Interview with Matthew Warner, author of ‘Bummers’

Matthew Warner is the author of ‘Bummers’ the second story in Alt Hist Issue 3 set during the American Civil War. We caught up with Matthew to ask him more about this story and his other writing.

Matthew Warner picture

How did you find out about female soldiers in the American Civil War? And can you tell us a bit more about the historical reality?

It started from a desire to write a story featuring a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered person. I have a lot of LGBT friends, and I feel strongly about supporting them whenever possible. So, in the course of researching possible characters, I stumbled across the topic of women who cross-dressed as men in order to fight in the Civil War. I’d never heard of this and was fascinated – doubly so because the Civil War is one of my favorite historical periods. (My collection, Death Sentences, includes a reprint of a short story I wrote about a plantation mistress.) What if the cross-dressing soldier were also a lesbian? I wondered. The story took off from there.

Here and here are links to photos of a real-life Frances who dressed as a man to fight in the war. According to the National Archives, at least 250 women dressed as men to fight for the Confederacy, and perhaps just as many fought for the Union, although the exact numbers are unknown. Like the Frances in my story, their motivations included money and the comparatively greater freedom that men enjoyed.

The American Civil War is a popular topic for US-based historical fiction writers. What do you think the main attraction of the period is?

Because it marked the end of slavery, the Civil War is still tied up in our minds with the issues of civil rights and racism, which remain enduring social issues. People still get upset when high schools use Civil War imagery for mascots or when state governments occasionally display the Confederate flag. Although it happened almost 150 years ago, the “War Between the States” (or the “War of Northern Aggression,” depending on your point of view) is still very much alive.

Also, the Civil War still holds the record for our bloodiest conflict. Even worse, it was “brother against brother,” as Hollywood says. Its artifacts permeate the old battle ground states. Here in Virginia, I can reach a Civil War monument in about five minutes. At my local cemetery, in fact, a couple thousand Confederate soldiers lie in a mass grave. Places like Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, run a thriving tourist trade of Civil War attractions. The ghosts still walk.

How did you get into writing?

I was fortunate to attend a public school system that encouraged creative writing from an early age. By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to write fiction professionally, but I took a sideways step into journalism for a while. Eventually, I wound up working in law, and now I’m a website designer. (How’s that for a crazy career path?) But I’ve never stopped writing. My first novel, The Organ Donor, came out in 2002, and my fifth book just came out this year.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Mainly take care of my sons, Owen (age 2) and Thomas (4 months). My wife Deena and I run Deena Warner Design, which services writers and publishers. I’m also a pianist and hope to get back into martial arts one day.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

The ink is drying the contract for a novel that’s coming out in 2013 from a Canadian publisher (official announcement coming soon!). In February 2012, a local community theater is premiering a two-act comedy stage play I wrote called Pirate Appreciation Day. And yes, I’m always grinding away at the rough draft of something or other.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

My biggest ambition right now is to seek an ever wider readership. That’s actually more important to me than making a bunch of money as a writer. If money were my goal, I would’ve committed suicide by now.

Union or Confederacy?

Union in political views, Confederacy in family heritage and location. With all due respect to the great grandfather who was wounded at Gettysburg, I’m glad I’m not living in the Confederate States of America today.

You can find out more about Matthew Warner at his website:

Don’t forget to check out Matthew’s story ‘Bummers’ in issue 3 of Alt Hist.

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Interview with Jessica Wilson, author of ‘Death in Theatre’

We’re going to be running a series of interviews with the authors from our second issue. First up is Jessica Wilson, author of ‘Death in Theatre’.

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

I’m a recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s Elementary Education program. I’ve loved writing since the third grade, and I’ve been an aspiring novelist since middle school when my friends and I would exchange writing on the bus. I’m 23, recently engaged, and currently working on what I hope will be my first novel. I write largely fantasy; I’ve actually earned Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest twice.

What attracts you to historical fiction?

“Death in Theatre” was actually a happy accident. I do not typically write historical fiction, and I only rarely read it. When I do read it, my favorite part is being immersed in the world as it was back then. It’s one thing to think about how different life was in historic times, but quite another to view it through the eyes of someone (real or fictional) who lived it.

How did you get the idea for the story?

I wrote “Death in Theatre” for a challenge on my writing website. It was a genre challenge, and that round was Historic Fiction. At first I wanted to go with something closer to my usual comfort range, like something medieval, Roman, or feudal Japanese. But eventually I decided that focusing on an individual would be best, and that a traitor or assassin would be the most intriguing. When I thought of John Wilkes Booth, I was uncertain at first because it’s not my usual fare, but I decided to challenge myself. What kind of man must Booth have been to assassinate President Lincoln?

Union or Confederacy?

Union. My family is actually from the south, but my dad was in the Army when I grew up and I lived all over. When I came back to the family home for my tenth grade year, seeing the Confederate pride down there disturbed me on a number of levels. The Confederacy wasn’t all about slave-holding, of course, though that was one reason I was put off by all the Confederate pride. But the simple fact that the Confederacy wanted to split from the Union makes all that pride seem unpatriotic to me. Maybe they view it differently, but that’s why I found (and still find) it hard to understand.

What are you currently working on?

A young adult fantasy novel. I actually have a lot of ideas floating around, but I’m trying to stick to this one. I have a long history of getting very far in a story and then abandoning it, taking a break for another idea. By the time I get back to the old story, I hate it and want to rewrite. My goal is to get all the way through this one this time, because what’s the use in being a writer if you never finish anything?

Don’t forget to read a free sample of Jessica’s ‘Death in Theatre’ from the second issue of Alt Hist. We think you’ll like it.

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