Launch: Michael Ross’s Across the Great Divide Book 3: The Founding
INTERVIEW BY LESLIE S. LOWE
Michael Ross is a retired software engineer turned author, living in Kansas. He was born in Lubbock, Texas, and still loves Texas. His trilogy, Across the Great Divide, comprises The Clouds of War, The Search, and The Founding. Clouds of War was an Amazon #1 best seller in three categories. The final book has just been published.
How would you describe this book and its themes in a couple of sentences?
The Founding explores the railroad’s impact on society, and post-Civil War racial conflict. It follows the life of Will Crump and his black friend Luther. The two families participate in founding new towns in Texas and Kansas.There are different outcomes with the towns due to racial prejudice.
What inspired you to start writing and what has been most rewarding about it?
I find telling the unknown stories of the past rewarding. It helps people to see the present in new ways. By understanding how and why people reacted to events such as the Civil War, we can make better choices today that build and unify rather than divide and destroy.
What attracted you to writing historical fiction?
History is simply people’s stories, which help us understand the times that they lived in. We can imagine how we might have reacted in those circumstances. Writing historical fiction allows writers and readers to explore what it was like to live in a different time.
This book is the third in the Across the Great Divide series. How is this latest novel different from the other two?
In the first two books, my characters were caught up in the storm, simply trying to survive. Will wanted an education but got first one war, then another. Luther wanted safety and freedom but was forced to run for his life to save himself and his family. Will’s sisters, Julia and Albinia, were trying to make a difference while fighting prejudice and male domination.
The Founding finds Luther and the Crumps being less reactive. Now, they are taking charge of their destinies. Instead of struggling to survive, they show resourcefulness and grit, taking on all comers to succeed in finances and relationships. By founding two towns, they show that working together can triumph.
How do the characters transform within the story over the series? What did that journey mean to you as you wrote it?
Will goes from boy to man fighting for survival and looking for meaning in life. He tires of others making decisions for him and discovers that the real meaning in life is in God, his home, and his family.
Luther is fifteen when the series starts. The Founding contrasts his life and Will’s. Luther changes from simply trying to get by, to a cauldron of anger and revenge, to a determined man who will let nothing stand in the way of freedom.
I saw writing the trilogy as a way to understand the roots of our struggles.
Why focus on this topic now? Is there a key historical event you found in researching that inspired you to write this story to portray a key message prevalent now?
There are parallel issues in the period 1859–1909 and today. The Civil War—could it happen again? Sanctuary cities—have occurred pre-Civil War and in the present. One of the ironies explored in The Founding is black people seeking freedom by taking over the land of the indigenous tribes, who were losing their freedom and way of life.
The recent race riots echo the Pratt Street riots of Baltimore portrayed in the Clouds of War, and the lynchings in Evansville portrayed in The Founding. Mistreatment of the indigenous tribes has continued to the present day with the Keystone pipeline and the suppression of tribal culture and religion.
How did you balance the research with writing the story? Did you get to do any interesting interviews for your research?
I did my best to verify the details from newspapers, journals, and first-hand accounts while keeping the story moving and interesting. The actual writing of the first draft of each book took six months, and revisions another six months.
The most interesting interviews were with Darren Parry, Chief of the Northwestern Shoshone, for The Search, and Angela Bates, Chairman of the Nicodemus Historical Society for The Founding. Both are sixth-generation descendants of people in the books and generously shared their wealth of knowledge.
How do you think the reader will connect with them?
The Crumps’ story of growing up and finding themselves in a chaotic culture leads to universal stories that everyone can understand. For Luther, black people of today don’t deal with slavery, but prejudice is alive and well. The problems that the black characters have in the book are issues that any black person today will find familiar.
Will there be additional books in the series? What are you working on now? Is it connected to this one in any way?
This is the last in the Across the Great Divide series. My intent was to tell the stories of the two families, the Crumps and Luther, through the founding of the towns. The real Will lived into the 1940s. I never met him but knew his daughter Katy Bell Crump, who appears as a baby and toddler in The Founding.
I’ll be concentrating on a memoir of my mother’s time in China during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in the 1980s.
Another project is about the Pine Tree Rebellion and George Washington’s Honor Guard, titled Washington’s Drummer Boy.
Every author has his publishing journey. Tell me about yours.
I pitched The Clouds of War to an agent at HNS 2017. I didn’t follow up on it quickly enough and lost that opportunity. An editor from Harper Collins at a regional conference accepted the manuscript. Then Covid hit. Harper had been willing to consider The Search, but with Covid layoffs, the deal was off. No one wanted a partially published series, despite the relative success of The Clouds of War, so I went indie.
What advice would you give to other aspiring historical writers?
Read constantly. Network – talk to other authors, pick their brains. Attend a genre-based conference. The experience is invaluable.
What is the last great book you read? Why?
The Rose Code has stellar character development, detail, and plotting. The interactions between her three musketeers told a compelling story.