Tag Archives: writing

INTERVIEW WITH JOHN C. BUSH, Author of Patriots and Rebels.


Interview conducted July/August, 2014

John Bush is the author of the exciting new Civil War novel, Patriots and Rebels, reviewed here last month. The story takes readers inside the daily life of a North Alabama family and tells the adventures of the father, Tom Files, who became a Union Soldier. Sincere thanks to Dr. John Bush for taking time from his busy schedule to do this interview. Many readers share his interest in the ordinary and extraordinary lives of those who lived during the Civil War era. John’s brief bio appears at the end of the interview.

Tell us about your new book and how you came to write it.
The idea for this book was planted in my brain 30 years ago, which is when my wife Sara and I learned that her great-great-grandfather Tom Files was in the Union army. My first response to that news was, “There has to be a story in that somewhere.” I was busy with an active career and a growing family, so that thought was just filed away, but it kept presenting itself now and again as a gentle reminder.

How did this writing experience begin for you?
My exploration into the story of Tom Files began as genealogical interest. Several years later I had a researcher in Washington, D.C. get the war record for me from the National Archives. When he sent it to me (along with several other files) he commented: “Looks like there could be a book in this one.” That was the nudge I needed to start putting the story together. It turned into a five-year project, with Patriots and Rebels as the final product.

Much of your story is set in Northern Alabama. I know you were raised in the South. How did your background inform your writing.
My wife is from North Alabama. I grew up in Montgomery — 200 miles to the south. That is solidly “Old South” — “The First Capitol of the Confederacy” where Jefferson Davis was inaugurated as President. They are different worlds in a lot of ways. I knew nothing of this story until I married into a family of Southern Patriots. What my background brought to the writing of Patriots and Rebels was a sense of the language. When you hear Mattie’s voice in the novel, you are hearing my Grandma Bush, whom I knew well. She died when I was in my teens, and as a child I stayed with her quite often.

What obstacles did you face in writing this book and how did you find solutions?
For starters, how does a 76-year-old man create a believable voice for a 14-year-old girl? How did I do it (assuming I did)? I did it with a lot of help and advice from friends and editors, and with writing and rewriting and rewriting. Further, there was the challenge of having these people speak in their own language styles, but also be understandable to readers who are living 15O years later.

What are you most proud of regarding Patriots and Rebels?
It is in print and being read — even enjoyed by some, so I hear!

Is historical fiction a favorite genre for you? Please tell us about some of your favorite books and authors in that category.
I do enjoy historical fiction, and have read quite a bit of it. I especially enjoyed The Secrets of Mary Bowser, by Lois LaNreen, and Lalita Tademy’s Cane River. All of Michener, of course. Barbara Tuchman’s The First Salute, One I wish every American would read, in light of our current involvements with the Muslim world, is James Reston, Jr.’s earthshaking Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade. That one, along with the Mary Bowser book, are my all time favorites.

How does what you read inform your writing?
For the most part I read for the pleasure of it, or to gain information or insight into a subject rather than as a tool to guide my own writing. That being said, I am always interested in seeing how other fiction writers handle plot and character development, pacing and dialogue. Especially dialogue, because it is the most difficult aspect of writing for me to grasp.
I’ve begun work on a “prequel” to Patriots, set in the American Revolution, and am experimenting with James Michener’s style in The Covenant, to see if it works for me. Michener moves between the narration of the novel and providing the “backstory” — interspersing more contemporary observations. We’ll see how that works out!

Do you buy books? What have you been buying lately?
Do I buy books? The house is full of them. I count nine bookcases full, and a couple of those are double shelved — books behind books. My most recent purchases include Winston Groom’s Shrouds of Glory, (yes, it’s about the Civil War); Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings: Britain. The Slaves and the American Revolution, Tracy Thompson’s The New Mind of the South, and Breena Clark’s River, Cross My Heart. Oh, and there are the two novels by a friend in my writers group: Like a Fox, and Like Sheep by Judy Mitchell Rich.

