CIVIL WAR & BLOODY PEACE: Following Orders is an 20-year project that took me around the country into dusty files and hard to read microfilm until I thought my eyes would fall out. It took me through two degrees, earning me a master's in history in 2006. If anyone had told me how much work one of these books would take, I would have run screaming in the other direction!
But I have to admit, exploring the 20-year army life of an ancestor, from 1862 to 1884, and beyond, was also a lot of fun. It also enabled me, and I'm sure will enable readers, to see the country in a whole new way. Already I've made my readers uncomfortable with a very real portrayal of Abraham Lincoln (see Mystic Fire -- my brother hates my writing now). This discomfort is necessary, however, if we're ever going to be able to make sense of the way our country is.
I thought I would share the process of getting this book published. I queried about everyone three times as I went from 173,000 words down to 135,000 words. Traditonal publishers thought it was better suited for the university presses, who thought it was better suited for the traditional presses. In the meantime, I wasn't getting any younger. So with one final edit I self-published (2019) with the expected results. Readers feel it's unvalidated, so instead of acceptance they look at it with a more critical eye. And that's okay except … historical books do need validation. I did not want to go this route. I once singed a contract with Sunbury Press. It seemed pro-active and not in the least intimidated by footnotes. Those were the two key ingredients that enabled me to sign the contract. They promised to get me an editor within six months after submitting it to them.
After six months, they still had no one for me. I started getting shade from them, and cancelled the contract. And then I got to thinking -- maybe I should put it out as two volumes. So I started the query process again. That didn't work. Meantime, I kept making the book shorter.
Problem is, people still see it as a personal story of a soldier, and that's not the way it's meant. Yes, I follow Henry's orders, but that's to give the book cohesiveness. Yes, I went every place he went, but that was to dig out primary information no one else has ever seen. And that enabled me to solve the mystery of the Little Bighorn. But without validation? Sigh. No one takes me seriously.
And that's a shame. Because they're missing a really interesting story. How the story of a soldier IS the story of a country.