Alan Bray started writing fiction sixteen years ago and has published a fair number of short stories in literary journals. The Hour of Parade is his first novel. He is currently working on a second, also set in historic time. Alan lives in New Hampshire with his wife and daughter. He has worked as a musician and clinical social worker.
Hello, Alan! Thank you for chatting with me and today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion for your book, The Hour of Parade.
Alan: Many thanks, Stephanie.
Stephanie: Please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG and what has your experience been like with self-publishing thus far?
Alan: I believe I learned about IndieBRAG through an internet search regarding self-publishing resources. I sent in an application and was delighted to be accepted. They have been very helpful with promoting my book.
I self-published The Hour of Parade through CreateSpace, and it’s been very positive. Their design team seemed to grasp right away what I wanted on the cover. I wanted a man’s face looking out at the viewer in a haunted way—in my mind he’s Alexi—and they nailed it. The editor there was also excellent, although I paid for a second round of independent copy-editing just to be sure there were no errors. The distribution and print quality of the book itself has been outstanding.
I wish there were more people buying and reading the book, but my sense is this is something all authors probably feel, self-published or not. I have done a bit of advertising, including an ad in the New York Review of Books, and solicited many reviews.
Stephanie: How much time do you spend on writing, research and what is your process?
Alan: The Hour of Parade was written over a ten-year period. I can’t say I worked on it every day but a lot of time went into it, both research and writing. There must have been four or five major revisions; I think I learned to write by writing this book so there was just a lot that had to be developed. And I’m a pretty heavy editor of my own work. I like to get initial scenes down on paper in a pretty simple way and then start going over and over them, developing character and description and language. It takes a long time. But it’s a labor of love.
Stephanie: Please tell me about your story?
Alan: The book is set in 1806 in Munich, Germany. It’s told from the viewpoint of two characters, one a Russian cavalry officer searching for his brother’s killer, and the other a young French woman whom he meets and has a love affair with.
Stephanie: Could you please share an excerpt?
“Good morning, Alyosha.” Marianne came in smiling from the bedroom, wearing the silk dressing gown he’d purchased for her, a man’s gown that was much too large so that, as she walked, it dragged along the rug. She sat down on the sofa, curling her feet beneath her hips, her bare knees peeking out through the opening in front. “Will he bring me tea? What are you doing?”
“Reading some correspondence. Yevgeny, tea.”
“You opened one of the letters from Russia? You said you’d let me see what the writing looks like.”
He sat and gave her the letter filled with Cyrillic script. “It’s curious,” she said. “What does it say?”
“From my father. Here, do you see? This word—father. And here—my name.” She looked from the paper to him, rolling her eyes as if he were teasing her. “You don’t believe me, do you? You’re so funny.”
It was good—to keep the world of these letters at arm’s length and as an object of humor.
But it’s a mistake, to allow her to come so close.
“Well, what’s it about?”
“I’ll tell you the story. I haven’t written him for weeks, and he wants to know why and what I’m doing here.”
“Oh that. What will you say? You need his money; that’s what you told me.”
“Then you must write him—today. Tell him you love him and that you’re learning all about Munich—that’s it—you’re receiving an education here.” She laughed and dug her elbow into his side. For a moment they were silent, and she took the letter from his lap and studied it. “And this part” she said, pointing halfway down the page, “what does it say here?”
“He wants me to kill a man—a man who killed my brother in the war.”
“It says that too?” Her eyes were steady and clear. “What will you do?”
He rose and took a turn around the room, stopping before the toiletry box on the table. He opened the lid and—ignoring the mirror—began looking in all the drawers and compartments, sticking his fingers inside to see if something might be hidden in the back. His father had mentioned a chance for happiness; could that justify murder? “About whom?” he said. “My father or—”
“The man who killed your brother.”
“I’ve already tried to kill him once,” he said, bent over, speaking into the empty drawers. “He’s here in Munich, a French officer.”
“He killed your brother in the war—but isn’t that a soldier’s job? Your brother was a soldier.”
“I suppose he was.”
“So your father wants this death out of vengeance—blood vengeance. Is that right?”
On the left-side bottom drawer, behind his father’s original letter, there was a thing stuck against the back, a paper of some kind. He worried it loose with his fingernail and saw that it was a tiny corner of a bigger page, torn off. Curious to see if it retained any message or clue about its origin, he examined both sides.
Both sides were blank. “I’m a bad man, my dear.”
“No, if you obey your father’s will, then you’re good; that’s what the priests say. What are you doing with those drawers? Come, write a letter to him. Tell him you love him and you’ll do what he wants. Then we’ll all be happy.”
Why Historical Fiction?
Alan: I guess I think of Hour as being a novel about people who happen to be living two hundred years ago, rather than a novel of historic themes. However, I’ve been fascinated by the Napoleonic Era for a long time, not only the military side but on a deeper level, the effect on people of a much less developed technology, the masculine code of honor with its darker side of revenge, the very limited roles available to women, and how, as a result, women had to struggle to find expression.
Stephanie: Alan, I have several authors who are interested in your premise, the period you write about and so forth. One lady who loves history is interested in your story would want to know what the historical basis for this premise might be, as well as how, logistically, this Russian is going to get close enough to the French officer and men to discover the location of the Frenchman he wants to kill. But I’m sure you can’t give all that away without spoiling the plot! We look forward to reading your book to find out! Here are a few questions they would like to ask.
Alan: A major historic source was The Cavalry Maiden by Nadezhda Durova, the memoir of a young Russian woman who dressed as a man and fought in the Napoleonic Wars as a cavalry officer. It’s a fascinating story, in part because it seems most of the men around her knew that she was a woman and chose to ignore it.
