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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

August 2012

Restoring Good Order to Memphis

In recognition of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, "Civil War-Era Memories" features excerpts from The Memphis Daily Appeal of 150 years ago.The Appeal is publishing from Grenada, Miss.

Aug. 21, 1862

Reports from Tupelo are that our soldiers are in good health and spirits, and anxious for the command "forward." Nothing, however, is known of Gen. Bragg's plans. He is as hard to move as an ox, and it is quite likely that it will be near a month yet before he will be ready to advance. In the meantime, the soldiers are all eagerness.

Aug. 23, 1862

A little son of Dr. Thompson, of Memphis, aged eleven years, was bitten by a dog about four months ago, but so slight was the bite apparently that but little attention was paid to it. A few days since, symptoms of hydrophobia appeared, which increased in violence until they ended his sufferings on Thursday last.

Situation in West Tennessee / From the Memphis Bulletin — Yesterday morning, a guerrilla corps, variously estimated from five hundred to three thousand, made their appearance in Raleigh, Tenn. They entered from the north side, passed through in an easterly direction, and came on half way to Memphis. Finding no cotton or Federal pickets in this direction, they retraced their steps, and on reaching the bridges over the Wolf river, near the town of Raleigh, they poured camphene on them and set them on fire ... The guerrillas next devoted themselves to finding out the secreted cotton, which they burned ... It is stated that one advantage which these guerrilla parties possess is that they wear no uniforms, and if hotly pursued, they become citizens and can appear to be about their usual peaceful pursuits ... The above guerrilla party, it is understood, burnt all the bridges over Wolf and Hatchie rivers, the object being to prevent the Federal cavalry from coming up in that direction.

Aug. 25, 1862

The Effect of Opening the Whiskey Shops in Memphis — Since General Sherman's order opened the whiskey shops, the good order of the city is gone ... I hear the citizens are about to present a petition to Gen. Sherman, offering to pay the whiskey tax by subscription, if he will only close the shops where it is sold.

Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Penn Center

Last November, I was plodding away at the book I was writing and wishing I could be in South Carolina for a Gullah festival being held at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island. That wishful-thinking blog post can be found at http://www.katzenhausbooks.com/blog/2011/11/12/Heritage-Days-at-the-Penn-Center.aspx.

Today, I have put the finishing touches on The Road to Frogmore and am only waiting for the frontispiece photo to arrive from the archives so that I can ship the whole thing off to the printer. Finishing a book can be a bit of a let-down-- sort of a post-partem experience for writers. It's done, you have no more chances to make it better, and now you are sending it out into the wide world where critics and grudge-carrying reviewers are waiting to tear it to pieces. What if it doesn't sell? What if everyone hates it? What if I never write another book?

But today is not quite like that because of some exciting news that arrived in my e-mail.  Assuming all goes well, my new book and I will be a part of the Heritage Days Celebration this year. I've gotten a sneak peek at the Penn Center's brochure:

If you read the description of activities, you'll see that "Book Talks"  and an "Artists & Authors Row" will be a part of the celebration on November 10th, and The Road to Frogmore will be a part of that. While the details are not yet all in place, last year's daydream has become this year's reality. I'll be there to deliver my book talk and to see my book on sale in the center's bookstore.

The Road to Frogmore tells the story of Laura Towne, who went to St. Helena Island in 1862 to take medical care to the newly-freed slaves and set up a school -- The Penn School -- to help educate them. This celebration takes place at the very spot where she worked and taught for some 40 years. I can not imagine a more appropriate or moving way to launch her book!

If and When It Rains, It Will Be Pouring Books

Things are happening really quickly around here this week. 

First, the reprint of The Dilemma of Arnulf of Lisieux arrived on my doorstep, followed almost immediately by the appearance of the book on Amazon. Find it at: http://www.amazon.com/Dilemma-Arnulf-Lisieux-versus-Ideals/dp/1478298693  This is the soft cover (trade paper) edition of the original, which was published by Indiana University Press in 1990.  (I was going to say that it felt like I was talking about an earlier century.  Then I realized it WAS an earlier century!)

Anyway, one of the benefits of being a medievalist is that our subject matter doesn't really get "out of date" very quickly. So I'm hoping that people who are still interested in the "long 12th century" will still find much of interest and usefulness in this historical monograph.  For academics, it comes with full endnotes, extensive bibliography, four original maps and sixteen architectural photos of the early Gothic cathedral that Arnulf commissioned in the small town of Lisieux in Normandy.

For the layman (non-historian) and recreational reader, it's a story of crusades, warfare, and clashes between church and state, along with elements of incest, adultery, murder, embezzlement, family power struggles, evil popes, sinful kings, and a queen who outsmarts them all. What more could you ask?

The Kindle version will appear in due course. And speaking of courses, both versions should be available by the time you academics have to order books for spring semester. Electronic publication may take a little while because of all the illustrations, but the timing is out of my hands.  I'll announce it when I can.

At the same time, I've been putting the final touches on my big fall release of The Road to Frogmore. The manuscript has survived its final edit, and is now (im)patiently waiting for the arrival of its one and only crucial photograph of Laura Towne herself.  Once that arrives, the project will be on its way to the layout team for final design elements. Full book production usually takes four to six weeks, so I'm projecting publication sometime in October.

