Author Interview with Timothy Ashby by Jerelyn (I-F-Letty)
I first became aware of Timothy Ashby when he spoke about his book to a Facebook group. As with many first time authors they find that they get precious little help from publishers. What PR departments once did, authors have to do. Also another phenomenon of today’s publishing is the free e-book. As anyone can tell you a many of these e-books are amateur productions in which much is missing. Well Timothy Ashby’s The Devil’s Den is far from that, it is a gem.
I am excited that there will be a second book in the series which features Seth Armitage, and he is a wholly likable protagonist. The time period in which this is set is a fascinating one 1920’s Washington DC.
I would like to thank Mr. Ashby for agreeing to participate in our author interview series here at PBS.
Jerelyn: I have read your bio and you have lived a very interesting life, will you tell us a bit about yourself?
Timothy: I grew up with a keen interest in history and adventure. As a child my elderly relatives related stories about our family’s experiences in the Revolution and Civil War (one kinsman was a famous Confederate cavalry general). At the age of 13, I moved to the little Caribbean island of Grenada – at that time a British colony steeped in a past of battles, ghosts and lost treasure.
Jerelyn: Was becoming a novelist something that you had intended to do, or was it one of those lovely zigzags life often takes?
Timothy: I wrote short stories and poems as a teenager, but stubbornly let the “practical” side of my personality dominate so got a PhD, MBA and law degrees and worked as a senior government official, international businessman and lawyer. During those years I had several successful non-fiction books published, as well as a prize-winning ghost story submitted on a whim. But becoming a novelist at this stage of my life – starting with DEVIL’S Den – was indeed one of those unexpected “lovely zigzags” of life.
Jerelyn: Will you tell us about Devil’s Den and Seth Armitage? I’ll admit I got much more than I expected with this book.
Timothy: I’ve always been fascinated by “history’s mysteries” – genuine events with unresolved questions. I knew that several attempts were made to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before the sad event of April 14, 1865, but the identity of the earlier plotters is unknown. I used such an assassination attempt as the genesis of a plot, but wanted to link it to a 1920s political conspiracy to show the profound corruption of Washington DC during the Harding Administration (which included murder and high-level cover-ups). I also wanted to show how the 1920s were a pivotal era in US history, when modern technology (radio, airplanes, telephones, moving pictures, phonographs) was encroaching on a country that was still largely rural and little changed from the 19th century. Also, many Civil War veterans were alive in the 1920s and some were active in politics.
As for Seth Armitage, he is a Virginian from a family that suffered terribly in the Civil War, and he has been affected despite the passage of three generations. Armitage is a decorated World War I veteran and lawyer who joined to Bureau of Investigation as much for a belief in public service as for a hunger for adventure. But his cynicism about the Federal government and “justice for all” is now threatening to engulf his innate idealism.
Jerelyn: When you wrote this did you see this as a murder mystery or political thriller?
Timothy: I saw DEVIL’S DEN as a “historical mystery thriller.” The corrupt, labyrinthine politics of the 1860s and 1920s provide a personally fascinating historical backdrop.
Jerelyn: I always wonder what draws a writer to the time period they set their books in. What drew you to this particular period?
Timothy: As mentioned earlier, the 1920s were a pivotal time in American history. I also love the music, cars and fashions (I must say that I absolutely love BOARDWALK EMPIRE, which features some of the same real-life characters that I use). Finally, I was influenced by knowing three of my four grandparents who would have been contemporaries in the age of Seth Armitage. One of my grandmothers played the background for silent films when she was just a teenager, and she taught me many of the old songs, and even how to dance the TURKEY TROT and the “CHARLESTON!”
Jerelyn: The other thing that astounded me was the research that went into this book; did you run across anything that surprised you?
Timothy: One thing that surprised me was how rapidly technology was advancing in the 1920s. We may think we live in a time of rapid change, but the rate of technological adoption by Americans – as well as the creation of new inventions (e.g. the first public demonstration of a television broadcast was in 1925) – was astonishing. For example, in 1923 there were 600 radio stations broadcasting to 3 million American households. Just five years earlier, there were no public radio stations and not a single private American family owned a radio.
Jerelyn: I think I loved this character so much because Seth was a WWI vet, as was my Grandfather, I grew up on stories of him; he passed a few years before I was born. Do you have a family connection to the Civil or WWI?
Timothy: A number of my paternal relatives served in the Confederate army during the Civil War. Two relatives – brothers – were at Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg in the same regiment – the 8th Virginia – that Seth’s fictional grandfathers served in. Also, like one of Seth’s grandfather’s, one of my relatives, 19-year-old Private James Ashby, was killed in action and his body was never found.
I was fortunate to have known many WWI veterans while growing up and I am so glad that I paid careful attention to their first-hand stories before they passed on. My grandfather’s first cousin was a Marine officer like Seth Armitage who fought at Belleau Wood, and he told me how the Southern boys in his unit gave the “Rebel Yell” before charging the Germans – the Marines had learned the “Yell” from their Confederate veteran grandfathers. Wonderful piece of history that will be included in my next Seth Armitage adventure, IN SHADOWLAND.
Jerelyn: The other thing I’ve noticed proves the old adage: The more that things change the more they stay the same. This could have easily been a contemporary novel. I am referring to the shenanigans on Wall Street, the every man for themselves attitude in politics. Was that a conscious thought on your part while writing The Devil’s Den?
Timothy: I lived and worked in Washington DC (including for the Federal Government), and like Seth became thoroughly disillusioned with the corruption, cronyism and waste. So my continuing ire and disgust definitely influences my writing.
Jerelyn: I love mysteries and I love more romantic relationship driven novels too. I was pleasantly surprised to find a love story in the story. Did you set out to have Seth find love?
Timothy: Yes, I wanted Seth to find love (he’s searching for expiation as well as solace), but as my readers will note, Peggy has her own agenda.
Jerelyn: Will Peggy be in the next book as well?
Timothy: All I can reveal is that Seth continues his quest for love!
Jerelyn: I always ask authors what they read as a child. What were your favorite books?
Jerelyn: What do you read for pleasure now?
Timothy: I’ve lately discovered some terrific mystery/thriller writers: Alex Berenson, P.J. Alderman, and Barry Eisler. My perennial favorites are Nelson DeMille, Wilbur Smith and Frederick Forsyth – true masters of the thriller genre.
Jerelyn: Will you tell us a bit about your next book In Shadowlands, and when will it be released?
Timothy: The plot of IN SHADOWLANDS, second in the “Seth Armitage” series, is derived from the mystery surrounding the “death” of Lt. Quentin Roosevelt, son of former President Teddy Roosevelt, who was shot down behind German lines in 1918 during a dogfight over the Western Front. The book is still a work in progress!
Jerelyn: Thank-you Tim and I hope to be reading In Shadowlands soon. If you would like to read more about Tim; please visit his website www.timashby.com or you follow him on face book at http://www.facebook.com/TimAshbyBooks and Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/TFAshby
To read my review of Timothy Ashby’s book, Devil’s Den on PBS, click this LINK