    Banner Elk elementary School

    9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

                    

AUGUST 2012

 

SAT  4 - FRED'S CRAFTS ON THE GREEN

         501 Beech Mountain Pkwy, Beech Mountain, NC

    10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

 

SAT 18 - TODD GENERAL STORE

         3866 Todd Railroad Grade Road, Todd, NC

         11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

 

SAT 25 - MOUNTAIN GROUNDS COFFEE & TEA SHOP

    154 Highway 105, Banner Elk, NC

    10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

 

SEPTEMBER 2012

 

SAT  1 - LABOR DAY AWARD SHOW

    Banner Elk elementary School

    9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

              

SUN  2 - LABOR DAY AWARD SHOW

    Banner Elk elementary School

    9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

        

SAT 15 - TODD GENERAL STORE

         3866 Todd Railroad Grade Road, Todd, NC

         11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

 

SUN 23 - MOUNTAIN GROUNDS COFFEE & TEA SHOP

    154 Highway 105, Banner Elk, NC

    10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

 

OCTOBER 2012

 

SAT  6 - MOUNTAIN GROUNDS COFFEE & TEA SHOP

    154 Highway 105, Banner Elk, NC

    10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

 


SAT 13 - OKTOBERFEST ON SUGAR MOUNTAIN

    1009 Sugar Mountain Dr., Banner Elk, NC

         10:00a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

 

SUN 14 - OKTOBERFEST ON SUGAR MOUNTAIN

    1009 Sugar Mountain Dr., Banner Elk, NC

         10:00a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

          

SAT 20 - VALLE CRUCIS COUNTRY FAIR

    Valle Crucis, NC

    10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

 

SAT 27 - TODD GENERAL STORE

         3866 Todd Railroad Grade Road, Todd, NC

         11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

 

NOVEMBER 2012

 

SAT  3 - MOUNTAIN GROUNDS COFFEE & TEA SHOP

    154 Highway 105, Banner Elk, NC

    10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

 

SUN 18 - MOUNTAIN GROUNDS COFFEE & TEA SHOP

    154 Highway 105, Banner Elk, NC

    10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

 

SAT 24 - TODD GENERAL STORE

         3866 Todd Railroad Grade Road, Todd, NC

         11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

 

DECEMBER 2012

 

SAT  1 - MOUNTAIN GROUNDS COFFEE & TEA SHOP

    154 Highway 105, Banner Elk, NC

    10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

 

SUN 16 - MOUNTAIN GROUNDS COFFEE & TEA SHOP

    154 Highway 105, Banner Elk, NC

    10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

More about BLOODROOT, the novel

William F. "Bill" Kaiser * North Carolina Writer