Sunday, July 28, 2013

Author Shares Insights On Book's Creation

Author Joy A. Demarse discusses her book based upon local historical events during her Saturday afternoon presentation at the Plattsburgh Public Library.


Fourteen-year-old Hiram Walworth struggles with his conscience: can he shoot another person while defending his village and country?

Author Joy A. Demarse read that scene from her book, "Nine Days a Soldier," to show how she used fiction to bring history to life during her presentation at the Plattsburgh Public Library.  The book is set during "Mr. Madison's War" (referring to then-president James Madison), what is called today the War of 1812.  It is based on actual events that occurred in the Plattsburgh area in September 1814.

While written for younger readers adults have also enjoyed the book, learning about another part of the war that has been overshadowed by the naval battle on Lake Champlain.  The land battle, Joy explained, may not have been as romantic as the one on the water but it was just as important in the struggle to drive off the British invasion from Canada.

The American forces were greatly outnumbered, she explained.  British troops had amassed in Montreal but U.S. Secretary of War John Armstrong, Jr. thought they would move to Kingston, invading at Sackett's Harbor.  Armstrong ignored warnings from U.S. Commanding General Alexander Macomb and others that the British would probably use Lake Champlain as an invasion route.   

The Americans, Joy continued, were outnumbered by almost three to one.  Some schoolboys from Plattsburgh Academy volunteered but that presented a problem for Macomb who wrote the Army rule book: volunteers needed to be at least 18 years old or have permission from their parents.  "Nine Days a Soldier" details how the general found a way so that the boys could take up arms as Aiken's Volunteer Rifle Company.

Plattsburgh Academy once stood on the same site where the Public Library now stands, Joy said.   The second floor auditorium where she was now speaking might share the same space of the Academy's second floor.  

With this historical backdrop Joy decided to make Hiram Walworth, the youngest volunteer, as her protagonist, showing events through his viewpoint.  She mentioned that she had taught boys in the ninth grade and couldn't imagine most of them engaging in combat.

While engaging the reader through fiction Joy said she tried to be as historically accurate as possible.  She wanted to go beyond "dry" history, i.e., a summary of events and dates.  She didn't know if Hiram had a sister but created such a character to add to the drama.

Her target audience, she said, were readers in grades 5 - 7.  While working on her manuscript she had "focus groups" of such readers who helped her with feedback and suggestions.  One reader said that besides dates he would like each chapter to have a title to indicate what it was about.  That suggestion was incorporated in the final manuscript.

Author Joy Demarse reads an excerpt from her book, "Nine Days a Soldier." Listening (left to right) are Gabe and Ryan Sexton with their mother Kelly Julian.

"Nine Days a Soldier: The Story of Aiken's Volunteers in the War of 1812" is available at bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and online sellers like .

Locally it can be purchased at Battle of Plattsburgh Museum at 31 Washington Road, the Old Base Museum Campus in Plattsburgh - (518) 566-1814.  Also Joy will be selling her book at the Farmer's Market on August 10; the market is located in the downtown Plattsburgh City main parking lot.  And the book will be available during the Battle of Plattsburgh commemoration in September.

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