Celebrate Black History Month with F.W. Abel (author interview)

F.W. Abel was born in the city of New York, long ago enough to have not even been a teenager at the beginning of the Civil War Centennial.  He escaped from Fordham University with a degree in psychology into the U.S. Army.  The army had him function as a psychologist for a while, until he escaped from that into “the real army” that is, the infantry.  After postings in Berlin, Tokyo and the southern United States, he left and became a junior executive in the insurance industry.  He now labors diligently for the American taxpayer as a federal bureaucrat.  He currently resides in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C.  As many of the most important battles of the Civil war was fought within a relatively short distance, he has taken advantage and visited most of them, as well as several in the so-called “Western Theater.”  

Purchase the book on Amazon / Twilight Times Books / B&N

When did you begin writing?  

In 1995.  I had just become unemployed, and utilized the free time while job hunting to begin a novel. 

Working cuts into writing time, obviously, so the next question is pertinent. 

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?  

I try to write when I have a free day.  If I can draft five fairly decent pages in a day, I consider that a good day.  I can do polishing in shorter time periods. 

What is Deeds of a Colored Soldier about?  

The experiences of a young African-American as his Confederate master’s slave and then a soldier in the United States Colored Troops during the American Civil War. 

What inspired you to write it?  

I recall a reviewer of the motion picture “Glory” as having stated it would have been interesting to know more about the African-American soldiers portrayed in the film.  Also, I was a pre-teen during the Civil War Centennial, and I read a number of young adult novels with that theme.  I actually wrote the first part of Volume I in that genre, and in the third person, as Jedediah Worth, Kansas Colored Volunteers.  A potential publisher said it really said little new about the Civil War, so I re-wrote as kind of a first-person interview, which allowed much more scope for commentary by the main character. 

The novel is written in the style of George MacDonald Fraser’s The Flashman Papers, that is, by a fictional character as if he were actually a historical person. 

Another influence is Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels.  Jedediah and Samson are somewhat modeled on Cornwell’s Sharpe and Harper.  Of course, neither Jed nor Sam are officers, so that brings up the third influence, Sir Michael Caine. 

I read that during an interview, Sir Michael made a comment about finding stories that a person of his background could relate to.  He was of humble origins and had served as an enlisted man in the Korean War.  I’d like to think that this story, as Jed and Sam could never rise higher than non-commissioned officers, would satisfy his requirement. 

Who is your favorite character from the book? 

Of course, Jedediah.  It is his story, his commentary and viewpoints that give the novel life.  Without that aspect, it would be just a litany of events that happened to him. 

How was your road to publication? 

A have a folder almost two inches thick, filled with rejection letters. 

If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently? 

I don’t know.  I really don’t know much.  I’m not being facetious, I know very little about how books are published, and even less about how they are marketed.  And of course, unless a book is published and sold, writing one is just a hobby. 

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors? 

Be cognizant of the old adage write what you know.  To that, I would add write what you read. 

If a genre appeals to you, read it extensively.  After a while, you’ll begin to discern the quality work from the ordinary.  Try to emulate the quality. 

What is up next for you? 

Volume II, which takes the main characters to the end of the Civil War and homecoming.


Deeds of a Colored Soldier during the Rebellion, Volume 1: From the Beginning to Chickamagua is a novel of the Civil War.  Written as a memoir as told to an interviewer more than thirty years after the war’s end, it traces the story of Jedediah Worth, a teenaged slave who becomes a soldier fighting for the Union and the freedom of his people. 

At secession, although he vaguely realizes that the conflict started over the question of slavery, Jedediah regards Kentucky, and the South, as home.  When his master’s sons join the Confederate army, he and his friend Obie accompany them as their personal servants.  Eager to prove himself as a man, Jedediah runs ammunition and even rescues a wounded Confederate until, with Obie’s prodding, he comes to realize his valor should serve the cause of emancipation.  He escapes, meeting up with Samson, an enslaved African who becomes his life-long friend. 

Jedediah and Samson travel hundreds of miles to Kansas, to join one of the few units of colored troops allowed to serve in the early part of the war, and participate in the first battle fought by colored troops, the victory at Island Mound. 

Gaining confidence in his abilities, Jedediah becomes a non-commissioned officer, leading his men during the brutal, hand-to-hand combat at Milliken’s Bend, where the Confederate promise no quarter will be given to colored troops, and where he becomes the first colored soldier to be awarded the newly-created Medal of Honor. 

 Purchase on  Amazon / Twilight Times Books / B&N

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Comment by Marcia Fowler on February 24, 2014 at 6:44pm

Great interview and post!

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