Robert Hicks - Waking Up In America

Robert Hicks

Season 3 – EP 7 “On Love, Redemption and the American Civil War (with Robert Hicks)”

TAJCI
What if life was a series of turning points, each a chance to learn, discover and transform all triggered by adventure and curiosity? This is how it’s been for my guest today, Robert Hicks, author of New York Times bestselling novel, “The Widow of the South” set in the final days of the Civil War. Today we’re talking about how can our stories—both present and past, propel us and move us forward instead of keeping us stuck in a painful, collective memory.

BUMPER
I’m Tajci. At 19 I was a superstar and I was lost inside. I left it all behind, switched continents and started all over. Years later I found myself lost again, this time in the American Dream. This is a story about awakening. About living the life you were created for. About going inward and discovering the joyous and purposeful person you and I are both meant to be. This is Waking Up in America.

TAJCI
When I first moved to Franklin, Tennessee, a beautiful little town 20 minutes south of Nashville I was drawn to its European feel. People walking on the streets, sidewalk cafés and little shops with beautiful window displays. I noticed all of many historical markers but I did ignore the canon on the Main Square. I knew this was a site of battles from the Civil War but the stories I’ve first heard were about people, were beautiful stories about people who lived there who loved their little town. And so one of them that I’ve heard from many others living in Franklin is Robert Hicks. Thank you so much for honoring us and being here today.

ROBERT
Well I’m honored to be here.

TAJCI
So help me to introduce you properly. You are a novelist.

ROBERT
Right, sometimes.

TAJCI
Sometimes. And a music

ROBERT
I was a publisher, music publisher. I did artist development and then I decided to become a novelist which you know, I was a little delusional since I’ve never taken a single creative writing course. But somehow, you know, I was very fortunate.

TAJCI
And this show is all about turning points. You know, about people who go from, who have these turning points that they decide, “I’m going to be a novelist,” “I’m going to be an artist,” like Olga in whose studio we’re here today. And it’s a beautiful thing. Now I have a question about that. As a writer of historical novels I was thinking, don’t you have to study the history? Don’t you have to be a historian? How does that work?

ROBERT
Well, I would never accuse myself of being a historian but for x amount of years when I was a music publisher it was a part of my community service. Now, understand, when I moved to Franklin there were about 7,000 people and so they would kind of like, “Fresh blood! Take you in.” and you ended up working on projects. And I became more or less the driving force behind Carnton Plantation and its preservation. And so I learned that story. I wasn’t necessarily a Civil War geek before then. I really didn’t know the story about the Battle of Franklin but in trying to have the house brought back to what it might have looked like before the battle I had to learn the story of the family. And in learning the story of the family I had to learn the story of the Battle of Franklin. And having learned the story of the Battle of Franklin I had to learn the story of the American Civil War and how really important it is to us and our history.

TAJCI
Yes. For our viewers who are not from Franklin, Tennessee, Carnton Plantation is a place, it’s a central focus of your book, “Widow of the South” but it’s also a place where during the Civil War, the Battle of Franklin, the wounded soldiers were taken in.

ROBERT
Right, it was the sole field hospital, that’s battlefield hospital at the time of the battle. The battle is late in the war. The big issue is gonna be whether Lincoln will be reelected President. You know because you got to see “Gone With The Wind” but he doesn’t and he believes that he will lose. And so he’s trying to end the Civil War and save the Union before he leaves office. But he will have the Battle of Atlanta, he will have the Fall of Atlanta and with that he will be able to be reelected President. And so Franklin follows the Fall of Atlanta. For a lot of people will think, “Well, Atlanta fell, that must be the end of it,” but it wasn’t and so the two armies ended up here in Middle Tennessee trying to get to Nashville which was the first southern capital to have fallen and they’re trying to desperately get there, the Union Army to be safe, the Confederate Army to try to take the Union Army and then ultimately take Nashville. And the only reason that Franklin happened is that on that way to Nashville the bridge was out and it had to be rebuilt. Now, there’s about 25,000 Union troops and they could’ve waded along the little Harpeth River but they’re carrying an eon of materials that they don’t want to be fallen into the Confederate hands. So that’s basically why the battle happened. You know, one of the things that I’ve been doing in the last few years is speaking on why the Civil War is important because it is not simply important because you know, someone’s family fought for the Union or someone’s family fought for the South, or even if they were freed from enslavement it’s important that if you came over here. If anyone’s throwing their lot with this nation it’s because of the American Civil War. It’s the sole most important moment in our history. It’s when we became Americans.

TAJCI
Yes, and what a huge turning point.

ROBERT
Yeah.

TAJCI
Right?

