Saturday, December 28, 2013

Interview: J Keith Jones

Today we have J. Keith Jones, Author of both fiction and nonfiction, including: 

The Independent (TI):  J. Keith Jones, tell us a little about yourself.
J. Keith Jones (JKJ):
I am a writer and a history buff.  I have had a fruitful career in high technology and finally figured out what I really wanted to be when I grew up... a writer.  Down deep I always knew this, but it took reaching the mid-point of my working life to muster up the courage to pursue it to the point of completing book sized projects.  Truth be told, unless you have the family money necessary to achieve an MFA in writing and a PhD in History (by this I don't mean you have to be rich, but it is necessary for you to only be responsible for your own financial well-being); it takes a decade or better to independently amass the knowledge necessary to write book length works of fiction and history.  So about 15 years ago, I got serious about my writing and completed a first draft of a novel that I ended up putting in the proverbial drawer and moved on to my next project that ended up being “In Due Time.”

TI:  Tell us about your nonfiction (Georgia Remembers… and Diamond Hill).
I have always been a history buff.  Mostly military history topics.  World War II, the American Revolution and the so-called Civil War are of particular interest to me.

One day I was reading a genealogy message board for one of my families (the Halls) and saw an entry for a letter collection for a family out of Abbeville County, South Carolina; the Robert Boyd family.  They are not actually relatives of mine, but the son-in-law of Robert Boyd, Fenton Hall, who contributed letters to this collection is.  This collection resides at Duke University, which is not too far from where I live, so I went and investigated these letters.  It is a large collection and I was at a loss as to what to do with all this source material.  As I dug deeper into it, it began to occur to me that this family had a rich back-story that was emblematic of the sacrifice and suffering of so many in this war.  After all, every life is a story.  When writing a biography, you must get all the dates, events and places correct, but you should remember that you are telling someone's life story.  The particulars are what make a book factual, but the story behind it all is what makes it interesting.  This story is what evolved into “The Boys of Diamond Hill.”  It was a labor of love and I can't imagine what the Boyd brothers would think if they knew that people would be reading about their lives 150 years later.  This book has been well received by the Boyd descendents and residents of the Diamond Hill section of Abbeville County and was awarded a Gold Medal for History by the Military Writers Society of America.  I feel blessed to have played a part in all this.

“Georgia Remembers Gettysburg” is an extension of a series created by historian Michael C. Hardy when he wrote “North Carolina Remembers Gettysburg.”  Michael is a friend of mine and one night after hearing him speak on the subject, I asked if he planned to pursue other states in this work.  Upon discovering that the way was clear for Georgia, I decided to put the research material I had on that state to work for me.  Michael in turn pitched the idea to Ten Roads Publishing so when I was ready to make my own pitch to them, it was off to the races.  Like the Boyd book, this one has been a blessing to me.

TI:  Many of the South’s leaders were amazing men, militarily and otherwise.  Lee and Jackson in particular.  Jackson defies all of the stereotypes heaped on southerners.  That’s why I believe books like yours that take the words of the men that lived through the Civil War are so very important to show it how it was – good, bad, or otherwise.  Does this play into why you wrote your books?   

As a Southerner, I have always understood that the South's role in that war and the reason its people fought has been grossly mischaracterized by modern historians.  The Christian character of the Southern people and their leaders of that day and the Constitutional principles they revered are certainly politically incorrect by today's standards.  As for the common soldier – few of which were actually slave holders – the fact is that regardless of why your government or generals are fighting, if your homeland is being invaded by an army willing to burn your town and displace your family... you fight.

TI:  Tell us about In Due Time.  What led you to write it?

I had conceptualized a little time travel piece that was originally to be a short story.  I had several elements in place, but there was always something missing. One of these was what was the great struggle they were to be fighting against.  Then one Saturday morning I was thinking about the story again and the missing elements all fell into place.  I realized that what I now had was much larger than a short story. 

For some time American exceptional-ism has been under attack.  Many bemoan everything from our seemingly “privileged” lifestyles to the fact that we don't kowtow to international courts.  Of course this leads to many so-called “conspiracy theories” about the New World Order prophesied in the Bible.  So I felt this was the perfect vehicle for this story.

TI:  We’ve both written books that explore a dark future for the United States.  How real is that future?  And if it is real - what, if anything, can be done at this point to prevent it?

This, of course, is nothing new.  George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and others have explored these well before our time; not to mention the book of Revelations.  I think this future is as real as we allow it to be.  There are so many elements of and avenues to this dark future that it is impossible for any one writer to explore them all.  I think that awareness is the only prevention. 

When I wrote this book, I was first and foremost setting out to tell a story, not educate anyone on the New World Order.  It is only natural that patterns I recognize and dangers I see on the horizon would find their way into my work.  It is interesting that about 90% of the people I encounter when I am at public events will lean in close and confide their fears about this subject.  Then there is the 10% or so that will roll their eyes and say something like, “aw jeeze.”

TI:  What can we expect next from you?  Any plans for a new book?

I am currently working on “South Carolina Remembers Gettysburg.”  Other projects lining up behind this include revisiting the first unfinished novel I referred to and a biography of some members of the Stonewall Jackson family.  I am also kicking around the plot lines for a couple of (probably unconventional) sequels to “In Due Time.”

TI:  Anything you’d like to add before we go?

I want to thank you for the opportunity share a little about myself and my writing with your readers.  Every life is a story and every story is interesting if it is told right.  The challenge is to prevent peoples lives from becoming nothing more than boring dates and dry events.

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