Beyond All Price, based on the life story of Nellie M. Chase, a Union nurse during America’s Civil War, was released earlier this year with a virtual launch party that lasted three days. Combining guests interviews and workshops with recipes and other attractions, Carolyn Schriber attracted readers and writers from a variety of genres to participate in and enjoy her unique marketing event.
Carolyn is a historian by training and profession. Here she discusses how that background makes her a more effective novelist.
THE IMPORTANCE OF RESEARCH by Carolyn Schriber
As a writer, I have a streak of perversity. No, I’m not into kinky sex scenes or ghoulish fantasy. My own brand of perversity is yielding to the temptation to write something I’m not supposed to be working on.
When I was in grad school, just starting to work on my dissertation, I was fascinated by the character of the Norman bishop whose career I was supposed to be studying. I had 134 of his personal letters to provide satisfaction for my curiosity. To me, the bishop was a one of those people you love to hate. I KNEW I couldn’t believe a thing he said. He didn’t call what he did “lying,” I suppose. He just told every person whatever they wanted to hear. So he was perfectly capable of telling the king that his son was plotting against him. Then he could turn around and offer the prince his help in overthrowing his father. He was a hypochondriac, inherently lazy, overly interested in his own personal wealth, and a complete coward when danger threatened. What a great villain he would have made! I could have had a wonderful romp telling his story.
Opposing my views was my dissertation advisor, standing over my shoulder and cautioning, “Read the charters, Carolyn. Don’t listen to what the bishop says. Read what he does.” My supervising committee wanted theory, historiography, background, economic developments, architectural analysis — everything except his personality. I finally caved in to their demands, of course, or I wouldn’t have gotten my degree. But inside was that little voice that said, “Just you wait! One day I’ll tell the REAL stories.”
I continued the scholarly (read “stodgy”) writing for fifteen years, always wanting to be more of a story-teller than the academic world would allow. The classroom was my only outlet, and I admit to telling some favorite scandalous stories to some of my upper-division classes. But retirement held out the real promise to me. At last I could let my imagination run free. I could write what I wanted to write.
So here I am, five years or so into my retirement and embarked on a new career as a novelist. My next book will be about a small group of Abolitionists who travelled to South Carolina in 1862. Their purpose? To work with the slaves whose masters had abandoned them when the Union Army captured Port Royal Sound and Hilton Head Island. They are a motley bunch — a novelist’s dream. There are both men and women, young and old, religious zealots and fiercely independent Unitarians, They think they have a common goal, but each individual has a different plan as to how best to reach that goal. Their petty squabbles, personal animosities, and dirty tricks furnish enough material for a really juicy novel.
Enter Perversity, stage left. What am I doing with my writing time? I’m deep into scholarly research. I’m still studying people, and the sources of my information are, for the most part, their own letters, diaries, and journals. But now it’s my own inner voice that keeps warning, “Read the newspapers, the military dispatches, and the Congressional Record, Carolyn. Don’t listen to what the gentleman says. Read what he does.”
Could I tell their story with no more information than whatever their letter collections provide? Certainly. But would I be satisfied with the result? Probably not. The curse (or blessing) of an author with historical training is the need to get the facts straight first. Then the story can almost tell itself. More important, that nagging voice is actually making a promise to a future reading audience: “You can trust what you read here. I’ve done my research.”
Thank you so much for being my guest today, Carolyn. I love to read historical fiction and am in awe of the amount of work and time involved in writing this genre. Since I’m getting a Kindle for Christmas, Beyond All Price is going to be one of the first ebooks I buy.
Carolyn Schriber now writes Civil War novels. Her latest release, Beyond All Price, is available through her Amazon Author’s Page or from Katzenhaus Books. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.