I somehow agreed to become a part of a blog chain based on meeting an author’s main character. The idea originated on England, I believe. I began reading with M.M. Bennetts’ post about a character who grew out of her book, Of Honest Fame, and demanded a book of his own. Author Helen Hollick then picked up the thread to re-introduce her main character Jesamiah Acorne, a sexy fellow with an uncanny ability to get himself into – and out of – all sorts of pirate adventures. Now Helen has passed the baton on to me in this series of posts by historical fiction authors in which we introduce the main character of our work in progress or soon to be published novel.
We all start with the same set of seven questions, so think of this as something of an interview.
1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
Jonathan Edwards Grenville is the main character in my first real historical novel. My previous books have built creative biographical studies of real people. Jonathan has the distinction of being a purely fictional character, although many of his experiences are based on those of historical figures during the Civil War.
2) When and where is the story set?
The story takes place in and around Charleston, South Carolina It opens shortly before the start of American’s Civil War and continues for a few years after the war has worn itself out.
3) What should we know about him?
Jonathan was raised in Massachusetts and educated at Harvard. His upbringing made him passionately proud of his country and its founding fathers who preached the virtues of liberty and equality. If he did not openly profess abolitionist views, he still felt strongly that the institution of slavery was wrong.
He sought a career in teaching and came to South Carolina around 1840 to teach American history in the country’s first free public institution of higher education provided especially for young men of the working and artisan classes. Within a year or two he fell in love – first with a charming young Southern Belle who stood in line to inherit her family’s extensive cotton and rice plantations – and then with the whole aura of Southern charm and culture that surrounded her.
They married, raised a delightful family of seven children, and seemed to spend their charmed days in a world full of music, art, stimulating intellectual conversations, and gracious living.
This isn't a picture of Jonathan Grenville. I don't know who it is. But it was taken in 1860, and it seems to me to look like my imaginary Jonathan. He has the same sort of stunned, haunted look -- as if his world is collapsing around him.
4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?
And then came 1861! And for the first time in twenty years, Jonathan was forced to face the contradictions of his own life. He spent his days in the classroom lecturing about the American ideal of freedom. And then he went home to a house full of slaves and a lifestyle funded by the income from plantations worked by hundreds of slaves. He was a Yankee in a hotbed of Secession. He was North; his wife was South. And he could not escape the war that raged around him. He lost his teaching job because he was a “Damned Yankee.” The family lost one plantation to the invading Union forces that attacked Port Royal Sound. They lost another to the Confederate Army that confiscated their land to protect a vital railroad line. The Great Charleston Fire of 1861 burned their house to the ground. And through it all, Jonathan blamed himself for his failure to live up to the virtues he preached.
5) What is the personal goal of the character?
Above all else, Jonathan remained determined to hold his family together – to protect them from the ravages of the war and to find a way to reconcile the political and ideological differences that threatened to tear them apart.
6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
There was only one possible title for this story: Damned Yankee. And its sub-title is The Story of a Marriage. For background, the reader may want to turn to my previous South Carolina books. A Scratch with the Rebels told the story of the invasion that robbed the Grenvilles of their cotton plantation in the Low Country. Beyond All Price was set in the same location and painted a clearer picture of what life was like in the early years of the war. And The Road to Frogmore focused attention on the whole issue of slavery. When I wrote those books – all of them based on Northern characters -- I did not know that they would lead me into a novel about a Confederate family. But I can see now that they provided exactly the background I needed for this story.
7) When can we expect the book to be published?
Publication is so close that I can taste it. Damned Yankee is currently available for pre-orders – both in paper and in electronic formats. Click here to go to my website for details. The final printed proof copy sits on my desk at this moment. The formal launch date is set for May 1, 2014, which is just about ten days from now – unless, of course, some of the calamities that surround Jonathan Grenville attack us here at Katzenhaus Books.
Thanks for visiting ... here is the next author to follow me; she will post about her main character on Tuesday, 29th April (next week).