Is Civil War History a particular interest of yours?
One cannot grow up in the South and not be “interested” in the Civil War. It is in the air you breathe and the water you drink. But I can’t say my interest in it has been anything out of the ordinary. I’ve not made a particular study of it, and have no interest at all in the minutia of particular battles and strategies of warfare. The stories of ordinary and extraordinary people of that era do interest me.

I’m interested in how you conducted your research. Tell us about that.
When I got serious about writing this book I spent a good deal of time researching the places. Much of this was done on-line, some at my local library. I had the advantage of having Tom’s military record in hand, so I knew about some of the specific incidents and locations. The basic outline of where he was between when he mustered out of First Alabama Cavalry at Camp Davies, Mississippi and the time he arrived home more than two years later was available to me in the documentation from the National Archives. Much of this is in his hand, or transcribed from his own words. My task was to fill in the blanks, and that was the challenge. How did he actually get from northern Mississippi to southern Illinois and then back down to LaVergne, Tennessee, and finally into a Federal prison in Nashville? I had to create much of that detail, but I tried to keep as close to the actual history of those times and places as I could. When I described actual events in the war, I drew on actual documentation. In some cases there is a difference in how these are described in Union documents, as compared with Confederate documents. (The massacre at Fort Pillow is the most dramatic example of such differences.) I had to stay focused on Tom’s point of view. I decided that the best way to sort this out for my readers was to include a set of “Author’s Notes” at the end.

How do you see the relationship between researching and writing?
It is important to keep in mind that this is a novel, but a historical one. I came at this project as a storyteller, not as a historian. Thus, the history informs the story, not the other way around, but without distorting the history unreasonably (I hope). The research informs that delicate process. I do not want to mislead the reader regarding the history; what I say about that is as accurate as I can make it. But it is also there to inform the story and move it forward.

Tell us about your writing day?
I’ve heard other writers say you should devote specific time every day to writing, or you should write at least 1000 words every day. I write when I have something to write, which means some days I don’t write a single word and other days I stay at it for 2 or 3, 8 or 10 or 12 hours. Which is not to say I’m neglecting the project. When I’m not writing, I am often into serious creation. My mind is almost always working on the plot, the timeline or character development. Some of my most creative time comes when I’m driving along the Interstate.

What would you most like readers to know about Patriots and Rebels?
It is very important for the reader to know that Tom Files and his family were real human beings. They lived, breathed and died just as we do, but in extraordinary times when extraordinary demands were made upon them.

How can readers obtain your book?
Any bookseller can get it for you. I am a strong believer in local bookstores and encourage people to buy the book locally if they can (even though that way I earn the very least on sales.) It is also available both in print and for Kindle from Amazon.com. If people want a signed copy, they may contact me via message at the PATRIOTS AND REBELS Facebook page, and I will arrange for that.

What writing projects are you currently working on?
In addition to the prequel dealing with the Files family during the American Revolution, which I mentioned earlier in the interview, I’m also playing with the idea of a story similar to Patriots, but written for elementary young people — fourth grade or so.

Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you’d like to comment on?
My previous book was published in 2002. The entire publishing universe has changed since then! Publishers no longer consider book proposals directly; they must go through an agent. The problem is that getting an agent is far harder today than finding a publisher was in the “old” days. The “new kid on the block,” is what is called independent publishing. I did it with CreateSpace, the publishing arm of Amazon. It has been a good experience so far. The book was for sale on Amazon (both print and Kindle) very quickly. However, sales other than through Amazon are entirely mine to do. That’s a pain, but that’s the way the industry is going these days, unless you are an established author.

About the author
John C. Bush is a retired Presbyterian minister now living in Decatur, Alabama, near where much if this story takes place. He was born in northwest Florida and grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. His ancestral roots are in Virginia Colony, 1670. He holds a BA degree from Samford University in Birmingham: M. Div. from Midwestern Theological Seminary in Kansas City; and a D. Min. degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo CA. His ministerial career took him to Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Alabama, Michigan and back to Alabama. He and Sara have two children, six grandchildren and one great grandchild. He is the author or editor of five books in the field of religion. Patriots and Rebels is his first novel.

And to Dr. Bush, I say, “Yes, many are enjoying your book. Thanks for telling your story.”



