Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Writer, Character, Reader: Debut Author Discusses Unique Perspective

An Eye for Glory
Karl Bacon, Connecticut-based author of the debut Christian historical novel An Eye for Glory: The Civil War Chronicles of a Citizen Soldier, discusses his unique perspective on the writing processas writer, character and reader.

AA: What inspired you to write this particular story?

KB: While returning from a business trip in the spring of 1998, I strolled into a used book store in the Milwaukee airport terminal. I browsed through the history section and discovered a copy of Infantryman Pettit: The Civil War Letters of Corporal Frederick Pettit in good condition. Corporal Pettit was a young Christian soldier from western Pennsylvania who served in the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It is well-known that brother sometimes fought against brother during the Civil War, and even more frequently, friend fought against friend. But as I read the letters Corporal Pettit wrote to his family and friends, it struck me afresh that there were many believers in both armies. It was a common occurrence for one Christian brother to fight another, each trying his best to kill the other, and each equally convinced of the righteousness of his cause. What might happen to a Christian soldier when he discovers he has killed a brother in Christ? I thought there was a story to tell.

AA: To what extent is it fact-based, and how would you categorize the genres?

KB: An Eye for Glory: The Civil War Chronicles of a Citizen Soldier is historical fiction. It is a large story, encompassing almost two years of the war, but as the story is told in the first person, the scope of the novel is limited to what Michael Gabriel Palmer actually saw and heard and did. It is not a story set in the period of the Civil War, but rather the story takes place in history, and Palmer serves both as participant in and reporter of that history. The documented history of the Fourteenth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry forms the framework for the story, and I took few liberties with that historical record.

As with any historical novel, it is often difficult to discern where history ends and fiction begins. The details of battles, army movements and even the weather are as accurate as could be ascertained from existing sources. I have taken no liberties with the facts, and there are no historical epiphanies. However, in the interest of the story and/or for character development, I have added fictitious details in places. For example, the execution of two deserters took place very much as I describe it, except that the men of the Fourteenth Connecticut took no part in it except as observers.

AA: What were the most important lessons you learned along the way?

KB: About writing, I had read of the importance of approaching my writing from three perspectives—as writer, as character, as reader—one at a time, of course. First, as a writer, I must create a compelling story and tell it in a forceful manner using all the gifts I have been graced with to make my writing attractive to the reader. Next, I review my story as the character. Am I conveying the proper aspect of this character's growth or decline that is needed at this point in the story? Is this person's vocabulary fitting to his character? Are the emotions genuine and believable? Finally, I try to analyze what I have written as if I were reading it for the first time. I either read it aloud, or copy the text into my text-to-speech reader and listen to the words. This might seem like a purely mechanical exercise, but it has certainly helped me find errors and avoid repetition, and to generally improve the quality of my writing.

Author Karl Bacon
Regarding the writing life, I am in no way experienced in this, as I am just now learning what it is to be a writer. The best lesson I've learned is to treasure the words of the Lord Jesus, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." Ask. Countless times during the writing of An Eye for Glory I prayed, "Lord, what would you have me do now?" This usually occurred when I came upon a plot roadblock, and an answer never failed to become apparent to me, usually at about four o'clock in the morning. Seek. Yes, diligent research revealed many possibilities for incidents in the book, but it was after the book was finished, that I prayed, "Lord, please show me what to do with it," because I didn't have a clue. Within a week or two, I found the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) website, became a member and made plans to attend their annual conference, where I had the unique opportunity to pitch my novel. Knock. It was with great trepidation that I sat down across a table from the senior acquisition editor for Zondervan. She loved my story and asked for a proposal (my first and only), and a month after sending it in, I received the exciting news every author craves, but I had never dreamed of. My point is simple. In all my asking, seeking and knocking, God was always faithful—answers were given, information was found, doors were opened—and it was all His doing.

I was fairly knowledgeable about the American Civil War before I ever thought about writing a novel, and I knew the Civil War was the most cataclysmic event in the history of the U.S. But prior to the in-depth research required for this novel, I never truly understood what a terribly taxing and grinding war this was for the armies in the field. Being deprived of proper food, clothing, shelter and basic hygiene, coupled with the rigorous physical hardships of hard marches, exposure to the elements and deadly combat taxed men to the limits of their endurance. A regiment of 1,000 men could be ground down to one-quarter that number after only six months. Filling the ranks with able-bodied soldiers was a persistent concern throughout the war.

As to publishing, even Christian publishers must make a profit, and profit potential is a powerful motive in deciding which books to publish. This means the right story must find its way to the right publisher at a time when that publisher has a need for it. It requires some homework, because the various Christian publishers focus on different genres and subgenres. My case was somewhat unique, but is illustrative. Both Zondervan's mission statement and the fact that they publish historical fiction put them at the top of my list of possible publishers. Although their editor wasn't looking for a Civil War story in particular, she liked my story and saw that it could be a good fit. It would give Zondervan a unique offering with the upcoming 150th anniversary of the war.

AA: What wisdom would you impart to other prospective novelists and writers, particularly first-timers interested in the Christian market?

KB: First, be brutally honest and question yourself. "Is this what God would have of me at this point in my life? Is it His calling or my desire?" Both would be best. "If I pursue writing, will other and perhaps more necessary duties to family or employer or church go undone?" Second, when you write, do it only for the glory of God, and honor Him with the gift you have been given. Third, no matter the stage of your writing career, attend a writers' conference, preferably a Christian one. Opportunities for learning about writing and the publishing business abound, friendships develop, fellowship with others of like precious faith and gifts enriches you, and you have the opportunity to rub elbows with other writers, published authors, agents and editors from many Christian publishing houses.

Author, entrepreneur and student of the Civil War Karl Bacon lives in Naugatuck, Connecticut, with his wife of thirty-three years, Jackie. For more information on An Eye for Glory: The Civil War Chronicles of a Citizen Soldier, visit Karl Bacon.

2 comments:

Pamela said...

Thanks so much for this interview. I'm especially convicted by Karl's faithfulness in drawing God into the whole writing process through prayer and scripture. As a fairly new writer, I often fail to view my writing as an act of worship to God. Too often when writing I (inadvertently) seal off this part of who I am from the rest of my relationship to my Creator. Definitely something I pray will radically change.

Adele Annesi said...

Thanks for your comment, Pamela - love your blog. Would be great to see an update.