Interview: Questions With Author Lewis E. Cook
1. What inspired you to come up with the premise of Joe's Alamo Unsung?
As a chemistry major from Arkansas hired to teach physical science, biology, chemistry and required to teach a Texas history course, my students actually knew more Texas history than I – especially one whose father was a university history professor. So I was forced to read, research and learn Texas history to avoid becoming an embarrassment and disappointing the fresh faces that looked to me to guide their education.
In my extensive study I learned of the many real blacks, women and other minorities in Texas history whose contributions had long been neglected. These unsung Texas heroes, who were as real as we are, inspired this story.
2. What percentage of the book do you consider to be non-fiction? What did you study to obtain this information?
This novel is based upon the historic and biographic life of William B. Travis who famously wrote letters describing the desperation at the Alamo. Later he actually drew a line in the sand allowing all who wanted to flee or surrender to do so. But he first stepped over the line sacrificing himself to battle instead. Joe, his slave also stepped over that line. So did at least two other black men, John and Sam.
Susanna Dickinson also stepped over the line holding her less than two year old daughter, Angelina. Married only four years to artillery Captain Almarlon Dickinson, she knew her husband would never abandon his soldiers and she would never abandon him. I had to write about the strength of such strong romantic relationships in this novel.
So the dialogue is fictional and I had to artistically arrange and compact some of the events. But this novel is at least 65% nonfiction. My research took me first to local libraries and historic landmarks, then to Texas state libraries, University of Houston, University of Texas Library, to archives at the Alamo in San Antonio and a translation of one of Mexican General Santa Anna’s soldier.
3. In your opinion, why are minorities usually left out when recounting the Alamo?
Women had little money, less influence and could not vote or own land in their names. Slaves were valued about the same as a good horse. The Civil War started 25 years after the Alamo. These condition got worse after that war, the 20 year reconstruction period and the industrial revolution that further reduced the value of ex-slaves. Sadly man could fly long before women could vote. So in my opinion such economic factors determined the market to which historians and writers shaded their work.
Out right racism and sexism were also strong factors. One has to really search to find the contributions of women, blacks, Chinese, Hispanics, Japanese, Native Americans and non-western religions. That fact is true even now for the contributions of women and minorities at NASA and space exploration, the arms race and scientific development of the atomic bomb and modern medicine. But it is there.
4. Was Joe, your protagonist, based on a real person?
Yes, as I explained this in my answer to question 1 & 2, above.
5. How would you describe tone of your book?
Joe’s Alamo Unsung has a strong romantic tone. It shows how a little love and humane treatment surpasses superficial factors like skin color in real life crises – and that life is short.
6. Do you have any plans on adapting this into a screenplay or writing a sequel or prequel?
The screenplay has been written and is under consideration now. I’ve been a writer at heart since high school. I know I will continue to do so.