A Call for Help from an Author

Recently someone interested in writing a novel about the Civil War era wanted to know where to look for historical material to make their book as accurate as possible. Here’s the request:

A Call for Help

What would you suggest?

14 thoughts on “A Call for Help from an Author

  1. E.A. Mayer March 8, 2015 / 4:15 pm

    Well, I’d suggest first off that instead of, or at least in conjunction with, “Time on the Cross” to go with “Slavery and the Numbers Game” by Herbert Gutman and maybe “The Political Economy of the Cotton South” by Gavin Wright.

    But that’s the least of the author’s worry, it looks like even the basics need to be addressed before either of those can really be properly digested, and I have a feeling that the author hasn’t really read or researched anything on the topic or period in general. So it will probably end up being a mini-series on the History Channel stuck in between shows about UFOs and Ghosts and introduced by that great historical writer Bill O’Reilly, who was there of course.

  2. chancery March 8, 2015 / 9:29 pm

    Off topic: I read with interest Andrew Delbanco’s complimentary review of your new anthology, “The Civil War, Told By Those Who Lived It,” in the March 19 issue of The New York Review of Books. The review also discusses The Scorpian’s Tail, one of two recent books by Professor Oates which have had a powerful impact on my thinking.

    I’m not clear why Delbanco devoted so many inches to discussing “My Hunt for the Captain,” a celebrated piece by Holmes Sr. that was not included in your anthology. Actually I need to take that back; Delbanco makes it clear that he’s second-guessing your selections , a blatant bit of Jimmy Duranteism, that struck me as a unnecessary.

    In any event, it’s always a fine thing to see a favorite scholar mentioned in the New York Review, and I look forward to reading the anthology for myself.
    /off-topic

    • Brooks D. Simpson March 8, 2015 / 9:51 pm

      Anyone who edits a documentary history will make choices that others would not make. I like the Holmes piece, but it was reflective in a way that the immediacy of other pieces was not. Holmes knew the end of his story.

      • John Foskett March 9, 2015 / 9:36 am

        True dat. As a separate matter, it would be interesting to look at the story in the context of the Autocrat and Wendell then having a major falling out over the War c. 1864 and the dearth of correspondence for a few years between two guys who otherwise corresponded quite a bit.

  3. C. Meyer March 9, 2015 / 7:31 am

    Knowing who the author is, my humble advise is don’t even start. Stick to what you know.

    • Joe Christmas March 11, 2015 / 7:37 am

      In this case, I am interested to see someone actually fill a book with what they don’t know.

  4. Rosemary March 9, 2015 / 12:57 pm

    I would hang out in Alabama and do the big historical tour. I would define my time period and then network with Alabama history experts because sources lead to sources. If the author is experienced, she/he knows how to do research. This era is well documented. No way around the work of digging for what the story needs re setting and the ways of folks and etc…. Meantime, I’d already be writing my general story with the intent of adding detail later. It’s a big project. Hope it’s fun. Good luck to the author.

  5. Mousy Tongue March 12, 2015 / 2:59 pm

    I’ve been hearing pretty good stuff about Wikipedia’s entry on soul food.

  6. Al Mackey March 12, 2015 / 8:20 pm

    “My knowledge of history has big gaps.”

    We know. But that’s never stopped her from showing it before.

    I would suggest these books:

    Catherine Clinton, Plantation Mistress: Woman’s World in the Old South
    Nancy Bostick De Saussure, Old Plantation Days, Being Recollections of Southern Life Before the Civil War
    available here: http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/desaussure/desaussure.html
    Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, Life and Labor in the Old South
    Frank L. Owsley, Plain Folk of the Old South

    I think she would really enjoy a few of those.

  7. Rosemary March 13, 2015 / 10:35 am

    “Knowing who the author is…..”
    ok. how come there always is an underlying something on this blog that I dont get?

    You intelligent civil war guys are totally interesting but it is prettty much impossible for someone like me, albeit intelligent and totally interesting myself, to actually participate.

    That’s cool. It is the way of this blog…

    but…

    Is there a good blog / conversation somewhere out there for the novice/intermediate, not-in-The-loop civil war buff? If so, where might I find it?

    And… Dr. S., why are there no great video lectures online re Appomattox campaigns (except for one: great talk by Dr. Varon)? Or even stuff about Petersburg? There are tons of talks online about Bull Run.

    Millennials, Gen X, and even Baby Boomers such as ME cannot be expected to carry on interest in this historical period if the top guys/good explainers can’t be found.

    ThankYouVeryMuch. Quieting down now…

    • chancery March 14, 2015 / 2:27 pm

      Like you I’m far behind the curve on knowledge of the Civil War compared with the regular posters here, a number of whom are professional historians, and many of whom have studied the subject for decades. For the most part though, I find that if I follow the links (or look up unlinked references — sometimes it requires a trip to the library), I’m able to follow along.

      There are a few inside jokes, but they don’t usually involve the civil war, but rather making fun of the misuse of civil war memory by contemporary people with unattractive agendas. If you follow the blog for a couple of months you will get the drift. To get up to speed more quickly, google “the gift that keeps on giving” for this blog, and make note of which person in the cast of repeatedly mentioned characters writes books concerning the contemporary south. Unless your taste for snark is aligned with that of Brooks, you may be sorry that you did …

      As for video lectures about the civil war, you need to go to “Student of the Civil War.” The excellent host, Al Mackey, who also posts here, is indefatigable about tracking down interesting lectures and posting links. A quick search just now turned up at least 3 separate lectures with Appomattox in the title on the first page of results,

      I will shamelessly take the opportunity to plug my favorite series of lectures about the civil war, Professor David Blight’s series available free from Open Yale, http://oyc.yale.edu/history/hist-119, as well as on youtube and iTunes. I recommend the syllabus too, although there’s no need to do any reading to enjoy the lectures and profit from them. Note that these lectures are not particularly geared for the “battle buff.”

  8. Al Mackey March 14, 2015 / 1:03 pm

    There will be some video lectures about Appomattox this year, Rosemary.

    As to the “inside baseball” feature, it’s something you pick up with time and connecting the dots. Let’s just say our aspiring author is from Pensacola. 🙂

  9. rcocean March 14, 2015 / 3:56 pm

    I’d recommend “Tombee: Portrait of a Cotton Planter” by Rosengarten”. Its about South Carolina but its gives a vast amount of detail on the life of 1840-1865 Slave Holder of moderate status.

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