VERY GREATFUL TO CBS SUNDAY MORNING FOR THIS PIECE ON THE WIDOW OF THE SOUTH.
Set in New Orleans in the years after the Civil War, A SEPARATE COUNTRY is a novel based on the incredible life of John Bell Hood, arguably one of the most controversial generals of the Confederate Army--and one of its most tragic figures. Robert E. Lee promoted him to major general after the Battle of Antietam. But the Civil War would mark him forever. At Gettysburg, he lost the use of his left arm. At the Battle of Chickamauga, his right leg was amputated. Starting fresh after the war, he married Anna Marie Hennen and fathered 11 children with her, including three sets of twins. But fate had other plans. Crippled by his war wounds and defeat, ravaged by financial misfortune, Hood had one last foe to battle: Yellow Fever.
A SEPARATE COUNTRY is the heartrending story of a decent and good man who struggled with his inability to admit his failures--and the story of those who taught him to love, and to be loved, and transformed him.
In an Author's Note at the end of his book The Widow of the South, Robert Hicks tells us that "when Oscar Wilde made his infamous tour of America in 1882, he told his hosts that his itinerary should include a visit to 'sunny Tennessee to meet the Widow McGavock, the high priestess of the temple of dead boys.'" Carrie McGavock, The Widow of the South, did indeed take it upon herself to grieve the loss of so many young men in the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, which took place on November 30, 1864. Nine thousand men lost their lives that day. She and her husband John eventually re-buried on their own land 1,481 Confederate soldiers killed at Franklin, when the family that owned the land on which the original shallow graves had been dug decided to plow it under and put it into cultivation.
There's an often told tale around Franklin and Nashville that Carrie's McGavock's descendants are bitter & indignant over my 'novelized' version of her story. Truth is, no one has actually ever met one of her descendants who resents the book as I pretty much know them all and know how they feel. For the record there are some distant lateral cousins, particularly a Mormon branch, but not her descendants, who have (amusingly) taken personal offense at my portrayal.
I tell all this because today I received the following letter from one of Mariah Otey Reddick's descendants who has retired to Panamá . Wonder what he will think when I finish The Book Of Mariah?
Dear Mr. Hicks:
After conducting on-line genealogical research on and off for several years, about my mother’s family, I had reached a dead end. On a whim, I Googled my great grandmother’s name and her photo appeared. The caption and related information led me to your book, The Widow of the South.
Tears welled up as I discovered that my great grandmother, Mariah Otey Reddick, had been given as a wedding gift to Carrie Winder McGovack. That was on November 5, 2013, and I have continued my search since then. Of course, I immediately ordered your book and began to read it as soon as I arrived in the USA in mid-November from our home in the Panamá highlands, where my wife and I retired in 2004.
I wish to express to you, Mr. Hicks, my and my family’s gratitude for the sensitive and multi-dimensional and even heroic way in which you novelized Mariah. Candidly, as I ordered the book, I wondered what a 21st Century white American male would imagine a 19th Century enslaved African woman in America would think; and how she would behave. You gave her a life independent of her “role” and, more importantly, an interior life of the mind as a key supporting character in the main story. Or, as one reviewer put it, Mariah was one of the “three main characters.” Your characterization was realistic, excellent and uplifting.
Again, I express on behalf of all of Mariah Reddick’s descendants, a deep appreciation and gratitude for the rare humanization of an enslaved person you fashioned in The Widow of the South.
“I am not greatly troubled by fans nowadays. Less than one a day on the average. No sour grapes when I say they were an infernal nuisance. I divide them into…
(a) Humble expressions of admiration. To these a post-card saying “I am delighted to learn that you enjoyed my book. E. W.”
(b) Impudent criticism. No answer.
(c) Bores who wish to tell me about themselves. Post-card saying “Thank you for interesting letter. E. W.”
(d) Technical criticism, eg. One has made a character go to Salisbury from Paddington. Post-card: “Many thanks for your valuable suggestion. E. W.”
(e) Humble aspirations of would-be writers. If attractive a letter of discouragement. If unattractive a post-card.
(f) Requests from University Clubs for a lecture. Printed refusal.
(g) Requests from Catholic Clubs for lecture. Acceptance.
(h) American students of “Creative Writing” who are writing theses about one & want one, virtually, to write their theses for them. Printed refusal.
(i) Tourists who invite themselves to one’s house. Printed refusal.
(j) Manuscript sent for advice. Return without comment.
I also have some post-cards with my photograph on them which I send to nuns.
In case of very impudent letters from married women I write to the husband warning him that his wife is attempting to enter into correspondence with strange men.
Oh, and of course…
(k) Autograph collectors: no answer.
(l) Indians & Germans asking for free copies of one’s books: no answer.
(m) Very rich Americans: polite letter. They are capable of buying 100 copies for Christmas presents.
I think that more or less covers the field.”