Can't wait? Well, here's a teaser of what's in store:

You need Flash Player in order to view this.
Carolyn P. Schriber's The Road to Frogmore ~ Book Trailer
Book trailer for 'The Road to Frogmore' by Carolyn P. SchriberWhat Could Possibly Go Wrong?Laura Towne and her lifelong friend, Ellen Murray, joined the Port Royal Experiment in 1862 to test t...

Eight Rules for Writing Historical Fiction

Many of my historian friends are facing the beginning of a new school year right now, so I’ve been reading lots of posts about what they would like their students to know (or learn). It seems to me that writers of historical fiction would do well to follow some of their rules. Here is a short list, freely modified from professors’ Facebook postings and comments on their syllabi.
 
1.     Do your homework.  Be prepared to read a lot.  You can’t write convincingly about a historical period unless you really understand it.  Remember that your readers who know the period will laugh at you when you make a mistake. But also remember that you are responsible for not misleading your readers who do not know the period well.
2.     Pick the right sources. If you read a newspaper, try to identify its political bias: The Tri-City Democrat may tell quite a different story from the one in the Commercial Appeal. Find out something about the author before you read the book in order to identify bias. Were the letters of a famous man edited by his doting granddaughter or his mother-in-law?
3.     Ask the right questions. Think: “Why? What’s the reason?” “How do we know?” “How did it happen?” “Who says so?” “Can we trust this source?”
4.     Don’t trust cliches. If it sounds like an old phrase that you’ve heard before, you probably can’t trust its accuracy.  Does your source say, something like, “He’s a chip off the old block.”? Maybe that was just an easy way to avoid looking into the subject’s real character. Or perhaps the writer wanted to make you believe something he couldn’t prove. The father went to jail, but that doesn’t make his son a crook.
5.     Avoid snowclones.  What are they? They are well-known statements from famous people that those people never really said. For example, people often quote that famous line from Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade”:  ‘Theirs but to do or die.’ But what he really wrote was, “Theirs but to do and die.” Make quite a difference, doesn’t it? Quote accurately by going to the original source. Don’t just accept what someone else says the person said.
6.     Think Conditionally. “If this is true, then. . . . what would also be true?” If a source says, “Everyone knew the man was a liar,” how was he able to get a loan, or ask for help, or get his wife to marry him?
7.     Beware of Assumptions. Recognize the difference between what you really know and what you don’t know.  Jack eats a peanut butter sandwich for lunch every day. You know that because you see his lunchbox. But you can’t assume he does so because he loves peanut butter.  Maybe his wife just can’t cook.
8.     Think about Alternatives. This rule follows from the preceding one. Once you know what you don’t know, always look for alternative explanations and reasons, and then test them against the known facts.
 
Any other suggestions?  I’ll be happy to add to the list.

More Civil War Whistling into the Wind for Memphis Residents

In recognition of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, "Civil War-Era Memories" features excerpts from The Memphis Daily Appeal of 150 years ago. The Appeal is publishing from Grenada, Miss.

Aug. 13, 1862

There is no doubt but that the Federal force at Memphis has been reduced to between 4,000 and 5,000 men, by the moving of reinforcements to other points. It is known that several thousand were sent to Curtis some weeks ago; and we also learn that a large division was sent up the river to Cairo. The Federals who now occupy the city do so uneasily, and their fears might be increased by a little daring and energy on our part.

(From the Mobile Register) On the 21st the brigade left Lebanon, taking the road toward Nashville ... Seven miles from town they came upon the enemy's pickets, when a chase ensued, our men running the Yankees to within five miles of Nashville, when they were overtaken and captured. Gen. Forrest and Col. Lawton stopped at the Hermitage and were most cordially received by Mrs. Andrew Jackson, Jr., ... the arrival of Gen. Forrest increased the enthusiasm and delight of the party, the ladies evincing the wildest joy and patriotism, and a "good time" prevailed generally. (The Hermitage was still in Confederate territory at this time, although the city of Nashville was under Union control.)

Aug. 16, 1862

We are pleased to learn that St. Agnes Academy, the popular Memphis institution, will commence its fall term in a few days. Its reputation is such, throughout the South, that no word of praise is necessary, and in these troublous times no more peaceful educational retreat, or one where the morals of the inmates are more carefully watched, can be found in the Confederacy than St. Agnes.

Aug. 18, 1862

The Memphis Bulletin states that the 10th annual report of the public schools has been made. It states that the number of schools at the beginning of the last scholastic year was 21; at the end they had sunk to 15. During the year, 938 boys and 853 girls were admitted. The average daily attendance on the first month of the year was 851; on the last, 499. The expenses of the year were $20,038.

Aug. 19, 1862

The status of the Negro in Memphis has been defined by General Sherman, who has ordered that all Negroes who apply for work shall be employed as laborers on the fortifications and draw rations, clothing and one pound of tobacco per month, but no wages will be allowed until the courts determine whether the Negro is slave or free.