Sid Hite: As a novelist with a taste for Tall Tale, I was initially reluctant to write for the My Name Is America series. However, once I decided to do so and began work on The Journal of Rufus Rowe, I started to hear his voice clearly and the book proceeded to write itself. The main difference between a novel and the fictional journal is that the action in the journal was already established, and in that sense made the job easier.
RFA & EST: Would you tell us about the research you did for Rufus's journal? How did growing up in the location for this novel aid or hinder you in the research and writing?
SH: The great thing about writing Civil War books is the vast amount of available research material. It was easy to find all the facts I needed. For me, growing up in the area (I'm from in Bowling Green and went to high school in Fredericksburg) was a great help, as I knew the lay of the land and always felt certain about what was where. I also felt I knew how Rufus thought and spoke.
RFA & EST: What was the most unusual or interesting fact you learned researching this book?
SH: The most interesting fact I learned while researching the book was that the Yankees delayed for so long before crossing the Rappahannock River, thereby allowing Lee and the Confederate Army to arrive in Fredericksburg and assume defensive positions.
RFA & EST: Rufus is an observer rather than a participant in the Battle of Fredericksburg. Was he inspired by any of the stories you heard growing up in this historic region?
SH: I suppose Rufus Rowe was inspired by my distant ancestors. My great-great-great-grandfather was named Rufus, and I had a great uncle by the name of Rowe who was a wandering man that some called a hobo.
RFA & EST: If you had only two words to describe Rufus, what would they be and why?
SH: Two words to describe Rufus: curious and earnest. I believe these traits are revealed in his writing.
RFA & EST: In a review of one of your previous novels it was said that two of your familiar themes are enduring friendship and the mysterious power of fate. Do you see these two themes in The Journal of Rufus Rowe?
SH: Friendship is a recurrent theme in my novels because it is important to me. Rufus made several genuine friends during his stay in Fredericksburg, all of whom he seemed proud to know. As for the mysterious power of fate, I'm always intrigued by the topic that I'm not sure I will ever fully comprehend. Fate, destiny, luck, cause and effect. Who knows exactly how their life is shaped?
RFA & EST: What can today's visitors to Fredericksburg see that would inform them about the December 1862 battle and the events following?
SH: Historic Fredericksburg is what the town calls itself. (When I went to high school, we called it Hysteric Fredericksburg.) The downtown area is full of Civil War bookstores and memorabilia shops, and a visitor to this area is apt to see people walking around in Confederate uniforms, as many merchants often do. Also, one can still see the stone wall where Rufus witnessed the battle he recorded.
RFA & EST: Rufus certainly saw Robert E. Lee as a hero or, at least, the most famous person in the war. Would you agree with Rufus?
SH: In the south, Robert E. Lee continues to be held in high esteem, and there are many, many males in south with his name. He was a decent man and a brilliant general, well respected by everyone who met him: Yanks and Rebels alike.
RFA & EST: If you could ask young readers of Rufus's journal one question after they finished reading your book, what would that question be?
SH: I suppose if I could ask the readers one question, it would be: Did you receive the impression that Rufus was a real person?
RFA & EST: What is the one thing you hope young readers will take with them from The Journal of Rufus Rowe?
SH: The one thing I would like readers to derive from The Journal of Rufus Rowe is that war, no matter its cause or reason, is a horrible affair in which many good people suffer, and many die.
Interview conducted by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.