Cam Terwilliger

2011 Baron Fellow
Ficton writer
Somerville, MA

Research at AAS

The Counterfeiter

Set in New York and Québec during the French and Indian War (1754–1763), The Counterfeiter centers on Andrew Whitlaw, a Manhattan physician who—after an ongoing struggle with syphilis—must relocate to his wealthy brother’s estate in the Hudson Valley to recover. From this starting point, the novel follows the narrator as he grows embroiled in his brother’s obsessive pursuit of a counterfeiter costing the Whitlaw family trading business dearly with his false bills, a man they later discover to be a fugitive from slavery operating on Native American land. Relying on a complex multicultural cast drawn from deep research, The Counterfeiter reimagines canonical novels such as The Last of the Mohicans, critiquing settler colonialism and white supremacy while dramatizing the intricate web of power and cultures that gave birth to contemporary North America.

My time as a fellow at the American Antiquarian Society was a truly foundational one—both for this project and for my approach to writing fiction in general. It was my first experience drawing from archival research and I quickly became very invested in the process. Up to this point, I had been reading secondary sources and floundering in my efforts to evoke the novel’s characters in prose. There were many months of trying to summon them into flesh and blood—the vivid and multifaceted people that are worthy of a novel’s attention—yet struggling to make them feel like anything more than stick figures.

I distinctly remember my early days at AAS. I recall being brought beautiful leather-bound books: the journals of eighteenth-century physicians, some of them falling apart, some still retaining crisp pages. I recall gingerly opening them, not sure what to expect, and then being struck by what I found: handwriting. After so many history books, to see the work of a human hand was a revelation. Each page was filled to the borders with it, the irregular loops and swirls of cursive, the work of specific individuals, recording the machinery of their lives just as anyone might still today. Instantly, the period I’d struggled to understand became far more immediate. The people I was writing about no longer seemed like figments of my imagination or shadowy traces from the past. They’d held the very book before me. Here was a piece of their humanity, their victories and failures, the admirable and the abhorrent, the excitements and the banalities. Suddenly, these people felt profoundly real.

Q&A with Cam Terwilliger: Historical Novel Society

Interview with Cam Terwilliger: Winner of the Caledonia Novel Award 2017

Field Notes from a Fulbright Scholar: In Kahnawà:ke Territory


About the Fellow

A Brooklyn-based fiction writer, Cam Terwilliger’s writing can be found in American Short Fiction, Electric Literature, Gettysburg Review, and Narrative, where he was named one of Narrative’s "15 Under 30." He holds an MFA from Emerson College and his work has been supported by Brown University, the Fulbright Program, James Jones First Novel Fellowship, Massachusetts Cultural Council, New York State Council on the Arts, New York Public Library, Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, and the Bread Loaf, Tin House, and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences. He teaches at New York University and serves as associate fiction editor at Bucknell University's literary magazine, West Branch. Currently, he's finishing a historical novel titled The Counterfeiter, which won the 2016 Historical Novel Society's New Novel Award and the 2017 Caledonia Award for novels in progress. Cam also works as a freelance editorial consultant for fiction writers at all stages of their careers.

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