Friday, March 8, 2013

John Morgan Interviews Ann Chandonnet

John Morgan Interviews Ann Chandonnet
Vale, NC

My book is "Write Quick": War & a Woman's Life in Letters, 1835-1867, published by the Bethel Historical Society, Bethel, Maine. It is historical non-fiction, 600 pages, with 50 illustrations.

The book is the result of 20 years of genealogical research by my third cousin, Roberta Pevear. When Roberta phoned to say she had completed her work, she added, "You know, there are letters." After I read the more than 100 letters between Eliza Foster, her husband Henry Foster and her brother, Andrew Bean, I knew that they should be preserved in a book. Three of the letters were written by my great-great-great grandmother, Mabelia Foster Fox, Henry's sister and Eliza's sister-in-law. One of my three brothers lives in the same house that Mabelia lived in--and I spent my first 21 years in, and my other two brothers live on the same land grant she and her husband farmed.

I asked Roberta's permission to use these previously unpublished letters (and a wealth of other documents such as grocery lists and rent receipts) in a book. I would give her equal billing, and share with her whatever profits were made from the effort--if we found a publisher. She agreed. Her mother had saved these documents from the fire, literally, in the 1930s when a house was being cleaned out after a death. One of these documents was Eliza's 1863 diary kept in Lowell, MA., while Henry was serving in the Union infantry.

I began writing the book in Juneau. Halfway through the process, my husband and I retired to North Carolina. Now I had the opportunity to visit places mentioned in the letters like Gettysburg and Fort Sumter, and to do research in Civil War archives. In 2007 we made a research trip to Lowell, Massachusetts--my birth place, and the home of textile mills where Eliza worked. We also visited Bethel, Maine, where Eliza and Andrew were born; Roberta was born there as well.

My husband took photos for me along the way.

It took me four years to complete the book. After 16 submissions, I had a publisher.

If the book were made into a movie, I would choose Jude Law to play Andrew; Jennifer Lawrence to play Eliza; Betty Suarez to play Mabelia Fox; and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play Henry.

My synopsis: The story of a woman and the two men who loved her, played out against the backdrop of the War Between the States.

It took me two years to write the first draft, but I also garden intensively and quilt. The local libraries (Juneau and Hickory) did not provide sufficient sources, so I purchased some books myself. I also sent out thousands of queries via e-mail.

I decided to make this book a portrait of an ordinary, non-combatant, a Union woman --not a general or someone who led a charge of light horse. More books were written about the sufferings of Confederate women. Books have been written about New England's textile workers, but few follow their days after they leave the mills.

The majority of Union infantry units have histories written by their members. But Henry's unit did not. When putting together a list of his comrades in arms, I found that many of the names were repeated several times (with different spellings). Both armies kept records of officers who died, but no one kept records or ordinary soldiers. I discovered that many men were consigned to unmarked graves and their loved ones never knew what happened to them. Fortunately, in Henry's case, one of his comrades took the time to write to Eliza--even though he was wounded himself and his brother died in that same battle, at Winchester, Virginia. Winchester changed hands 70 times during the war. The book's annotated rosters make it valuable to relatives of other infantrymen.

Part of my inspiration was that I have family living in the exact spot where some of the letters were written. Eliza visited that farm, and her brother-in-law sold her firewood and provisions during the war. Four nieces and three nephews are growing up there, and the book would preserve a part of their family history. I dedicated the book to them.

I did not have an agent to represent the book. I did all the marketing to publishers myself, since I have a background as a publicist for Alaska Northwest Books. The publisher is the place where all the letters and artifacts (such as hair mourning bracelets, ledgers and period photos) are stored, the Bethel Historical Society.

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