Each of us is compelled to read and write for a variety of reasons. This was a general theme at this year’s Festival of Faith and Writing conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a unique experience to be on a campus full of readers and writers, to be in a place where reading and writing are at the heart of the experience. So readers and writers out there in blogland––that’s each of you in your own way–– here are some highlights. More information on each of these writers will be posted on upcoming pages of this blog.


I sat in the front row at an interview with Marilyn Nelson. Her poetry has sustained me as an educator, a person and a writer for a lot of years. She brings so much history and emotion to any reader, young, old, and in between. She talked of her experiences writing three of her books, she talked about the sonnet form and more.

See more about Marilyn Nelson on the Reading Page. Use the menu at the top of the page.


What could be more exciting than listening to the writer and co-producer of The Good Wife, one of the most popular shows on television? Luke Schelhaas is an Iowa native and a small college graduate. He talked of life in Hollywood and what he actually does all day as a writer on a top TV show. The process of writing for a TV show has its own cachet and its own nitty-gritty.

More about Luke Schelhaas on the Writing Page. Click on Writing in the menu at the top of the page.


The conference always holds at least one surprise. This time it was the outstanding talk by Pam Munoz Ryan. She writes for children and young adult readers. If only she could talk to readers and writers in every school in America. She has so much to say, and she says it in a gentle and entertaining way. Her books are well known to many of you, but somehow, I had not had the pleasure. Listening to her, I learned something about becoming and belonging. I expect to learn more as I read her work.

Our shared passion for encounters with language continues. We read and write to learn, and to find out what we need and want to learn. We take time to think about words and the power to use them to create something new. Hold onto your hats, the joyride is a whirl of questions, creations, laughter, and meditation. It ends in the fascination of finding a terrific new story, or rediscovering one you want to visit again.

Oh, and among others, I bought a beautiful paperback Penguin Classics edition of Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, something I’ve been promising to do for a long time. It’s a book that won the Nobel Prize and has never been out of print since its birth in the 1920’s. How I first found this book, and how much I love it is a story for another time.




The Light In the Ruins
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Doubleday (July, 2013)
320 pages

This novel is a good read! I thought it even better than his recent Sandcastle Girls. I especially liked the twist and turns in the plot and the multiple voices. It is well structured with plenty of suspense. The characters in this story are interesting. They resist the ordinary.

I’ve enjoyed several of his books. I’m a fan. Skeletons at the Feast and Midwives are two favorites. His next book is expected out in summer of 2014: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.

The January issue of Writer’s Digest includes an interview with Mr. Bohjalian. He has some writing tips that, as a struggling writer, I find helpful. He also has something to say to us as readers.

Writing and Reading Tips from Chris Bohjalian:

• In order to write a novel you must be passionately interested in the topic.
• He calls Light In the Ruins his Romeo and Juliet. If you read it with that in mind, does it change your expectations?
• He begins a novel with a promise of what the book will be about and lets his characters and research show the way. Some novelists think it’s a bad way to work, but since I often work this way, I’m happy to hear him talk about it.
• The processes of research and writing overlap.
• He encourages all writers, even those who are unpublished, to approach strangers with questions to aid their research. Mr. Bohjalian says “in my experience we’re all a little narcissistic about our professions and love sharing information.” (p.45) I agree and offer the proliferation of blogs as evidence.

Bonus outtakes from the interview are available at www.writersdigest.com/jan-14. Some of what he says may surprise you.

His general advice to writers is to write books you love to read. I would add similar advice to readers. Read books you wish you had written. I suggest that Light In the Ruins is a book you will love to read and a book you may well wish you had written.


Wide River 1

Thank you so much to every reader of this blog. I send you good wishes as wide as this view of the Mississippi. Your interest and encouragement are vital to our conversations and my posts. This blog doesn’t exist without you.

A blog is a website in which an individual records opinions. Often a blog or journal entry links to other sites. New material is added on a regular basis.

The focus of www.readeatlive.com is to promote reading and writing. It is a bookish blog with food on the side. Recently food themes have elbowed their way to a larger place at the table. My readers don’t like to go too long without a food fix, and neither do I. A recent road trip also meant food got more space.

