Here’s something that I’ve been thinking about for over a year now, ever since my first article appeared in a major Civil War magazine – America’s Civil War magazine, to be specific. And I’m writing about it now because I’ve been thinking about this particular topic even more so now that my first book has been published.
I’m beginning to get treated differently by people when I first meet them. And I haven’t really seen this addressed very often by other published authors, so here goes.
In July 2005, an article I did on Buford’s early morning July 1 action at Gettysburg appeared in America’s Civil War. Rather unhumbly I’ll admit that it’s probably the most detailed tactical narrative of Buford’s fight to open the battle that’s not only been packed into 4,000 words, but that’s probably appeared anywhere.
I do living history in the person of one of Buford’s brigade commanders several times a year along with my good friend Mike Nugent. I portray Col. Thomas Devin, and Mike portrays Col. William Gamble. With the Gettysburg National Military Park’s blessing, we set up a little display on McPherson Ridge on the battlefield, complete with cavalry-related items (weapons, flags, equipment, etc) and a large display map. Well, last July a fella who works at the National Archives, upon hearing my real name, figured me for the guy who wrote the article about Buford in the magazine he’d just read.
You’da thunk I was the new rock star.
He really enjoyed the article, and treated me like I was a celebrity. I thought it very nice of him, and I’ll admit I was flattered to be treated like one of those “famous” Civil War scholars we all know. It certainly massaged my ego. But I’ll also admit that once he left after we had a very nice conversation, I began feeling a bit uncomfortable. Those who know me well know that I’m a ham, I love to talk, and I love to tell folks about my passions – the study of Civil War cavalry, battles, personalities, etc. Hell, I wouldn’t be doing this blog if I didn’t hope that somewhere out there at least one person gave a damn about what I have to say. But at the same time I’ve always been a regular guy. I don’t see myself as someone anywhere near the league of guys like you’ll see time after time on the History Channel, or those who write best-selling books. I’m very comfortable doing my little thing, talking with folks on a battlefield, giving tours, talking to Round Tables, and jawing about Buford, Jeb Stuart, or George Custer over a beer in the local dive.
Now that the book has come out, I admit I do see a difference in how people react when meeting me for the first time, especially if they’ve already seen the book. But, you know, I understand the feeling. Before being published, I really looked up to those folks who had the knowledge and the whatever-it-took to get a book on the shelf. I still do – that hasn’t changed. So I see why other folks react that way to me.
It’s not a bad thing – that’s not what I’m saying. Just that it’s different. It’s a little strange to have those projections coming at me, rather than the other way around. Some folks in that position, it seems, feed off such reactions and it seems to make them even more full of themselves. I recall a few years ago while at a book signing, I purchased a book I was interested in and took it to the signing table for the author. I complimented him on the book and on his past works, which I’ve enjoyed immensely. He looked at me like I was wasting 15 seconds of his important life, signed the book hurriedly, and all but threw it back at me. His behavior left me feeling quite sad for him.
So, many times over the past couple years, I have told folks that I’m just your average bum who happens to write about his passions, and some in the publishing biz think my stuff is worthy of putting into print. For that I’m grateful, not full of myself. The day I ever entertain the thought that it makes me better than anyone else is the day I’ll quit altogether.
It’s the reason why I have so many good friends who both enjoy my work and also have known me for many years – long before any of my work started getting published. And hopefully they know I’ll never change.
When I spoke to the Gettysburg Round Table a few nights ago, I was glad to be told that the microphone at the podium didn’t work. When I was introduced, instead of going up to the little stage and behind the podium, I instead went out into the crowd and just had a conversation with them – instead of giving a lecture. In fact, a few minutes into it, I took a little poll about some things we discuss in the book, and had folks tell about their opinions and thoughts. The whole thing ended up being more of a give-and-take, conversation-style event rather than the room listening to me give a speech for a half hour. And that’s what I like. And I really like listening to other peoples’ thoughts and opinions. My uncle Anthony, who passed away about 15 years ago, left me with a poignant thought: you don’t learn a damn thing when your mouth is moving. I hope I’ve learned to listen as well as I can talk.
I wonder how many other authors have had these same thoughts?
So, if we haven’t met yet, and we do someday, just remember that I’m as average as it gets. Just ask my wife and daughter – they’ll tell you the only thing special about me is I’m the guy who loves them more than anything in this world. My pants go on one leg at a time, I slip on the ice in our driveway at least once a winter to the hoots and guffaws of my amused neighbors, and it’s me who has to take out the garbage every week.
Oh, and if you buy me a beer, I promise I’ll tell you all about Jeb Stuart….