life was saved by one of those angels of mercy, a volunteer army nurse. He fell
blessed hands of a kind-hearted woman! Even here, amid the roar and carnage,
a woman with the soul to dare danger; the heart to sympathize with the
skill, and experience to make her a treasure beyond all price.”
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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.