Daniel Meier started writing fiction as a college student. He even hoped to make a career of it. Frustrated in his efforts to find an agent and a publisher, though, he finally said, “The heck with it. I mean, I had to make a living, and I wasn’t making one writing, so I became an aviation safety inspector for the FAA. I also worked as a flight instructor and a transport pilot.”
Now, 40 years later, Meier has retired to the “beautiful hamlet of Owings, Maryland” with his wife, Teeja. But the publishing industry has changed a lot over the last few decades. Meier has found a home for his work at hybrid publisher BQB. He also has the help of Teeja, whom he describes as his “first reader—and first critic.”
It’s his fascination with—and college major in—history that drives Bloodroot, a novel Kirkus Reviews praises for its “rigorous historical authenticity and rich period details.” This gripping narrative turns on the contrast between the fantasy that English émigré to the New World were promised and the reality they encountered once they crossed the Atlantic. The narrator, Matthew James, is an apprentice who faces prison for assaulting his master if he stays in England. His friend Richard Scott believes that Virginia is a new Eden. Both men will ultimately face challenges they could not have anticipated before reaching North America.
“I’ve always been interested in the early settlements of Virginia,” says Meier. “I used to visit Jamestown and Williamsburg a lot, and I couldn’t help trying to imagine what it was like 400 years ago. It was pretty wild—lots of old-growth forest. And, of course, the English people who came here encountered Native Americans—some friendly, some curious, some hostile. So I did a lot of research on this period.”
Meier started working on Bloodroot decades ago, before the internet made doing research easy. “I worked at the University of Maryland’s McKeldin Library. I read whatever I could get my hands on.” It took some time before all this research coalesced into a narrative, but, Meier says, “When this story came to me…it was almost like someone was whispering in my ear.”
Meier revised Bloodroot when he decided to publish it, but he says that one noteworthy feature was already there. Throughout the novel, a third character, Lt. Webster, an officer who serves as a mentor to Matthew James, voices thoughts about the relationship between English colonizers and Indigenous people that feel very contemporary:
“These people fight with us for the same reasons that we would fight with them if they were to invade our country. We call them savages, but what is more savage than English law that would disembowel a man and then pull his body apart while he yet lives? These people are no more savage than we. We call them savages because they are not Christian, but I tell you most truthfully that there are many in England that are savage and we call them gentlemen.
“The people of Powhatan have their own laws and old customs. They care for their children as we do. They care for one another when they are sick. They do not let the poor among them starve or live in grievous want as we do.”
Bloodroot is attuned to contemporary sensibilities at the level of language as well. In crafting Matthew James’ narration, Meier presents a voice that feels authentic to the period without being an obstacle to contemporary readers. When asked about this, Meier affirms that this was a conscious effort. “I knew that if I had tried to write in speech of the King James era it would sound archaic. But I also knew that these characters can’t sound like sophisticated, modern people. So I took what I thought was the essence of the English language at the time and used that.”
Matthew James represents people who traveled from England to Virginia to escape the class system that oppressed them. Capt. John Smith famously cites the Apostle Paul to say that “those who don’t work won’t eat.” Meier cites this as “a democratic way to structure a new society,” and he notes the impact this idea of equality would have on the future of what would become the United States.
But just as many English transplants to the Colonies discovered that America was not a paradise in which every man could become rich as a lord, the ideal Capt. Smith insisted upon didn’t survive long. “Naturally, this didn’t sit well with the two aristocrats who voyaged over with Matthew and his friend Richard. These gentlemen refused to do manual labor. They refused to do anything, really.” This conflict drives the plot of Bloodroot, and it would ultimately contribute to the demise of Jamestown. And, of course, all these questions about who owns the land on which we live, what those with wealth and privilege owe to others, and how we can best thrive as a society are as alive today as they were 400 years ago.
Bloodroot is not Meier’s only novel, nor is history his only source of inspiration. In his forthcoming book, Guidance to Death (May 2023), he draws upon his experience in aviation. He describes this story as “a murder mystery involving an airplane crash, sabotage, betrayal, illicit affairs, escapes—you know, all that good stuff.” Meier minored in chemistry in college, and he gently rejects the idea that chemistry doesn’t exactly make for riveting fiction by pointing out that his work in progress begins with a chemistry professor dying in a plane crash. There’s no telling where this author’s wide-ranging interests will take him next.
Jessica Jernigan is a writer and editor who lives in Michigan.