Ask the Author: Phillip Margulies

“Ask me a question.” Phillip Margulies

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Phillip Margulies I am very used to writing, so it is a routine for me. I get up in the morning and bring my laptop to the Starbucks two blocks from where I live, which I treat like an office, and it's full of other people treating it like office. I get a grande capuccino, and I do it as if I had a boss who was making me do it and I would be in big trouble if I didn't. I try out different ideas, and eventually, on a good day, something clicks; I get into the groove. Not all days are good days.
Phillip Margulies Glad you asked me that, Goodreads Bot. Right now I'm polishing up another historical novel. It's called The Traitors. Set in New York City at the time of the American Revolution, it recounts the adventures of the DeWitts, a family of well-to-do loyalists, their slaves, and several characters closely related to them, from 1774 to 1783. In the microcosm of the DeWitt family, where, as a matter of conviction, everyone favors authority and the old order, the crisis brings a little revolution; the family’s weaker members are liberated by the war and its stronger members are defeated by it. With several interweaving plot lines that give equal weight to masters and servants, I am shamlessly describing the novel to publishers as a mash-up of Gone with the Wind and Downton Abbey.

I have always been bored to death by the American Revolution. I hate the eighteenth century, Colonial Williamsburg, pigtails, buckled shoes, and Founding Fathers. On the other hand, I’m drawn to the theme of people who live through historical change so great that it redefines right and wrong. This was the situation of the loyalists. They were steadfast in a sea of treason; their world changed; and without altering their own allegiance they became traitors, despised by their neighbors.
In addition, two relatively unfamiliar facts intrigued me. First, one out of five people in New York City was a slave. Slavery was not abolished in the north until around 1800. So even in New York we have the irony of slave-owners, some of the luckiest, best-fed, least-oppressed people in the world, crying out for their liberty. Secondly, New York City was the British base of operations in America. They conquered it in 1776 and occupied it for the rest of the war. Loyalist refugees from all over the colonies crowded into the city. Almost to the end they kept hoping their side would win, although it became hard to imagine how loyalist and patriot could live in peace after all the terrible things they had done to each other. Meanwhile the rule of New York by the British was very corrupt. Some of the loyalists were outraged by this. Others profited by it.

So the American Revolution turns out to have moral complexity if seen from the right angle and I feel like I can say new things about it.
Phillip Margulies Don't do it! Seriously, it's a long shot, and the only people who should do it are the people who want it so bad that they just won't listen to reason. I'm guessing that these questions were generated by Goodreads, since they are so very very generic, and none of them have anything specific to say about Belle Cora.
Phillip Margulies You are forever young--the same thing that's good about being an actor; you have a life-long license to play pretend. I was the kind of kid who could not understand how grownups could stand their existence, and the profession of writer seemed like a good way to evade all that. While it has not worked out quite as planned, I do like the feeling that my daydreams are part of my job.
Phillip Margulies I write anyway, just badly.
Phillip Margulies I assume you mean Belle Cora. Belle Cora is a real person; I found out about her in the course of my casual reading. I liked all the traveling that Belle had done, across all kinds of boundaries, many different kinds of trespassing. I wanted to imagine what that would be like and I thought it would be fun to fill in the gaps in her story.

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