This column recently appeared as a guest interview on someone else's blog, but it occurred to me that my regular readers might be interested as well. So here's a glimpse into my background.
Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
All my life, I think. I was making up stories in my head when I was
just a kid. The real question is when I knew I COULD be an author.
That didn’t happen until I actually had a book published. And even then,
I wasn’t too sure.
Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?
I’m an academic at heart. I spent ten years or so as a high school
Latin and English teacher. Then I went back to grad school and earned a
PhD in Medieval History. I spent the rest of my working career as a
history professor at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. Academics write
books, so that’s what I did – big books densely stuffed with footnotes
and bibliographies. They are in university libraries all over the
place, but I’m not sure anyone ever read one of them. That career also
meant that I learned not to expect to make money from writing.
Then I retired and decided to see what I could do as an independent writer.
Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?
I love it when someone falls in love with one of my characters. Nellie
Chase now has her own group of fans, and she makes me proud.
Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Well, my first book was a historical monograph on a 12th-century Norman
bishop and his impact on the royal family of England. It was
ridiculously easy to get it published. I pitched it to an editor in
about five minutes at a conference, and she bought it for the University
of Indiana Press. They did all the work from there on in.
Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much about publishing from the experience.
Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Discouragement came much later. Academic publishing is not a problem.
You’re expected to do it, and you do. But then I retired, and learned
that without academic credentials, I was a nobody again. My book on the
history of the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment was turned down over and
over again before a small house took a chance on it. Why? Because it was
Civil War history, and my only credentials said I was a medieval
historian. I still shrink inside when I remember some of the reviewers’
comments on amateurs trying to write history in a specialized field.
Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?
I’m very much a morning person. If I can get up, eat a bite of
breakfast, and head right for the keyboard, I can write all morning. If
I have other errands to run in the morning, I get little accomplished
later in the day
I keep trying to use National Novel writing
Month (NaNoWriMo) to spur me to a more regular production schedule, but
the pressure from a deadline just doesn’t work for me. I’ve just failed
spectacularly at NaNoWriMo Summer Camp. I managed 38,000 words out of
the required 50,000, and then broke down and quit.
Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
In my case, I’ve learned to take my historian’s training and apply it
to fiction. My books are all set in coastal South Carolina during the
Civil War. The area overflowed with colorful characters in that period,
so all I have to do is look for someone who catches my fancy. But how
do I KNOW? I’m not sure anyone ever knows for sure that an idea can
become a book. You have to take a chance.
With my first
post-academic book, A Scratch with the Rebels
, I chose to write about my
great-uncle, who was a Union soldier stationed in South Carolina (and
killed there) in 1862. I cared about him, but it turned out that there
was not enough information or excitement in his life to sustain a whole
book. So I found a Confederate soldier at the same time and place, and
played them off against one another.
Deirdra: Can you tell us a little about your book "Beyond All Price?"
Beyond All Price
is based on the life of a real Civil War nurse, Nellie
M. Chase. She appeared—briefly—in A Scratch with the Rebels
she was the nurse who served with Uncle James’s regiment. I found her
fascinating, but she didn’t play much of a role in that first story.
She deserved a book all her own.
Nellie was a teen-age runaway, a
battered wife, a lone woman trying to survive in world dominated by
men. She joined the Union Army with no credentials and little hope, but
she became one of the unsung heroines of the Civil War. Determined to
atone for the mistakes of her early life by dedicating her life to the
service of others, she rose to a responsible position as head matron of a
600-bed hospital in occupied Nashville. Then she retired into
obscurity, where she lingered until the world offered her one last
chance to demonstrate her remarkable courage.
Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your book?
As a historian, I hope I have offered some glimpses into the problems
of the Civil War that don’t appear in history books. Nellie has to deal
with such matters as the state of medical knowledge at the beginning of
the war, the limitations placed on women by 19th century society, and
the problems raised by freeing slaves who were not ready to handle life
outside of slavery.
On another level, I think Nellie will
resonate with many readers. There are hints that she had an abusive
father, and we know that her first husband beat her and tried to turn
her into the madame of a brothel. She had to struggle to support herself
and to build up her self-confidence. She’s a modern woman, seen
through the lens of an earlier age.
Deirdra: How many beta readers review your manuscript before you send it to your editor?
Well, against all advice, I do my own editing. I must have read the
manuscript nearly 20 times, trying to view it through the eyes of the
creative writing teacher I once was. Then I sent it to five
beta-readers – each one of whom could bring a different perspective to
the book. I had a young woman going through a divorce, a Civil War
re-enactor who is descended from a member of the regiment Nellie served,
a military tour-guide in Charleston, an engineer with an eye for
detail, and the head of an association of writers and publishers.
When they finished with their comments, I edited the whole manuscript one more time.
Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
The best inspiration for me comes from visiting the locales of my
story. It’s a real hardship, you understand, to have to plan a trip to
Charleston or Hilton Head, but I struggle through. Once there, just
walking through the same streets that my character knew sets all sorts
of new ideas flowing.
Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Oh, I owe so many people. But in the end, the support of my husband
matters most. He’s a gem. He cleans the house and runs errands so that
I can have free writing time. He travels with me on all those hardship
research trips and takes the photographs that will later refresh my
memory. He’s my greatest cheerleader and my shoulder to cry on. He
makes it all possible.
Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
I have lots of favorites and for many different reasons. But if I had
to choose one, the prize would go to Carl Sandburg. His poetry is
wonderful, of course, but he also wrote a historical novel called
Remembrance Rock. In it he manages to show his readers the entire story
of American history through the eyes of recurring characters and a
recurring cat. I loved it each time I read it, and I still go back to
examine how he did what he did. The book taught me the art of
story-telling as well as history.
Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?
Most of my free time goes to Lions Clubs International, the world’s
largest service organization. I’m president of my local club and first
vice-president of Mid-South Lions Sight and Hearing Service, a
charitable organization that provides free sight and hearing care to
indigent individuals in a four-state area.
Oh, and my four fuzzy
wonders are pacing my office, reminding me that I’m also a cat-lover.
That’s where the name of my publishing imprint comes from: Katzenhaus
Books means cat house (no, not that kind!)
Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
Slow down. If you are going to do it, take the time to do it
correctly. And be prepared for a long struggle. Real success does not
come quickly or easily – not if you want it to be permanent.
Deirdra: What are you working on now?
My upcoming novel is The Road to Frogmore. It is based on the life of
Laura M. Towne, the founder of the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, SC.
She was a Philadelphia abolitionist who came to South Carolina to
provide medical care to abandoned slave communities during the Civil
War. The book will address her own transformation from doctor to
teacher, her efforts to help the freedmen become productive citizens
despite military and governmental interference, and her struggle to gain
acceptance for the fact that she lived with her best friend and
partner, Ellen Murray.
Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your book and order it?
A Scratch with the Rebels and Beyond All Price are both available on my
website at http://www.katzenhausbooks.com. They are also available
from Amazon.com and the Kindle Store.
Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
I would like to invite your readers to follow me on the internet.
Links to my blogs and social networks appear on my flashcard at
Thank you so much, Carolyn. It’s a real honor to get your insights.