Author Lindsay Downs: How where they able to survive the winter?
Alan: Brrrr. Fortunately for the characters, a lot of the story takes place in the spring and summer. My sense is that, in winter, people were very tied to hearths and stoves, and perhaps, more accustomed to physical hardship than many of us are.
Author Malcolm Noble (mystery writer): I am always interested how slow communication complicated military action in those days. For example, Govts back home decide on a new approach, or some high profile character dies, or allies change sides, but it can be several days before local commanders get to know about this. CS Forrester used this dynamic to advantage in his Hornblower stories, In fact, in the old days, a war would end on different dates in different part s of the world to allow for communication. Did such slow communications impact on The Hour of Parade?
Alan: This issue did impact the characters in the book. There is an inevitability about the French army returning to war throughout the summer of 1806, they finally do in September. The characters are waiting for word of when and where war will break out again, and there are many rumors. Also the communication between Alexi and his father is very poor (a situation Alexi likes) because of the long delay in letters reaching Munich from Russia. The characters read newspapers to try to make sense of world events, knowing they are out of date by the time they read them.
Author Jude Knight: I’m intrigued by why you chose a Russian hero and a French heroine – and at this particular point in time, when the Russians (as part of the Fourth Coalition) have just been defeated. I guess I’m going to need to read the book to find out how a Russian cavalry officer manages in in the winter quarters of the French army. We read so much of the English perspective on Napoleon. I’m excited to hear about something different. How big a role does Napoleon play in the book? Is he seen from the Russian perspective, the French perspective, or both?
Alan: The Emperor himself never appears directly as the book is more about average people on the margins of great events. He’s certainly referred to though, more from the French perspective, a bit of the Russian, although the main character, Alexi, begins to question whether the Russian perspective might not be mostly propoganda. And he is able to get very close to the French because, well, he doesn’t tell the truth about who he is.
Stephanie: As I understand it, Rousseau’s novel Julie is a major presence in your book. You told me the story refers to some of the themes and plot in Julie, and I translated epigrams from Julie to begin each chapter. What inspired you with this idea? And what a brilliant idea it is! I have read quite a bit of Rousseau…
Alan: I was originally fascinated at the idea of what a huge best-seller Julie was, how the characters were so familiar to people as a result. I began by writing about Alexi’s reading of the book, and this developed into a bit of an obsession for him. Then, in my own reading of Julie, I was struck by some of the parallels—the issue of sexual attraction across class, the way infatuation can lead to poor judgement, the frankness and value given to sex. I tried to pick out epigrams that would refer to whatever was happening to the book and function as a kind of commentary on them. One reviewer said the book Julie becomes a character in my book, and I like that very much. I translated from the French to avoid copyright problems.
Jude: Would a familiarity with Julie change the way a reader experiences your book? How does Rousseau’s book change the characters or the story?
Alan: I think a reader familiar with Julie might pick up on some of the connections in the story, and there are some references to it thrown in. I thought of my book as having a humble relationship with Rousseau’s, like that of a poor cousin. I’m not sure about how Julie changed my characters or story. It probably did in ways that I’m unaware of. I was quite surprised when I read the story of Lord Bompston in Julie and saw the parellels to Alexi and Marianne.
Stephanie: Since the book is written closely to the character’s experience. What were the challenges in doing that and could you please tell me a little about them? Their strengths, weaknesses and all that.
Alan: I think that’s where writing gets really interesting—to find a way to express the more intimate sides of characters. I used third person close narration (I believe that’s the technical term) for two of the characters, and then often dipped into first person reverie, fantasy, and dream to try to capture more of what was under the surface. Alexi Ruzhensky is someone very much “in his head.” He thinks a lot about everything that’s happening, questions himself, and rationalizes his actions. He’s very self-aware, although has some really unfortunate blind spots about himself. Anne-Marie is less cerebral, very concerned with her survival. She’s calculating at times but in my mind, makes several decisions that are motivated more by passion than anything else.
Stephanie: What is Alexi Ruzhensky relationship like with his father?
Alan: Yes, it’s alluded to, and he and his father are seen in Alexi’s memory. It’s conflictual. His father wants him to be a traditional Russian man of the minor nobility, and Alexi has already begun to be someone very different before the novel begins.
Jude: Alan, you clearly did a lot of research for the book. Was there anything that gripped you and that you would have liked to have used in the book, but couldn’t without moving the history more to centre stage than you wanted?
Alan: I did do a lot of research on the historical events as background and found them quite interesting but didn’t want to overload the story with them. So I’d have to say no.
Stephanie: What are you hoping your readers will come away with this story and if you were to speak to anyone about your book that has never read Historical Fiction before or about history. What would you tell them to encourage them to read your book?
Alan: I think I’d say don’t be put off by the idea the story is set two hundred years ago because it has a pretty contemporary feel. It’s not filled with a lot of historical detail, and hopefully, the characters would seem like people you can relate to.
Stephanie: What’s up next for you?
Alan: I am working on a second novel that I hope will be ready by next year. It’s set in 1807 in Poland with different characters. I also write short stories and am in the middle of several right now.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Alan: Amazon, both print and Kindle. It’s also been taken by pirates, so you could probably get it for free somewhere. But please don’t unless you’re very poor.
Stephanie, many thanks again for the interview. More information on The Hour of Parade can be found here
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Alan Bray, who is the author of, The Hour of Parade, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Hour of Parade, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.