We did it!
I am VERY proud to announce that Eric Wittenberg and I have finally completed the draft manuscript for You Stink! Major League Baseball’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players. The current word count is 185,665 with 380 pages (single spaced). We also have complete rosters, statistics and box scores, 50+ photos and 34 footnotes. The file was just sent off to our proofer in preparation for publisher submission. I always love this feeling when a book is initially down on paper. The editing and refining process follows, but it’s very satisfying when concept becomes reality. It's hard to believe that we started this project just 12 months ago. Eric did a great job with his sections and I’m blessed to have him as a friend and co-author. Stay tuned for details on this unique project.
At the invitation of an editor and chief of mine, I entered a fun, fictional writing contest. The theme is ‘conflict’ and the task was to write a 750- word essay. Of course I went with the Civil War as my backdrop. You can read my story (and vote on it if you wish) over at The Novelette. You can also enter yourself if you like. Here’s a taste of my entry:
It was early on Sunday, in the spring of 1864, and all around were signs of God’s glorious creation. Daybreak had just begun, and the sun was slowly peeking over the horizon. As it ascended, the vast landscape of sleeping clouds appeared to catch fire and the midnight blue evening was painted over by a brilliant orange glow. A gentle breeze stirred the miles of tall grass covering the fields beneath and the sweet song of birds softly echoed through the trees.
Below in the valley, the scene was very different. Hidden amidst a thick hanging fog, two armies were just beginning to stir. Many soldiers did not share nature’s sentiments in welcoming back another sunrise. Exhausted, homesick and terribly traumatized by the horrors they had witnessed on the battlefield, the promise of another day brought nothing more than prolonged suffering. READ ON
Voices from the Storm
This evening I had the pleasure of attending a very special program at the historic Massaponax Baptist Church. As I had announced below on 3/24, the National Park Service hosted two showings of their fourth “Voices from the Storm” presentation. These unique programs use historic venues, the words of the people who lived and fought here, music, and images to tell the story of a community caught in the maelstrom of the Civil War. Each one lasts approx. 60+ minutes and is tailored especially for the location.
Tonight’s presentation shared the firsthand experiences of Spotsylvanians amidst war in their own words. According to the handout, no place suffered longer or more variously from war than Spotsylvania County. NPS Chief of Interpretation John Hennessy narrated the program which featured Debbie Aylor, Randy Dail, Scott Howson, and Torie Aylaor as readers. Period musicians and singers from Evergreen Shade provided the musical interludes and a 40+ photographic slide show ran on the backdrop.
I had the privilege of sitting in the front with National Civil War Life Foundation Chairman Horace McCaskill and Museum Director Terry Thomann. This gave us an up close view of the performers who did a magnificent job in conveying the emotions of the individuals they were quoting. The photographs selected from the NPS collection added a great deal to the piece and the live music was extremely touching at times. Evergreen Shade’s version of “I’m Going Home” was very emotional and sitting in the hallowed sanctuary of Massaponax Baptist Church added to the experience.
John’s narrative painted a vivid portrait of the county’s perspectives from all sides and I was surprised by some of the numbers he included such as the majority of Spotsylvanian’s in the 1860's being African-American, the high percentages of financial losses incurred by whites, and the staggering amount of civilians requiring government assistance after the war. Clearly the program showed that suffering occurred on all sides, both on and off the battlefield. As I am just beginning to gather primary sources for my upcoming book on Confederate encampments in Spotsylvania County, I recognized some good material on camps that I am hoping to include.
If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of these “Voices from the Storm” programs, do it. You will get the REAL story, from those that experienced it, through their own words, images, and music.
National Civil War Life Foundation
FYI: I just added a news section on the National Civil War Life Foundation website. Updates include a meeting with VA Governor Tim Kaine and the receipt of two donated prints from Mort Künstler. Check it out.
A real Good guy
A few years ago, I wrote a short, retrospective essay titled Birth of a Buff. In it, I shared the story of how my parents first introduced me to the Civil War during a family vacation to Gettysburg in 1978. You can view that essay, along with some incredibly cute photos of yours truly, over on my website. If not for the efforts of my mom and dad, who knows what kinds of shenanigans I would have fallen into? Another individual who deserves credit for cultivating my interest in the "Great Divide" is Mr. David Good, my 6th grade history teacher.
I turn 37 in just a few weeks, and there are very few things that I can still remember from my days at Manilla Elementary School. Most of them however, took place in my American history class. You know that teacher who seemed to have a gift for igniting interest in his/her students, the kind of teacher that presented their curriculum in a totally captivating way, and the type of teacher that you actually looked forward to seeing in class each week? That was Mr. Good. His teaching style was extraordinary and he left an indelible impression on me that lasts to this very day.
You could say that he alone gave me my start as a writer. I distinctly remember penning one of my first historical pieces for him. It was a report on Francis Marion "The Swamp Fox" and Mr. Good told us stories about how he and his friends would pretend to be Continental and British soldiers while playing army in the woods. I also recall when he came to class dressed entirely in fringed-buckskin (ala Davy Crockett). He was teaching us about the French and Indian War and brought along his black powder musket to demonstrate how tedious the process for loading and firing was. Imagine a teacher bringing a working firearm to school nowadays. Times sure have changed, and not for the better.
When I returned from my trip to Gettysburg, Mr. Good immediately recognized my newfound interest in the War Between the States and he was patient enough to allow me to contribute to the class with my limited knowledge. He set up a special display in the glass case outside his classroom and filled it with my souvenirs from the trip. I distinctly recall how proud I was to get that kind of special recognition. I also remember how anxious I was to get my stuff back.
Mr. Good even encouraged me to create a special project for extra credit. I made a small diorama of the battle at Little Round Top. Starting with a shoebox, I cut one side off, and made a landscape w/ terrain out of clay, sticks and rocks. I also cut the cover off a Gettysburg brochure that looked like soldiers silhouetted in the woods and used that as a background. Finally, I placed tiny blue plastic soldiers representing Chamberlain's 20th Maine on top of the hill and scattered gray members of Hood's division along the slope. (I also recall having a stream represented at the bottom of the hill, which was not topographically accurate. I don't think he marked me on that one.)
My 6th grade year happened to be the last ever in this school. It was closed down and later became the borough building, police headquarters, and library for our community. The faculty was scattered among the various schools in our district and I moved on to Middle School never to see my favorite history teacher again. I did think of him from time to time, most recently during a weekend trip to Gettysburg in which my father and I returned to where it all began.
For the last four years, ever since I published my first Civil War book, I have been trying to track down Mr. Good to thank him for the tremendous affect his tutelage had on my personal and professional life. A couple years ago I managed to get a hold of my elementary school librarian who informed me that Mr. Good had retired in 2005 after teaching 33 years in Keystone Oaks School District.
Bummed beyond words, I thought that was it, and gave up on the prospect of reaching him. Luckily, through the wonders of Facebook (and the networking of some other teachers that I am fond of) mentor and student have finally been reunited.
It turns out that Mr. Good never lost his enthusiasm for history, especially the American West. Today he is a member of the River Junction Shootist Society and practices the lost art of cowboy action shooting. He is also an avid cyclist and has toured Civil War battlefields on 2 wheels with fellow faculty. Over the last few days, we have communicated via email and we are planning to chat on the phone this weekend.
I believe that we all need to take the time to thank those who had a positive influence on us. Let them know they mattered. If you had a Mr. Good in your life, I highly recommend seeking him/her out. The Internet has opened up a whole new world of opportunities to get reacquainted with our past. Use it. It's well worth the effort.