AUTHOR: Paul J. Stam
BOOK TITLE: A River That Is Congo: Of Rulers and Ruled & Of Chiefs and Giants.
GENRE: Historical fiction
PUBLISHER: All Things That Matter Press
Please tell us about yourself.
My childhood was fantastic. Growing up in Central Africa of missionary parents I was aware that it was not the usual American childhood, but it was normal for me. I didn’t know how special it was until I came to the United States just before the end of World War II when I was fifteen and discovered that you didn’t have to raise the vegetables, or slaughter your own livestock, or hunt game in order to eat. You could just go to a store and buy it.
Pretty much in this order I have been: a construction worker (while going to college), university teacher and administrator before and after the sailing days, and a sailboat skipper.
I am now retired and live in Hawaii where I spend a lot of time at the computer writing or on the potter's wheel making bowls and mugs.
Please tell us your latest news.
I have just signed another contract with All Things That Matter Press for another book. This one is a World War II historical novel. The title of the book is, Desperate Voyage. It is about a crossing from South Africa to Argentina. The ship is fast enough to outrun any submarine, but not fast enough to get away from a shipload of desperate passengers.
What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?
My writing schedule is 5 days a week of 4 hours or 2000 words which ever come later. That means if I haven’t written 2000 words in those 4 hours I have to stay there until I have 2000 words. I will admit that there times when I cheat, but I’m fairly rigid. When I’m not writing I usually spend 4 to 6 hours of the day doing pottery. I throw lots of bowls, mugs and plates on the potters wheel, but what I love doing is sculpturing because every sculpture is a challenge.
Do you ever have writer’s block? If so, how do you get through it?
I’m never sure what people mean by writer’s block. I love to write and I always know where I want the story to go next. The problem is that I don’t always know how I want it to get there. When that happens I test write. I will write what I want to say using narrative description. Then I will write it again using dialogue, then introspection and so on until I get what I want. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot of rewriting, draft upon draft, upon draft.
I also usually have more than one thing going at a time. Right now I’m working on the third book of the Congo trilogy and I also writing another murder mystery and an international espionage adventure. So if things aren’t going easily on one, I go to another.
Who is your publisher and how did you connect with them?
My publisher for the Congo books and Desperate Voyage is All Things That Matter Press. They are absolutely the most encouraging and helpful publisher a body could find. They also have a great group of writers who are dedicated to helping each other promote their book. I found them by reading the reviews of hundreds of different publishers on Editors and Predators.
What do you plan for the future?
I’ll keep writing until I keel-over or whatever. I also have some books with another publisher so I keep busy writing and with my ceramics. I find that I get a lot of ideas for current and future books when I’m at the potter’s wheel.
How can we find you?
What genre do you write in and why?
My favorite genre is historical as is the case with The River Congo Trilogy and Desperate Voyage. But I have a murder mystery entitled The Telephone Killer out and I just signed a contract for another book called Murder Sets Sail which isn’t a mystery because the reader knows right from the beginning who the murderers are and who they intent to murder, so I guess it’s an adventure novel.
Tell us about the current book you’re promoting.
The River Congo books are about the atrocities of colonialism in Central Africa, which is something most people don’t want to know about.
What comes first: the plot or characters?
The character. People are interested in people and what happens to them. Get the reader to love your character and they will be concerned about what happens to them in the story.
Did your book require a lot of research? If so, what kind?
Growing up in the Congo I couldn’t help but know about some of the cruelties that were perpetrated on the natives. I grew up listening to the “Old-timers” some of whom were the first white people in the area. I did, however, confirm that others also knew what I knew. One of the best books about that era is King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, New York, Mariner Books 1999.
What are your current books out right now, and what are the books coming up for release?
Current books available right now are: Of Rulers and Rules, Of Chiefs and Giants, The Telephone Killer, A Question of Reputation and The Final Witness all available on Amazon and from the publishers. Two other books contracted for are: Desperate Voyage with All Things That Matter Press and Murder Sets Sail with Second Wind Publishing.
What books have most influenced your life?
Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas and Snows of Kilimanjaro and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway.
What seven words would you use to describe yourself?
Optimistic – I don’t care how bad things look, I’m always sure they will turn out all right.
Cheerful – I am happy all the time. This makes some of my friends uncomfortable.
Resourceful – When I don’t have something I need, I will make something else work.
Old – You know you are old when everyone you talk to is younger than you.
Content – Life is good and I’m happy with it.
Venturesome – All my life I have gone down roads just to see where they went.
Blessed – most important of all I am blessed, outrageously blessed. I know that is a religious word and I’m not a religious person, but it has a hell of a lot more substance than “lucky” or “fortunate.” The Star Wars tried to capture the meaning with the phrase, “May the force be with you.” I could say, “I am filled with the force,” or “The force is with me,” but “blessed” is simpler and better.
A River That Is Congo – Of Chiefs and Giants.
Light from the flames of the small fire flickered against the black, mud walls of the hut. The smoke curled upwards feeling its way along the bare pole rafters until it found the hole in the thatch at the peak of the roof where all the rafters came together. Close to the wall, opposite the entrance, a young girl lay on a woven straw mat, her stomach protruding high above her with the new life in her. She was fifteen years old. She was the third and youngest wife of Ronzozo, first son of Chief Kimulu and Chief-to-be. Next to her an old woman, her hair gray, her flesh loose and sagging, squatted, her arms wrapped around her knees, her chin resting on her folded arms, as she stared into the small flames of the fire.
The girl’s body tensed, her knees came up, her fists clutched the edge of the straw mat, her face contorted with the pain, and her buttocks rose off the ground in her effort to bring the child forth. The old woman turned her head to look at her. The contraction passed; the girl’s body went limp, her legs straightened out, and she again lay flat on the mat taking long, deep breaths. She had not made a sound. To cry out while giving birth would only tell the evil spirits a child was being born.
Excited voices could be heard outside the hut and the old woman got up and went out, stooping almost double to get through the low entrance. Outside the whole village was bathed in moonlight. In front of the entrance was another fire. Next to it, a young man sat on his heels, his arms extended in front of him and his hands clasped around the shaft of a spear, the butt of which rested on the ground. Not far away, halfway to the next hut, a group of women stood talking in hushed, but excited tones. The old woman stood in the shadows listening for a moment and then went back inside. She sat down next to the girl and sighed, resigned to the loss of what she and the girl had hoped for said, “Shushi has brought forth a man child.”
The girl turned her head. “How know you this?”
“It is the talk.”
“Go! Tell Mukulu to go to my husband and say to him Meli, his third wife, has brought forth her first born; a man-child.”
The old woman looked at her and said, “If the child is a girl you will be put away, cast out for telling this lie. No village will have room for you.”
“I will bear a son,” the girl growled. “Tell Mukulu to go. He is to run. He is to stop and talk to no one. He must run quickly. He must get there before the messenger of Shushi gets there—” Another contraction started. “Go!” she hissed at the old woman and then clamped her mouth shut pushing with the contraction.