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An Interview With John Manhold About His New Book El Tigre

Jul 20, 2008
El Tigre is John Manhold's first immersion into the world of novels, but it his not his first book, he has something like 6 textbooks and a lexicon in four languages under his belt. I really enjoyed El Tigre. I don't usually get very excited about Historical Fiction, or the 'Wild West,' El Tigre has an allure to it though. I love history, and this book is steeped in it, John Manhold artfully melds fact with fiction. One way of looking at it is, if you buy this book you get a great work of fiction, and you will walk away afterwards understanding some very complex historical issues.

Maybe you could tell us a little about yourself, a quick bout on Google shows that you have a pretty interesting resume?

I've always been restless and would think maybe attention deficit, except I can zero in on something I enjoy and take it to a conclusion. However, activity in any one area for too long a period does bore me. I grew up in Rochester, N. Y., when it had only a couple hundred thousand people, and enjoyed many hours of hunting small game and fishing the Genesee River. My father was quite a hunter and fisherman and we would go after deer and bear in the southern tier of Pennsylvania, Northern Maine and Canada. We used to tramp the pot holes for duck in the old Montezuma Swamp Area back in the days when your limit of duck was more than you could carry. High School, college and graduate schools were routine, although even here, I bounced around.

Majored in Elizabethan and 17th Century Poets, progressed to study dentistry and then medical pathology and finally picked up an advanced degree in psychology. Taught pathology at three different schools, but became interested in Psychosomatic Medicine. Did some unusual research that got me an invitation to Russia in the days before glasnost. Elected president of the Academy of Psychosomatic Medicine and between this discipline and my research in both dental and medical fields bounced around giving lectures in many places in the world.

For recreation, I played soccer, wrestled, played golf, and did some fencing. Later, played club golf and some international. Became interested in boating, earned U.S.C.G. Captain's and Master's papers, finally bought a 48-foot Marine Trader trawler which my wife (who became a graduate diesel mechanic for the trip) and I took on a 6000 mile trip from Florida up the east coast to the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi to the Tennessee, the Tombigbee and back home across the Gulf. Went out to the islands a couple of times also. Got interested in sculpture, studied with a couple of famous people and received some prizes and commissions.
I Served in WWII and the Korean Action where, among other things, taught knife fighting to recruits after being indoctrinated by an old fencing opponent who needed help and convinced the CO I would be the person.

I have also published 6 textbooks and a lexicon in 4 languages and served as a scientific editor for J. B. Lippincott for 12 years.

What made you move into the world of historical fiction?

I did a great deal of research for several pharmaceutical houses while at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and continued after retiring. They would send me data that I would analyze and return. A couple of years ago, I assume the powers-that-be began to worry about how much longer I would be available and the request for my services began to decline. Being somewhat of a workaholic, I began to grouse and my wife said "why don't you go write a novel?" I was amused but the idea began to take hold, so I did it.

El Tigre is very well put together, fictional characters against a historical background, but not just one set of events, which is the standard fare, but several events spanning countries and continents. The amount of research needed to do this boggles my mind. How long did it take to research and write El Tigre?

The actual time to research and write El T. took 9 months. However, I had a great head start. My lectures and consultations for years have taken me to many places in the world; my whole life has been in research; the web saves huge amounts of travel time and I had a grandfather who was a graduate of the Prussian Kriegsakademie and was awarded medals in the Franco-Prussian War. I also had a couple of uncles who were gunfighters in the Nebraska Territory.

The idea of my characters participating in more than one series of events stems from the fact that every conference or meeting one attends, where 'westerns' or 'historical fiction' are discussed, stresses the necessity for 'something different' if the genres are to survive. No one does anything about it. I decided to do something.

Where did you get the idea for El Tigre from?

I am a member of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) where every member is required to select an alias that is registered as specific to him or her. I always have been interested in old Mexico and have spent some time in it back in the days when it was pleasant and laid back and the girls would stroll in the parks with their duenas and the boys in their groups while a lousy band played in the retreata. I took the name of El Tigre Viejo (the Tiger, but an old one, because of my age) because I could dress for our formal dinner, which always ends a competition, as an old Spanish Don - one of the types of suits may be seen on my web page.

As I understand it, and the picture on the back flap of the dustcover seems to prove it, you have a real interest in early guns, can you tell us a little about that?