ROBERT
Very much.

TAJCI
In the history. But also for individual people. And we’re talking to Robert Hicks. When we come back we’ll talk about how that past and the stories from that past changed us now.

TAJCI
We’re talking to Robert Hicks, author of the “Widow of the South” and a lover of Franklin, Tennessee. Can I say that?

ROBERT
You sure can.

TAJCI
Yes.

ROBERT
I do love the town.

TAJCI
I do too. And you know, I love it more and thanks to your book. And I wanna say that, for the viewers, I highly recommend the book. It’s not so much about the war and the politics and all that. It’s really about the human story and transformation. And I have to tell you, for me, it actually reminded me about love.

ROBERT
It’s an awful time. Well, you know, that’s what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about transformation and redemption because that’s, I mean, whether we’re talking about war or whether we’re talking about peace or we’re talking about loss or gains. Ultimately it is about human transformation that’s really important in our lives. It’s pretty much the only thing I write about. I have a third novel coming out right now and it’s about transformation.

TAJCI
Yes.

ROBERT
And you know, that’s what I wanted to write about, was that human story about the Battle of Franklin.

TAJCI
So you grew up with literature. You shared with me that you grew up with books.

ROBERT
Sure. My parents loved books and you know, we had a library in our home. And when my oldest brother went to prep school and they converted his room into another library.

TAJCI
Wow.

ROBERT
So we had two libraries. So yeah, there was a great respect of books.

TAJCI
And did literature have… was that your turning point?

ROBERT
Sure. I think in many ways it always was. I mean, I never know I would be a writer. Truthfully I didn’t. I mean I went into the music business and that’s where I had my success, I thought. And it wasn’t until I was over 50 that I decided, you know, I wanna write about these people and about their lives.

TAJCI
But music is also storytelling.

ROBERT
Absolutely.

TAJCI
And transformation.

ROBERT
It is. And that was really my focus – the singer-songwriter. I brought some people to Nashville and had some success. That’s always been my passion and interest. But you know, now we move into something else.

TAJCI
I love it. I love the freedom to just move into something else. I think that is beautiful.

ROBERT
That’s one of the great strengths of this country.

TAJCI
Yes.

ROBERT
That people can grab hold of something and move on.

TAJCI
Yes. And sometimes the past that I come from, a country that’s been so pulled back by history and so many years of pain, of collective memory of pain.

ROBERT
Right.

TAJCI
And we know that trauma and pain can be passed down even as a scientist or making all these great discoveries and I’m just reading about it and I’m loving it. How it’s in the DNA code, the memory of trauma. So how do we move away from it? And you worked so much, on the other hand, to preserve the battlefields.

ROBERT
Well, you know, I think that you should never move away from history. You should move away from the pain of history, you should move away from the bad lessons of history. But the lessons are there. I mean, if you lose that then you will lose something really important. I mean, like I said, the American Civil War is that huge turning point. If you came over here, someone comes over here from Ecuador, whether they know it or not they’re coming here because of the American Civil War. They’re coming because of what the American Civil war made this country—that we stopped being Tennesseans and New Yorkers and whatever and we became Americans. That’s the story.

TAJCI
Yes, and yet there is still pain that we hear

ROBERT
Sure.

TAJCI
and read about. People saying, “You know, my family has experienced such injustice,” or you know, whatever the pain is.

ROBERT
Now, let’s be clear on this that if someone can say, and people can, that “My family has experienced so much injustice,” that which moved us away from it is the American Civil War. Those, we say 620,000 but those about 750-850,000 people who died and discounting about million and a half hopelessly wounded that shortened less productive lives, or those who later went in ten years later after they have gone home to their sweethearts and wives and their farms and their businesses, went into a barn and blew their head off. All those people died in a sense to move us forward. And part of moving us forward was to begin to remove part of those, that injustice, those pains. You don’t deny the past. I mean, or you’re bound to repeat it.

TAJCI
Yes, and what I’m hearing is that we don’t get bound by it but we still get to choose. It’s our choice to move away from it.

ROBERT
Sure.

TAJCI
And move forward. We’re talking to Robert Hicks about how do we take the stories and honor the past and allow it to transform us now.


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TAJCI
I’m talking to Robert Hicks and I listened to the “Widow of the South” on audible.

ROBERT
Good.

TAJCI
And I think that was a good choice because I loved how the narrators created that feel. You know, I could not have read it with Southern accent because I don’t hear it. So what do you prefer?

ROBERT
Well, to tell you something, this is a big, big secret that I’ve never told anyone.

TAJCI
That’s good, we love that!

