Mark Alan Leslie just can’t stop writing. From historical fiction with a twist of action to true stories of golfing legends he rubbed shoulders with, the Monmouth native has been telling stories for nearly 50 years.
A former editor of the Lewiston Sun, Leslie founded a magazine focused on the golf industry and has published more than 10 books, including four historical novels. His latest, “A Cause Most Splendid: The Battle for the Bible,” was released earlier this month. It tells the fictionalized story of Colonel Robert Aitken, a Philadelphia printer who risked his life, in defiance of the British monarchy, to publish “The Aitken Bible of 1782”, the first English Bible printed in the United States. .
How did you make the transition from man of the press to published author? Transparent, really. To write is to write. Although journalism today often boils down to fact mixed up with opinion, then my generation was trained to give readers the who-what-when-where-why in the first paragraph. No matter the volatile times, with raging feelings, be it Vietnam, Nixon or nuclear power, it was imperative back then for reporters to keep their feelings at bay.
Either way, in both cases – journalism and novels – you want to grab readers by the collar from the start, with such a grip that they’ll keep reading until the end. Novels happen to be much longer than newspaper and magazine articles, so it’s harder to keep readers’ attention and tell your story.
My novels have all involved one overarching goal that excites me: the Underground Railroad, the Ku Klux Klan in Maine in the 1920s, the search for King David’s music on the Psalms, or the Prophet’s Deed of Ownership. Jeremiah proving Jewish ownership of land in Israel. In both storylines and subplots, I try to convey a lot of facts mixed with a good dose of intrigue, action, interesting characters, moral values and, at times, mystery.
You have written books on many different subjects – golf, action and adventure, and now Christian history. What attracted you to each of these topics? I “lived” golf for 12 years as the founding editor of a golf publication and another 15 years in public relations in the design, construction and maintenance industry. of golf. So meeting and developing friendships with some of the most remarkable people – from Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead to Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw and Pete Dye – has been a remarkable time for me, and obviously one to write about. So I loaded up two books with the deepest, funniest quotes and stories they told me, some of which had never been printed.
My historical novels have revolved around fascinating people who lived through extraordinary seasons like the American Revival, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the rise of the KKK and the days when it was illegal to print Bibles in America without permission. of the King. The results: “Midnight Rider for the Morning Star”, “A Cause Most Splendid: The Battle for the Bible”, “True North: Tice’s Story” and “The Crossing”.
My contemporary books have all been action / adventure, with a mixture of romance and intrigue, involving plots that sometimes made me jump, out of the blue. I was reading the Psalms one day and noticed that a number of them had noted that they needed to be sung to certain tunes. Well, where are these tunes? If you had to chase them away, who would try to stop you? How dangerous could that be? And where would such research take you? The result: “Chasing the Music,” a cross-world adventure that became the first of a trilogy involving two of my favorite characters, an archaeologist and a black-ops veteran.
Another day, when the United Nations voted that Jews had no historical connection to Israel, I shouted, “Well, that’s stupid! So I wondered what hard evidence would confirm the Jews’ connection to the land? The result: “Operation Jeremiah’s Jar. “
And when the United Nations ganged up against Israel and the US President abandoned them, came “The Last Aliyah” – the flight of the Jews to their homeland from a hostile America.
What are your favorite stories to tell and why? I speak a lot to the historical societies, libraries and churches of Maine’s Underground Railroad and the surprising history of the Ku Klux Klan in our state in the 1920s.
Growing up in Maine, I have never heard of these amazing times in our history. While I can understand why textbook writers avoid the seemingly ‘shameful’ idea of some of our Klan-supporting ancestors, why not teach children about the Underground Railroad, the Mainers who risked their lives and fortunes for help escape the slaves?
So this is my favorite story to tell: that of the heroes of Kittery at Fort Fairfield, including Lewiston, who housed, fed and helped slaves escape to Canada.
Over the past 18 months, fear of COVID has seriously compromised my travels, which have included canceled presentations at the Androscoggin Historical Society and as a bicentennial speaker at the Maine State Library. But we started scheduling these talks again and I love it.
A lot of research is done in your books, like “True North: Tice’s Story”, on Maine’s role in the Underground Railroad. How do you find these stories and what is your research process like? How do I find the stories? Ha!
Without my curious-minded wife, Loy’s, none of the historical books would have seen the light of day. She just plants an idea, waters it and before I know what hits me, I write the third scene. Loy amazes me, including his latest “find”: a transplanted German who in 1777 left his home in Philadelphia to spy. . . well, i shouldn’t reveal more since i’m only in chapter two.
Libraries, old newspaper and magazine articles, Internet search engines like duckduckgo.com – they are all helpful. There are places like the Freedom Trail Network in Portland and even an Underground Railroad museum in the small town of Ripley, Ohio, where my novel’s slave started his escape.
I needed equestrian advice, which I received in spades from Monmouth historian and retired veterinarian Larry Buggia; the flying expertise, which I obtained from Vietnam War pilot Billy Fielding of Scarborough; advice on hydropower, which I received from Don Pauley in southern China; and various other instances where I reached out and people helped me educate me.
You spent a lot of time immersing yourself in the history of Maine, especially in central Maine. What’s the most interesting – or surprising – treat you’ve picked up along the way?
I was editor of the Lewiston Sun from 1976 to 1986, but never heard this story, which I tell about the attitude towards Catholics that allowed the Ku Klux Klan to take root in the Maine a hundred years ago.
On December 8, 1855, the Catholics of Lewiston, having been denied a permanent church by the Franklin Company which ruled the town, worshiped in a chapel normally used by another denomination. The Lincoln Street building was set on fire and 500-600 people stood across the street who reportedly “screamed and yelled and taunted.” The fire engine had come to the scene, but someone had cut the fire hose. It might not have been surprising then, but it is shocking today, but the KKK klavern in Lewiston-Auburn had 2,000 members.
I created two maps of Maine which, when overlapped, are surprising. One shows the communities where safe houses protected the slaves. The other, taken from information 60 years later, shows all the communities with klaverns of the Ku Klux Klan. Many cities are on both maps. The two.