Monday, October 7, 2013

Interview with Les Rolston

Full Name:
Les Rolston

Do you have a nickname or what do your friends call you?

Providence, RI

Current hometown:
Warwick, RI

Favorite city and why?
Pawtuxet Village in Warwick, Rhode Island.  My friend Elaine lives there.

May 3rd  59

How would you describe yourself physically?
Somewhere between William C. Macy and a fat Mickey Rourke.

How would someone else describe you physically?
Somewhere between William C. Macy and a fat Mickey Rourke.

The first thing people notice about you is…
That I look like William C. Macy or fat Mickey Rourke.

Hair Color/Eye Color/Race?
Blond, Blue, Caucasian.

Sexual orientation?

Religion, if any?
I make it up as needed.

Are you superstitious at all?
Only when watching sports.  During a tense moment no one can leave the room.  If things are going well for my team and I’m standing – I don’t sit down.

Any phobias?
I fell off a roof years ago.  Now I don’t like bridges.

Any bad habits?
I can be sarcastic bordering on meanness.  But someone really has to work to pull that out of me.

Current occupation/Dream job:
Building Inspector, writer.  Dream job?  Full time writer/editor

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
Write, camp, listen to music, cook and spend time with my best friend.

What is your zombie outbreak survival plan?
Cover my house with paintings by Chris Mars.

Weapon of choice:
Greek food.

Do you have any special skills?
I’m a fairly good cook and I can build a house.  I also tell stories.  Sometimes they’re even true!

Did you go to college and, if so, what for?
Yes, to hang out in my friends’ dorm rooms.

Any pets? If so, what are they and what are their names?
Yes, a dog who my ex-wife kept. Sox.

What is your favorite animal?
Well-played, sir.

Speaking of pets, any pet peeves?
Obnoxious people and bad drivers. Arrogant people.

Favorite/Least favorite Food:
A great filet mignon with wine reduction sauce. / Lima beans.

What is your favorite quotation/motto/saying?
“I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent.”

What is the best thing that ever happened to you?
Meeting someone who truly loves me for who I am.

What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?
Hurting people that I loved.  My grandmother comes to mind. She was very sweet to me.  She lived with us and one I was showing off to my friends and said something, I don’t remember what it was.  I hurt her feelings but mine more.  I never forgot it obviously.

What is the best thing you’ve ever done?
To follow my dream of writing books that many people tell me they enjoy.

What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?
When I was ten years old my cousin and I cut down the newly planted pine trees in the churchyard across the street from his house to use as camouflage for a make-believe machine gun nest.  The monsignor saw us and came over to confront my aunt and ourselves.  We denied it and later prayed in my cousin’s basement that we wouldn’t be struck blind.  So far our eyesight is still pretty good.

If you could kill one person, consequence free, who would it be and why?
Bill O’Reilly.
His politics are alright for the most part but he is bastardizing history with his horrendous books.

What do you do?
I love to write books, magazine and newspaper articles and short stories.

How did you get started doing what you do?
A big story fell into my lap and I felt responsible to tell it.  Actually, I had to tell it.  People liked the way I wrote and for me it was “off to the races.”  A dream fulfilled.

What is your advice to other people that want to get started doing what you do?
Prepare yourself for a great deal of disappointment and just do it.  Do it for yourself.  Write a story about something that you have passion for with the intention of leaving it as part of your legacy.  If you think it’s pretty good ask other writer’s about publishing and send it out to several publishing companies.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

What projects are you working on?
A short story about my father and a WW 2 artifact he to left me that touched both of our lives.  I’m also working on a multi-year book project about a friend’s great-grandfather who spent eighteen months in Civil War prisons but ended up with the Medal of Honor.  It’s an amazing story.

What are you watching?
Last night we watched The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button – loved it.  I don’t like the CBS, ABC or NBC shows but I have a weakness for Call Of The Wildman, Mysteries At The Museum, Bizarre Foods and movies on AMC.  I don’t judge anyone for watching popular stuff like the Big Bang Theory and the various talent shows but people assume I’m a snob because I don’t.  Why would what I watch or don’t watch on TV bother anyone?  I find it funny.

What are you listening to?
Wilco, Tommy Stinson, John Hiatt, and The Replacements reunion clips on Youtube.

