1. Tell me about your book, Cossacks In Paris, and where you got your inspiration for it?
Its the story of an engineer caught up in Napoleon’s Russian Campaign and events of the subsequent two years. On a scouting mission to St. Petersburg he meets the daughter, a Finn, of the counselor to Tsar Alexander. Despite that she’s promised to a privileged Cossack, they fall in love and the engineer deserts the Grand Armeé to claim her.
The love story is entirely invented but clearly the background is true historical events. The root is as well; the engineer was a real person who participated in the Battle of Paris in 1814, the conflict that actually led to Napoleon’s abdication, long before Waterloo.
I happened to read about the battle and the young conscript who ended up chased by Cossacks in a news clipping from Journal de l'Empire of March 1814. In real life he was knighted in the order of the Legion of Honour. I think I ran across it by accident; I wasn’t planning an historical novel about any of this at the time. This fellow inspired the character of Breutier, the engineer.
2. Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Frequently. Lol. That’s what editing is for. If you’re asking if I ever hated anything I’ve published, no. That’s what editors are for, even if the editor is just your spouse.
3. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Only if I magically acquired greatly improved writing skills overnight. Nothing major anyway. I generally keep polishing until I’m reasonably satisfied I can’t make it any better this time around.
On the other hand, it’s nice that as an indie publisher you can sneak in corrections to typos, minor historical errors, and the like. That’s not just true of eBooks, either. It’s easy now with POD to update a paperback edition that, in years past, would’ve required a publisher to spend money on a revised book.
4. What was your last dream about?
I dreamt I was part of a smuggling ring in Napoleon-era Paris and les flics (the cops) were closing in on us. I have no idea what that means, really.
5. If you could ask your future self, one question, what would it be?
Oh, that’s a good one. It reminds me somehow of Faustus. I confess, though, that after thinking it over for a while I can’t come up with any good reply.
My first thought was I’d like to know if my sales would be good and all the efforts were worthwhile, but knowing in advance would take out a lot of the adventure, so that’s no good.
My next thought was I’d like to know what sort of country I’d be living in 20 years from the present. (I notice you don’t ask how far in the future... clever minx.) I’m pretty confident I already know the answer though and, after all, there’s no guarantee my future self wouldn’t lie to my present self, is there? :)
So, I’m really stuck. I’m sure this question will haunt me for days now, though, so thanks.
6. Would you break a law to save a loved one?
If I thought that doing so would benefit her more than it would harm her, certainly. There are worse things than dying.
7. Is there a message in your novels you want the readers to grasp?
Have you got an hour? Any short answer to this is sure to mislead as much as it in informs, I’m sure. Still, it deserves a good old-fashioned try.
If I had to compress it down to essentials, I’d want readers to see in my work the view that life can be good, that we can flourish, and our thoughtful choices have a huge influence on whether or not we do. I’d want them to ‛get’ that the keys to that are through striving for high competence via creativity, and sheer persistence in the face of obstacles over a long, often difficult period.
Typically, in life as opposed to literature, those hurdles are not big, dramatic one-time events. More often they’re the day-to-day Chinese-torture drip of the inertia of wet human cotton balls, to use a horribly mixed metaphor. Those barricades are usually held in place by small souls who, paraphrasing Mencken, fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.
At heart, I’m a romantic writer – but in the 19th century sense of that term.
Not an undiluted cheerful message, in the final analysis, but I see it in all my work in one form or another. Interestingly, this isn’t sheer chutzpah or delusion on my part; some readers have noticed it and said so in reviews.
8. Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
It would be impossible to pick just one.
I’ve enjoyed such a variety from E. M. Forster to Ayn Rand, from Dumas to R. F. Delderfield. Those are all, clearly, starkly different writers. I do tend to prefer British writers mostly.
Of authors of more ‛popular fiction’ I used to read a fair amount of Ian Fleming, Alistair MacLean, Arthur Hailey, Ken Follett, and the like. More recently, I’ve discovered a wonderful fellow named David Bruce, who writes WWII-era military fiction.