ROBERT
I’ve never heard any audible of the book. I don’t know what it is. I know that there’s two, there’s an abridged and an unabridged. I know that Tom Wopat is the narrator of one of them but I’ve heard… I’ve been on one of the longest book tours in history and people would tell me how good it was.

TAJCI
It’s brilliant. It’s beautiful.

ROBERT
I mean, and I heard this over and over but I had to say that I had nothing to do with it other than maybe give them the original words. And so I have never heard a book on tape. I’m not against them, I support them.

TAJCI
Okay.

ROBERT
But I just can’t quite make any claim.

TAJCI
Yes. For me, now that I have heard it I have to have a copy of you know, to go back ‘cause I like to pull out my favorite passages. One thing that I’d like to say that the advantage of listening to it. You know, because you get distracted, you look at there, you look at your children, whatever. So I didn’t realize the color of the skin of the characters. I didn’t realize really who

ROBERT
That’s good.

TAJCI
Was on which side.

ROBERT
That’s good.

TAJCI
So to me there were these three or four or five, well three really main characters that I just couldn’t wait, you know, to hear about them and that brought that human, only human, deeply human perspective rather than seeing the surface.

ROBERT
Sure. Well, I think that’s a good point. Again, I’m totally supportive of the audio versions of the book and I think you’ve given a good reason I should listen to them.

TAJCI
Yes. So tell me, you write about love and romantic love so beautifully, did you have, were any of your turning points connected with just beautiful, big love?

ROBERT
Sure. I mean, I think if we’re gonna be human it has to be. I mean, it’s one of those sayings that we understand. That’s pretty much what I write about. I mean, when I went on book tour people asked, “How can you write about how a woman losing her child? How do you understand that?” You know, because I’m really writing about human loss. And so whether we’re talking about human love, you know, or we’re talking about human loss, my new book, the main part of the story is an African-American woman. And so the question is gonna come, “How can you speak for her?”

TAJCI
Right.

ROBERT
But again, I think that the only answer I have is it’s about being human. It’s about the experiences that we have that are both the strengths and the loses—all of that.

TAJCI
Yes, and we talk on this show about a lot of my guests’ turning points were connected with spirituality, with love that’s bigger than all of us.

ROBERT
Sure.

TAJCI
The love that is a big force behind it all. And I think, you know, that the romantic love is kinda like what we forget to talk about as a culture even as we go into love.

ROBERT
It’s a great part of who we are.

TAJCI
Yes.

ROBERT

But everything in this world, both loss and gain, happiness and sorrow, all of it is a part of a rich fabric of who we are, of who we can be.

We can spend the rest of our lives lamenting over loss if that’s all we want to do. That’s really the beauty of this life, this world, is the whole experience and we can decide that we want to be better about the past or we can decide we’re rewarded. When I was a kid we lived in South Florida in the winter time and I would go to friends’ houses that were Jewish. And I remember the first time an older lady was serving me chocolate chip cookies and I saw the tattoo number

TAJCI
Wow.

ROBERT
on her arm. And I was so shocked because for me a child born well after the Civil War, I mean after World War II

TAJCI
Right.

ROBERT
It was like as if she was born

TAJCI
Yes.

ROBERT
Talking about something about the Civil War. And I remember saying to my Dad, “You know, I saw this.” And he said, “There are a lot of them around us but I want you to see how they respond because you only have two ways to respond to bad things that have happened in your life. You can either be bitter and angry and out trying to get revenge, or you can somehow wanna make the world better.” So I think that’s how we have to figure it out to how we respond to things.

TAJCI
And that’s why we tell stories of people who have overcome that.

ROBERT
Sure.

TAJCI
That’s why we write about them and we say, “Here is the turning points, here is the shift they made, here is how they choose to love even when love, you know, caused pain in the past.”

ROBERT
Sure.

TAJCI
We move away from it and choose to love

ROBERT
Absolutely.

TAJCI
and feel compassion. And your new book is coming out when?

ROBERT
I have a new book coming out on Tuesday, September 13th called, “The Orphan Mother”. And my publisher says it is so I guess I believe it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

TAJCI
Oh, I can’t wait.

ROBERT
And I’m really excited about it.

TAJCI
Yes. Can’t wait. Well, thank you so much.

ROBERT
Thank you.

TAJCI
When we come back we have questions from our viewers.


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TAJCI
I love that you’re involved in asking questions to our guests because this is about all our transformations and growth. So, Brian, a viewer from Nashville asks, “You are very successful New York Times bestselling author. You are a successful bourbon maker,” which we didn’t talk about that but that’s a really interesting thing. And he asks, “What does it feel like to have down in your spirit have achieved these levels of success?”

