Friday, 05 June 2020

I Interviews

Interview: Beth White

Tell us what sparked the idea for your newest book, A Rebel Heart.

After I finished the Gulf Coast series, my editor and I had discussed the idea of setting a new series in the post–Civil War era. I wanted to tie the books closely together this time, so I developed a family of three strong, smart sisters with a crumbling plantation to maintain. I love to weave a thread of intrigue into my stories, and the Pinkerton detective agency happened to be flourishing during the same time period—so it seemed natural to make my first hero an undercover agent somehow tied to the plantation.


A Rebel Heart is the first book in your new Daughtry House series. How many books are proposed in this series and how will these be different?

This is a three-book series. The three Daughtry sisters will each be the heroine of one book. My most recentseries is loosely tied together, generationally, with one sprawling family, across major historical points from the settling of the Gulf Coast by the French through the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The Daughtry House series timeline is much more tightly compressed,with the next book picking up where A Rebel Heart left off. Most of the major characters will appear in all three books, though the focus will obviously shift from onehero and heroine to another. Each book will have its own story arc and A Rebel Heart Book Coverwill have a satisfying ending, but something different about this series is that there is also an overarching story question that will be completely wrapped up in book three.


Have you always been interested in the Civil War?

Yes, I actually have, beginning with my first dip into the world of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women—though I wouldn’t say that I knew a lot about the time period, beyond what most American students get in high school. Then I ran across a fascinating historical tidbit when I visited the Mobile Museum of History in the early ’90s. A replica of the Hunley submarine fired my imagination and set me to creating imaginary characters who lived and breathed during that era. I believe that a deeper understanding of the issues that catapulted Americans into such a horrific brother-against-brother conflict could inform us and warn us and maybe even keep us from repeating many of those egregious errors. Fiction is a powerful tool in the arsenal of emotional truth.

Why did you select the time and location for your series?

Honestly, I was looking for a great story that would feature the history of my native state of Mississippi, and I thought it would be fun to research the beginnings of Elvis Presley’s birthplace. I discovered that the town of Tupelo was founded in 1870, five years after the Civil War, which happened to be a time period rife with shifts in national politics and American culture. White southerners were learning how to function in a post-plantation economy; former slaves were trying to figure out how to educate themselves,earn a living wage, and make their voices heard as voting citizens; and northern activists and businessmen were moving into the state to stick yet another finger in the political-cultural batter. I found the whole mess irresistible.

What type of research was required to write A Rebel Heart?

I began with a physical trip to West Point, Mississippi, where I visited antebellum Waverly Plantation. The lovely family who currently own Waverly allowed me to tour the house and grounds, and graciously answered my many nosy questions. Most of my Daughtry House details are directly gleaned from Waverly, though the Daughtryfamily itself is entirely my creation. I also visited the Oren Dunn City Museum in Tupelo. I usually buy a handful of history books related to my time period and location. I read two or three of Allan Pinkerton’s detective memoirs—which, by the way, are great fun—and I read a memoir by Union Cavalry General Benjamin Grierson. Grierson is famous for his raids through Mississippi, and he provided lots of backstory for my hero, Levi Riggins. I found some terrific details for my heroine’s background in diary entries by Belle Edmondson, Lost Heroine of the Confederacy. Belle was quite a piece of work!

What is one of the main points you hope readers learn from your book?

As I said earlier, I’m not prone to standing on a soapbox to preach through my fiction, but I am interested in drawing pictures that can’t help but serve as a mirror for 21st-century culture and politics. Human nature is human nature. There are heroes, victims, goats, and villains in every generation. I love it when readers tell me that they have looked at a modern situation (or sometimes a historical event) with new eyes because of how my characters behave in the midst of their trials. Slavery is a Beth Whiteperpetual blot on American history, no question. But before, during, and after the Civil War, there were Americans of every skin-shade imaginable who fought to rectify the damage. Astonishingly, there was a great deal of success for a brief time right after the war. Most Americans don’t know that, because it isn’t taught in high school history classes, or it is glossed over. Part of what I wanted to discover for myself is,Where did we go off the rails?—to the point that the Civil Rights struggle had to take place.

What are you working on next?

I’m in the early stages of plotting and writing the second book of the Daughtry House series. Middle sister Joelle and her childhood nemesis Schuyler Beaumont lock horns in an attempt to make a success of the family hotel, while Schuyler makes a run for the Mississippi Senate—under the onslaught of the Ku Klux Klan and sundry other antagonists. And of course they can’t keep their eyes off each other!

How can readers connect with you?

I hang out on my website, (just click on the contact button there), Facebook, and on twitter at @bethsquill. Readers who sign up for my newsletter will receive a free ebook copy of my novella Miracle on Beale Street!


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