Ulysses S. Grant in China and Other Stories-Kids Books-Author Q&A

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Travel through time in a book filled with captivating stories from history. In Ulysses S. Grant in China and Other Stories by Tom Durwood not only do you travel to China with President Grant but all throughout time. In the first story, you get to see how the first crop was planted in great detail, then you enjoy a tale about teenage Mayans who must escape the collapse of their empire. Later in the book, you travel with a young boy who seeks revenge in a saloon- this one could easily be my favorite story. Eventually, the title story Ulysses S Grant in China plays out before you. A very detailed and impeccably researched tale, it will be a wonderful experience for a history buff. with illustrations provided in each chapter, this book will entrance any preteens and adults alike. The book is written for young readers, but I think anyone could enjoy these tales. The writing is strong, and the photos and map provide a beautiful ribbon to the book.

The Colonials is a full-length adventure tale from 1774, in which teenagers from a prestigious academy are inducted into a society of navigators where they are soon pulled into directions that could change history as we know it. I, personally, have never read a book for pleasure about the American Revolution so this was quite an interesting book. You can tell that the author loves history and knows what he’s talking about. The characters are clever, self-driven, and unique. If you like books with lots of adventure, action, and a dose of mystery, then this one is for you.

King James’ Seventh Company is more adventure and mystery, though there is still a history lesson to be found within these pages. I enjoyed this one the most, as it was more up my alley. A bookkeeper named Mathias is sent to help a man who ends up being King James, the boy doesn’t believe this at first, but soon discovers that there are many mysteries within the walls of the castle. During his first night in the castle, the book keeper finds a hidden passageway, and that’s just the beginning. Soon, Matthias finds himself wrapped up in a murder, as he and a group of others try to figure out how to untangle themselves from the mystery, chaos ensues. This book is gorgeously written with true to it’s time dialect that shows the author has done his research.

These books are sure to spark curious minds, and a love for the past. If you know anyone who loves reading biographies, historical/colonial novels or watches The a History Channel, then grab these books for them, they are sure to make a wonderful gift.


Tom was kind enough to answer some questions for me, so I thought I would share them with all of you!

K: Did Ulysses S. Grant really travel to China?
T: Yes, after he left the White House, Grant and his wife took a world tour. He was welcomed everywhere as the hero of the American Civil War. I came across a photo of Grant sitting beside the great Chinese leader, Li Hong Zhang, during a tumultuous time in China. It seemed natural to come up with an adventure surrounding that visit. I place Grant in the middle of a band of teen protagonists (of course), and the swirling forces that were about to explode in the Boxer Rebellion.

Ulysses S. Grant is a rich and surprising character. A new book by Ron Chernow is giving us a new look at Grant and his complex times.

K: The logo on the spine of your books says, “Empire Studies.” What is that?
T: I taught at Valley Forge Military College for eight years, and one of my courses looked at Empire and Literature. The idea was to connect literature with the rise and fall of empire – the cadets seemed to enjoy it, and I started an online, open-access journal to collect and introduce some of the academic writing about empire. My adventure stories largely take place at turning points in empire.

K: Where did you find the illustrators whose work we see on the covers and interiors?
T: Some extremely talented illustrators who work for the gaming and movie industries also post their work online. Anta (King James’ Seventh Company) is from Ukraine, Victorin (Ripert, The Colonials illustrator) lives in France, and Edmund Liang (USG in China) lives in California. Jason Juta, who did the endpaper maps, is in England.

K: Where did you get your inspiration for these novels?
T: It is such a long and rocky road from start to finish, it’s hard to say. Usually, there is a big idea about geology or botany that strikes me as interesting, then years and years of trial-and-error as I try to fashion an honest story in front of that idea.

K: Did you have anyone in mind while writing (as far as audience goes)?
T:  am constantly coaching myself to keep the narrative line clean and my historical context minimal, so a young-adult reader can enjoy the adventure. As I get older, I tend to pare down the descriptions and let the dialogue do the work. It is an ongoing process.

K: What genre of books do you enjoy reading?
T: Louis L’Amour’s westerns and Robert E. Howard’s pulp fiction. In the past, I have gone through series of detective novels and police procedurals. I am currently making my way through back years of the Best American Science and Nature Writing series by Houghton Mifflin as well as the Write Bloody poetry books. When I’m stuck, I read Rachel Carson.

K: How long have you been writing?
T: Almost four decades!! I write painfully slowly, and re-think, and discard a lot.

K: Do you plan on releasing more books? Do you think you will write in different genres if you do plan on releasing more?
T: Yes, I am halfway through “The Detective,” the fourth book in the Navigator series. I should have a sample chapter of that to post for readers by Summer 2018. This is a noir story built around a young cop on a corrupt city police force. The cop’s story takes him into what I hope is a surprising and treacherous landscape, and a crime with a vast backstory.

“The Detective” should be closely followed by a set of stories set at the turn of the 20th century, also with a fairly dark twist.

Thank you Tom for letting me read your books, and for taking the time to answer some questions!

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