Thursday, December 10, 2009

Interview with A.S. Peterson, author of The Fiddler's Green

(Just a note...this is one of the best author interviews I've had! Now you're really going to want to read the book! Don't forget to enter my giveaway! I'm loving your answers...especially the ones that say because I recommend it...;) just kidding)

A female sailor/ pirate during the Revolutionary War is a pretty unique concept. What drew you to telling this story?

There's a bit of an eerie story there. When I began writing the book I was working at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, which is in many ways like an orphanage, so in a move to follow the creed of "write what you know" I immediately chose an orphanage as the setting for the first part of the book and set it in a time period that I thought was not only interesting, but under-represented in literature in general. Arbitrarily, I set the orphanage in Savannah, Ga and then after I had written a few chapters decided that I had better do some research.

Oddly, what I discovered when I started my research was that the oldest orphanage in America was founded in exactly the time frame that I was writing about and only a few miles from Savannah in Ebenezer, Georgia. It was uncanny. I drove up one weekend and a member of the Georgia Salzburger Society, descendants of the founders of Ebenezer, showed me around. That's where I learned of George Whitefield and John Wesley's connections to the town. The chapel that's built during the course of the book is actually the New Jerusalem Lutheran Church which is still standing and is the oldest church in the nation with a continuous congregation.

From there I studied a lot of the history of colonial Georgia which led me to the near legendary folklore of a woman named Nancy Hart who was rumored to have killed a detail of British soldiers as they ate at her dinner table. Later, I read books on pirates and maritime life and came across stories of lady pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Read. There's actually a whole passel of accounts of women passing as both as male soldiers and sailors.

My research into maritime history led me to see if there were any tall ships in the Jacksonville, FL area that I might be able to visit and get some first-hand experience on and I instantly found a website dedicated to the USS Rattlesnake, that was, of all things, a Revolutionary War-era privateer, exactly the type of ship I was writing about. Unfortunately, I called them up to see about a tour and learned that only a week or two prior to my call they had run out of money for the restoration and had sold it to a salvage yard where it was decommissioned and dismantled. I nearly cried.

So I guess the answer to your question about what drew me to this story is that I was drawn along myself by a series of amazing, beautiful, and harrowing events in American history in a way that compelled me to write about them. Fin Button is certainly a fictional character but most aspects of both her and her story are drawn from people who really lived and events that actually happened.

I was really impressed with how sharply drawn the characters were. I felt for them, and I especially loved Fin. Do you have a favorite character from the book?

I tried very hard to make Betsy, the actual fiddler's gun, more than just a prop. The gun is obviously symbolic and I felt I needed to try to make it almost a character itself. So it's often described in anthropomorphic terms and hopefully the effect is that there's a sense of dread that develops in the reader whenever Betsy is 'on screen' so to speak, and certainly when she wakes up.

Armand Defain is also one of my favorites to write. He's the foil to Bartimaeus, his doppleganger. Where Bartimaeus tries to guide Fin down the path of righteousness, Armand is constantly pulling her away from the light, he wants her to become as twisted and evil as he is, and of course part of Fin actually does want to follow him. He shows up late and doesn't have a whole lot to do in this book but he figures heavily in the next.

You left us hanging! I need to see xxxxxxxxx (edited to avoid spoilers) When will we get to see The Fiddler's Green?

Fiddler's Green is about halfway written and it will conclude the story. I'm really excited about it. I think it's a much better book (not that this one is bad, mind you). Now that the primary players have been established, I'm really enjoying getting into the meat of them in this second half of the story. I won't tell you how it all ends of course, but I can tell you that Fin's best days as well as her worst are still ahead of her. I've had the last few pages written for a couple of years now and reading them always makes me emotional; the end is beautiful, I think. I can't wait for people to read it. I'll be working hard on it this year in hopes of having it out by next Christmas.

It took a long time for this book to find its way into the hands of readers. Can you tell us a little about the process and what you've learned through it?

I think I started writing it in 2002 so it's taken about eight years in all. Much of that time was spent trying to sell it to a publisher but I kept running up against the problem of genre. Publishers want a book to fit neatly into a certain category, they want to know exactly where to shelve it in the bookstore, and the problem I found is that The Fiddler's Gun sort of defies easy classification. It's sort of young adult but then it's also sort of literary. It's sort of historical fiction, but then it's also sort of romance or adventure. Basically, publishers didn't know what to do with it. I don't blame them, why would they take a chance on a book that's difficult to categorize when they've got 3 easy to sell books waiting in line right behind me.

So after a lot of serious consideration and emphatic urging by people whose literary instincts I trusted, I decided to publish it independently. That's a scary thought to a lot of people and rightly so. It severely limits your ability to distribute your book and make it visible to the buying public but it also comes with the stigma associated with self-published books which are by and large, pretty awful.

