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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

internet history

Beyond All Price--The Inspiration

"His life was saved by one of those angels of mercy, a volunteer army nurse. He fell into good
hands—the blessed hands of a kind-hearted woman! Even here, amid the roar and carnage, was
found a woman with the soul to dare danger; the heart to sympathize with the battle-stricken;
sense, skill, and experience to make her a treasure beyond all price.”
 
That quotation, taken from Frank Moore’s Women of the War: Their Heroism and Self-Sacrifice, was a tribute to Nellie Chase written by the soldier whose life she saved on the battlefield at Fredericksburg. I used it as the epigraph of Beyond All Pricc, not only because it had inspired my choice of a title, but also because Nellie was always an inspiration to those who encountered her.
 
I don’t want to sound too mystical here, but Nellie haunted me for years before I wrote about her. As I researched the history of the Roundheads, I frequently encountered her name—simple mentions of her nursing a soldier or feeding a patient or soothing a homesick kid. And each time, I felt as if she were tapping me on the shoulder, saying “Ahem! I’m still here. When are you going to tell my story?”


 
The problem was that very little is known about Nellie Chase. She left not a single word in her own writing. Her birth was unremarked and unrecorded. Her name was a common one; I found 173 Nellie Chases living in Maine in the 1860s. No one knew exactly where she came from, or what happened to her after the war. So where was the story she wanted me to write? As a historian, I wanted facts, but facts about Nellie were almost nonexistent.
 
In order to tell her story, I had to outline the few things I knew about her. And then—oh, this was the hard part!—I had to take off my historian’s gown and let Nellie tell her own story. She led me across the great divide between a dedication to  historical accuracy and the ability to feel empathy for those who lived through the historical events. So in a real sense, which perhaps only another writer can understand, Nellie and I wrote this book together. I would read about an event, wonder about how she would feel in such circumstances, and then . . . then the words would start to flow. All I had to do was write them down.
 
Did all of the events in this novel really happen? Maybe not. Or maybe they did, at that.
 


This book is available in paperback, Kindle, and Audible formats. 
 

Name Recognition

I’m slowly working my way through the 2012 edition of The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese, in the forlorn hope that I have learned enough since I wrote it to come up with a “new and improved” version.  Not the final word, mind you. The world of publishing is changing too fast for that. But perhaps some important updates will help next year’s writers.
 
Recently I was looking at the chapter on using social media, and I noted that my emphasis was all on numbers — how many followers I had on various sites. Did I really believe back then that all a writer had to do was sign up followers and instant fame and fortune would follow? Egads! True, my numbers have almost doubled and sites have multiplied, — and yes, my sales figures have followed suit.  But a session at last year’s Military Writers Conference reminded me that the most important factor is not numbers but name recognition.
 
“Does everybody know your name?” As soon as the speaker in that session uttered those words, I winced. Do people who wander through Facebook or Twitter really know my name? Do they see it and think, “Oh, yes, she’s the one who writes all those great Civil War biographical novels.” Maybe a few on Facebook do. But what about my followers on Twitter? Probably not!
 
Why? Because I’ve committed a huge error on Twitter. I’m registered there as “Roundheadlady.” A the time, I thought I was being clever. The Roundhead Regiment was the one my Uncle James joined in Pennsylvania, and the subject of my first Civil War book, A Scratch with the Rebels. So I was the “lady who wrote about the Roundheads.” But out there in Twitterland, I suspect that most folks are still saying, “Who?”
 
What’s worse, it’s probably too late to correct the error. Oh, I could go into Twitter and change my user name, but the chances are great that followers of “Roundheadlady “ would simply figure that I had died or faded away. After all, I don’t know most of them, and they don’t know me. Would they make the connection and switch to following "Carolyn Schriber"? Certainly I have one Facebook friend in Missouri who affectionately calls me “Roundhead Lady.” She'd find me no matter what name I used. But for most Twitter followers, the name recognition is simply not there.
 
I even compounded the error by using that name on my first Pinterest account as well.  A slow learner, I am. On Pinterest, I took the chance and cancelled Roundheadlady’s account and removed all the boards I had put together. Then I opened a new Pinterest Business account and named it “Carolyn Schriber’s Katzenhaus Books.” Not taking any chances this time! The new title forced me to be careful about what kind of boards I posted. Some are specific to my books, offering recipes from the foods mentioned in a particular book or showing locations where my stories take place. Others call attention to my writing friends’ books or offer tidbits of writing advice.  Follwers on Pinterest can be pretty anonymous, so I can’t be sure how many I lost in that process. I feel fairly certain, however, that those who visit my new boards now know my name and what I do.
 
 
 
Take-away lesson: If you want people to buy your books and talk about them and recommend them to their friends, you need to make sure they know your name.

 

Medievalists Sometimes Lead the Way into the Future

Before I put away my medieval mindset and get back to  America's Civil War, I have to make one more observation about the purpose and accomplishments that have come out of the annual gathering at Kalamazoo (formally known as the International Congress for Medieval Studies). I spent some time today reading observations from this year's attendees. I couldn't help but notice that many of them were quoting from postings that had appeared on Twitter. And then I stumbled on a long blog post from a first-year attendee, who mused about all the wonderful connections that the internet makes possible today.  "Ten years ago," she said, "all this would have been impossible, and even five  years ago, it would have been unusual."  In some ways, she was right. Twitter wasn't around ten years ago.

But in other ways, I had to sigh over the shortness of people's memories -- because the internet made possible all sorts of wonderful connections way back in the "dark ages" of the 20th century. Because I was there, I feel entitled to remind the youngsters of their electronic history. Two accomplishments stand out in my mind.

1. Around 1991, a few people were playing around with the possibility of using computers to allow scholars to talk to each other in a relaxed and casual setting. The leader of this tiny group was Lynn Nelson, medieval historian at the University of Kansas. He started the discussion list "Mediev-l" with just two other people: an instructor from Boise, Idaho (whose name escapes me at the moment), and me, a brand new assistant  of history at Rhodes College. We roped in our friends, and before long Mediev-l was an active and useful resource for scholars all over the country. Researchers with questions could join the list and get answers to the most elusive bits of trivia. It's still going strong, by the way, although ownership of the list has  passed through several hands.

2. And then (here's the connection to Kalamazoo) in 1995, Lynn Nelson, who was by then too ill to travel to conferences, suggested that some of us should get together at the "Zoo" and figure out what else we could profitably do with the internet as our medium.  And so on a Saturday afternoon in May 1995, five people met in the lobby of Valley II. I remember Paul Crawford, who was still a grad student, Laura Blanchard, who worked at University of Pennsylvania library, Norman Hinton, an English professor, and one other (maybe it was Paul Hassell but I can't be sure), and me.

With Lynn Nelson egging us on from afar, we decided to create an Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies (ORB). And when Lynn could not house it at Kansas, I managed to convince Rhodes College to give us bandwidth to create an online encyclopedia.  In the next eight years, we expanded from the original five people to over 200 authors, each serving as editors of the pages in their own specialties. More important, we were getting 250,000 hits a month on our pages. When I retired, the site passed into other hands in New York and slowly lost ground as the rest of the world learned to use the internet. But I still like to think that medievalists were first.

If you'd like to see what we built, it's still available (and useful!) at http://www.the-orb.net/

That's the sort of thing that goes on at Kalamazoo. I've never heard anyone call it a "Think-Tank", but that's what it is. That's why almost 3000 people made their way to Michigan last week to attend their choice of some 600 seminars. But make no mistake, young medievalists. We've been coming up with new ideas at the 'Zoo for a very long time -- as is entirely fitting for medievalists.