I’m not sure I could identify just what ‛strikes me’ about any of these. I like books that have a story with admirable characters and that moves along. I generally get impatient with ‛serious’ authors who, as the saying goes, muddy their waters to make them appear deep. At the same time, superficial ‛heroic’ characters get boring very quickly. Of more popular fiction these days, at least among the successful ones, the emphasis often seems to be more on either the grim or the goofy and neither is really my taste.
For good or ill, I’m a fairly old-fashioned fellow in most of my tastes.
9. What was your favourite subject at school?
Here again it would be impossible to choose just one. Mathematics and physics were high on the list, but I always loved art and music and literature, too. I did a lot of acting in my younger days in school and later. I’ve always been interested in a very wide variety of subjects.
10. If you could learn one random skill, what would you learn?
I’d finish learning to play the piano. I doubt now I’ll take the time but I’ve always regretted not practicing enough to become proficient. I could say the same thing about drawing, an ability I consider next to divine when it’s developed well and one for which I have no talent at all, probably because of native impatience. I greatly admire those who have those qualities.
11. Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or is it all imagination?
Most of my books are based on real-life events, heavily modified by my imagination. “Cossacks In Paris,” whose background is the final two years of the Napoleonic wars, is from start to finish, obviously. But, less obviously, it is right down to the main character, whom I discovered in a news clipping from 1814.
“Death Is Overrated” was influenced by a few different classic films but the events themselves are mostly drawn from the experience of real people, though the characters are only very loosely.
My next, Clonmac’s Bridge, is based on a real-life discovery by marine archaeologists of a medieval bridge in Ireland near a famous monastery. Again, though, the real events are just background; the story is entirely invented.
My work fits roughly into the Romantic Realist school, though how well it fits varies quite a lot from novel to novel.
12. What’s next for you?
Well, I mentioned Clonmac’s Bridge, which should be published around the time this interview is, I hope.
Past that, I’m finishing the research for a 19th century medical drama about a young woman from Scotland who emigrates to America to become a physician, a rare and very difficult thing even as late as 1890. It might sound like a grim historical romance à la Phillipa Gregory, but it’s actually more social commentary – but the opposite of the sort a reader might imagine when hearing it described, and definitely not dreary. For one thing, she opposes most of those who try to help her because she’s poor, but not for reasons of false pride or even a simple desire to ‛make it on her own’.
After that, I plan to start writing a trilogy whose background is the Age of Discovery – when Venetians traded in the Levantine, the Portuguese opened oceanic trade routes to India, etc. I’ve been researching it for a couple of years.
"If you read in bed, you might be up all night." - Frank Schulwolf, Amazon
"Sit back and strap yourself in for a riotous, rollicking ride following appealing heroes, heroines and villains across war-torn Napoleonic Europe." Peter Cresswell, Not PC
"Perren's economical style moves one quickly from page-to-page while leaving little for interpretation, and everything to purposeful conquest. The reader is driven by one overriding question: will a man's passionate pursuit of a woman prove more powerful than a ruler's quest for an empire?" - Michael Moeller, The Atlasphere
HOW FAR WILL ONE MAN GO FOR LOVE AND FREEDOM?
Rebellious engineer Breutier Armande is drafted into the Grande Armeé on the eve of Napoleon's 1812 Russian war campaign. On a spying mission to St. Petersburg he meets Kaarina, daughter of the counselor to Tsar Alexander I.
The pair soon fall in love -- but Kaarina is betrothed to Agripin, a brooding Cossack and a favorite of the Tsar. When she refuses him, Agripin kidnaps her, sowing a showdown to the death between the two young men.
Risking a firing squad, Breutier deserts Napoleon's army during the war. Dodging the vengeance of the world's most powerful rulers catapults him onto a perilous quest to hunt down his greatest enemy.
Interweaving the characters' personal dramas with the battles in Europe forms the core of the story. The conflict peaks at the moment when, for the first time in 400 years, foreign armies invaded France, leaving behind Cossacks in Paris.
Jeffrey Perren wrote his first short story at age 12 and went on to win the Bank of America Fine Arts award at 17. Since then he has published at award-winning sites and magazines from the U.S. to New Zealand.