Today I have an interview with Kelby Ouchley, author of the historical novel Iron Branch. Thanks for dropping by my blog to answer some question, Kelby.
First, when did you start writing? What was it you first wrote?
Looking back, it may have started when I won a creative writing contest in the 7th grade. It was a sci-fi short story. I have always enjoyed creative writing, although I did not have many opportunities in that arena while working for the federal government for 30 years. Since 1995 I have been writing and narrating a weekly natural history program for the public radio station that serves the Ark-La-Miss area. Some of these essays were published in literary journals and other outlets. In October 2011, LSU Press released them in book form as Bayou-Diversity: Nature and People in the Louisiana Bayou Country. LSU Press also published my first non-fiction book, Flora and Fauna of the Civil War: An Environmental Reference Guide, in 2010. The main topic of this interview, my historical novel Iron Branch: A Civil War Tale of a Woman In-Between, came out a couple of months ago.
What period do you write about and why?
I like to write about the American Civil War era. It was such an epic turning point in our country’s history and virtually everyone was caught up in it to some degree, from drafted soldiers to destitute housewives. Significantly (at least for those of us writing about the era) and because of an increasing rate of literacy in the country, large numbers of people from all walks of life wrote about their lives during the Civil War. The countless letters, diaries, and journals of the times provide a treasure trove of material that can be mined by authors of historical fiction.
What is your theory or belief on how historically accurate you need to be? How does that affect your story? For alternative history writers: how did you decide to change history? How do you reconcile it with “real” history?
Major historical events provide the general background of my story. My story line tends to flow in and around those events that made headlines at the time. There is one aspect of my writing that I insist be as accurate as possible. My education and vocation for many years involved ecology and natural history. It is very important to me to get them right. I would like to think that my settings and story lines are rich and textured with detailed environmental nuances that involve flora, fauna, and phenology of the ecosystems at hand. Nothing distracts me more than a story with implausible natural settings.
Tell me about your main character, real or fictional and why?
The main character of Iron Branch is fictional. She is a young woman of mixed blood (half Choctaw, half white). The story is told in the first person. I wanted to portray the cultural conflicts of the Civil War from the perspective of those not often elevated to lead roles. She tells the story of her life and that of a young soldier in north Louisiana during the war. They become involved with a cast of characters the likes of which are also usually relegated to minor parts in most Civil War fiction.
What is the most surprising thing in the period you write about? Do you run into common misperceptions? How do you deal with them in your fiction?
The Civil War was much larger than marching soldiers, scheming generals, and dreadful battles. Most drama occurred far from the battlefield in the lives of millions who were not in the front lines of glorious charges into the mouths of cannon. Misperceptions about the Civil War abound. For example, many southerners abhorred slavery and many northerners detested African Americans whether free or slave. I try to overcome these misperceptions in my fiction by portraying the situations accurately as I understand them.
Who would you most like to meet from one of your novels? Tell us about them.
I would like to meet Atlas from Iron Branch and spend some time on the front porch of his cabin that sits tight to the bayou bank. He is a wise, old slave who has experienced unimaginable atrocities throughout his life. His experiences have gelled into a personal philosophy that includes compassion beyond reason. I still have a lot to learn from him.
What is your next project?
I have been approached by a university press about writing a trade book on alligators. If I decide to tackle it, the research should yield an abundance of fodder for my next historical novel!
I love that this takes a very different look at the period than the usual Civil War novel. You'll find Iron Branch: A Civil War Tale of a Woman In-Between at Amazon for only $2.99 for Kindle and it is also available in paperback.