Elise Cooper interviews

Beth White

A Rebel Heart by Beth White brings to light the Reconstruction Era. It is a valuable tale of love and forgiveness between the characters and as a nation. Readers will be sympathetic not to the brutal plantation slave owner, but to those who became collateral damage.The daughters, Selah, Joelle, and Aurora, want a roof over their head and food in their stomachs, while the freed slaves attempt to use their skills to make a living. The mystery involves Yankee, Levi Riggins, a retired Union officer, now a Pinkerton agent, who goes undercover as a hotel management agent, to investigate several train robberies and explosives. Selah agrees to his plan to develop the run-down plantation into a glamorous hotel, completely unaware that Levi only proposed the idea as a way to keep his cover. But it also allows him to remain close to Selah, able to investigate the plantation and his initial suspicions of her, while pursuing his attraction of her. The blending of the action and historical facts with well-developed characters make for a riveting story.

 

Elise Cooper:  How did you get the idea for the story?

Beth White:  I finished my other series and was looking for a brand-new setting, a new time period, and new characters.  Tucked away was an older idea I had, to write about post-Civil War reconstruction.  I thought to make the main heroine an improvised Southern belle who grew up on a plantation and now five years after the war’s end has a lot to lose.  I wanted to add tension to the story by making the hero a retired Union Officer who served in Mississippi. I also had the southern family depend on their freed slaves to help them survive.  

 

EC:  There is a very brutal scene where the Union officers rape and kill a Southern mother.  It reminds people of the scene from Gone with The Wind?

BW:  I actually based that scene on the memoirs of Benjamin Grierson. He commanded a cavalry brigade, raiding many Confederate railroad and military facilities throughout Mississippi. Grant used this to divert attention while he took Vicksburg. Throughout the memoir he wrote what his men did, some of it was very brutal.  

 

EC:  Please explain your book quote, ‘History always matters because it impacts the present and the future.’

BW:  As a writer I am trying to filter my own modern-day biases.  While reading true accounts of what people write, experience, and the actions they take, I became aware that these are also slanted.  They are tainted by their own beliefs and what they choose to reveal or choose not to reveal.  

 

EC:  Was Selah based on Scarlett O’Hara?

BW:  My mother loved the movie so we watched it once a year.  I always thought of Scarlett as spoiled and someone who wanted her own way.  I do not think of Selah like that at all.  What they both had in common was the Steel Magnolia backbone so I guess that is the influence.

 

EC:  Describe Selah?

BW:  The oldest of three sisters who is determined, courageous, independent, lady-like, cultured, and tender. I think practical is her middle name.  She is a woman of her era so she is bound by certain cultural aspects.  For example, she was at a southern boarding school where she took on Abolitionist views.  But when her father found out and told her to come home she did not argue.  As she grew into womanhood she chose to remain unmarried because she did not want to be bound by social morals, and never wanted to surrender her autonomy to another person. She figured out how to succeed without compromising her own moral values and personal integrity. I hope readers have some sympathy for her since she lost almost everything.

 

EC:  Describe Levi?

BW:  Courageous, brave, chivalrous, protective, and moralistic.  He fought in the Union army to abolish slavery.  But he has another side, a romanticist.  This comes out in his appreciation of music, able to play classical music on the piano. 

 

EC:  You mention the Reparation Laws?

BW:  Anyone who knows the history realizes it is all over the map.  They changed about every six months.  At first the laws were hard and the South was put under military law.  Because of the war the Daughtry family became destitute and unable to sustain themselves. Eventually the Northerners got tired of devoting money and personnel so they pulled out the military and allowed Southerners to govern themselves.

 

EC:  It is interesting how it appeared that the slaves became surrogate mothers but not afterward?

BW:  I tried to put what I hope would be the dynamics of the relationship between the Daughtry daughters and the freed slaves.  I think I gave Selah some moral backbone by hiring them and putting some in charge. I am an arm chair psychologist. The older slaves were more cynical of Selah’s intentions because, as with most people, the older you get the more cynical you become.  As a storyteller, I want my readers to identify with all the characters and wonder what will happen to them.  The question I explored, ‘Is there anything we can draw from history where we can proceed with grace, forgiveness, and faith.’ Even though terrible things happened to all the characters I wanted it to be possible to show they could come through with reconciliation.

 

EC:  How did the railroads play a role?

BW:  It became a huge economic and political football. I would compare it to the development of the Internet. It connected people from one side of the country to another. In the second book of the series I will explore whether the RR should be subsidized.  There are similar concerns with the Internet where government regulation is discussed.  

 

EC:  Was the Ithaca Plantation based on anything?

BW:  It is based on a plantation in West Point Mississippi called Waverley Mansion, formerly a plantation. I visited there a few years ago and realized how exquisitely beautiful it is.  It was built in the 1800s and a family restored it in the 1960s.  It used to have gardens, orchards, and livestock that included an ice house, swimming pool, and a bathhouse.

 

EC:  What about your next book?

BW:  It will highlight the middle sister Joelle and Schuyler Beaumont, titled A Reluctant Belle.  They have been lifelong friend-enemies who grew up together.  There are some things in their background that make them natural rivals.  Because I get attached to my characters I try to bring them back.  For example, Schuyler was the brother of the hero from an earlier series, the book Redeeming Gabriel. I have a big story world that spans 1704 Alabama to the present day in Tennessee and New Orleans. I enjoy interconnecting characters generationally all over the South.  Selah and Levi will be back, but as secondary characters.  What I might do, possibly for this Christmas, is write a novella that will have the two of them as central characters, a bridge between the first and second book in the series.

THANK YOU!!

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