"Are we going to get a new book soon?" It's an often-repeated question, one that delights an author: (My readers want more!) and terrifies her: (Oh, no, I'm still stuck in chapter 15!) Right now the "stuck" part is really bothering me. I'm not usually subject to writer's block. But as many of you know, my husband died in January, and I'm finding it almost impossible to move past my own grief to think about the imaginary problems of my book characters.
To counteract the problem, I've told you all about those characters, but I can't make them come alive for me yet. So I'm trying now to focus on some of the issues and problems that will face them as the story moves forward. The period of Reconstruction is not a well-known or well-understood one. I remember the term from history classes, but little of the details. I know the lurid crises that arise -- the birth of the Ku Klux Klan, the lynchings, the street riots -- but not a whole lot about the underlying causes. So what does an old teacher do in a situation like that? She turns to the experts and takes a class.
No, really! Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, there are thousands of college-level classes available on the internet, and I recently stumbled upon one called "The Civil War and Reconstruction - 1865-1890," taught by a renowned historian, Eric Foner, of Columbia University. His lectures are broken down into small segments (10-15 minutes) with breaks for a quick one-question quiz, a look at accompanying illustrations, or examination of primary source documents. Longer, 5-question quizzes wrap up each major topic.
I'm learning a lot, although obviously not enough. My quiz scores (for the sake of complete transparency) have been 90, 80, and 100 -- not bad but an embarrassing B+ in my own grade book. Despite that, I'm really enjoying the experience. In one of today's segments, Dr. Foner mentioned a Northern general and abolitionist who worked with the Freedmen's Bureau in South Carolina. Anyone want to guess? Raise your hands. Yes! General Rufus Saxton (complete with photograph) jumped out at me, straight from the pages of "The Road to Frogmore." Maybe I know more about this stuff than I thought.
Hang around and I'll share some of my other discoveries with you as the course progresses.