So if I was to separate myself from the pack I was going to have to do it right. I wanted to put out a book that was not just a pleasure to read but was a pleasure to look at and hold in your hand. My love for books goes beyond the stories told on their pages, the story is also told from the first moment you see the cover and from the feel of the pages between your fingers and the heft of the book in your hand. I wanted any book I wrote to be something that I was proud to have my name on. Of course all that stuff costs money. In the end, I think I found a pretty suitable middle ground between what I could afford and what I ideally wanted to produce.

I hired an editor who I'd previously worked with and trusted, and I commissioned a brilliant Nashville artist, and good friend of mine, Evie Coates to develop the cover artwork. We went to work and in the process decided to launch our own publishing house, Rabbit Room Press, an offshoot of The Rabbit Room, an artistic community I've been involved with for a couple of years now. It's been a really exciting time and we've got some great stuff in the works for the coming year.

I'm a regular reader of the Rabbit Room and find that many of the celebrated writers there are quite established. Do you have any thoughts on emerging voices in fiction? Any recommendations? Which books or stories have had the most influence on you?

One of the reasons for the foundation of the Rabbit Room was to try to give a platform to what we considered to be some great artists, whether musical, literary, or visual that were simply falling between the cracks in our culture. We wanted to give them voices and to some extent we are achieving that. Authors like Wendell Berry and Frederick Buechner are some of the greatest writers of our age, yet they are virtually unknown.

I'm absolutely baffled that Wendell Berry doesn't have a pulitzer prize. I really think that future generations are going to look back on his writing and realize just what a visionary he was. So we talk about him in the Rabbit Room and we sell his books in our store. Every time an order comes in for one of his books I get a little giddy because I know we've just given someone something beautiful.

As for emerging voices, I can't wait to see what Leif Enger writes next. Peace Like a River and So Brave, Young, and Handsome are two of my most treasured books from the past few years. One of our writers, Jonathan Rogers, is currently working on a new young adult book that I've read portions of and I think it's going to be a major leap forward for him and of course my brother, Andrew Peterson's, books have been very well received. It's amazing to see how kids soak up his Wingfeather books. He's perfectly in tune with what kids love about great stories and they just eat it up. I'm working on a YA book of my own and only in my wildest dreams will it be received as well as his have been.

My personal influences tend to be pretty dark. I'm really drawn to books, and movies in which characters are surrounded by horrible circumstances yet they find the tiniest pinprick of light in the world and cling to it. The books that are so dear to me that they've become a part of who I am are those like Les Miserables, Crime and Punishment, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Godric, Book of the Dun Cow, The Lord of the Rings. All of those are dark books, oppressive at times, and yet the long trek through the darkness of the book is what makes them so beautiful in the end. I've constantly worried that The Fiddler's Gun is too dark and if you could see some of the early drafts you'd probably be shocked at how much I've tried to pull back from that and lighten it so I didn't scare the daylights out of people. I'm probably exaggerating there, but it has definitely become a bit easier to swallow in the rewrites and that's a good thing.

Since the book is independently published, what are your plans to get the word out? What can your readers and fans do to help?

Well the best way to get the word out about any book is word of mouth. If you read it and you enjoyed it, then tell someone about it, blog about it, twitter it, beg your local independent bookstore to carry it (and give them my contact information). Part of the trouble with books, though, is that people like to give their copies away for others to read. I love that. I love giving books away. But unfortunately that doesn't help pay the bills. I'd originally considered including vouchers with each book that could be redeemed for another signed copy at a discount so that people would have a reason to buy a second one to give to friends but that idea fell by the wayside and we never followed through with it.

Right now the only place the book is available is at It's too early to say for sure, but there's a chance that we might have some national distribution lined up for early next year. That's all up in the air though, nothing for certain.

What do you hope readers take away from The Fiddler's Gun?

A desire to read Fiddler's Green :)

Seriously, though, the inscription of the book is a quote by Frederick Buechner that says "the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all." I really believe that, and my hope is that everyone that reads the book will see themselves in some facet of Fin Button. Everyday each of us chooses at some point whether we will pick up the fiddle and make our lives something beautiful, or pick up the gun and become an instrument of destruction. The important thing to remember is that no matter how often we've chosen the gun, the fiddle is always ready and waiting to redeem us.

The Fiddler's Gun is not to be missed, read my review and then buy it.



ibeeeg said...

Thanks for this interview Amy.
I thought A.S. Peterson's answers were all great. I appreciated the depth and detail of the answers.
I am going to check out the Rabbit Room and most definitely your review Amy.
Thanks again for this fantastic interview.

bermudaonion said...

A. S. Peterson's passion comes through in his interview. I love the idea of including a voucher in the book - too bad it didn't pan out.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview. I love his last thoughts on the book. Just beautiful.

Carrie K. said...

I loved reading this interview. I actually thought this was Andrew Peterson, didn't realize it was his brother. What a talented family! And as someone who adores Wendell Berry and Leif Enger, I loved reading that part of the interview.

Katy said...

Wow, great interview! This book has made it to my Christmas list.

Heidi Willis said...

What a wonderful interview! I love finding books like this: books that didn't make it into the big publishing houses with big marketing outlets. In my own opinion, they are some of the best gems.

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