Updated: Nov 22, 2020
The following is a blog from the Writing Corner, which we have copied verbatim, reprinted with their permission. The cite to the original blog is as follows:
It Gives You Strength is a title that is attention-grabbing while also tugging on our inner curiosity. Step into the world of the mid-1920s with our Writing Corner Wednesday author, Philip Raymond Brown.
Granville, New York is a place better known for its marble and slate mines. It’s also where author Philip Raymond Brown grew up. Now, that area in New York is the setting for his sci-fi, historical-fiction mashup novel entitled It Gives You Strength. Today, Philip calls Colorado home and he told the blog that writing fiction "has been a dream my entire life."
His book released just this past August is set at the height of prohibition, 1926. An era is known for mobsters, bootleggers, and great historical figures like heavyweight boxing champion Jack Dempsey among others. Brown's reviewers rave about his ability to combine these two genres in a "page-turning way". For example, the Independent Book Review wrote, "...Brown’s prose undoubtedly captures the reader on the page. He makes the 1920s in upstate New York feel as exciting as an old-time thriller, with gun-wielding big shots, intense rivalries, and the perfect wildcard character."
We asked Brown to identify his favorite historical character in It Gives You Strength, and he explained: "Edith Cavell is my favorite protagonists in It Gives You Strength. She was born in England in 1865, trained at the Royal London Hospital, and became a nurse in 1907. Thus, about the same time that the infamous Craig Colony (which is a key setting for the book) was expanding in New York, Cavell began her nursing career."
Cavell's story is just as fascinating as the book Philip places her in. "Even though she was a British citizen, Cavell was working in Belgium when the World War broke out in 1914. Cavell was known to treat patients from both sides of that war. Belgium was neutral at the outset of the war, nevertheless, the Germans invaded in August 1914. During the German occupation of Belgium, Cavell treated soldiers from both sides, including from the resistance movement sheltering British, French, and Belgian fighters. Cavell is credited with assisting over 200 British and French troops to escape German-occupied Belgium during the war. In August 1915, Cavell was arrested by the Germans and charged with treason for her assistance of British soldiers. She was convicted and despite international pressure, shot by a German firing squad on October 12, 1915. She was only 49 years old at the time of her death."
The author also added, "Despite the Germans finding her actions treasonous, Cavell was rightly hailed in Great Britain as a national martyr. The week after her execution, military enlistments in Britain doubled. Posters and political cartoons were published depicting Cavell as a martyr, which she undoubtedly was. Cavell’s life and heroic, tragic death have come to symbolize both the best and worst of humanity."
We asked Brown if Cavell was executed in 1915, how is she also a protagonist in a novel set in 1926. His response: “That’s the magic of historical/science fiction.” Philip also went more into detail about the Craig Colony when we asked what was the most interesting thing he had learned while writing this book.
"I learned how badly people with seizure disorders, commonly referred to as epilepsy, were treated in this country in the early 20th-century. I did not realize it until I was doing historical research for this case. However, “colonies” as they were then called, including the Craig Colony in New York, were developed to essentially warehouse people with seizure disorders to “protect” them from the general population. Indeed the Craig Colony was open, until as recently as 1968, and it appears that its entire purpose was to isolate people with epilepsy from the public. As difficult as it is now to believe, New York State institutionalized or ”warehoused” its citizens with seizure disorders at the Craig Colony from 1894 until it was finally closed in 1968. Men and women who had committed no crime were essentially held like prisoners. They were forbidden from having relationships, falling in love, or marrying. Since they were considered too weak and feeble to hold challenging jobs, from childhood, they were taught vocations like brick making and sewing. The physicians at the Craig Colony even lobbied in New York. Legislature to make marriage and cohabitation with Epileptics illegal under NY state law. Similar colonies were created in Ohio, Texas, and Virginia. In 1926, the United States Supreme Court even allowed the state of Virginia to sterilize a woman who had epilepsy. It was a frightening use of the now-discredited Eugenics movement, and it amazes me that it has largely been left out of our history books. These “colonies” should be considered an infamous stain on American history and always remembered, just as slavery, the treatment of Native Americans, and the internment of Japanese citizens during WWII are now recognized as embarrassments of our great history."
This sci-fi, historical fiction novelist enjoys writing in the local library and credits researching the actual historical events of an era to inspire his writing. "I research the history of the era about which I am writing and then I build characters that fit into interesting events from that era." For example, while researching this book I learned that Jack Dempsey fought an exhibition 35 miles from the setting of the novel on August 15, 1926. So, I made the Dempsey exhibition, an important plot point in the novel and built events in the book around it.
We always put a little bit of ourselves, or sometimes other individuals we know in real life, into our books. Philip Raymond Brown commented that "one of my main characters, Mike Kelly, is a bootlegger who is also an amateur boxer. In fact, at one pivotal point in the novel, Kelly spars with heavyweight boxing champ Jack Dempsey. Kelly is an amalgam of my grandfather, who was a bootlegger and a revered figure in my family, and my father, Raymond Brown, was an amateur boxer."
When we caught up with Philip he was reading Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. If he is not writing Philip told the blog that he enjoys time with his family. "I spend almost all my time with my wife and four children. My wife is an internal medicine doctor and she works at a local hospital. She has been treating COVID-19 patients and, during the lockdown, I have been homeschooling our children. When we were not locked down, and I was not working on my novel, I coached my children in basketball and Little League."
Advice from indie authors to other indie authors considering publication is always welcome. Philip gave this advice to those considering their next steps, "Do it. And retain all rights to your intellectual property."
The best news for readers of It Gives You Strength is there will be a sequel, and Philip said he will have it out in 2021.