The Killer Angels

Forgive me for not writing in a while. I spent the end of January, and most of February, fighting several illnesses–a nasty, aggressive case of bronchitis, among other things. But Patrick’s Day sees me healthy again (surivied the Ides of March, too).

“Were you always interested in the Civil War?” someone asked not long ago.

Nope.

American history in general, yes. The Civil War. no. (I was much more into presidential history for a long time. I could recite all the presidents, in order, in third grade. Yes, I was THAT kind of kid.) As a student of history, I knew the vague outlines of the war and the big names. But it wasn’t until 1995 and a second job at a mall bookstore that I discovered the passion for that fascinating and terrible conflict, a subject I would write about years later.

I was working nights at the chain bookstore in the mall, looking to earn extra money to support my family, and one of my jobs was stripping mass market paperbacks. This was a heartbreaking task. Instead of returning mass market books, we removed the covers and simply threw them in the dumpster. They were reported as unsold, and that was that. When I first found out about this practice, I asked my manager, “Couldn’t we donate them or something? To the senior citizens’ center, or the homeless shelter, or…ANYTHING?” She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind and said, “The book business doesn’t work that way.” (Little did I know…)

But she did tell me I could take home any stripped books I wanted, since they were going in the trash anyway. As long as I didn’t give them to anyone else, it was safe. That’s how I read dozens of books during the months I worked at that store, and that’s how I found Michael Shaara’s “The Killer Angels.”

I took it home because the cover (that would be the back cover, since I had, of course, stripped the front) looked interesting. Three pages in, I was mesmerized. I read it in two days (and I am a slow reader). I never understood what the battle of Gettysburg meant, and I never saw the humanity and inhumanity of the conflict as I did in those pages. Shaara’s language was so real, his descriptions of the battles and the dialogue so utterly absorbing, that I knew as I read the last page, that I must find out more.

And so began my journey into the American Civil War, and the series of books I am writing now, beginning with COLD GLORY, and continuing this November with SILVER CROSS. (Working on copyedits for that book now.) Nick Journey is a professional historian, and I am very much an amateur, but the era is rich with detail and character or complexity, and I have many more ideas. Journey, and Meg Tolman, will have many more intrigues from the Civil War ahead of them. And maybe, somewhere down the road, I’ll delve into why Journey became interested in the war. I assure you, his story is much more deeply layered than mine.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Killer Angels

  1. Kent, Glad you’re feeling better. I was sick for several weeks this winter too but now I’m well. I had just assumed you were always interested in the Civil War but can certainly understand how The Killer Angels would pull you in. It’s a book you can never forget. The stories of the people involved in the war, soldiers and civilians both, that interests me, since my major interest has always been the first half of the 19th century in this country. I’m interested in what led up to the war, why it happened.

    Anyway, glad you’re well and that you did get interested enough in the Civil War to write your novels.

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