After William J. Fisher retired from the United States Air Force, he worked for twelve years for two Indian tribes in New Mexico as an economic and land development planner. In his debut release, Cruel Road (October 2020), he uses his knowledge of native culture and history—and his insight into military and historical political issues—to paint a picture of the struggles, privations, dangers, and drama of the mid-eighteenth-century historical period. You’ll find Bill on his Amazon author page.
What is your elevator pitch for Cruel Road?
John Fraser, Scots-Irish gunsmith and militiaman, faces a difficult dilemma when a local tribal chief abducts his new and pregnant wife. He searches for a year to find her and return her to safety. After he does not find her, he remarries, but shortly after, she returns on her own. Cruel Road is the story of real-life John and Jane Fraser, among the first settlers of western Pennsylvania. Indian conflicts, French and English fighting over territory, and survival in the Pennsylvania wilderness are major challenges for the couple. John and Jane Fraser are my direct ancestors.
When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they take away from it?
I hope the reader has a better sense of this colonial period that is little known to the general public. Also, the lesson in the story is that the love between two people can be a powerful motivator.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The story is about my sixth great-grandparents. I wanted to tell the story with the limited historical facts available and fill in with my own ideas about what really happened. I wanted to honor the main characters as my ancestors.
Who are your main characters, and what will readers like most about them?
John and Jane Fraser are the main characters. They are tough and flawed. They survived situations and dangers that most people could not.
What is the main setting, and how does it impact the story and the characters?
The setting is mid-eighteenth-century Pennsylvania. The place is a wilderness populated by native peoples who are mostly unfriendly, French and British armies fighting over territory, and new colonists who are trying to survive in a strange unknown land. The characters must deal with all of this.
Tell us more about the book.
The book took 16 years to finish after I completed most of the research. I started it and then put it aside when I went to work for Cochiti Pueblo in 2006. I had a long commute and 12-hour days until 2016, when I retired. I started in again in 2017 and hired an editor. I finished it in October 2020. I designed the cover myself and self-published to KDP.
What makes this novel unique in the historical fiction market?
I believe most historical fiction novels are mostly fiction in a historical setting. My novel is mostly history, but I wrote it in a novel format with dialog and some new characters and scenes that I created to tell the story. I did this to be true to my ancestors’ story and not put in contrived story lines to exploit the events and setting to sell a book. The book may not fit the usual historical fiction guidelines but is factual and true to the historical time.
What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
I am proud that I could tell the story of my great-grandparents and provide it to my extended family, as well as to readers who enjoy American history. The book is also a good action/adventure piece that readers in that segment would enjoy.
What inspired you to become a writer?
I wanted to tell the story of my great-grandparents that is little known today but had a great impact in their time. The book started out as a gift to my family but was entertaining to others as well. Finishing this book has inspired me to write more historical fiction and other genres.
Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you started your writing career today?
I could not change much that has happened. I finished the book at the right time. I sometimes wish I had started earlier and finished it before my parents passed, but now was right for me.
Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
I worked as a researcher and analyst in the Air Force, and I had college courses that taught those areas, so I am comfortable with research. Creating the story is the most fun. Editing is especially important but not my favorite activity.
What sort of decisions did you make about including or portraying historical figures or events in order for Cruel Road to work?
My main character, John Fraser, was a captain under George Washington during the French and Indian War. There is a lot written about Washington that includes details about John Fraser. I had to get the part Washington plays in the story correct or readers would complain. I spent a lot of time on this.
What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write?
I had a hard time with romance scenes, so I limited them. I also had to write war, killing, and death scenes. I did these subtly without being gory or overly dramatic.
How have your previous careers impacted your writing?
I wrote technical documents and reports for 40 years. Since then, I learned that kind of writing differs from novel writing and that I was not a brilliant writer. I have belonged to SouthWest Writers for almost twenty years. With their courses, lectures, workshops, and encouragement, I am becoming a better writer.
What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
The best advice is that writing is hard, and it takes a long time to get it right. Keep writing and it will come to you.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I am writing a historical/crime novel based on a true story that I came across by luck. I took possession of the legal documents and personal papers of a man who died over thirty years ago. He was a nice, ordinary man, but he had a hidden past that I have uncovered. It is shocking, unexpected, violent, and heart-breaking. I am having fun uncovering this man’s past and writing his story.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.
I enjoyed this interview very much — good questions and interesting answers. I think Mr. Fisher’s idea is unique and, most likely, difficult to make interesting while being true to the real story. His new novel “in the hopper” really piqued my interest, as well.