A Place for Historical Fiction: Savas Beatie Tests the Waters

Really? Savas Beatie published a novel? No way!

. . . and then I talked to publisher Ted Savas. The following is an interview concerning the publication of Six Days in September, a novel of Lee’s army in Maryland, 1862.

Meg: How did it begin, this business of publishing non-fiction history-themed books?

TPS: A long time ago! It all began with Savas Woodbury and the publication of the journal Civil War Regiments in the very early 90s. That morphed into Savas Publishing in 1995 or 96, and that company was sold in 2001. Savas Beatie began in early 2004. I think you can look at SB as the natural extension of the two former companies with a three-year hiatus. Let’s just say the band needed a break and during my time off I thought about what I would do differently if I ever got back into the business.

Meg: Six Days in September is a novel about the Maryland Campaign from the Confederate perspective. It is not, by definition, a non-fiction book. How did you decide to publish this particular offering?

TPS: Alex [Rossino] self-published a small paperback printing a couple years back and someone told me about it and either mailed me a copy or I bought one. It sat around for months on my desk and I finally read it. The deeper I waded into it the more I enjoyed it and the more it intrigued me. Before I had finished I was thinking like an editor/publisher: What if he added a little more X, or did this to this section, or fleshed out this person a bit more, etc. It is impossible not to do that with any book I read, which is a curse, really.

I sat on it for about a month. It is hard to sell fiction, but I love good historical fiction and I really enjoyed this book. So I reached out to Alex and made him an offer.

Meg: What was it about the book that you enjoyed so much?

Ted Savas

TPS: First, the topic is perfect. It begins just before South Mountain, when the campaign is about slide off the rails for Lee and his army. I think that the fall of ’62 was the high point of the war for the South. The stakes were high. The triumvirate of Lee, Longstreet, and Jackson, now experts at their craft, are caught flat-footed by a Union response they do not fully understand. A bit of hubris lingers in the air above Lee. Longstreet could smell it, and I think it was the beginning of their real differences about how to wage war. It is very evident and I liked the way that was handled. All the characters are well-formed, warts and all, and believable, and include many of the army’s top generals, staff officers like Kyd Douglas, privates in Gordon’s brigade, and several citizens of Sharpsburg (real people Alex has reinvigorated with life).

I also thought the fog of war technique was brilliantly done. You only know what Lee and the main characters knew at the time of the events. And because we know what happened in real life, the decisions they make and how they make them is all the more exciting. Six Days pulses with a pace that makes it difficult to put down.

Meg: And the author is a trained historian?

TPS: He has a Ph.D. in history, worked at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, has a book out on World War II, and lives at the base of South Mountain. He knows the campaign inside and out, and it shows.

Meg: How is the new edition different from the self-published one?

TPS: In most respects, it is the same book. I thought he could have injected a bit more battle material—which he did—and we tossed some ideas back and forth about some of the characters and scenes, and Alex fleshed out the Afterword, which I think is wonderful There are many characters, so I suggested we add a Dramatis Personae and an essay on the real campaign to conclude the book. It also has three really good maps. All in all, it’s a nice package, and Alex was wonderful to work with.

Meg:  I could not help but be reminded of Killer Angels as I read it—did this factor into your decision to publish a book of fiction?

TPS: Like most other folks I loved Killer Angels, but it didn’t have any impact on my decision-making. I am pleased so many people have written or called to say they enjoyed Six Days just as much—or more, which was pleasing to hear. Honestly, it is very similar, and yet very different.

Meg: Will there be more fictional offerings from SB in the future? If so, can you tell us more?

TPS: I have no plans to publish historical fiction going forward on any regular basis. Alex is working on a companion novel from the Union perspective, which should be very interesting. If he wants me to publish it, I would do so.

Ted and Tall Chris

Meg: Whom do you want to play Robert E. Lee in the movie version?

TPS: (laughing). I always though Robert Duvall would have made a wonderful Lee, but he’s too old now, I’m too short, and Chris Mackowski’s too tall, so it might be tough to cast.

