I’d like to welcome Jo Ann Butler to Layered Pages today. She is a genealogist and one-time colonial archeologist, Ms. Butler has tapped her work in New England for her first historical fiction novel, “Rebel Puritan.” She can be reached at www.rebelpuritan.com
Thank you Jo Ann for visiting with me again and congrats for winning the B.R.A.G Medallion for the second time. It was a pleasure to interview you about Rebel Puritan and I’m delighted be chatting with you about The Reputed Wife. Please tell your audience about your book?
Thank you, Stephanie, and it’s an honor to talk with you as a second-time B.R.A.G. Medallion winner! Readers of Rebel Puritan are familiar with Herodias Long and George Gardner. In The Reputed Wife, Herod raises a burgeoning family in 17th century Newport, Rhode Island, even as she and George try to conceal their unconventional relationship. Rhode Island suffers its own growing pains when more powerful Puritan colonies try to usurp its lands. Lastly, Quaker missionaries arrive in New England, bent on converting Puritans. Mary Dyer is one of their converts, and so is Herod, who takes her protest against Puritan abuse to the whipping post.
What fascinates you most about this time period your story is written in?
The New Englanders’ struggle to survive, to build homes in the wilderness, and to create their own society. Their laws and customs were based on English law, but Puritan and non-Puritan alike added their own New England flavor. Rhode Island’s own struggle is also amazing. The residents were all non-conforming outcasts from Puritan colonies, and had to learn to work together to form a viable colony of their own.
With this sequel is there anything new you learned in your research that you did not know in your first book?
I originally meant to write a single book about Herodias, so there weren’t any big surprises for me while writing The Reputed Wife. However, I’m now writing The Golden Shore, the final volume in my Scandalous Life trilogy. Just a couple of weeks ago I learned that a convicted witch from Hartford, Connecticut escaped to Rhode Island, and that Herod’s son George was involved in her escape. I paused to research the 1662-63 Hartford witch trials, and am bringing that dramatic episode into The Golden Shore.
What are your thoughts on the Puritans and the Quakers? How they lived their life and the rules they followed.
Jo Ann: 17th-century Quakers were not the pacifist folk we picture. They believed in passive resistance and street theater to make their points, and outraged Puritans with their actions. Walking into church with your face painted black in mourning for the Puritans’ damnation, or stripped naked to demonstrate Puritan spiritual nakedness did not win the Quakers any friends.
Puritans believed that God no longer spoke to man, and that only learned men should speak in church, to prevent ‘errors’ in religious beliefs. Quakers often worshiped in silence, waiting for divine revelation to put words into their mouths. Such revelation was heresy to Puritans, and they couldn’t decide whether Quakers were witches, possessed by Satan, or both.
I might feel sorry for Puritans, who felt beset by Quakers berating them in church and court, except for the methods used to encourage those Quakers to leave Puritan colonies alone. Those Quakers were jailed, branded, and whipped, including Herod Gardner, who walked sixty miles to protest the torture. Four Quakers went to the gallows for defying their banishment, including Mary Dyer.
Please tell me about some of the places you visited to research for you book(s).
In the last 30 years I’ve spent weeks in libraries and archives in Boston, Newport, Providence, and Salt Lake City. On my first trip, I nearly fainted when I was handed Rhode Island’s original record book dating from 1638. Newport’s historian showed me the 1651 record authorizing William Coddington as Rhode Island’s governor-for-life. I’ve also visited places I know that Herod must have seen, like Smith’s Castle, a trading post in Wickford, and camped near Herod’s home for a week to get a feel for her world. Google Earth has also been invaluable.
Will there be a third book? Will you tell me a little about it?
My first draft of The Golden Shore is about 20% complete. I hope to print it next year, but realize that’s a very, very ambitious goal. Herod and her maturing Gardner children all move to the west side of Narragansett Bay, and her messy personal life takes yet another turn which I won’t spoil here. New England’s Indian tribes are losing their land in gigantic chunks, and King Philip of the Wampanoag Indians leads the tribes in war against encroaching settlers. Slavery is on the rise, so I have plenty of social issues to explore.
Please tell me about any of the challenges you had while writing your story.
I have a historical framework for my books, but everything else is seat-of-pants writing, waiting for my characters to tell me where they are going. Deciding what to include and what to omit is always tough. I throw all my ingredients into the kettle, produce a massive first draft, then start pruning.
Tell me a little about Herodias Long and George Gardner.
Any woman who marries at thirteen like Herod did in real life must be ferociously impulsive. Herod takes responsibility for her acts and does her best to live with, and learn from the results, but her headstrong nature sometimes gets the best of her.
George Gardner is a solid citizen and a hard worker, but like Frank Kennedy in Gone With the Wind, George has taken up with a little more woman than he can manage. He is happy just farming and planting to provide for his family, but Herod’s ambitions push George way beyond his comfort zone.
After you are done writing this series what will be your next book project?
The 1662 Connecticut witchcraft outbreak is very tempting, but I may try a modern thriller first. When a geologist is killed and his laptop goes missing, who wants him dead? A jealous boyfriend? Frackers? Lake Effect would also let me bring in our local meteorological headache – snowfall above and beyond belief – into play.
I also have an idea combining birds, magic, and history into multiple story lines, but I’m not doing anything with it until after The Golden Shore is done.
That sounds interesting. What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Don’t dream it – be it! If you have an idea, start writing. Also, I sold single-page, and then longer articles to Equus and Birds and Blooms magazines while I was finishing Rebel Puritan. It was great practice for writing queries, and also for creating a tight tale with introduction, body, and conclusion – exactly what you need for a book.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Jo Ann Butler, who is the author of, The Reputed Wife one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Reputed Wife merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
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