I had my first single shot .22 rifle when I was about 8 years old. My father taught me, as the marines stressed later in life, that there is no accident with a gun. Anything that happens is carelessness and is not to be tolerated. In the marines, an 'accident' produces jail time. Anyway, I would get on the streetcar with my rifle and ammunition, ride to the end of the line, walk a short way to an embankment, do my shooting and get back on the streetcar to come back home. Can you image today?

Following this, my father bought me a lever action Marlin .22, and a single shot 20 gauge shotgun, both of which I still have, and a Winchester 30-30 for deer and we began hunting. Through the years the interest continued and I moved into skeet shooting and other competitive shooting sports.

Novels work a lot different from text books. With a text book, you have pretty much a captive audience. With a novel, it is up to the whim of the would be reader. A novel is a risky business, shelf space in the book store is at a premium, and for the most part the traditional book store only stocks what it knows will sell (Tom Clancy, Steven King, and the rest of the grossly over edited, and in my mind over rated authors), how are you finding the battlefield for space?

Actually you have hit upon one of the big problems facing authors today. The big publishers won't even look at something that does not come through an agent, and the agents are, for the most part, not particularly interested in a new author. For this reason, the new author more frequently ends up with a small publisher and the brick and mortar houses are not particularly interested in either. The big boys can offer too many incentives, put more money into advertising and provide the 'name' authors. So, to get to the personal level, as an unknown author, published by a small publisher and writing in a genre that occupies a very small piece of the pie, it is tough. Since El Tigre garnered two awards in the 2008 National Indie Excellence Awards, and has received so many kind words from so many nice people, Barnes & Noble have decided to give it another look, as to stocking - it is distributed by Baker & Taylor and thus listed in B&N for order, but not stocked at the stores.

I am probably not like the average reader. I have picked up some very bad habits. It is only as a result of the fact that I read so many books. I hated English Lit in school, I hated, and still do hate, picking a book apart. While I don't look for deeper meaning, I do look for execution. El Tigre is very well put together. You must have had some damn fine proof readers and editors, either that, or you are the most gifted author I have ever met.

I sincerely thank you for such a compliment, and am most pleased to hear the manner in which you look at a book. I, too, read voraciously and believe a book is to be enjoyed. The text must flow and if I mix tenses occasionally, or pull some other bonehead grammatical mistake, as long as it does not interfere with the flow, I let it go, and have received criticism from editors for it. But, if I don't think it will detract from the story, I leave it alone. I had an editor with El T who was a good editor. However, most of her changes I rewrote. El T was a Prussian Junker, an aristocrat who I would not allow to become another 'cowboy.' His actions were different as was his speech. He was a man who, because of his prowess, could fit into any masculine situation. However, he still could enjoy the life of Spanish Nobility and had the sentimentality to understand the trauma suffered by Lolita and her need for understanding.

There are two schools of thought about historical fiction, one says it's easy, the plot is already there, just slot your characters in, and you have a book. The other schools says it is very hard, the historical aspect is set in stone, you must weave your story into an intractable situation. What is your view?

I believe that, to be well done, a historical novel must weave its way through the facts. Your time line must be accurate, your geography must be the geography of the period, and the mores of each society treated must be proper to the time and place. I enjoy history and I respect it, and, as weird as it may sound, I can project myself back into the time and almost feel the reactions of the people. I remember visiting Masada in Israel several years ago and standing in the remains of the old fortress city where the thousand defenders committed suicide rather than surrender and just being almost overwhelmed by 'rejecting myself' to the action. Crazy, I know, but you've got to be to write, I think.

What can we expect next from John Manhold?

I have two books pretty much ready to go, before finishing El Tigre II which is half done in the first draft.

The Elymais Coin is a modern mystery/adventure that involves a search for a 3000-year-old-coin that becomes involved with several murders, a clash with forces of al-Qaida and a subversive plot to undermine the United States from its very core.

The second is LOBO, the story of a young Ohio farm boy who survives a massacre, Indian captivity, rescue and travel to England with education at Eton and life with the aristocracy before being forced to flee to the States to find a beautiful Creole paramour in New Orleans, be caught up in the Civil War, the Reconstruction Era and beyond.
About the Author
Simon Barrett is an adult educator in Calgary, Alberta. With the 11 months a year of winter, he reads a lot of books! He is also a contributing editor for Blogger News and maintains a personal blog at Simon B.
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