Meg: Anything else you would like to add?

TPS: Only that I hope your readers will pick up a copy and read it, because I know they will enjoy it. Encourage your local libraries to get a copy (or donate one to your local library). Many of us got hooked on Civil War fiction early and turned to non-fiction. Let’s keep that tradition alive.

*     *     *

I have read Six Days, and yes, I was reminded of Killer Angels, but for all the right reasons. It is a good, solid read on its own, and it illuminates the Antietam campaign in ways I had not considered. ECW usually does not review fiction, but we have reviewed movies, television shows, and art. I hope that reviewing such work has set enough of a precedent that I will soon be able to offer a review of Alexander Rossino’s novel, Six Days in September. I agree with Ted–historian or buff, reading Civil War fiction is usually the first foray into history that many of us make.

13 Responses to A Place for Historical Fiction: Savas Beatie Tests the Waters

  1. I love civil war historical fiction . Ralph Peters and Jeff shaara bring civil war history to life. Gripping descriptions of battles from points of view of soldiers and generals of both sides. Cain at Gettysburg by Ralph Peters has fantastic description of fight for herbst woods between iron brigade and 26 North Carolina on first day of Gettysburg. Fantastic! Peters books also cover overland campaign, Petersburg and Appomattox. I hope Peters will write about first half of civil war as well. I am just starting shaaras books on western civil war – shilo, Vicksburg et al. Fun!

    1. Colonel Ralph (a former rock guitarist-no kidding) is producing a great series of books. Try Rossino’s Six Days. You will NOT be disappointed.

    2. Peters is supposed to be doing a “prequel” on Chancellorsville. And a lot of this is subjective, but IMHO his writing is far more realistic than that of either Shaara – among other things, Victorians on a battlefield did not speak in the same way that they wrote and that comes across in abundance in the Peters books. His commitment to historical accuracy is at the top but it doesn’t come across as scripted from the sources.

      1. I think you will find Alex R’s “Six Days” much more in line with Peters than Shaara. Have you read it yet? (The hardcover was printed in a very small run. Might want to get a copy and store it away….)

      2. Agreed, Ted. I tried to give everyone the voice of a normal 19th C. Southerner, not stilted Victorian actor. I also tried to retain the class differences in speech so the ordinary troops, most of them farmers, sound a little rougher around the edges than Lee. The goal is to paint a nuanced picture of the participants.

  2. Dear Meg and those at ECW, thank you for taking the time to review some historical fiction in the form of my novel, “Six Days in September.” When considering writing the book I thought Sharpsburg/Antietam deserved treatment in a novel like Mike Shaara gave Gettysburg in his book, “The Killer Angels.” My choice of following the 6th Alabama Infantry Regiment was in part a tip of the hat to Shaara as the 6th fought on the far left of the Confederate line at South Mountain like the 20th Maine fought on the far left of the Union line at Gettysburg. Things turned out differently for the 6th, though.

    Ted and the folks in his shop have been very supportive and I’m grateful for it. We differ though on who should play Lee in the movie. I love Robert Duvall, but in my opinion no established movie star should play any of the major Confederate commanders because when watching the film you think, “hey, that’s Martin Sheen playing Robert E. Lee.” I think it better to have skilled unknowns play figures like Lee so that people can focus on the content of the character, not who the actor is. Lesser known but still important characters, though, that’s where the stars come in. Barry Pepper, the man who played Private Jackson (the Texan sniper) in Saving Private Ryan would make a perfect Gilbert Farney (a private in the 6th Alabama) and Adrian Brody would make a fantastic Franklin Turner (a volunteer member of Jackson’s staff). I guess I’ve put some thought into this!

    1. That’s a good point about mega stars portraying major historical figures – George C. Scott and Patton being the notable exception. And while we’re at it, has anybody hunted down and killed that alien disguised as a beard which was choking Tom Berenger?

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