Not over: Horwitz can't escape <I>Confederates
The 1998 Civil War cult classic, Confederates in the Attic, continues to put author Tony Horwitz in the hot seat. "I still occasionally get angry letters," he says. "It still seems to get under people's skins on all sides."
Confederates' resonance makes it hard to believe that it's little more than a blip in the career of the Pulitzer prize-winning former war correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. He's written three other books, including the best-selling Baghdad without a Map, and most recently, Blue Latitudes, in which he follows Captain James Cook's South Seas journeys.
Horwitz is not coming to the Virginia Festival of the Book to flog a recent issue. His wife, novelist Geraldine Brooks, is the one with the new book, and the writerly couple will host the Festival authors' reception at Carr's Hill March 19.
"I'm always happy to come to Charlottesville, especially if it involves free food and drink," says Horwitz from his home in Waterford, a small town near Leesburg.
The inspiration for his new book-in-progress came from Blue Latitudes. "Part of the Captain Cook research that drew me in was the first contact between Europeans and the Aborigines and Maori," he explains. Now he's exploring the "forgotten, rich period" of the hundred years following Columbus. "It's the drama of people first meeting each other," he says.
His research so far follows the trail of conquistadors like DeSoto and Coronado. "I've finished my Spanish phase," he says.
The book, due out in 2007, will offer Horwitz's trademark mix of history, travelogue, and, it goes without saying, humor.
With three other published books, is it ever annoying that the questions always come back to Confederates in the Attic?
"It's the one with the most relevance to American readers," says Horwitz. "It's a subject matter close to home and close to my heart. Captain Cook fascinates me, but he's not someone I would argue about around the dinner table."
Fans of Confederates like to drop re-enactor terms like "bloating" (something that happens to dead soldiers out in the sun) and "Civil Wargasm" (traveling to as many battle sites as possible in a short period of time).
Says Horwitz, "I've spent time with conquistador re-enactors. I've been with Captain Cook re-enactors. None are quite as hardcore as Civil War re-enactors."
It's the 21st century and the war's still not over.
Horwitz's duties at the book fest are to moderate a panel discussion on Brooks' latest novel, March, about the Civil War (!) experiences of Little Women's absent père.
Another duty of visiting authors: offering tips to would-be writers. "Forget looking for inspiration in the right mix of caffeine and nicotine," he advises. "You just have to put in the hours. Treat it like bricklaying."
What do you like best about Charlottesville? Its bookstores
Least? The neon skin guarding the northern approach to town. One of Virginia's finest franchise sprawls.
Favorite hangout? The field behind my house, which runs down to a creek and is paradise for birds, deer, and poison ivy.
Most overrated virtue? Manliness. In a tight spot, beg, bribe, or run.
People would be surprised to know: As a teenager, I played basketball and juggled atop a six-foot-tall unicycle in hopes of joining the circus. I didn't make the cut.
What would you change about yourself? In my next life I'd like to be patient.
Proudest accomplishment? Winning the Loudoun County Invitational poker tournament
People find most annoying about you: Where to begin?
Whom do you admire? People who don't just talk, but act on their convictions and are willing to pay the price. The Burmese human rights activist, Aung San Su Kyi, is one who comes to mind. Also, every doctor I've ever met from Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Favorite book? Too hard. But favorites from the past year include The Known World, Middlesex, The Inner Circle, and I Don't Know How She Does It.
Subject that causes you to rant? The destruction of Virginia's historic landscapes
Biggest 21st-century thrill? George Bush will have to leave office in 2009.
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Jeb Bush may follow him.
What do you drive? Mostly rented compacts, as I'm on the road a lot. Whatever's cheapest.
In your car CD player right now: I don't own a CD player. But my last rental car chewed up a CD of I Am Charlotte Simmons, a mercy killing.
Next journey? In search of the lost colonists of Roanoke
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Twice arrested in Iraq: once by Saddam's secret police, for reporting without an escort, and another time by the U.S. military police, for reporting without an escort
Regret: That I have only one life to live.
Favorite comfort food: Virginia Gentleman
Always in your refrigerator: Vegemite
Must-see TV: None. Honestly.
Favorite cartoon: A New Yorker cover a few years ago showing a map of Manhattan and the boroughs as the Middle East, with enclaves such as Kvetchestan, Pashmina, Irant and Irate, and Baddassistan
Describe a perfect day. A lazy, late-October amble through the Blue Ridge with apple-picking, pumpkin-carving, gazing at leaves, and a drink by the fire afterwards
Walter Mitty fantasy: To play center field for the Washington Nationals
Who'd play you in the movie? The younger Coen brother; I can never remember if that's Ethan or Joel. He looks just like me, but unfortunately, he's the one who isn't married to Frances McDormand.
Most embarrassing moment? Too many to recount. I'm skilled at making unflattering remarks about a person who, unbeknownst to me, is standing five feet away.
Best advice you ever got? From a journalism professor, three tips on how to report and write a great story: "show don't tell, good quotes up high, and take a piss whenever you get the chance."
Favorite bumper sticker? I believe in the right to arm bears.