Please welcome my special guest, debut historical novelist F.W. Abel, author of Deeds of a Colored Soldier during the Rebellion, Volume 1: From the Beginning to Chickamagua. The novel, written in the form of memoir and set during the Civil War, was just released by Twilight Times Books and already has garnered excellent reviews.
Congratulations on the release of your debut novel. What made you write about the Civil War?
I’ve been a Civil War enthusiast at least from the time I was about six or seven years old. I became even more interested when I was ten, when the Civil war Centennial began.
Even though the book is a novel, it is written in the form of memoir. What compelled you to use this format?
Because it’s a memoir, the main character can not only relate his experiences and his feelings at the time, he can also give commentary from his perspective of 30 years later, contrasting his hopes for the results of what he was fighting for with what actually happened. He can convey his pride in what he accomplished and his regrets that the results of the war were not what he had hoped for.
The other, more muted, aspect is that his story is told to an interviewer some 30 years later, who in turn write it down some 20 years later, which enables the interviewer to add some more longitudinal perspective.
In a nutshell, can you tell us what the story is about and the themes you explore in it?
A young slave, Jedediah, accompanies his master, Wade, when he joins the Confederate army. He gradually begins to realize that although he is a Southerner, the fight to preserve the Union would mean freedom for his people. Jedediah and Wade form a bond, to the point where Wade resolves to emancipate Jedediah, who learns of it. Because he had come to realize slavery was morally wrong and he should never have been enslaved, Jedediah escapes the very next day, reasoning freedom should not be a gift. At the same time, he retains his affection for Wade, and other Confederate soldiers he’s met, as people caught up in rules of their society that they are unable, or unwilling, to break.
How much research did the book require?
A fair amount. The major sources, all secondary, are listed in Acknowledgements. Other information, e.g., the weather a few days after the battle of Shiloh, were picked up in bits and pieces as I came across them.
Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?
I first wrote the first half of the book in the third person, more in the genre of young adult historical fiction (to this day, I remember having read some books of that type when I was their target market, i.e., a young adult). However, in that format, the book was nothing more than a “boy’s adventure story, so I made the decision to keep the narrative action, but re-write it in the form it now is.
What about when you were midway through the book?
The biggest difficulty for me was cutting some of what I thought were some quality pieces of story-telling, because they did not advance, or actually impeded, the narrative flow.
Is this a series? When is volume 2 coming out?
Volume 2 has already been written and submitted to my publisher. I suppose it will come out when, or rather if, readers of Volume 1 call for it.
As the story is “told” to a reporter at the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, there will have to be a (working title) “Deeds of a Colored Trooper on the Frontier and in Cuba” to complete the main character’s life story.
Who is your target audience and what do you hope readers will get from your story?
There appear to be three target audiences.
First, readers of historical fiction, especially of military historical fiction, who, I hope, will appreciate the story on that basis, as historical fiction that does not distort historical fact. The Endnotes and Historical Notes might also be of interest to them.
Second, young adult readers, as the book is still about a teenager functioning not only in the adult world, but one engaged in a bitter war. Hopefully, they’ll see not only what people of their age are capable of, but actually did; the teenage Jedediah is emblematic of the myriad teenagers (estimates range close to 20 percent of the combined Union and Confederate armies) who fought in the Civil War.
Third, readers interested in African-American history. The book, or should I say books (hopefully, Volume 2 will be published), deal not only with the end of slavery in the United States, and the beginning of freedom for the newly-emancipated, but how the promised freedom turned out to be hollow, and the why behind it, as it obviously affects present American society. However, one of the main points for these readers is to appreciate the role their ancestors played in us having a united country today.
What was your publishing process like?
The hardest, most discouraging part was finding a publisher (my folder of rejection letters is pretty thick). I am grateful to have found Twilight Times and genuinely appreciate publisher Lida Quillen’s enthusiasm, professionalism and support. She turned what could have been something no more than a hobby into a product, if you will. However, professional that she is, she had me write, edit and meet deadlines like a professional, never demanding but through her expectation for the success of a project important to us both.
How do you define success?
That the book reaches a significant portion of its audiences and it appreciated as a good, readable story.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
That if you read my book and like it, tell a friend. And that I appreciate constructive criticism (but be as gentle as you can while getting your point across).