First-time author Henry Duggan is a devout outdoorsman.
ALBANY -- Henry Duggan beams when he talks about his first novel, "Silver's Odyssey." And why not? It only took 17 years for him to be able to hold it in his hands.
"I wanted to write this book for a long time," the first-time author said. "It was always in my head but I never had time to write it until I retired from the (Regions) bank."
Set in 1622, "Silver's Odyssey" is a work of historical fiction which chronicles a soldier's survival trek through coastal and inland Florida following the sinking in a hurricane of the silver-laded Spanish galleon Atocha in the Florida Keys.
The hero, Army Lt. Luis Armador, has to become self reliant in a foreign wilderness, relying on his sharp wit and even sharper Toledo blade to find his way back home and to his love, Isabella.
"It took five years to write the book," Duggan, an avid outdoorsman, said. "It took a year of research, then I spent four years writing and editing. I really enjoyed the research, but the editing was difficult, that was the challenging part."
Duggan's writing experience includes newspapers and magazines, and he has woven his love of history and the wilderness into the novel. He has canoed more than 100 streams throughout the South.
The author used the doomed ship's actual manifest and crew listing. Of the crew of 265, five sailors survived by lashing themselves to the ship's mast and Armador survived after being thrown overboard.
The hero washed up on a beach near Everglades City, Fla.
"Luis has an intense desire to survive, and Isabella is the driving force behind it all," Duggan said. "He wants to return to Spain, home to his betrothed. "But he is a skilled sword fighter and puts it to use. He is enslaved by Indians, but later escapes and continues his journey north and onto the Alapaha Mission.
Duggan would not reveal the book's ending, but smiled and said "there are a few twists along the way."
This is an excerpt from "Silver's Odyssey": GULF OF MEXICO, NORTH OF CUBA
A howling wind and blinding rain blew in gale force. Luis trudged across the slippery planks, holding on to anything to keep from washing overboard. His mind flashed back to Jose's drowning 14 years earlier. The violent sea rose high, waves towering above the ship. As water hissed across the deck, the wind tore at him like a savage beast. He prodded his body towards the mizzen mast where five seamen, lashed high on a tiny platform, were trying to ride out the storm. He couldn't fathom it but proceeded to climb up the rigging and tie onto the mast also.
For some reason they have done this to survive here instead of staying below.
"Make it tight, Alferez," yelled a seaman.
Handling an unwieldy wet rope, he tried to avert salt spray stinging his eyes. When the vessel rolled, he held tightly to the mast to avoid going overboard. With much effort, he wrapped the hemp around his body, fastened it, and prayed it would hold.
"Will this save me?!" he bellowed.
A seaman screamed back.
"If we hit a reef! If the ship goes straight down, and the bottom's not over 50-60 feet, we remain at the highest point! Everyone below could be trapped! Should we capsize, look to your own!"
Luis found comfort in the answer. He wanted to stay on the perch and hoped the storm would abate by morning. He reasoned it far better than facing the human drama taking place below. Emotions and anguish roiled there, though nature's full wrath surged on deck.
But perchance, up here I have an advantage if we sink.
All evening the storm raged, churning the seas, sending rain sideways, drenching Luis and the five others. As minutes turned to hours, he felt terror, then numbness, as though his mind and body became inured to the storm.
Have I done the right thing? The Captain and officers remain below with the others. Did I follow yet another fabled superstition of a few distraught mariners?
Sometime during the night, the wind shifted and began blowing from the south. It pushed the Atocha north, toward the dreaded reefs of the Martires, the south Florida islands whose west end sat not far away. Wave after wave continued to crash over the bow deck, sluicing tons of salty water on the helpless men. The roar of wind, rain, and waves heightened.
Luis deemed returning below impossible even if he wanted to do so. Midst the tumult he sought distraction by letting his mind drift, thinking of the last few weeks.
AVAILABLE ON AMAZON
"Silver's Odyssey" is available in hard and soft copy and E-book on Amazon.com or at the website www.silversodyssey.com
Duggan will have a book signing 8 a.m.-noon Thursday at Starbucks on Meredyth Drive.