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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

SB Authors: Journalist Jane Hulse's Revolutionary War Novel is a Page-Turner of Love and Barbarity

Jane Hulse grew up in an 18th century New Hampshire house filled with Revolutionary Era furniture and trappings, listening to family tales of ancestors who fought on both sides of the War of Independence.

Her childhood was infused with history, thanks largely to her father, who took her on hikes to explore caves where British Loyalists hid out from the Continental Army.

A real estate man with a passion for homes from Revolutionary times, he had a zeal for collecting antiques of the period, from cabinets, clocks and rugs to muskets, blankets and beds, which formed the backdrop for Jane’s youth.

Now Hulse has transformed her lifelong fascination with Revolutionary times into a work of historical fiction: “Prisoner of Wallabout Bay,” set in British-controlled New York in 1776, follows the dramatic, imaginary adventures of a teenage girl with a rebellious streak, while also telling a tale about a true, little-known aspect of the Revolution – British atrocities committed against many thousands of colonial rebels held captive on Tory prison ships.

A graduate of Syracuse, Hulse is a longtime journalist who built a career in newspapers, including the Rocky Mountain News, the L.A. Times, the Ventura County Star and Santa Barbara’s now-defunct, historic morning daily (where she not only served as its indefatigable City Editor but also authored the most famous single line of the infamous News-Press Mess: “F--- you Travis!” -- a story for another day).**

On this week’s “SB Authors” episode of Newsmakers TV, she talks about the four-year journey of writing her first book – which followed her deposit into a desk drawer of several earlier years of work on another volume. It may have been a necessary, if painful, warmup - after finishing “Wallabout Bay,” she realized the failed novel now may be adapted as a prequel to the newly-published one

The ghastly story of the prison ships, which drives the plot, is an extraordinary and surprising one: at least 11,500 American captives died amid the execrable conditions in more than a dozen such ships the British positioned in the waters around New York. Along with educating herself about this forgotten episode of American history, Hulse also conducted extensive and painstaking research on even the smallest of considerations, required for verisimilitude for the tricky task of melding historically accurate detail into the lives of fictitious characters.

At one point, for example, she had written a scene describing her protagonist, 17-year old Sarah Barrett, “buttoning up” her dress – only to learn belatedly that women’s clothing of the time did not have buttons, which were reserved as ornamental doodahs for rich men’s garments; As we say in the newspaper business: Get me rewrite!

Jane’s Sarah is a kind of proto-feminist who works as a dogsbody at a Tory newspaper, and struggles with social pressures from family, friends and mansplaining men of all stripes to quit working, lose her ink-stained dresses, fix her hair, get married, have children and fit into every other gender pigeonhole of the time. As the fast-paced novel proceeds, Sarah’s personal turmoil and rebellion become deeply interwoven with the real-life rebellion wracking the colonies, and the patriotic and political decisions it forces on her and a cast of other layered characters.

Our interview with the Ventura-based Hulse is a wide-ranging conversation packed with hard-won practical information about wordsmithing, editing, sifting the past, seeking an agent, searching for a publisher, writing at home, writing in coffee shops, writing at work, and other chapters in the arduous odyssey of becoming a first-time author.

Jane will be talking about, reading from, and signing copies of her new book at Chaucer’s (shout-out Mike Takeuchi) on Monday, Sept. 11, at 6 p.m. Plenty of free parking,


You can watch Newsmakers’ discussion with Jane Hulse via YouTube below or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here. TVSB, Cox Cable Channel 17, airs the program at 8 p.m. every weeknight, and at 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. KCSB, 91.9 FM, broadcasts the show at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.

**Newsmakers is sponsoring a free screening of "Citizen McCaw," the 2008 documentary chronicling the meltdown of the historic Santa Barbara News-Press, on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. at the Marjorie Luke Theatre. Tickets are free and seating is first-come, first-sit. Please RSVP (below) so we can get an accurate crowd count.

RSVP below to free showing of "Citizen McCaw" and discussion on September 27, at 7 p.m. at the Marjorie Luke Theater. Click here to learn more.


New Yorker cartoon by Paul Noth.

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