With guest host Rich Fahle
May 14, 2013 | City Opera House, Traverse City
Listen to Nathaniel Philbrick’s program here:[audio:https://nationalwritersseries.org/wp-content/audio/Nathaniel_Philbrick.mp3]
by Cymbre Foster
Bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick is an admittedly meticulous researcher and has become known for his ability to pull out fascinating bits of history as he chronicles his historic tales of America and the sea in his nonfiction narratives. Philbrick talked about his research and writing process with interviewer Rich Fahle at his National Writers Series appearance May 14, 2013.
Photos from the 2013 NWS Event
An English major, Philbrick said he didn’t really delve into history until he moved to the 50-square mile island of Nantucket in 1986. “I began looking around and saying wow, what happened here?” he said referring to the historic island. “Every book I write is because I’m curious about the topic,” he explained.
Philbrick, who won the prestigious National Book Award in 2001 for his book In the Heart of the Sea and was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History for his book Mayflower, told the audience that he has always been interested in history’s characters and stories and finding those details that make the past come alive. It’s those details that make his books more of an emotional story rather than academic one for the reader.
“I love the details,” he said. “ Especially if someone is suffering from dehydration and starvation,” he joked and referred to his detailed portrayal of a man being tarred and feathered in his latest book Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution. In this book he brilliantly tackles the Boston battle that ignited the American Revolution and the upheaval surrounding the event. “The tar and feathering was just another day in Boston.”
Philbrick always includes copious notes in the back of his books and he says he does that because although it doesn’t fit in the book, it’s just too good not to share. “There’s so much that can’t go in the narrative,” he told the audience. “Having the notes allows me to be a little more ruthless with the narrative.” Philbrick has learned his history in the trenches, and he haunts libraries, museums and more for his research and spends hours in his basement with hundreds if not thousands of books taking meticulous notes. He spent a year of just taking notes for Bunker Hill, he said. “It’s kind of like painting a room, the prep is nine tenths of it,” he explained.
Philbrick said that although his book topics may seem unrelated each book actually pulls him toward the next topic. “I’m working my way through American history, though not chronologically,” he said. “I also love to write about communities under enormous stress.”
Although he grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Philbrick is an avid sailor and also a chronicler of sea going sagas. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, he detailed the true story of a tragic 1819 voyage that served as inspiration for the climatic scene in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Philbrick said he manages to include a sea story in all of his books, even The Last Stand, a tightly structured narrative Sitting Bull and George Armstrong Custer. “I have to have a sailboat in every book I write.”
Earlier in the evening Philbrick made an appearance at a packed pre-event reception sponsored by the Grandview Group of Wells Fargo Advisors. He mingled with guests in the Maritime Heritage Alliance’s Edwin and Mary Brown Boat Shop.
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About Nathaniel Philbrick
Setting history straight one compelling narrative at a time — Get inside the creative mind and methods of bestselling author Nathaniel Philbrick.
A champion sailor and a renowned scholar and historian, Nathaniel Philbrick’s passion for history, sailing and the open water are evident in his critically acclaimed books: Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, which detailed the true story of a tragic 1819 voyage that served as inspiration for the climatic scene in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Eloquently “righting” history is something Philbrick does expertly. And audiences and critics love him for it. In the Heart of the Sea won the prestigious National Book Award in 2001. Mayflower, a book that debunks the long-accepted mythology of the pilgrims voyage to the New World and their interactions with their indigenous neighbors, was a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History.
Philbrick also received critical acclaim for The Last Stand, a tightly structured narrative about two larger-than-life antagonists: Sitting Bull and George Armstrong Custer. A New York Times “notable book,” The Last Stand was the basis for the 2-hour PBS American Experience film, Custer’s Last Stand.
Now, in his upcoming book, Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution, Philbrick brilliantly tackles the Boston battle that ignited the American Revolution. A captivating and meticulously researched narrative, Bunker Hill brings a fresh perspective to the brutal and complicated story behind the forming of the United States.
About Guest Host Rich Fahle
Rich Fahle is the founder and CEO of Astral Road Author Media and Bibliostar: TV entertainment for readers, including interviews, discussions, live events, and other special features about books, authors, and the reading life. Fahle draws on his extensive background as a marketing agent for authors, publishers, and book retailers in the emerging digital marketplace.
Before launching Astral Road in 2010, Fahle served as Vice President, Digital Content, E-Commerce and Entertainment at Borders. In that role, he was a key driver of dynamic brand extensions into new media fields, broadening the scope and reach of customer relationships within the book, music and movie retail space.
Examples include the development and launch of Borders’ social media platform on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other sites, as well as creating the Borders Media online video entertainment network, one of the first major branded content initiatives on the Web. Other roles included leadership of the creative and production teams, the in-store national events program, national advertising and brand development, and e-commerce operations. Prior to Borders, Fahle was Chief Spokesperson and Communications Director for C-SPAN, the national public affairs cable television network based in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He currently blogs for www.video-commerce.org and www.digitalbookworld.com.