"EDGE: Your novel Purgatory is set during the Civil War...
"Jeff Mann: The conflict between duty and Eros, yes, well said. That’s what this novel is all about... Rebel soldier Ian Campbell meets Yankee prisoner of war Drew Conrad in the last month or so of the war, and the two men fall in love. Drew’s being treated very badly by some Rebel soldiers who are furious after General Sheridan burnt the Valley of Virginia in Autumn 1864, and Ian has to choose between his duty to his country (and his kin: The Rebel band’s leader is his uncle) and his passion for this big blond Yank.
"The sequel I’m writing now continues their story; it’s full of rollicking high adventure and has been fun to write. There were few women in Purgatory (Miss Pearl, the Lexington prostitute, being a notable exception), but there are several female characters in Salvation I’ve enjoyed creating. They’re tributes, I suppose, to the many female friends and family members who have enriched my life.
"EDGE: As a contemporary queer Southerner, how do you see the Civil War? Was it "The War Between the States," or "The War of Northern Aggression," or something else, in your view?
"Jeff Mann: Oh, Lord. Well, that’s a "damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t" question! My homosexuality is likely to repulse many of my fellow Southerners/Confederate sympathizers, and my Southern sympathies are likely to repulse a lot of queers. Oh, well. I’m used to being wedged between worlds and never really belonging anywhere.
"I’ve been reading about "the War of Northern Aggression" pretty constantly since 2008, all as research for the fiction and poetry I’ve been writing. In addition, I’ve been visiting historical sites (dragging my poor partner to battlefield after battlefield). I’m no historian, but obviously I’m a history enthusiast. And as an artist, I realize that complexity, rather than partisan passion, makes for good art. I’ve come to see and understand many, many points of view, much more so now than before I started the research. Having black in-laws, a biracial nephew, and a partner whose family is from Massachusetts has also certainly helped me see other sides.
"God, what suffering, what a huge horror. Those Yankee boys who believed in Union, who came down to the South and ended up buried here; all those slaves, some treated well, some treated horribly, some fleeing to freedom, some staying with their owners; and the white Southerners, my ancestors, civilians whose land and lives were wrecked, soldiers who died by the thousands. That war, it looks to me, was about so many things, none of them mutually exclusive: Against slavery, for slavery, about enforcing Federal domination, about resisting Federal domination, about preserving the Union, about defending one’s home against invaders.
So many folks I’ve known much prefer to see the war simplistically, as a battle against slavery, as a conflict between Good and Evil, the North being good, of course, the South being evil. As a white Southerner who was brought up to revere Jackson and Lee, of course I’m going to resist that simple-minded interpretation, and I’m going to resent anyone who instantly assumes I’m a racist because of my Confederate sympathies. Everyone suffered in that conflict--white and black, Yankees and Rebels--and white Southerners have as much a right to venerate and commemorate their ancestors’ heroism, endurance, and courage as anyone else.
"I can’t speak for black folks, and I can’t speak for Northerners--I wouldn’t presume to--but I can speak as the descendant of a Rebel soldier. And so I am, in the poems I’ve been working on over the last few years. What interests me most is the experience of common Confederate soldiers, most of whom were not slave-owners, most of whom saw that war as a defense against invading forces. Those are the men I most sympathize with and those are the ones I’ve written about."
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At the other end of the literary spectrum -- nonfiction -- make time for my friend Adam Goodheart's spectacular 1861: The Civil War Awakening [Kindle], newly out in paperback. The front page of the NYT Book Review called it "exhilarating...inspiring...irresistible." His front page Boston Globe review compared him to Picasso and Braque. James MacPherson said Adam "is a Monet with a pen instead of a paintbrush." Tony Horwitz said, "1861 is the best book I have ever read on the start of the Civil War." It is a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Award. I predict next month you'll again hear Adam praised when the Pulitzers announce their finalists and winner.