What are you reading?
Nothing right now. Elaine and I had a busy summer.  A week in Kitty Hawk on the beach, a lot of great music shows, camping and a great wedding.  Now it’s time to get back to my writing projects. 

Favorite author/book?
Bruce Catton by far.  His “A Stillness At Appomattox” still gives me goose bumps.  When he described Union cavalry returning to camp during an ice storm with the campfire light flickering off the ice-laden saddles and officers’ uniforms I knew at that moment that I “wanted to do that.” 

Favorite band/song?
I don’t have either. I try not to compare things.  Enjoy it all. 

Least favorite band/song?
I really enjoy the bad ones.  It’s a morbid curiosity of mine.

Desert Island Music/Movies/Books: You know the deal. Five of each:
Music: Exile On Main Street (Rolling Stones), Tim (Replacements), Labour Of Lust (Nick Lowe), Summer Teeth (Wilco), Stolen Moments (John Hiatt)/
Movies: Slaughterhouse five, Paris Texas, Play It Again Sam, Gettysburg, Being There
Books: A Stillness At Appomattox, Sound On The Goose, A Confederacy Of Dunces, First Blood, Lincoln At Gettysburg.

If you could do anything other than what you do now, what would you do?
I have no idea.

Who would you want to meet that you haven’t met? You get three choices: Alive. Dead. Fictional.
Paul Westerberg/Hitler/Ignatius T. Reilly.
You know what’s weird? I was thinking of going with Hitler too if anyone asked me. Why did you go with Hitler?
All we have is old films of the monster.  To witness such evil in the flesh would be mind-boggling.
I think that was my reason too. Plus I want to figure out how he got “KILL ALL THE JEWS” out of Nietzsche.

What’s the best and worst job you’ve ever had?
City official because I get to help people.  The worst was being a busboy in a restaurant when I was 14.  Those kids work their asses off.

Are there any questions that I didn’t ask that you wished I had asked that you would like to answer now?
No.  This has been fun – thanks.

Anyone you recommend I interview that you can put me in touch with?
Yes, Darren Hill.  He’s on Facebook and Frank Fernandes also on Facebook.
Cool! Have them send me a message on Facebook if they would like to be interviewed.

Got any questions for me?

Closing questions / summary / and thanks:
This was great.  Keep up the good work.  Tell Ken I said thanks.

Pitch parade:
Give me all of your links for things you want to promote.   All of them:
My books, Lost Soul, Long Time Gone, and Home of the Brave.
Order through Amazon, any bookstore or my Facebook page.
Facebook: Les Rolston-Books:
I’m always available for lectures which I call “talks.”

About the Interviewee:
            Les Rolston was born in 1954 and has studied American history for most of his adult life.  His greatest interest is in the lives of ordinary people, who in times of crisis go on to do extraordinary deeds.
            His first book, Lost Soul: A Confederate Soldier In New England (Mariner 2007 (second edition), described his efforts to preserve the unmarked grave site of a Confederate soldier buried in Rhode Island.  As a result of this book Rolston gained national attention, telling his story through the Associated Press and television programs.  He has received citations from the Rhode Island House of Representatives and a letter of commendation from former United States Senator Claiborne Pell.  He was also awarded the Jefferson Davis Medal, the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s highest award. 

A compelling read -- informative and fascinating., November 4, 1999

“Rolston writes of the experience of the ordinary Civil War soldier in a manner both compelling and informative. I found it hard to put the book down! By interweaving some of the clearest descriptions of major battles I've read with the fascinating story of Rolston's own quest to discover the story and resting place of a Confederate veteran near his home in Rhode Island, he becomes a character in the continuing of history of the Civil War. Rolston easily conveys the tragedy, the irony, and the terrible beauty wrapped up in a time in American history when men held honor dear enough to die for.”

