Smolens Named Peter White Scholar
John Smolens’ (English) sixth novel, The Anarchist, was published in December and the author is already at work on another piece of historical fiction. As the 2010-11 Peter White Scholar at NMU, he has received a $17,500 award to assist with his latest literary effort.
The Schoolmaster’s Daughter is the working title of Smolens’ next book, which is based in and around his hometown of Boston. The story is framed by the battles of Lexington and Concord—the first military action of the American Revolution—and the battle of Bunker Hill. It revolves around members of the real-life Lovell family.
“Not all colonists were opposed to British rule and this family represents the division in loyalties that sometimes existed,” said Smolens. “The parents were loyal to the British crown and friendly with a British general. Their oldest son, James, ran an elaborate spy system for the Americans that featured coded letters revealing troop strength and strategies. Their daughter, Abigail, assisted her brother in various acts of espionage. She is the main character.”
Smolens has been reading the history of his native New England for several years, always with an eye for incredible stories that may be treated as footnotes in some accounts, but warrant further exploration for a possible fictional treatment. Paul Revere’s wife, Rachel—known by relatively few—is good friends with Abigail in The Schoolmaster’s Daughter. The story is told mainly from the perspective of Abigail, who plays a pivotal role in distracting a British officer before the fighting on Bunker Hill.
“The Americans were tipped off about the British plans so they fortified the hill overnight by building a mud fort barrier,” Smolens said. “Abigail has relations with a British artillery commander on the eve of the battle, successfully distracting him while her brother breaks into the cannon storage and puts the wrong gauge balls in the cases.
“The next morning, the Americans are a rag-tag fit greatly outnumbered, but the British cannons didn’t work. The Americans mowed them down in the first and second assault. By the third time, the British changed tactics and overran the American fort. It was considered a draw, but it was a remarkable moral victory that the Americans were able to hold them off most of the day.”
Smolens will use the Peter White Scholar award to reduce his teaching load this coming academic year and defray some travel costs associated with conducting research in and around Boston. He hopes to finish the book by fall 2011. Smolens learned last week he has been selected to receive the $1,000 Michigan Author's Award, which is given annually by the Michigan Library Association. He will be honored at a November luncheon in Traverse City.