“Write about what you know.” That’s common advice for aspiring authors. But when I begin a new novel, I usually don’t know much about my intended subject matter.
For example, when I started An Eye for Glory, I had a general understanding of the Civil War. I knew about many of the large battles, and had a basic understanding of some of the major players, like Lee, Grant, Jackson, Longstreet, and Sherman. But if I was to write an the intensely personal story of a common infantryman, I knew my knowledge had be many times deeper and broader.
That’s where research came in. Early research led me to set the novel within the history of the 14th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Then, over the years of writing the draft, I visited every battlefield they fought on from Antietam to Cold Harbor twice. I walked where they walked, stood “face to the enemy” where they had stood, and drove along the routes they marched throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
On a recent trip to Vicksburg I stayed at the Duff Green Mansion Bed & Breakfast. Why? Research, of course. The top photo above is of a painting of the mansion house before the siege. Note the Confederate flag. During the siege, the house was used as a hospital and a yellow hospital flag would have been raised. The middle photo was taken when the mansion was used as a Union Soldiers Home from 1863 to 1866. For me, the two pictures are a stark study of the effects of the war upon the people of Vicksburg.
The bottom photo is the Duff Green mansion today, looking very much as it did before the start of the Civil War. During my stay at the mansion, I learned some interesting details about the mansion that will provide greater depth to the second installment of the Shiloh Trilogy. The mansion is also an easy walk from Old Courthouse Museum and Library, which is a invaluable for anyone interested in the history of Vicksburg and the surrounding area.
Click on Research or Obsession? to read a short article about why and how I research. If you are interested in further study, click on the title of each novel to view a complete list of sources I used.
“He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.”