I really enjoyed this novel. It presents a different picture of what we often see in fiction about the south, after the Civil War, when slaves were suddenly free and an entire society had to dig itself out of the ashes of defeat. Mr Polites has clearly researched his subject in depth and it's a delight to have him with us today. Please join me in welcoming Taylor M. Polites!
Writing The Rebel Wife
This is my first novel, and I think for many people, the first novel is the hardest. It is not the first novel I have tried to write, of course, but the first one that I have finished, and hallelujah for that!
I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, and that town is really the basis for Albion in the novel. Growing up in Alabama, learning about the old homes and the history and the “hard times”, laid the groundwork for a specific way of understanding the Civil War. Getting older, I continued to be fascinated by that time and to read about it. I was looking for another level of awareness and understanding about the Civil War and Reconstruction. I began to understand Reconstruction not as a rampage of Republican carpetbaggers hell-bent on pillaging the state (although there is no doubt there was corruption, just as there was corruption in the “Bourbon” administrations that followed Reconstruction), but as a time of idealism and experimentation. This was a time in modern history when a people held in bondage were freed and given equal rights with their former captors. When in history has something like this ever happened before? It was an amazing, truly mind-blowing time, and there was a harsh and violent reaction against it that led to another hundred years of segregation and white racial dominance. What an amazing field in which to write a book!
So I began from that perspective as someone who thought about the Civil War and Reconstruction one way, but over time learned that things were not quite as originally presented. The main character, Augusta, goes through a parallel change, but she is in the period. She understands what happened and what people said about the war and the carpetbaggers, but she wakes up, she looks around her, she weighs what she believes against what she sees. And that brings about a change in her.
Her character, too, changed over the years I spent on this book. I did much writing, first in 1998. Realizing I had much more research to do, I put the idea aside and zeroed in on research for the period. Again in 2002, I picked up the story and wrote about 200 pages of text, but still felt short on what I needed to know. I went back to the history books and research. Finally, in 2006, I made a major life change. I decided this was the time for me to make a go of writing, or I would never do it. I left my job in New York City, moved to Cape Cod and began to work on this book again. Through the wonderful and fortuitous guidance of some good friends, I entered the Wilkes University MFA program and found a mentor, the great novelist Kaylie Jones, who helped me bring this work to its end. What an incredible ride! And what a dream come true!
Thank you so much for giving me space on your blog to talk about my book!
Thank you, Taylor. Best of luck with this fascinating novel! To learn more about Taylor Polites, please visit his website.