October 25, 2016 — First time novelist Chris Stevenson is busy researching and planning a sequel to his historical work of fiction The Drum of Destiny, which won the prestigious Grateful American Book Prize earlier this month.
In fact, he has four more books in mind for his character Gabriel Cooper, a young boy on his way to join the Continental Army during the American Revolution. It’s an ambitious undertaking considering the fact that he vows to keep his stories as accurate as possible, a task that will require a massive amount of research. It will not be easy for this Indiana attorney, a former air transport pilot, who lives on a 40 acre working farm in the small town of Clarks Hill and manages a ninety minute round trip commute to his Indianapolis office.
“Here’s a man who, like many of us, was bored to distraction in history class when he was in school but got hooked on the events and personalities that shaped the founding of our country,” says David Bruce Smith, who teamed up with Dr. Bruce Cole, the former Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities to create the Prize last year.
“Ever notice how so many adults can’t pass up an opportunity to read a book or watch a movie set in the past? Something overcomes us as we grow older— we’re no longer bored, we develop an interest in the past,” according to Smith, an author and publisher. “It’s our aim to encourage students to embrace that passion earlier in life. We seek to encourage authors and publishers to produce more works of historical fiction and non-fiction that can make history come alive for young learners.”
Stevenson says he was motivated by that same intention. “By reading Drum of Destiny, young readers can learn about history without realizing they are learning about history. Most history textbooks are written with the idea of teaching kids facts they can memorize so they can then take a test. This method misses the most important aspects of history. The real life stories, the reasons behind the facts, and the character of our country’s founders are where the real learning is discovered.”
So intent was the author to use his book as a teaching tool, he developed a teacher’s guide available for download on his website: www.chrisstevensonauthor.com. He says it provides common core standards that help give teacher’s some guidance on how to use the novel in the classroom.
“Why did we decide to fight the most powerful empire in the world? What would have happened if we lost? What made George Washington such an amazing leader? What kind of hardships did these soldiers endure for freedom? These are just some of the questions that most children, and many adults, have no idea how to answer. Learning about our past always helps us live more meaningful lives in the present.”
Bored in the classroom, it was the boredom of his daily commute that ironically kindled Stevenson’s love of history. “I started listening to non-fiction history audio books on the American Revolution during my commute to and from work and I began to realize just how interesting history really was and how much I had missed growing up. I read the book 1776 by Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough, which sparked my interest even more. From there I read and listened to many other books on the period. Ronald Chernow, Joseph Ellis, Gordon Wood, and David Stewart are among my favorite authors.”
So how did he come up with his protagonist, Gabriel Cooper? He says that he drew directly upon the published memoir of John Greenwood to create the character. Greenwood volunteered to fight for his country in 1775 at the age of 16,. “He is mentioned in McCullough’s best seller, 1776. After reading more about John, I began to model Gabriel after this real-life character. John Greenwood’s story of walking alone from Falmouth to Boston captured my imagination and helped to create Gabriel’s story.”
Winning the Grateful American Book Prize has created quite a stir in Stevenson’s life. Media coverage of the award has created opportunities for him to do some author visits at schools in and around his community. “The reaction about the Prize has all been very positive. It truly is an amazing award and I’m honored that this distinguished panel of judges picked The Drum of Destiny as this year’s winner,” he says.