In Your Next Beach Read, we want to introduce you to a new author every day in June in the hopes that you’ll find the next book you want to take with you to the beach, the pool, or the comforts of air conditioning.
Today’s author is Jacob M. Appel, author of Surrendering Appomattox.
What’s your name and where are you from?
Jacob M. Appel. I am not to be confused with the other Jacob Appel, a delightful fellow who co-wrote a book called More Than Good Intentions, who is not me. Nor am I the eighteenth century Dutch painter of the same name.
How long have you been writing? How did you start?
Too long, it seems, yet not long enough. I started writing seriously while I was in law school: One of the natural consequences of law school is trying to figure out something one can do with one’s life other than being a lawyer….
Who are some of your influences?
Attila the Hun – he gets a bum rap.
What is your book about?
My book is about a band of Civil War deniers who want the public schools to teach the American Civil War as a “theory,” rather than established fact – and the history teacher who tries to stand up to them.
Where did you get the idea?
I was doing some research in the Faulkner archive at the University of Virginia and I found the manuscript among his papers. I then retyped it and passed it off as my own. My novel is unchanged from the original, except that I inserted “New Jersey” for” Mississippi” and “Civil War” for “sexual relations with a dead mule.”
How long did it take you to finish it?
I started writing the novel in 1998 and finally finished in 2013. One way of looking at this time span is that it took me four times as long to write as the alleged Civil War supposedly took to fight. Another is that the Civil War concocters had five generations to devise their narrative and a whole team of luminaries from Bruce Catton to Margaret Mitchell to Ken Burns to help them spin their yarn. Yet it took me only fifteen years working alone to call all of their “research” into question.
Is this your first book, or have you written more than one?
As embarrassing as this is to admit, this is my seventeenth book. If at first you don’t succeed, as they say, try sixteen more times.
We all like to write about people we know, even if we never name them. Who are some people who inspired characters or situations?
All of my characters are based upon specific individuals. My least favorite colleagues at the hospital where I work at the source for the villains in Surrendering Appomattox, but the publisher’s lawyers have warned me not to say more. Fortunately, few people are willing to step forward—even in court—to claim their likenesses to sociopaths and charlatans
What’s your favorite scene in the book?
That’s worse than Sophie’s choice. She only had to sacrifice one child — you’re asking me to give up dozens of my favorite scenes. A better question might be: What’s your favorite scene outside the book? That’s the scene where Oprah decides she likes the book so much, she sets me up on a date with Ali MacGraw.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got?
Make sure the squid is dead before you start using its ink.
What’s the worst?
“Never give away free books.” The best way to meet new readers is to give away free copies of books; if you write to me and make a good case, I’ll probably send you a complimentary book. And, in general, most of my backlist is available upon request in PDF format for free.
Where can we buy your book?
You can buy the book at https://www.crpress.org/shop/surrendering-appomattox, or even email me at jacobmappel [at] gmail [dot] com and I will send over a free PDF.
JACOB M. APPEL is a physician, attorney and bioethicist based in New York City. He is the author of nine collections of short fiction, six novels and a volume of essays and a poetry collection. His short stories have been published in more than two hundred journals and have been short-listed for the O. Henry Award, Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, Best American Non-required Reading and the Pushcart Prize anthology.
His commentary on law, medicine and ethics has appeared in the New York Times, New York Post, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Detroit Free Press and many other major newspapers. He taught for many years at Brown University and currently teaches at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. His compendium of ethical conundrums, Who Says You’re Dead, is due out with Algonquin in October 2019.