Wednesday, January 11, 2012

More from guest Phillip Bryant, author of They Met at Shiloh

I started writing as a serious venture back in 2001. Finishing a half written book was to be my target. As part of this, I started looking around at what my options where. There was self-publishing and there was traditional. I wasn't going to self-publish necessarily, but I needed to understand the market and the process. I started by looking at magazines for short story publication. I was writing a lot in those days, having the spirit and energy that comes with any new undertaking.

As I started piling up the rejections and delving into the business I realized that the process was there to keep you at arm's length. The gate keepers were legion and the options few. In my youthful zeal I missed the point of the business. It wasn't to make stars, it was to make profit. No business can survive unless it does, but that did not assuage the betrayal I felt nonetheless. I was betrayed by my own ignorance and pie in the sky aspirations about what writing and creating meant. I gave up for a time, jaded by the oft cold and inhuman rejections.

Then I found her. Julia Cameron. Her books on the creative process (The Right to Write and The Artist's Way) revived me. I began writing again, not to publish but to write because what I was hearing needed to be written down. I was learning to quiet the editor and critic in my head so the child could come out and play once again. That is all that creativity is, I was learning, child's play. Any creativity, no matter how lofty the words or heady the imaginings; it is play. The child cannot play while the adult is watching sternly from afar.

Then I met another, not to let loose of my love affair for alas my mentoring is not monogamous. Madeline L'Engle. Her book on the creative process, Walking on Water, put what Cameron was often unwilling or able to say, that all creativity and art comes from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. L'Engle confirmed for me that art is not only a creative act, but is as close as we come to touching the transformative in this life. All good art is of, and points to, Christ. When I was writing They Met at Shiloh and listening to the story, participating in the work and not controlling it, I was playing my part in creation.

I've recently picked up Michael Card's Scribbling in the Sand. It has reminded me that I participated in the creative process to glorify God if I truly was listening. I've become a rankings and follower junky, checking to see if another sale has come in, checking to see if I've beaten my previous days page views on my blog, worrying that all my efforts and plans are for naught, becoming frustrated that what I want is not coming fast enough. This, too, I shall give unto God and get out of the way of His work. Creating, listening, is when we come the closest to touching the divine work that we are in Him.
One way I approached Shiloh:
I have been a civil war reenactor for the last fifteen years. Reenacting allowed me to experience some of the privations of soldier life. Marching, sleeping in the open in all weather, camp life, fatigue and guard duty, period rations and period ways of cooking them, and standing in line of battle. I was able to weave these details into the narrative to give it a realistic feel. Because the outcome of the battle is known to history, the details and character focus were critical to giving life to my narrative.
 What I was writing was character, and in particular, soldier centric. It was a look at how a battle could exert its own influence upon the characters, treating it as a character itself. In 2001 I began a rewrite of what I'd begun, narrowing down the character list and expanding my research. At the time I began researching, I had only what existed in my own personal library and the public library. By the time I finished, I had whatever I could find on the internet, details that I would have needed to travel to private or small collections were readily accessible off of blogs and specialty webpages.
 History is story. Some of the best history books being written today by authors like Gordon C. Rhea whose series of books on the last campaign of the war or Peter Cozzen's series on the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi West, both non-academic historians, combine the facts and figures in a narrative prose that reads like a story. In a similar vein, my desire is to take the same facts and figures and make them into a story, one that can be both educational and entertaining for the civil war aficionado and uninitiated alike.