Most authors carve out a niche for themselves in a particular genre. However, Dave Richards, author of Swords in Their Hands: George Washington and the Newburgh Conspiracy, has chosen a slightly different path for his writing. His work in progress is about the court martial of baseball icon Jackie Robinson. He believes his writing career is best served through diversity of subject matter.
Dave and I have known each other casually for a couple of years, having met in a writer’s group we both belong to. His background includes serving seven years in the U.S. Army, primarily in military intelligence. While in that field, he received more than two years of Russian language instruction and specialized training for an assignment in West Berlin as a transcriber of Soviet military communications. He has a BA in Russian language and literature and an MA in Slavic and East European languages and literatures, respectively. Upon completing his studies he joined the faculty of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, where he taught Russian to members of the armed forces. When the Cold War came to an end he earned certification to teach English as a Foreign Language to adults and taught in Korea and Japan for twelve years.
JOE: Welcome to my blog, Dave.
DAVE: Thank you, Joe. I’ve been looking forward to this interview.
JOE: To say you’ve got an interesting background would be an understatement. I’ve always been curious about your choice of subject matter. Your first book is about George Washington, and your work in progress is about Jackie Robinson. How did you choose two such totally unrelated subjects?
DAVE: I think the best way to establish a following is to choose important subjects that don’t get enough attention from authors. The subjects really don’t need to be related to each other, I think, and many historians do jump around from one area to another; not all of them want to be specialists.
JOE: Do you have a favorite historian?
DAVE: One of them is David McCullough. He writes about all sorts of subjects. For example, his very first book was about the Johnstown Flood, but none of his other books have dealt with natural disasters. He has written about the construction of the Suez Canal, Harry Truman, the Revolutionary War, France’s influence on early America and men like Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood battles with asthma, and the Wright Brothers. That is a very diverse list of subjects.
JOE: I would certainly agree. So, Dave, why do you think it’s better to be diverse?
DAVE: Well, I think an author is better off if he writes about a variety of subjects; he learns more, and he can approach each project with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. Another thing that probably will always lead me to select subjects that are not related to each other is my desire to be the first person to devote a whole book to a subject when I write about it. If I limited myself to just the Revolutionary War, I might not find many subjects deserving full-book treatment that authors have missed
JOE: Exactly how did you choose to write about Washington?
DAVE: In the case of the Newburgh Conspiracy, I became interested in it after reading a one-paragraph description of the plot and the general’s successful effort to snuff it out in a book about the writing of the Constitution. The conspiracy, I thought, could have led to a military coup. And it certainly was one of the most important events in the Revolutionary War. So I wanted to know more about the event. But as I searched for information about it, I gradually realized that nobody had ever devoted a whole book to that subject. Soon thereafter, I decided that I would write the first book devoted solely to that plot and began doing the necessary research.
JOE: Okay, so now we come to Jackie Robinson, whom I actually met when I was a ten-year-old boy, living in Brooklyn. What piqued your interest in him—and specifically about his court martial?
DAVE: Well, many things factored into my decision to write a book on Jackie Robinson’s court-martial. I thought it was an important event, and I did want to become the first author to devote an entire book to the subject. But if I were not a big baseball fan, and if I had not served in the Army, perhaps I would not have had much of an interest in his trial. Also, I must say that the court-martial of Jackie Robinson has interested me ever since I saw an HBO movie on that subject more than twenty years ago.
JOE: Well, I must admit that I would love to read your book on Jackie. So, I see that the book about Washington is replete with footnotes and annotations. It must have been quite a project. How much time did you spend gathering all the information necessary for such a book?
DAVE: I spent about eight years working on the book about Washington and the Newburgh Conspiracy. I did take breaks during that time, but even if I had not done so, I probably would not have been able to finish my work in less than five or six years. I cannot say exactly how many years were devoted solely to research, since I bounced back and forth from doing research to writing the story, but my guess is that the research part of the project alone would have taken between three and four years.
JOE: Is there any one particular aspect of your research that surprised you?
DAVE: Yes. It was the amount of research that could be done at or through my local library, the Henderson County Library. There I often reserved a computer and used the internet to access key documents and journals from the Revolutionary War era, and digitized books that were first published in the 18th and 19th centuries. Among the items I accessed online were the notes James Madison took during the debates in Congress; letters to and from George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Robert Morris, and Gouverneur Morris; and the Journals of the Continental Congress. Also, the library’s great inter-library, loan request service enabled me to obtain rare works from the collections of college and university libraries throughout the United States.
JOE: That’s some pretty helpful information. Is there any chance that Swords in Their Hands might find its way onto the silver screen? It sounds like it’s tailor-made for a mini series.
DAVE: That is a real possibility. In June 2015 my publisher sent me an email to inform me that a literary management and film production company in L.A. had a client interested in knowing about the film rights to Swords in Their Hands: George Washington and the Newburgh Conspiracy. Soon thereafter the two of us talked with the president of that company and he informed us that what the client had in mind was a 6-10-part miniseries based on my book. His client would write a “treatment” (script outline) for the miniseries and then shop it around to top actors, directors, and producers, hoping that by lining up a big “show runner” he would enhance his chances of eventually securing an agreement with one of the major 24-hour networks (HBO, Showtime, F/X . . . ) All of this, of course, will take a very, very long time, but I am somewhat optimistic about my prospects; the film production company’s client has produced digital advertisements for the above-mentioned TV networks, so he won’t be in awe of them when he approaches them. Anyway, I really have nothing to lose; the client is going to write the script outline for the miniseries and shop it around for FREE.
JOE: Well, it sure sounds like there are some really good possibilities that Dave Richards may well become a household name. I hope you remember your friends when you strike it big, Dave.
DAVE: If I do strike it big, I definitely will remember everybody who helped me achieve success.
JOE: Thanks again, Dave, for being my guest.
DAVE: My pleasure, Joe.