30 June 2020

Blog Tour: Interview with Benjamin J. Gohs, Author of 'A Thin Porridge' #HistoricalFiction

Blog Tour: Interview with Benjamin J. Gohs, Author of 'A Thin Porridge' #HistoricalFiction
Blog Tour: Interview with Benjamin J. Gohs, Author of 'A Thin Porridge'

'A Thin Porridge' by Benjamin J. Gohs - The Blurb:

When 19-year-old Abeona Browne's renowned abolitionist father Jon Browne dies in summer of 1860, devastating family secrets are revealed, and her life of privilege and naiveté in Southern Michigan becomes a frantic transatlantic search for answers—and someone she didn't even know existed.

Still in mourning, Abeona sneaks aboard the ship carrying her father’s attorney Terrence Swifte and his assistant Djimon—a young man with his own secrets—on a quest to Africa to fulfil a dying wish.

Along the journey, Abeona learns of her father’s tragic and terrible past through a collection of letters intended for someone he lost long ago.

Passage to the Dark Continent is fraught with wild beasts, raging storms, illness, and the bounty hunters who know Jon Browne’s diaries are filled with damning secrets which threaten the very anti-slavery movement he helped to build.

Can Abeona overcome antebellum attitudes and triumph over her own fears to right the wrongs in her famous family’s sordid past?

So named for an African proverb, A Thin Porridge is a Homeric tale of second chances, forgiveness, and adventure that whisks readers from the filth of tweendecks, to the treachery of Cameroons Town, across the beauty of Table Bay, and deep into the heart of the fynbos—where Boer miners continue the outlawed scourge of slavery.
'A Thin Porridge' by Benjamin J. Gohs - front cover
'A Thin Porridge' by Benjamin J. Gohs - front cover

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The Author Interview:

1. Could you tell us a little about your book and what inspired you to write it?

A Thin Porridge is the story of Abeona Browne, an African-American girl who should be getting ready to go off to college in the fall of 1860 but ends up traveling halfway round the world to find answers involving her abolitionist father’s dark past.

It was while reading up on the practice of slavery in Africa—an institution often vastly different from American slavery—that the story of A Thin Porridge began to unfold.

2. Your book, A Thin Porridge, is set just before the American Civil War. What drew you to this era of history?

As far back as I can remember I’ve been interested in 19th Century American history—specifically slavery and the Civil War. There’s already been so much written on the topics that I wouldn’t have dreamed of even thinking about adding to the body of work. But I began reading about African slavery and finding little on the subject. That’s when the idea for a story centering on the matter entered my mind. The tale evolved and grew from there, but it was originally inspired by the question of what life might have been like for chattel in places other than America.

3. What were the challenges you faced in researching this period of history and were there any unexpected surprises?

Any time one tries to insert oneself into the past, we risk getting a lot wrong. It’s hard enough to get period and place correct when you’re dealing with regions with robust recordkeeping … but delving into Western and Southern Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries like I did meant often finding very little history about village locations, railroad projects, customs, clothing, diet, etc.

There are a number of places on the African continent which exist today that did not exist in 1860, and vice-versa. Good luck finding anything out about the Village of Adjumba. I was lucky enough to purchase an original hand-colored map from the year my story occurs and so was able to discover places I otherwise would not have.

The biggest surprise to me was the lack of historical record for a number of locations I desperately wanted to learn more about. So, you do the best you can and invent where you cannot find fact.

This is, after all, a novel and not an encyclopedia. But, other than a few minor adjustments, I was able—sometimes with lengthy bouts of search—to find answers to most of my questions.

4. Can you tell us what a typical writing day looks like for you?

Start work on my newspaper every morning at 6 a.m.
Around nine or ten I break from that and work on my novels.
Always have several manuscripts at varying stages. Last week, for instance, I spent a few hours revising a chapter on
The Stickhare novel which I wrote in 2018. Then I got a coffee and read from Moby Dick for half an hour or so. Then it was time to sketch more notes, portions of dialog, character ideas for this year’s novel. In late afternoon, I went back to working on the newspaper—uploading stories to our website, posting social media photos and news, etc. Then I stop to fix supper. I allow myself to read after dinner, but I try not to do any writing unless something comes to me that I have to get down.

2019’s novel is currently aging in a cool dark place. I’ll begin revisions on it once I’ve completed editing 2018’s novel. I’m currently behind schedule on starting the actual writing-writing of 2020’s novel but with trying to launch
A Thin Porridge and revising The Stickhare,
and running a newspaper, there’s only so many hours in a day. 

5. What advice do you have for aspiring Historical Fiction authors?

A little goes a long way when trying to set a historical scene. I find too many authors trying to catalogue every historical item in any given location to prove how realistic their story is. It usually comes off as protesting too much.

Benjamin J. Gohs, Author of 'A Thin Porridge' - Headshot
Benjamin J. Gohs, Author of 'A Thin Porridge' - Headshot

About Benjamin J. Gohs:

Benjamin J. Gohs is a longtime award-winning news editor whose investigative journalism has included stories of murder, sex-crime, historical discovery, corruption, and clerical misconduct.

Benjamin now divides his time between writing literary thrillers and managing the community newspaper he co-founded in 2009.