“A journey worth taking.”  The Providence Journal January 2000

“Combining an impressive amount of research with a compelling story line, Lost Soul is a must-read for any Civil War enthusiast or family historian.” The Baton Rouge Advocate May 2006

            In 1999, Rolston solved the mystery of the “soldier in the cane field” in Bayou Goula, Louisiana, when he identified Private David Ingraham, 3rd Rhode Island Cavalry, as being buried in a makeshift grave there.  This grave is now marked as a Louisiana Historic site. 
            In 2000, after an inquiry by 91-year old Vera Harris, Les located the grave of Marzy Van Howland Lincoln, 11th United States Heavy Artillery (Colored).  In a modest ceremony, only months before her own death, Mrs. Harris visited her father’s grave for the first time.
            In 2001, Rolston secured a military burial for Harold Brown.  Mr. Brown had been machine-gunned to death in a lifeboat eight miles off the coast of Virginia after his cargo ship was sunk by a German U-Boat during the opening days of World War II.  After months of negotiations with the United States government, Brown, a merchant marine, was recognized as a war veteran.  Acknowledging Rolston’s efforts was United States Senator Jack Reed (D) Rhode Island.
            In 2004, Les was instrumental in restoring and preserving the vandalized gravesite of General George Sears Greene, hero of Gettysburg.
            In addition to his writings, Les serves the City of Warwick, Rhode Island (pop. 85,000,) as its Building Inspector.  Warwick has three Historic Districts and scores of Colonial era buildings and cemeteries.  Under Rolston’s supervision these sites are protected and preserved.

            Long Time Gone: Neighbors Divided By Civil War, published by Mariner Publishing (April 2009), is his second book.  Long Time Gone: Neighbors Divided By Civil War by author Les Rolston (Mariner Media) tells the story of two young boys from a sleepy New England seaside village who are raised as next-door neighbors, schoolmates and friends in the late 1840s.  The story opens when Elisha Hunt Rhodes (of Ken Burns’ PBS series The Civil War) and James Rhodes Sheldon are about 8 years-old and playing a prank on their schoolteacher.  By turning the schoolhouse bell upside down and filling it with water they hope it will freeze overnight, thus causing the cancellation of school.  Their village, Pawtuxet, Rhode Island, is, as one historian claims, “a little seedy,” but full of interesting characters.  Rolston takes the reader on a stroll through Pawtuxet in 1855 and the day-to-day lives of the people of the village are brought to life in the book’s early pages.
             As teenagers these two friends will serve and fight in the Civil War.  What makes this book truly unique is that they will serve in the war not as comrades, but as enemies.   James and Elisha will share the same field of battle as many as 11 times and will almost come face-to-face at the war’s final struggle at Saylor’s Creek.  Using diaries, memoir, letters and official reports, Long Time Gone takes the reader along with these soldiers as they struggle through the fighting at Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, as well as the horrors of the Wilderness Campaign.  Both men share the trenches of Petersburg and the bittersweet sadness of the surrender at Appomattox. 
            The author takes us into as many as thirty battles and skirmishes; his tempo is quick and the results often unusual.  Elisha watches a blind-drunk soldier walk unscathed across a battlefield through a hale of minie balls.  A man in James’ regiment has a mental breakdown on the firing line.  There are men laughing during battles and memory blackouts in these moments sometimes occur.  A farmboy, pinned up against a rail fence and nearly out of ammunition, sees a chicken go running by and becomes overwhelmed by feelings of homesickness. The reader is there—smoke stings the eyes, dirt, and chips of wood and stone clip the face, flames spit from thousands of rifles and cannon—all amid, “one continuous roll of thunder.”  Rolston takes us on the firing line, into the cold, mildewed tents, and on the hot, dusty marches where throats would clog with dirt.  Mid-way through Long Time Gone the armies almost cease to exist in the mind of the reader as it becomes impossible to think of these characters as anything but men longing for peace and home. 
            The soldiers share their disappointment with their chaplains and officers and often reveal their disillusionment with their own governments. The account of James Sheldon’s regiment’s silent night march before the Battle of Cedar Creek is chilling, as all that is heard along the march is a low voice murmuring, “Prepare to meet thy God.”  At Malvern Hill, covered with thousands of Confederate dead and wounded, Rhodes is overwhelmed by the scene.  “Oh, the horrors of this day’s work,” he mourns.
            The reader shares the exhilaration of riding the rooftops of boxcars as Sheldon journeys to Chattanooga: many stops are filled with pretty girls in blue dresses offering pies.  A wide-eyed Rhodes is in awe as he lays eyes on Abraham Lincoln for the first time. Through Sheldon’s eyes we see Richmond in flames as bums drink the contents of broken whisky barrels from its gutters.  The reader stands among the few remaining men of James’ 50th Georgia as its colonel rips their flag to shreds and we get to meet and know James and Elisha’s fellow soldiers and fear for their lives.  One such soldier is a skinny boy named Gus who stands well over six feet-tall.  Gus watched his father die at the Wilderness and seems doomed to suffer the same fate. 
            Rolston easily conveys the anticipation of starving Confederates as they await the Christmas Feast of 1864, put on by the Ladies of Richmond, “the largest barbeque in history,” only be disappointed.  In a wind-blown tent three grown men cry, having waited all day they received only a few pieces of stale bread.  “God bless the women of Richmond,” one man offers as grace. “It was the best they could do.”

