Q&A: 'Enemy Women' Author Paulette Jiles

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July 25, 2002 -- As part of Good Morning America's "Read This!" book club series, "The Mostly We Eat" book club from Bernardsville, N.J., recommended Paulette Jiles' Enemy Women to the "12 Oaks Book Club" book club from Atlanta.

Set in the Missouri Ozarks during the Civil War, Enemy Women is the story of a young woman falsely accused of being a Confederate spy — a charge that lands her in prison. There she meets her interrogator, Maj. William Neumann, and the two fall in love.

The following exchange with Paulette Jiles is based on questions submitted by Good Morning America viewers.

Q: Were any of the characters in the novel based on people in your family?

We have no records — journals, letters or anything else — that survived the Civil War in my family on the Jiles side. All I have are their names from the census of 1860 and local records showing my great great grandfather Marquis Giles (at that time, his last name was spelled with a "G") who was a school teacher and a justice of the peace.

I did use the family's first names — Marquis, Savannah, Little Mary, John Lee. But Adair's name came from my husband's family.

Q: You chose not to use quotation marks within the text. Why?"

For two reasons. One is that I saw Cormac McCarthy had used it and I very much liked the effect. It gave it a dream-like quality.

It's hard to do. You have to be very careful in your placement of dialogue so that the reader can distinguish dialogue from narrative.

Secondly, I had seen this in British novels when I was a kid. They used a dash instead of quotes many times. I had always liked that. Quotation marks, to me, gave dialogue a fenced-in quality.

Q: The battle scene with the Major was so vivid. What kind of research did you have to do to get that kind of authenticity?

I researched the basic facts of the siege of Spanish Fort and I found a Web site which told me all the units, including the first Indiana heavy artillery.

My husband is a retired colonel of infantry and has seen combat experience. He helped me with military procedure, which I had gotten all mixed up.

I have seen horse-drawn field artillery in a horse-drawn ceremonial unit. I've seen the whole procedure of pulling the pin, letting the team go, running them back and firing the cannon.

The letters and diaries of soldiers from the Civil War are readily available. They wrote with great candor of the vivid and chaotic scenes of battle.

And we've all seen a lot of war movies. My own experience on horseback, dealing with a bolting and excited horse — all that combined came together to make the battle field.

Q: How do you know so much about horses?

I've been riding since I was about four years old. My mother was an excellent horse woman. I own two horses at present. I have been a riding instructor and trainer.

Q: How did you find out about the prison for women in St. Louis?

I found out about women being imprisoned in St. Louis when I was reading through a reprint of Griffon Frost's Camp and Prison Journal, in which he wrote in his prison diary of seeing women prisoners being brought in and his repeated contacts with them and his efforts to help them.

Griffon Frost was a Confederate officer captured and imprisoned in St. Louis.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your next book.

I generally don't talk about new work until I get past the second draft stage because I find talking about it attaches me too much to the work and I need to be able to throw away what needs to be thrown away. But thanks for asking.

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