First Person: Publishing My First Civil War Novel

My first novel began after I decided to take a few months off from work to clear my head. I’ve always been a Civil War enthusiast, so in June 1998 I began writing what ultimately became my first novel. Edgewood Oaks is a historical fiction piece set on a fictitious plantation just outside of Charleston, South Carolina.

Other then a few college classes, I had no previous experience writing for publication, let alone tackling a huge project like writing a book. Logically, I figured I should just tell the story as quickly as possible, and then go back later and fill in the color details. Because I do not write from an outline, it works best for me to just be able to tell the story as it came to my mind. The first draft was over 600 pages long.

Once the editing began in earnest, I was able to pare down about 150 pages. I spent a lot of time learning new adjectives that were more descriptive of what I wanted to communicate. I think that’s essential for good fiction writing – it’s important to be able to paint a full, complete picture for the reader.

I learned to write as the story came to me. With the use of Microsoft Windows, I was able to cut and paste text into different locations later, but it worked best to just allow my creative side to write whatever came to me that day. While I did start writing at the beginning of the book, I quickly jumped to middle chapters and the end before completing the preceding sections. By doing so, I allowed the full creative elements of my imagination to work unimpeded.

Because I was writing about the American Civil War, it was critical that I be factually accurate whenever possible. I needed to be accurate based upon what they knew in the 1860s, not today. Obtaining information from that period is a challenge, as most South Carolina official records from that time period were destroyed when Union armies captured the capital.

I created a character profile notebook – one sheet per character. I wrote down any information I disclosed about that character. This helped me understand what the readers would know about each character. This was an extremely helpful tool as my writing process continued, and essential during final edits. In one instance, it saved me the embarrassment of writing that one character used the telephone. Silly me — the phone hadn’t been invented yet.

Once the final draft was completed, I sent queries to 13 different publishing houses. My book was accepted by one of them and went to print two years later. More then 4,000 copies have sold – not bad for a first project.

I’ve published three more books. It’s an exciting process, especially working with editors to determine what should stay and what should be cut. The most important lesson I learned was to not believe in writer’s block. The novel will never get done if you don’t type words.

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