Friday, October 12, 2012

Interview with Jo Ann Butler

I would like to introduce Author Jo Ann Butler, the winner of the BRAG Medallion for her novel, "Rebel Puritan."

Thank you Jo Ann for your time. I would like to first ask you about your reading interests. What was the last truly great book you've read?

I just finished “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” by Jon Meacham, which will be published in November. I’m reviewing books for the Historical Novel Society, and one of the perks is seeing advance review copies. Meacham’s book is a thorough look at Jefferson’s life public and private life, and it is super!

What book are you currently reading?

I’m enjoying an advance copy of “The Plum Tree,” Ellen Marie Wiseman’s debut Holocaust story, and Daniel Defoe’s 1722 “Journal of the Plague Year,” about the bubonic plague epidemic which decimated London in 1665. I read “Plague Year” when I was researching “Rebel Puritan,” since Herodias Long survives an outbreak of plague. It’s also a great way to put the period’s language into my head as I prepare to publish “The Reputed Wife,” my “Rebel Puritan” sequel.

Where is your favorite reading spot in your home?

Reading in bed is even better than in the bathtub, and less hazardous if I let the book slip.

Which format do you prefer to read from? Paperback or e-book?

Paperback, definitely! I spend all day on the computer, so the last thing I want in the evening is to read on another screen. Plus, the book in my hands connects me to the story far better than words on the screen. I have hundreds of research books on PDF, but still prefer my hardcopies.

When did you know you wanted to be an author?

The short answer: Herodias Long’s life led me to writing.

The long answer: actually, I wanted to be an archeologist from when I was seven. National Geographic ran an article about Pompeii, and I read the magazine to tatters. However, digs are tough on the knees and I had to quit, but not until after I’d worked on several sites and fallen in love with colonial America.

I channeled my interest in the period into genealogy, which led me to Herodias. She is notorious in Rhode Island for separating from two unsuitable husbands and for defending Quakers in Puritan Massachusetts. Herodias walked sixty miles to protest Quakers being whipped, and was herself flogged in Boston’s public square with her infant in her arms. That woman absolutely refused to sit down and shut up! That story was irresistible, so I decided to write a novel about Herodias. “Rebel Puritan” is my first creative writing project, though I sold some natural history articles while I was querying the mss.

Please tell me about your book, “Rebel Puritan.”

It depicts the coming of age of Herodias and of Rhode Island, the first colony to truly practice freedom of religion. Herodias marries when she is thirteen to escape servitude after the death of her father. She and her new husband arrive in Boston, Massachusetts when that Puritan colony is locked in a power struggle. Anne Hutchinson leads the minority party, which is ejected and flees southward. Herodias and her husband follow them to Newport, but her marriage is coming apart as her husband slides into alcohol and jealousy-fueled abuse. She petitions for a divorce, so the third theme in “Rebel Puritan” is women seeking control of their lives in a society which regards them as their husbands’ property.

What is some of the research that was involved for your story?

I’m from upstate NY, so I could easily get to Rhode Island’s archives and historical societies, and the New England Historical and Genealogical Society in Boston. I began my research in 1979, and the first time I went to the archives in Providence, they handed me the actual 17th-century record book. My hands were trembling as I turned the pages – very, very carefully!

My English research was done at the Mormon genealogical library in Salt Lake City, Utah. They have a vast worldwide collection, including 2.5 million rolls of microfilmed books and records.

Please tell me a little about the fictional aspects to your story?

Herodias laid out her life story in 1665 when she asked for a divorce from her second husband (they had been together for twenty years but never actually married, and she said it was weighing on her conscience). Her petition was my framework. I researched significant events in Herodias’ life, then picked out a birthplace and invented a family. Motivations, dialogue, and the minutiae of life are my creation, but most of the events in “Rebel Puritan” are real.

I read that a reviewer said your story was inspired by your 8th great-grandmother. Could you tell me a little about that?

Herodias’ second husband was George Gardner, and I am their 8th-great granddaughter via their eldest son. My grandmother was surnamed Gardner, so when my mom and I started doing our genealogy, Herodias and George were the first people we traced back to their immigration. Sadly, genealogists can’t find English parents for either one of them.

Women faced many hardships in the 17th Century. Were there any scenes you found a challenge to write?

John Hicks, Herodias’ first husband, was abusive, and their marriage was dissolved because of his violence. That was tough for me. I researched spousal abuse during the OJ Simpson trial, so the controlling ways of abusers and their promises to reform, but then backsliding, entered into “Rebel Puritan.” It hit me hard when Simpson was acquitted, because he got away with murder after Nicole had begged for help.

Who designed your book cover?

That would be me. I demolished the cardinal rules of self-publishing which advise hiring pros for editing and the cover because I have very good beta readers and confidence in my language skills, and also in my cover. One reader called it weird, but most people like it.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

I tried the soul-killing traditional grind of queries, agents, and publishing houses for several years when the fiction market was contracting sharply. A bunch of agents & publishers looked at the mss and I got many compliments, but the consensus was, “This is very good, but we aren’t taking fiction. You should self-publish.” I had false starts, and putting the money down at a printer took a lot of nerve, but I couldn’t be prouder of the results.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

Helen Hollick blogged about IndieBRAG and had it on her Facebook page in May, 2012. I couldn’t resist giving it a try, and am terribly proud to see “Rebel Puritan” acknowledged! IndieBRAG is a great way to discover superior self-published books among the many thousands published each year.

What is your favorite quote?

Fortune Favors the Bold, by Virgil. I have the quote on my desk, and it popped up on a teabag label when I was making that final decision to go for it with “Rebel Puritan.” What an omen!

Thanks for hosting me, Stephanie – it is my pleasure! ~Jo Ann

Jo Ann's Bio & Links:

I'm a baby boomer, born in the New York snow belt during the twelve nights between Christmas and Epiphany. If myth is true, my birth date destines me to become a werewolf (but I have shown no symptoms yet). Since then I've been a tomboy, bass clarinetist, archaeologist, amateur genealogist and historian, field ornithologist, and worked with handicapped children. I edited telephone books for a while, but turned down an editor job with Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich in favor of a job as a computer jockey in the aerospace industry. I am proudest of my current passion as an author-publisher of "Rebel Puritan" and its forthcoming sequel "The Reputed Wife." For fun I camp, hike, and take far too many photos in our country's beautiful public lands.

indieBRAGWe are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Jo Ann Butler who is the author of, Rebel Puritan, one of our medallion honorees at To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Rebel Puritan merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

Thank you!


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