Guest Post & Giveaway: Eileen Clymer Schwab on U.S. Civil War Writing

Today, War Through the Generations would like to welcome Eileen Clymer Schwab, author of Shadow of a Quarter Moon that takes place pre-U.S. Civil War on a southern plantation.

According to the publisher’s synopsis, “In 1839 North Carolina, Jacy has been raised in privilege as the daughter of a plantation owner. But when her father suddenly dies, her cold, unfeeling mother, Claudia, schemes to marry Jacy off to a well-positioned but lecherous suitor. In a fit of fury over Jacy’s protests, Claudia calls her a ‘foolish, infernal quadroon’—and reveals that Jacy is the offspring of a dalliance between her father and a slave. Furthermore, her biological mother and brother are still slaves on the plantation. After these revelations, Jacy’s sense of who she is and where she belongs in the world is destroyed and, starts to see herself and the South with fresh eyes.”

Please welcome Eileen.

One of the questions I often hear from readers is, “Do you find it difficult to write novels that are set in such a brutal period of American history?”

Any turbulent period in history is fodder for great books and memorable characters. The heroes are more heroic and the villains more villainous because they are woven from truths. The years leading up to the Civil War are no different, yet it is a time that we often avoid revisiting because of the horror and shame it stirs in our moral conscience. Much is written in adult fiction about the war itself, but delving into the world at its genesis causes tentative trepidation.

In keeping the door closed on this period, we miss the chance to celebrate and marvel at the incredible acts of courage and daring challenges that were the genesis of social change in our country. The secret network known as the Underground Railroad is the perfect example of the best of America in the worst of America, and it serves as a vehicle of transformation for the main character in my novel, SHADOW OF A QUARTER MOON.

Writing a novel against an historic backdrop requires a great deal of research. For me, research is a process of discovery – not just of historical facts, but of tendencies, beliefs, undertones, and nuances of the time. Through this process I become better acquainted with my characters and the world around them. I wanted to touch and see as much as I could, beginning at the library, as well as visiting places like the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati and other historic sites found within our National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. So often the surprises discovered in research shift plotlines or shape characters in unexpected ways. For example, while doing some research in North Carolina, I came across Dismal Swamp. As a writer, I could not overlook a name so vivid and descriptive, and I knew it would be mentioned in my story. At the time, I had no idea that the bleak sounding region was so rich and storied in Underground Railroad history, or that it would play such a significant role in my novel.

My ability to breathe life into the characters of SHADOW OF A QUARTER MOON and my previous novel, PROMISE BRIDGE was aided by the voices I “heard” while reading the slave narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project of 1936-38. During FDR’s New Deal, the Works Progress Administration sent writers out to find and chronicle the thoughts and memories of former slaves, many of whom were well into their eighties and nineties. The narratives are an important piece of history that can never fade away with the passing of time. Some of the dialect and phrasing found in the narratives gives credible voice to my characters. The research phase was lengthy and at times, appalling. Yet, at other times, it was awe-inspiring.

As an author, I am inspired by the strength and courage of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. It was an honor to look back and give voice to a generation deserving of acknowledgment, tribute, and literary life. Remembering and discussing their trials and triumphs can be one way of paying respect for their role in our social evolution.

Thanks, Eileen, for sharing your thoughts on the U.S. Civil War.

To enter for 1 signed copy of Shadow of a Quarter Moon for US/Canada War Through the Generations participants only:

1.  Leave a comment about what part of the Civil War do you want to see more often in your fiction.

2.  For a second entry, spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and leave a link in the comments.

3.  For a third entry, please follow Eileen on Twitter and/or Facebook and leave a comment telling her you did so with your “handle.”

Deadline to enter is July 22, 2011 at 11:59PM EST.

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11 Comments

  1. I’ve always wanted to read more about Battle of Little Round Top.

    Follow on Twitter – FleurDeMar

    And Facebook – Martina Cote-Kunz

  2. Thanks, Elieen! I must agree that the most chaotic times in history are the most interesting to read about.

  3. Thanks, Eileen for the wonderful look at writing about one of the most turbulent times in our nation’s history. Also thanks for offering a giveaway to our readers.

  4. I would love to read more about how the free blacks in the North (and those in the South–I know there were some who even owned slaves) in historical fiction.

  5. shared giveaway on twitter

    ruthaw_1974@yahoo.com

  6. follow eileen on twitter
    ruthhill74

  7. I would love to learn more about the underground railroad.

  8. Spread the word on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/csgebhart

  9. And I “liked” Eileen on Facebook – that’s the same as following, right?

  10. Thank you for the wonderful post.

  11. […] ***If you are a participant in the War Through the Generations Reading Challenge for the U.S. Civil War, you have another chance to win the book, here.  […]


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