Wednesday, August 6, 2008

JM Snyder :: Why the Civil War?

Why the Civil War?

The next thing people want to know is, why did I set the stories during the Civil War?

Well, this originally gets back to the anthology I planned to submit the first story to ~ it was a collection of historical shifter stories, so I needed to set these cats in a time period not my own. The Civil War was a natural choice for me, simply because I was raised in Virginia, where the history is still very much alive. We don't have history classes in middle school; we have Virginia History. Our capital city of Richmond, where I currently live, was once the seat of the Confederacy. We have statues of Civil War heroes all over town; we have museums and battlefields and earthworks, historical markers lining our roads and highways, whole sections of our cemeteries dedicated to those who died fighting the War of Northern Aggression, as some people call it around here.

I definitely consider myself a Civil War buff. Military history intrigues me, particularly that pertaining to American forces. I'm not pro-war by any means, don't get me wrong, but I am very much in awe of the courage it takes average citizens to take up arms to fight for my freedom. I know I can write the stories I write only because someone somewhere died for my right to say what I want. I am very grateful to those men and women who have given up their lives so I could live mine.

The period of the Civil War is very romantic to me. Not the war itself, because wars are brutal and bloody and destructive. But the time period of the 1860's appeals to my sense of romanticism and nostalgia. It's a simpler time, before big business came into the farmland and took over the country. A time when things like honor and love mattered above all else, or so it seems to me. Add to that a land divided in the midst of battle, fighting amongst itself, and you get a turbulent, exhilarating time to be alive. A time when the only choices available were do or die. A time much more volatile than the staid life in which I live, a time more exciting, more daring. How could you not want to capture some essence of that, to savor a life lived on the edge, when all you've known is the comfort and quiet of today's society?

Given my predilection for all things pre-1900's, I didn't have to do much research for these stories at all. I already know Civil War history better than the average person; I've probably forgotten more names and dates of battle than most school kids learn nowadays. I have a few research books to help with the words and phrasing used in everyday life during the 1800's, but that was the extent of the research I had to undertake. These stories flowed from me like a river, each word tumbling over the last in its haste to get down on paper.


PermaFrost said...

Again, I have to praise JM's take on the War of Yankee Aggression. Many authors write from this period, but not as many can compel readers into the fray. The film "Gettysburg" made me "live the conflict" from both sides, and so does this series. I felt I was part of the War, on both sides. Thank you JM. Thanks also for your explantions in these posts.


Jeanne said...

Oh, J.M. I do know what you mean about this time period. I feel the same way. When I decided to write "The Sweet Flag" there was no other period I could use.
I've lived in Pennsylvania for the past nine years and before that MD for twenty years. Even before we moved down to this area,I've been a lover of that time.
My historical characters in "The Sweet Flag" were faced with challenges beyond North vs. South. DeMonde was not only a Frenchman, but a person of mixed race and religion - a Jew and a "person of color" - passing for white.
Add to that a lover of men -- .
My perspective flowed from my knowledge of Civil War history and my own cultural heritage as a Jew.
I loved writing this story.

J.M. Snyder said...

I think part of the reason I can see both sides of the war is because I was born in NJ and raised in VA. Though I'm very much entrenched in the South, I still see through Northern eyes.

What appeals to me most about war stories in general is the humanity in the midst of battle. The soldier who pauses to rescue a fallen enemy. The men who call a truce on Christmas Day. The forbidden moments between men that may happen in the trenches or the barracks.

I think there's a very real camaraderie forged in the midst of war that I find a beautiful way for men to share something raw and intimate. Add a relationship or love into the picture, and that only compounds it for me.

Anonymous said...

I think there's a very real camaraderie forged in the midst of war.

And that is the only reason I will read a story set during a war. I'm a chicken. I am always afraid the author will kill off a character I like, but the bonding of the people stuck in a war feels very real to me.


Jeanne said...

"I think there's a very real camaraderie forged in the midst of war that I find a beautiful way for men to share something raw and intimate. Add a relationship or love into the picture, and that only compounds it for me."
I mention in "The Sweet Flag" that deMonde, who was a trained singer, would often perform for the men at night, singing everything from Parlor songs to opera. This was also one of the many activities shared by men of both sides during the War. Also, what I found fascinating was the acceptance on the battlefield, of "relationships" discretely conducted. Sadly, once the War was over, these same sex couples were once more, vilified.

Anonymous said...

Hi JM,

Thanks for blogging today and for inviting us to chat and ask questions. Btw, I was born and raised in NJ, too, though I now live in Los Angeles! :-)

I have a very difficult time reading anything set during the American Civil War.

For me, an antebellum historian, it's hard to read about men (and women) who were willing to kill each other over their states' right to discriminate against black people.

Sure, the war was also about politics, economics, and the federal govt's relationship with states, but underneath it all, Southern states wanted to be able to get away with murdering people who were different from them (Jews, too, btw). I can never forget this fact so it's rather difficult for me to enjoy any kind of Civil War story.

I love your books and the particular way you write so it pains me that I won't be able to enjoy this series. Kudos to you, though, for tackling that very difficult period.