My focus will remain the joys of reading and writing. We eat to live so food places, recipes and themes will continue to have a spot on my bookish blog. I will continue to weave various threads into the reading and writing themes. Check out the home page and the reading page if you are interested in books and other kinds of reading or reading issues. Some of my own writing, and occasionally, my ideas about writing, appear on the writing page.

I keep in mind how I can improve this blog. You need to tell me how I am doing. For example, I want to make posts more interesting and less preachy. Sometimes I pile on the info and get really boring. Please help me not to do this. I also want to be more creative with my titles, so that you are pulled into the content when you read the title.

Please consider connecting with others by leaving a comment and starting a conversation. For home page posts, this is easy. Click on the “leave a reply” at the top of the page. When you read a post on the reading page or food page, etc. you must scroll to the bottom of the page to leave a reply. Your reply will appear at the top of the comments section. If you like a particular post and don’t have time to reply, you can use the Like Button. You are most welcome to subscribe to www.readeatlive.com at no charge. If you do you will receive e-mail when there is a new post. The words “subscribe to blog via e-mail” are at the top right of the home page. Click there and give your e-mail address.

The important thing is this: THANK YOU FOR READING THIS BLOG!

Mindy Kaling Rules For Writing

With commentary by Paulette

Mindy Kaling is featured in the latest issue of Entertainment Magazine. She acts, she produces, she writes, she tweets and blogs. She is clearly multi-talented. She is currently a force in the Fox comedy The Mindy Project. She was previously an Emmy nominated writer and a cast member with The Office. She is also the author of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? which came out last year.

I think her rules for writing apply to every genre, not just comedy. I believe all writers should take her rules seriously. Too many writers ignore these tenets of good writing. Those that do may look very successful, but they damage all readers and writers in the long run. So I’ll share Mindy’s rules for writers who didn’t see Entertainment Magazine this week and I’ll add my two cents.

#1 Characters are helpful and kind.
This indicates that a writer has respect for their characters and for humans in general. Characters make mistakes, they have flaws, they behave badly, yes. But I’d rather read about a character who values kindness, or laugh at one who has a good heart. Meanness gets old very quickly.

#2 No one is a moron.
Are you really interested in someone who is completely lacking in the ability to use the talents he or she was given? I’m not, nor do I wish to spend time with those who are present in a piece of writing only because they cannot think. That is not to say that mentally challenged human beings cannot be interesting characters. There are some great stories, real and imagined, about those of us with different abilities, or different disabilities. We all have our challenges of one kind and another. But stupidity for its own sake? NO.

#3 Characters are polite. Again, this shows the writer has respect for his or her creation. A stream of disrespect spewing from anyone’s mouth is likely to cause the listener to look away, and the reader to put down the text. Sometimes a struggle with politeness (it doesn’t necessarily come naturally) is the drama or the comedy of a situation. But the character is trying to figure things out, trying to be a better person.

#4 Do not fear nuance. Comedy from avoiding conflict, not instigating it.
Are you comfortable when the villain in a piece is constantly setting people up against each other. I know we see this in stories. But it seems to me that it is more interesting when we know more about the background and conflict within a character. Yes, characters sometimes cause trouble. It is more interesting and more thought provoking when the reasons are somewhat clear and we are not simply watching someone be mean and more mean. I have watched the first few episodes of Orange Is The New Black. Yes, there is conflict, some characters act in a mean way. But we are finding out about them, their lives, their feelings. That is what makes the story riveting. Not how “bad” a character can be.

#5 Characters don’t have to be maxed out to be funny.
I’d love to talk to Mindy Kaling about this one. Sometimes, a writer needs to take a character, a situation, even a setting, further than might be expected. Just how far? That is the trick. I’ve heard the Pulitzer Prize winning writer Elizabeth Strout talk about this. Now Mindy Kaling refers to it. Just how far to take the character’s personality and actions, the plot, the words. That is a question not easily answered.

At any rate, Mindy Kaling gives writers plenty to think about with her list. Your comments are welcome.