Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Interview with James Reasoner

‘It’s human nature to ask, What if?’ 
That’s the appeal of alternate history’

© James Reasoner
This interview with James Reasoner—renowned and prolific American writer of Western novels and Civil War books—could not have happened at a better time. For, I have just learned that Western Fictioneers is honouring Reasoner with its fourth Life Achievement Peacemaker Award. Since writing his first Western novel thirty years ago, Reasoner has authored several hundred novels and short stories in numerous genres, both under his own name and various pseudonyms. It is a richly deserved award. Congratulations, Mr. Reasoner!

The real occasion for this interview is my April 7 review of James Reasoner’s The Blood of the Fallen: The history that never happened. I was fascinated by the short story that turned Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg speech on its head and offered a side to the Civil War president that I never thought of. But that’s Alternate History for you.

I asked James Reasoner about the story as I was curious to learn more about it and especially how he came to write it, and he was very kind to respond to my questions.


How did the idea for The Blood of the Fallen: The history that never happened occur to you?
I was asked to write a story for an anthology called Alternate Gettysburgs. I was writing the ‘Civil War Battles’ series at the time, and the editor on those books was the same one who edited Alternate Gettysburgs. So the theme of it was there from the first.

What were your reasons for choosing Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg speech as the subject of your story?
I didn't want to write a story about the battle—I'd been writing about various battles in my own series—and Lincoln's speech seemed to be the best-known thing about Gettysburg other than the battle itself. I started thinking about how I could change it around and come up with a different result.

© Rough Edges Press
How long did it take you to write it? What was the writing process like?
The actual writing probably took a couple of days. There was quite a bit of research leading up to it, though, because I wanted to get all the details as accurate as possible and follow the history closely up until the point where the story diverged from what really happened.

Was it difficult to write the story given Lincoln’s vastly significant contribution to American history?
No, not really, if anything it was easier because there's such a wealth of research material about Lincoln in general and the Gettysburg Address in particular.

While writing the story, did you picture Abraham Lincoln as one who might cry out for “vengeance” and swear to shed “rebel blood”?
Actually, that seemed like something that Lincoln wouldn't do under normal circumstances. Many historians have speculated that Reconstruction wouldn't have been so harsh on the South if Lincoln had lived. So what I had to come up with was a circumstance so traumatic for Lincoln that he would go against his natural inclinations, something that would make him hurt so much that he would lash out at the most convenient target—in this case, the Confederacy.


I read somewhere that a lot of people find “alternate or alternative history” entertaining? Why do you think this is and how would you best describe the term?
Well, a lot of people are interested in history, period, and it's human nature to ask, "What if?" I think that's the appeal of the alternate history genre, the endless speculation of the ripple effect caused by one or two simple changes in what really happened.

Have you written any other stories with a similar theme?
I wrote one story, The East Wind Caper, about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, but that's my only other alternate history story. I'd be interested in doing more but just haven't had the opportunity (or the right idea).

How different would America have been today if the events retold in The Blood of the Fallen had actually happened?
I don't know. That would probably take a whole novel to figure out—which is something I've actually thought about doing, if I ever get around to it. Nathan Bedford Forrest is an interesting, if somewhat controversial, figure in American history and I'd be interested in writing more about him. That's where you'd have to start to get to where we'd be today if that history was different.

Would you consider Lincoln’s Gettysburg address as one of the greatest speeches delivered by a world leader or statesman?
Certainly. For a speech to be that short, yet that powerful and memorable, is quite an achievement. Would that all politicians spoke so well—and so briefly!

How is Abraham Lincoln seen by the American people today? And how relevant is his ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ in our times?
When asked about the greatest president, Lincoln is usually the first or second choice, so I think people generally still hold him in very high regard. At the time, I think the ‘Emancipation Proclamation’ was more of a strategic political move than anything else, but it's important because it was the start of something that had to be done and its consequences wound up being much more far-reaching than just helping Lincoln get reelected.

Finally, as a veteran writer and historian, what is your own view of President Lincoln and his achievements?
It's probably going too far to consider me a historian! I'm a storyteller more than anything else, and Abraham Lincoln, in many ways, is a larger-than-life character, so it was fun (although in a bleak sort of way, considering how the story turned out) to write about him. His achievements are legendary and so is his personality. I remember reading a biography of him when I was seven or eight years old, so it was nice to be able to write about him, to peek behind the historical figure, all those years later.

Thank you, Mr. Reasoner.

14 comments:

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    1. Col, thank you. I enjoyed doing it. Mr.Reasoner offers much insight in his story.

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  2. I haven't read this one yet but I certainly want to. Sounds excellent. Great interview.

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    1. Charles, thank you. It is a very good story. I particularly liked the way Mr. Reasoner redrew Lincoln's character.

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  3. Terrific follow up on the story - thanks Prashant, really enjoyed this.

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    1. Sergio, thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I like reading about the Civil War both as fiction and nonfiction.

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  4. Fine interview Prashant. We caught a glimpse behind the scenes.

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    1. Oscar, thank you. Yes, we did, thanks to Mr. Reasoner's incisive answers.

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  5. Excellent interview, Prashant. Good questions and interesting answers. Makes me want to learn more about James Reasoner and his books and stories.

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    1. Tracy, thank you. I want to read Mr. Reasoner's westerns and especially his Civil War books. I recommend his short stories too.

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  6. I always enjoy learning a little more from The Sage of Texas. Thank you, Prashant!

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    1. David, I enjoyed the story and was delighted to do the interview with Mr. Reasoner.

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  7. Terrific interview, Prashant. Well done. I've never read anything by James Reasoner but maybe it's time I did. I do like alternate history though I've only dipped my toe in the water - reading-wise.

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    1. Yvette, thank you! I'm delighted that you liked it. Alternate history is new ground for me too and I'll be seeking similar stories set around famous people and events. The possibilities are immense.

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