Geoff Armstrong began his teaching career in 1965 after receiving a teaching diploma from McGill University’s Macdonald College. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Montreal’s Concordia University in 1967 where his major field of study was history. Armstrong credits writers such as Bruce Catton, and Thomas B. Costain, as well as the encouragement of his father who had little formal education, but a deep love of reading and of history, as the inspiration for his own life-long interest.
Throughout a 25-year teaching career he taught history at several grade levels and learned quickly that to reach the hearts of his students, history had to be made immediately and deeply relevant and accessible: that some event that took place centuries before those students were born had a direct and profound influence on every aspect their lives. He also learned that talking down or writing down to his students was a recipe for defeat. It is this awareness, shaped by a quarter century of teaching and countless questions by thousands of intelligent young people that has informed and shaped his writing.
His latest book is Moments That Made America: From the Ice Age to the Alamo.
You can visit his website at www.MomentsThatMadeAmerica.com.
Can you tell us what your book is about?
Although the story of America begins in geological time, the three book series under the general title: Moments That Made America does not chart the usual course of a pandemic history, with event following event based on the date of its occurrence. Instead, it focuses on those events and circumstance that had they not occurred exactly the way they did, the America we know would not exist. This means that the life of not only every American would be different, so would the life of almost everyone on the planet.
From its geological birth during the breakup of the Pangaea supercontinent millions of years ago, through America’s political independence from the British superpower Moments That Made America illuminates and explores the specific defining moments that profoundly shaped the nation and its people – crucial turning points that worked inexorably to mold and make America. These critical “tipping” events formed America’s geographical, sociological, political and historical landscape. The first part of the story culminates just before the Civil War. The second volume: “From Civil War to Superpower” takes the story from the bloody civil war that ended slavery and killed more Americans than all its other wars combined, through to the 20th Century. The final volume takes America’s story through the twentieth century, the most destructive and dynamic period in human history.
Why did you write your book?
The presidential election of 2016 exposed a gaping wound in the soul of America and a dangerous lack of understanding among Americans about what it took for their remarkable nation to come into being. Too many fail to understand that except for a extraordinary set of circumstances, some of them bordering on the miraculous, their nation shouldn’t exist at all: that in the entire five billion year history of this planet, their nation is unique. It is a lack of understanding and self-imposed ignorance that endangers the very survival of the United States. At this moment, America teeters at the edge of a precipice. Around the world, hate-filled, malicious enemies are watching and waiting for the misstep that sends America and its democracy over the edge.
What kind of message is your book trying to tell your readers?
That democracy isn’t easy and that freedom isn’t a guarantee.
Who influenced you to write your book?
The young people around me who don’t understand what a miracle their country is and how easy it to lose the freedoms so many sacrificed their lives or fortunes to achieve.
Is it hard to publish a nonfiction book?
It is incredibly difficult. It has taken me 75 years.
Which author(s) do you admire?
Too many to include in this write up, but they include authors from the brilliance of Shakespeare and Mark Twain to the depth of John Steinbeck and the creativity of Ray Bradbury as well as the amazing historical writers such Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote, James McPherson, Canadian author Pierre Burton and James A. Michener.
Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?
I suspect that everyone experiences writer’s block. When I’m working on a project, I set myself a goal of writing something every day. It might be a single sentence or a paragraph, but I will not shut down or go to bed without fulfilling the DAILY goal I set myself. That single paragraph or sentence goal can go on for days, at some point, I have discovered that just having to sit down and write, suddenly blows that goal away and it turns into a thousand or two thousand words.
What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?
Hang out with family and friends or my cat if everyone else is busy. If my cat is busy I’d read.
Which holiday is your favorite and why?
Easter, not for the holiday itself, but because it means that spring has arrived in Upstate New York.
If we were to meet for lunch to talk books, where would we go?
To the picnic pavilion I built in the woods behind my home in Upstate New York.
What kind of advice would you give other non-fiction authors?
- DO YOUR RESEARCH: (Capitals were my choice.)
- Enjoy what you are writing about.
- Find a different way to tell your story.
- Write because you really want to – forget about paying the mortgage.
- If you choose a controversial topic, talk with people who disagree with you.