Interview with David Wesley Hill, Author of At Drake's Command
David Wesley Hill is an award-winning fiction writer with more than thirty stories published in the U.S. and internationally. In 1997 he was presented with the Golden Bridge award at the International Conference on Science Fiction in Beijing, and in 1999 he placed second in the Writers of the Future contest. In 2007, 2009, and 2011 Mr. Hill was awarded residencies at the Blue Mountain Center, a writers and artists retreat in the Adirondacks. He studied under Joseph Heller and Jack Cady and received a Masters in creative writing from the City University of New York, as well as the De Jur Award, the school’s highest literary honor.
When did you begin writing?
I was born in Manhattan in 1956 and raised on the Upper West Side, a decaying neighborhood in the sixties but now a desirable location. It was while attending the Bronx High School of Science (a specialty school to which I was horribly mismatched, possessing little aptitude for either science or mathematics) that I decided to pursue writing. When I entered the City College of New York, I was accepted into an accelerated creative writing program, which allowed me to take undergraduate and graduate courses simultaneously, and to graduate with both my BA and MA in four years. I also had the good fortune to study under such fine writers as Joseph Heller, Irwin Stark, Earl Rovit, Madeline Pelner Cosman, and Jack Cady. However, it was difficult being a “genre” writer in a “literary” academic environment. One professor gave me a low grade in a graduate writing workshop because I had delivered a science fiction story as my term assignment. Ironically, the same story went on to win the De Jur Award, the school’s highest literary honor. I believe this was because the senior judge was Donald Bartholme, who had a wicked sense of humor.
What is this book about? At Drake’s Command tells the tale of Peregrine James, a young cook who signs aboard the Pelican, a galleon commanded by Francis Drake, in 1577. The Pelican is the flagship of a fleet of five vessels bound ostensibly for Alexandria to trade in currants. Soon, however, Perry learns that the real destination of the adventure lies elsewhere, although the particulars are secret. As the expedition sails down the African coast, it becomes clear that he has joined a pirate band rather than a peaceful company of merchants. After being kidnapped by Moors, marooned in Barbary, and hung three times from the mainmast spar, it also becomes clear to Perry that it is unwise to be both insignificant and expendable when you are serving so perilous a master as Captain Francis Drake.
What inspired you to write it?
In 1999 I was one of the winners of the Writers of the Future Contest, which was created by L. Ron Hubbard, who was a science fiction writer before he founded the religion of Scientology. Each year winners of the contest are invited to Los Angeles for a black-tie awards ceremony and a week-long writing workshop conducted by a professional science fiction writer.
Hubbard believed in research. Thus one morning we were let loose in the LA Library to browse the shelves in search of inspiration. I was mildly interested in pirates and began reading a facsimile edition of The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake.
This was not written by Drake himself but published by a nephew thirty years after Drake’s death in an effort to keep alive Drake’s reputation. While thumbing through the book, I came across an interesting passage:
On an island off the coast of Patagonia, Drake charged one of his crew with treason and mutiny. Forty men were chosen as jurors and a trial was held. The accused, Thomas Doughty, was found guilty. Drake gave Doughty three options:
1. To be returned to England to face punishment
2. To be left behind in Patagonia
3. To be executed
Given these choices, Doughty replied: “Please, do not return me to England since I am a gentleman and do not want to be shamed before my queen. Do not maroon me in Patagonia, either, since I am a good Christian and I do not want to lose my faith among the heathen. No, general, I ask you to exercise the third option.”
Drake obliged and cut off Doughty’s head. Then he held it up and said, “Lo, here be the end of traitors.”
Upon reading this, I said to myself, “This simply cannot be true.” So I embarked on a course of research for the next four years to uncover the real story of what had happened on that bleak island. Eventually, I succeeded—at least, to my own satisfaction. My first inclination was to write a non-fiction book about the Doughty affair. I am, however, a fiction writer, so I decided to tell the tale in novel form.
Who is your favorite character from the book?
Francis Drake! He was an extraordinarily complex man—charming, brash, cunning, idealistic, practical, devious—and always brave! You can love Drake or despise him—but you can never be indifferent to him.
Where can readers purchase a copy of your book? At Drake's Command will be published as a trade paperback by Temurlone Press on November 15, 2012 and will be available for purchase through Amazon. You may also order it on the Temurlone Press website, www.temurlonepress.com. Those interested may read the first chapter of At Drake’s Command at: www.temurlonepress.com/adc_chapter_one.php
What is up next for you?
Hopefully, At Drake’s Command will find an appreciative audience. The second book, Desperate Bankrupts, will pick up the tale in the Cape Verde Islands and continue until the execution of Thomas Doughty in Patagonia. The third volume, Beyond Dreams of Avarice, will take the adventure back to England laden with the greatest pirate treasure of all history.