Interview with R. Thomas Roe about ‘The Alabama Rebel’

Award-winning author R. Thomas Roe discusses his latest work, The Alabama Rebel.

Where did you get the idea for the story you tell in The Alabama Rebel?

My family originally lived in the Forkland, and Eutaw, Alabama areas, and I have spent a great deal of time there. It is an area with so much history particularly involving the Civil War period. This part of Alabama is in the heart of the Black Belt and was very involved in the marketing of cotton before, during, and after the War. I was aware of much of the history of the area, but what really keyed me into it was the discovery of an old cloth bound book I found in a used bookstore in Minneapolis. It was volume 8 of the books referenced in my preface that contained testimony of Alabama citizens regarding the instability that existed in the state after the Civil War. Much of that testimony directly involved the areas of Forkland and Eutaw, as well as the county they were in, Greene County. Reading that book of testimony was the initiating factor that led to the novel.

How much of the book is real?

Much of the novel is real. The geographic venue of the novel is as accurate as I could make it. The Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers are located as depicted, as are Forkland, Eutaw, Demopolis, the Columbus Road, the Eutaw Road, Saint Johns Church, the hotel at Forkland, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, the battle sites and events. The fictional part of the novel deals almost solely with the activities of the characters. Rosehill Plantation is modeled after a plantation at the site described in the novel. Some of the characters in the novel are modeled after real people that lived at the times indicated. The University history of being burned down by the Union Force occurred as described, as did the attempt to thwart it. The presence of diseases such as Yellow-jack or Yellow fever and Cholera took many lives in the years the novel encompasses. Likewise, childbirth was an iffy situation for both mother and child. Blood transfusions had not been rendered relatively safe procedures at that time. The tremendous violence that occurred after the War in Greene County was sourced primarily from the testimony referenced in the preface.

Your own family history helped shape the overall plot and factual elements. What other research did you have to do to flesh out the story?

Just relatively minor points did I have to research primarily for clarity. How transfusions were carried out, I had to research. I researched the history of the University of Alabama to get the facts depicted in the novel. I had done quite a bit of reading on Alabama history before writing this novel, which gave me a basic understanding of what had occurred during the Civil War years.

As an award-winning author, do you have any advice to share for new writers?

I am willing to share advice with new writers, but I do not care to criticize the product of new writers. I believe new writers and all writers learn by doing. I usually have a fairly good idea how my finished product is by reviewing it with respect to quality, and I see improvement with each new novel. I think the best advice you can give to a new writer is to keep writing and write about something you know.

What’s next from you? Do you plan to keep writing more books?

Absolutely. I am currently finishing another novel that involves a legal case. I should be completing the first draft in a few months. When I write a novel, I usually finish the first draft in about four to six months. Then I do my first review and edit. After the first review, I usually add color and character to the novel, which is sometimes skipped over in the first draft just getting the general plot down. Then revise, then about four more edits with revisions and add on in between. Overall it takes me about nine months to a year to finish a novel. Then it goes to the professional editor with one more review from me, and then to the publisher.

About The Alabama Rebel

This historically based novel is a window into Alabama both before, during and after the Civil War. River Hunter is the son of a Cherokee mother and a Scotch-Irish father who has a unique perspective on a society that undergoes a radical shift forced on it by the War. River’s father is presumed dead after disappearing on a trapping trip into the mountains of the Carolinas, so, River’s mother gathers her children and they move to the cotton belt of Alabama to avoid being shipped west by President Jackson during the Removal time for Native Americans. River rapidly adapts to the new life and has an insatiable appetite for knowledge, reading books at every opportunity. In time he obtains a formal education at recognized academies and universities. Following his heroic service in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and schooling at one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools, River becomes an attorney. He is then betrothed to a beautiful young woman who has inherited a substantial plantation upon the death of her husband in the War. Many problems plague the young couple from the forces existing in the South after the War to the prejudicial attitudes of River’s inlaws to the polarized politics between the newly freed Slaves and their former owners. This fascinating novel exams all sides within the context of a very unique segment of American history.

Genre: Historical Fiction

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