An Interview with Becky Akers, Author of Halestorm
Becky Akers, author of the new historical novel "Halestorm" telling the story of the life of American Revolutionary hero Nathan Hale, on why fiction matters.
Today, we interview American Daily Herald contributor Becky Akers about her new novel, Halestorm. Set during the American Revolutionary War, it tells the dramatic story of the spy — and anarchist! — Nathan Hale.
Becky is a freelance writer and historian whose work you may have seen here at ADH as well as at lewrockwell.com, Campaign for Liberty, forbes.com, Barron’s, the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, New York Post, American History Magazine, Military History Magazine, and many other publications and websites.
Welcome, Becky. You usually write non-fiction, chronicling some of the crimes government commits. Why did you switch from that to fiction?
Becky: Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, I write to advance liberty. Like most of ADH’s readers, I want to live free; I want politicians and bureaucrats to go away and leave us alone. And so, whatever I publish, I expose facts about the State — its brutality and corruption and inefficiency.
Trouble is, non-fiction doesn’t tempt some folks. Many want their information packaged in a story. I know: I’m one of them! Rather than plowing through a dreary report from the Inspector General of the NSA about the number of Americans the agency spied on, and the laws that permit this horrific violation of freedom, I’d far rather lose myself in a thriller: Mr. Superhero battles the evil bullies at the NSA who are trying to bring down America. Maybe Mr. S signed with the agency as an idealistic innocent right out of college, but now, 5 years later, he understands how utterly diabolical the whole thing is, and he begins leaking stuff to the press, actively trying to undermine the NSA, which has its thugs and their enablers in Congress hot on his trail…
The problem, of course, is that most of the thrillers out there turn this scenario around and glorify the NSA. Its creeps are the superheroes saving America. Celebrating the State is a long and venerable tradition in fiction — think of all the cop and detective novels (and movies and TV shows: those are simply animated novels), where the heroic, ruggedly handsome, witty, and incorruptible cop rescues the victim and solves the murder, all while packing his son’s lunch, coaching his daughter’s Little League team, and sensitively coddling his wife as her mother dies of leukemia. Mr. Cop is quite a guy! And though it’s seldom overtly stated, readers understand that his employer, too, is quite a government — attuned to their needs, heroic, lovable, surmounting every challenge.
This reverence for government extends backwards in American literature — and it’s transformed readers’ attitudes toward tyranny, which in turn has transformed our society. Look at someone like John Steinbeck, with his advocacy of socialism. Americans who never read a newspaper as Roosevelt was foisting his New Deal on them devoured Grapes of Wrath. And they came away thinking dependence and legalized plunder of the “wealthy” sounded pretty good.
We lovers of liberty need countervailing stories, gripping, exciting tales that convince readers at an emotional level of liberty’s beauty. That’s one of the things I’ve tried to do with Halestorm. First and foremost, though, I tell a breathtaking story — not because I’m such an accomplished novelist, but because Nathan Hale was an amazing guy caught in an inherently tense, edge-of-your-seat,-what-happens-next situation.
ADH: A lot of students missed that part about Nathan Hale’s being an anarchist in high-school history.
Becky: Yeah, it’s not a well-known fact….
Actually, the entire American Revolution was far more anarchic than mainstream historians admit. And even those eighteenth-century Americans — and Britons — who weren’t anarchists adored liberty. In fact, liberty enjoyed the sort of adulation democracy does now. Just about everyone on both sides of the Atlantic acknowledged liberty’s priceless worth; everyone agreed that government’s chief or only role was to protect it.
And contrary to the claims of far too many modern texts and teachers, participants fought the Revolution over the most effective means for securing freedom. One group thought the best way to keep politicians’ hands off their lives and out of their pockets was to separate from England’s government — and many of them extended that to all government. These were the Patriots.
Another set of folks, known as Loyalists, Royalists, Tories, or by other, more Anglo-Saxon names if you were a Patriot, feared that Americans couldn’t safeguard liberty without the British government’s help. France would subsume the weak colonies as soon as they threw off King George’s yoke.
Nor were the colonists the only ones rejecting the State. People in England were alarmed at how dictatorial their politicians had become, and they cheered the “Sons of Liberty” in America. They even rioted several times against the war, and their refusal to enlist sent George III in quest of foreign cannon fodder — which is why German princes, most notably the one in Hesse, kidnapped their taxpayers and packed them off as soldiers to America. The British government rented these hapless victims at so much per head, with a surcharge for casualties. Every time you think you have finally fathomed the limits of government’s evil, consider this little factoid: if a “Hessian” died in battle overseas, his prince made a nice profit off him.
ADH: But Nathan Hale is best known for his last words, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” That doesn’t sound very anarchic.
Becky: That’s because a friend attributed the line to him roughly 50 years later, after hearing it second-hand — and after giving us a very different version much earlier.
The British Army captured Nathan Hale when he was spying behind their lines on September 21, 1776. It hanged him, without a trial or court-martial, the next morning — just as America’s contemporary rulers kill citizens they have not formally charged or tried with drones.
We don’t know much of what happened once Nathan penetrated British lines — heck, we don’t know much of what happened before that, either, such as what intelligence Gen. George Washington asked him to uncover. But Washington’s position was disastrous: he held Manhattan (then known as York) Island while the British Navy clustered in New York’s bay. Those ships could sail the rivers that surround York Island any time they pleased and bag every troop Washington had. Meanwhile, the British Army outnumbered his something like 3-to-1. And many of Washington’s soldiers were recovering from an epidemic of typhus.
The two armies had already fought one titanic battle at the end of August 1776, with the Redcoats trouncing the Americans. The British generals could have easily ended the war the next day — but they simply sat there in their victory. And sat there. By mid-September, Washington was desperate to discover — and elude — their plans. We presume that ferreting out British intentions and precise capabilities was Nathan’s assignment.
He successfully traveled behind the enemy’s lines and, after at least a week (we don’t know exactly how long), tried to return with his information. We also don’t know how the government captured him; Nathan’s father theorized that someone betrayed him (“If you see something, say something”), but however it happened, he hanged on a Sunday, at 11 AM.
One of the few witnesses to his execution was a British captain named John Montresor. He went under a flag of truce to American lines later that day, apparently on other business. While there, he met with William Hull, a captain in the Continental Army who had been one of Nathan’s college buddies. Montresor was obviously still shaken, and when Hull asked if he were all right, Montresor told him about the young spy who’d hanged that morning. He also quoted Nathan’s last words.
Six years later, an anonymous author published an account of Nathan’s death in the Boston Advertiser. Hull is the likeliest writer. For the first time, he gives us Nathan’s last words: “I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged, that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service."
As an old man, Hull wrote his memoirs. He again records Nathan’s dying words, but now he changes them to the version we know – which alters “cause [of liberty]” to “my country.” Big, earth-shattering, and anachronistic difference. Americans in September 1776 probably still thought of England as their country, even if they didn’t acknowledge its politicians’ right to tyrannize them, especially since the former colonies wouldn’t band together as a “country” until 1789.
Nathan Hale was no nationalist. He gave his life for liberty, as my novel makes clear.
ADH: Fantastic! Where can we buy Halestorm?
Becky: It’s available In paperback or for Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony, or your computer. The paperback costs just $9.95 (plus shipping and whatever taxes your state steals) — cheap enough to give to friends who, like me, may prefer fiction, who won’t read Mises or Hayek or, regrettably, even ADH but who will heed the message of liberty from the cute, sexy, and witty protagonist of an electrifying novel.
Thanks so much!