I recently had the opportunity to read “Write Quick: War and a Woman’s Life in Letters, 1835-1867″ which was edited by Ann Fox Chandonnet and Robert Gibson Pevear. What follows is an interview between Ann and I about the process of creating this book.
Q: How did you become involved with Write Quick?
A: My third cousin, Bobbi Pevear, wrote to me 25 years ago about some questions she had regarding our shared ancestors. I couldn’t answer her questions, and she couldn’t answer mine (about Gustavus Vasa Fox, assistant secretary of the Navy under Lincoln). However, four years ago, Bobbi got in touch to say she had completed her genealogical research. She sent me a huge binder of documents, including period photos I had never seen before of my great grandmother. It was then I learned Bobbi’s mother had saved more than a hundred letters written by folks perched in our family tree. As I read the letters, I realized they would make a wonderful book–and volunteered to work on one, sharing all credit and potential income equally. The title and the emphasis on a woman, Eliza Bean Foster, were my ideas.
Q: At 538 pages Write Quick is a robust collection of letters, diaries and commentary with family trees, photography and helpful indexes and appendixes included. I’d love to hear some about the process you went through in putting together the book especially how you start narrowing down what must have been an extensive collection of reference material.
A: Because my unique sources included everything from rent receipts to tallies of funeral expenses, I first began reading other collections of Civil War letters to see how their authors/editors organized available material. After this research, I came up with the plan to begin the book with three biographies, followed by the letters.However, our publisher decided that the letters should be rearranged chronologically, regardless of writer. After I’d done that, she decided I needed to integrate Eliza’s 1863 diary into the mix. These changes took many, many hours. Late in the process, Bobbi discovered she had Andrew Bean’s 1869 ledger, and we learned we could acquire copies of Clarke Edwards’ letters (stored in Texas). These new documents required more revisions–but also added some important facts and figures.
Q: Besides working with Bobbi, your publisher and the physical texts were there other people, places or media that you utilized when putting together the book?
A: In 2007, I made a research trip to New England to visit the Lowell History Center (Massachusetts) and the Bethel Historical Society (Maine). In 2009, I made a trip to Gettysburg, Antietam and Winchester (Virginia). Although all my “characters” are Yankees, I wanted to see if the experiences they recorded in their letters jived with the experience of Southerners. So I also queried the Louisiana State Museum, the Virginia Historical Society, the Maine Historical Society, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Rice University and other libraries/Civil War collections for unpublished sources. At least half a dozen times after doing research at BHS, I queried the director via email for specific help. I also was in touch with genealogists in Dracut and Lowell (Massachusetts). Most people were very helpful.
Q: As someone who has lived her whole life in the South, I have always been curious about how different parts of the world view the South and the Civil War. I think I had always hoped most of the North were anti-slavery but it seemed from the letters that the war, from the view point of the average solider, was more about preserving the union. I’d love to hear more about what you took away from the experience of studying the Civil War from the side of the “Yankee’”?
I come from a family of Massachusetts Republicans/bigots who were upset when I married a French-Canadian Catholic. They wouldn’t have been thrilled with an Irishman or a man of Greek extraction, either. Nor were theyt happy when I registered as a Democrat. And that is only the beginning of my sins in their eyes.
My grandmother’s foster father fought in the Civil War (in a New Hampshire unit), and we had his jacket, etc., up in the attic. I never heard his attitude about either slavery or the union described, but, you’re right: the evidence I’ve found is that Yankee soldiers were more interested in preserving the union than in cancelling the practice of slavery. However, the issue of slavery was tied up with territories that wanted to join the union as new states, so it is hard to pry the two apart politically.
I spent half my life in Alaska, where the Civil War is not a hot topic, but racism against Native Americans continues.
As a writer, I tried to make this a “family story” rather than a story of Rebels and Yanks and patriotic battles. Family is universal to those fortunate enough to have grown up in a loving home.
Q: Looking back over your writing career, how do you feel about this latest addition?
A: In my teens, I declared myself a poet. Through thick and thin, I have stuck to that. Because of a surplus of English teachers, I had to work in banks, freelance and eventually go into journalism for 13 years. I feel most comfortable attacking writing projects (poetry or prose) that appeal to me–not necessarily projects that might bring a big monetary return, render shock value or fit some trend-or-other.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Ann!
Ann also has tour dates for this book across New England but will also be holding one in NC: 4 p.m., Sunday, October 17, Community Arts Cafe, 411 W. 4th Street, Winston-Salem; in the auditorium on the lower floor.
For more details on the book. Please visit the publishers site.
Author Bio: Ann Chandonnet is a magna cum laude graduate of Lowell State College (now Lowell University), majoring in English and minoring in history. Her master’s degree is from the University of Wisconsin (Madison). She lived and worked in Alaska for 34 years, where she was adjunct faculty for the University of Alaska Anchorage and worked as a newspaper reporter. She and her husband retired to Vale three and a half years ago.