What is extra nice is that
I now have an extensive collection of
pre-sorted materials that I can refer to
again and again for future projects. So
through this one book, I now have sources
for a dozen more pieces. I would like to
add that I simultaneously collected the
data on Spotsylvania's churches and I am
already prepared to draft a companion
volume when the time comes. So it helped
me to think ahead, beyond the immediate
In addition to visiting
the archives, I also made a point to
personally contact and meet with
representatives from each of the churches.
All of them were very gracious and I had
the opportunity to sit down with some of
these congregation members who also
provided me with copies of information. I
did this to get the perspectives and
insights from living, breathing, people.
The stories they shared
with me and the personal items they
allowed me to copy went beyond the scope
of the archived materials. It made the
piece more balanced and in some cases they
either validated or contradicted what I
had already written. This is where
cross-checking data became crucial and the
use of multiple sources became absolutely
I was also able to find
some decent sources online, although I
approached them carefully. The Internet of
course has opened up a whole new world to
historians (and writers), but it must
always be examined with a critical eye.
I'll discuss that in more detail
So once again research is
THE most important aspect of my process.
The writing itself is a wasted effort if I
don't have a firm foundation of facts.
It's the cornerstone of my work and
"Houses of the Holy" is the fruit of that
With a clear focus and the
assistance of others, I was able to
discover a great story and in turn share
it with my readers. The focus of this book
was rooted in a much broader perspective
and I intentionally entered this unique
piece knowing that:
1. I knew very little
ahead of time about the subject.
2. I had to compose something that would
be both original and inclusive.
3. I had to get feedback and fact checks
from the experts.
And all of that depended
on the quality of my research.
I'd like to confess that I
didn't succeed in meeting those goals
initially. This book went through 2 major
rewrites after completing the manuscript
due to the critical feedback that I got
from my friends at the National Park
In some places they felt I
had been too soft on the controversial
issues of race relations and secession, so
I went back and spent 2 months tweaking
the book. I deleted entire sections and
also added new ones. It created more work,
but it also made the book so much better.
It came off the press a more well-rounded
and in turn well-respected piece.
It forced me to grow as a
historian, as a researcher, and ultimately
as a writer. Today this book is nearing
its second printing and people have really
responded to it well. The History Press
was so pleased they signed me to do that
camp book as part of their "American
None of that would have
been possible if I had neglected my
So that's just a glimpse
into how I do what I do. Let's look at
what we can do. What are some tips for
research in writing?