ROBERT
Well, first of all I don’t know if I’ve achieved these levels of success. I’m very fortunate and I really do feel grateful that I’ve been able to do some stuff. I’m excited about the bourbon. It’s called Battlefield Bourbon and we’ve had two complete years of it and it’s sold out and we’ll be putting that out again this year. But you know, I don’t know. I’m just grateful.

TAJCI
Wow. I think that’s the biggest success that you can have, to have that level of success which is gratefulness. That’s beautiful. Thank you for the inspiration. And a question from a viewer from Croatia. We’ve had such a hard history of conflict. Tomislav from Osjek, Croatia asks, “Have American people as a nation moved away from their problems that the Civil War tried to solve?” And you know, I know his question comes from “Can we ever move away from the problems that the war’s supposed to solve?”

ROBERT
You know, I would say no, we haven’t. And I would say that the issue of race, which is so much at the core of the Civil War is still with us. It’s still with us as again, humans. It’s not necessarily exclusively American issue that you know, race and hostility toward others that are not like us. It’s kind of one of those sins of humanity. And so we hope that we are moving away from it. But you know, there’s a lot to come.

TAJCI
Yes.

ROBERT
That needs to happen.

TAJCI
And I just also have to say, because this is Waking Up In America, it’s the show that encourages every person to make that choice. If each one of us can just start from yourself and we will collectively make a difference.

ROBERT
Sure. I think we’re at a better place than we were when I was a kid. I think that when I was a kid it was a better place than it was after the Civil War. So yeah, there is increments. But no, of course, there’s still a lot of sorrow in this world.

TAJCI
Now, you’re ready for one word answers? Ready?

ROBERT
Sure.

TAJCI
What is the most powerful force in your life?

ROBERT
Me.

TAJCI
Where would you be if you could be anywhere?

ROBERT
Here.

TAJCI
What time of your life would you visit if you had a time machine?

ROBERT
The next ten years.

TAJCI
That’s okay. Your favorite time of day?

ROBERT
About this time. I’m only allowed one word, but about this time before it’s dark, but also the dusk of the day.

TAJCI
Dusk. I love dusk. Spring or fall?

ROBERT
Spring in Tennessee.

TAJCI
Water or forest?

ROBERT
I live in a forest so I’ll say water.

TAJCI
Candlelight or fire pit?

ROBERT
Fire pit.

TAJCI
Dessert of appetizer?

ROBERT
Beef tartar.

TAJCI
Last book you read?

ROBERT
“The Orphan Mother” I finished it last night.

TAJCI
Wow. Last photo you took with your phone?

ROBERT
An elevator shot.

TAJCI
If I could abolish anything form the earth it would be?

ROBERT
Sorrow.

TAJCI
Songs or poetry?

ROBERT
Songs.

TAJCI
Favorite local charity?

ROBERT
Franklin’s Charge. It’s two words.

TAJCI
All that our world needs is?

ROBERT
Love.

TAJCI
This year I claim?

ROBERT
Hope.

TAJCI
Thank you.

ROBERT
You’re welcome.

TAJCI
Robert, would you introduce the music that you picked for us?

ROBERT
You know what, I’m so excited that you all have Thomm Jutz who is a great friend of mine. He’s not only one of the single best guitarists in Nashville and my Dad used to say I was guilty of EFE—exaggeration for emphasis, but this is a case where it’s not an exaggeration. But more importantly he is a thinking person. He is a passionate person who loves American history, along with loving music. So I’m really glad he’s here today.

TAJCI
Thank you.

(music)

Privet Knob, Everbright
Carter House, Columbia Pike
Carnton lives, Carrie’s dream
the old Courthouse and the Cotton Gin

and time goes by
in the little town
that was then
this is now, hallowed ground

Lewisburg Pike, the Harpeth flows
by the old Lotz House traffic rolls
History, you can see it still
looking down from Winstead Hill

and time goes by
in the little town
that was then
this is now, hallowed ground

the soldier stands, in the old town square
people come from everywhere
every year, november night
remembering by candlelight

(C) 2013 Thomm Jutz/Peter Cronin/Charley Stefl

TAJCI
We all have the stories in our past that we have to move away from, that we have to honor but also have to willingly choose to let go of. What can you choose to let go of today? To replay this episode and share this with your friends, visit WakingUpRevolution.com and there you can also find resources such as coaching and online courses and other episodes to inspire you and help you to move on and step into the joy and purpose of your life now. Thank you so much for watching. See you next time.

OLGA
I’m Olga Alexiva. I’m the artist and the owner of O’Gallery. This episode was filmed at my studio at the Marathon Village, Nashville. Please visit us at OGalleryArt.com. Thank you.