            Long Time Gone also provides a glimpse of civilian life during a period of relative tranquility in late 1864, when the sun shone brightly on the soldiers in the Shenandoah Valley. The days are spent fishing or picnicking and horseback riding with pretty ladies.  Evenings are filled with piano recitals and dinners in the homes of local civilians while the fragrance of pennyroyal spreads through the night air.  When the war returns, it roars, as if in its own death throes.  James and Elisha bury countless friends and comrades.  On one occasion James watches a close friend be buried without a coffin; the only dignity the deceased can be afforded is a shirt to cover his face.  Many times throughout this book we share James and Elisha’s struggle to remain civilized men.  Chapels are built in the woods, only to be torn down by the enemy for firewood.  Encounters with friendly enemy pickets are heartwarming, reminding the men of what they were before the war.  But the patriotism and dedication to duty of James Sheldon and Elisha Rhodes never wavers and from their unique perspectives, Rhodes and Sheldon share their emotions with us at the war’s end. 
            Other interesting factors are at work here.  James played a contributing role in the founding of his adopted Southern home and the book has a present day ending.  The mayors of Warwick, Rhode Island, and Thomasville, Georgia, acknowledge the historical significance of James and Elisha’s lives and honor them with “Sister City” proclamations.  In addition, the book’s epilogue follows James and Elisha’s lives as civilians and their successful business and civic activities.  James’ controversial return to Pawtuxet is chronicled and both men enjoyed dynamic lives into the 1920s.            
            Although legend and fiction are full of tales such as these, Long Time Gone may be the first non-fiction book of its kind.  The intended audience is a general one, although readers with an interest in the American Civil War will also be drawn to its basic theme. But what makes this book a must read is Rolston’s ability to see the war from both sides as he captures the soldiers’ vulnerability as well as the endurance of the human spirit in the face of unimaginably cruel circumstances. 
            Les has recently completed Home Of The Brave: Selected Short Stories Of Immigrant Medal Of Honor Recipients Of The Civil War. Published by Blue Mustang Press.

Mr. Rolston is a frequent contributor to the Providence Journal and his work has appeared in the South Reporter, Civil War Times Illustrated, Our Heritage, the New Orleans Times-Picayune and other publications. 

About the Interviewer:
Scott Lefebvre has probably read everything you've read and can write about whatever you want him to write about.
Mostly because when he was grounded for his outlandish behavior as a hyperactive school child, the only place he was allowed to go was the public library.
His literary tastes were forged by the works of Helen Hoke, Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Edgar Allan Poe, and H. P. Lovecraft.
He is the author of Spooky Creepy Long Island and a contributing author to Forrest J. Ackerman’s Anthology of the Living Dead, Fracas: A Collection of Short Friction, The Call of Lovecraft, and Cashiers du Cinemart.
His reviews have been published by a variety of in print and online media including Scars Magazine, Icons of Fright, Fatally Yours and Screams of Terror, and he has appeared in Fangoria, Rue Morgue and HorrorHound Magazine.
He is the Assistant Program Director for The Arkham Film Society and produces Electronic Music under the names Master Control and LOVECRAFTWORK.
He is currently working on a novel-length expansion of a short-story titled, "The End Of The World Is Nigh", a crowd-funded, crowd-sourced, post-apocalyptic, zombie epidemic project.
You can check out the blog for the book here:
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