When Alan Simon first came across photographs and stories from the 50th anniversary of The Battle of Gettysburg, he knew this was an event that he wanted to write about. Eleven years and many, many hours of research later, Simon published Gettysburg 1913: The Complete Novel of the Great Reunion. As our Author of the Day, Simon talks about the anecdotal stories that came out during his research, reveals how he managed to make the characters so realistic and why he thinks this event played such an important role in the healing process after the Civil War.
Please give our readers a short introduction to Gettysburg, 1913: The Complete Novel of the Great Reunion
The tagline for the novel says it best, in my opinion:
June 29-July 4, 1913: To commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Battle of Gettysburg, more than 50,000 Civil War Veterans ranging in age from 61 to more than 100 years old converge on the scene of that titanic battle half a century earlier in what was known as The Great Reunion.
What inspired you to write a story about the Great Reunion?
I was working at my “day job” – consulting – in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania long ago in mid-2001 when late one afternoon, my workday concluded, I paid a visit to the National Civil War Museum. Doing my best to make it through the museum before they closed, I wandered into a room that featured photographs, film clips, and artifacts from an occasion I had never previously known about: The Great Reunion at Gettysburg that was held in 1913 on the 50th anniversary of the battle.
I left the National Civil War Museum that day with the first inklings of an idea for a novel set during that long-ago reunion back in 1913. I was just starting to get serious about writing fiction in addition to my non-fiction business and technology books, and this became one of my first projects.
How much research did this book require from you?
Years! Seriously, I began conducting research in 2002 or 2003, and kept researching off and on for the next seven years. Then, in 2010 when I began serious work on the latest version of the novel, I did even more research, probably spending as much time each day on the Internet doing research as I spent writing. I would say I did about 900-1000 hours of research over a 11-12 year period.
What was the most interesting aspect of your research?
Some of the anecdotal "sideline" stories that came out of the Great Reunion, such as George Patton attending as a second lieutenant as part of the U.S. Army contingent helping to manage the occasion, or a stabbing at the Hotel Gettysburg during the Reunion in which a Union Army veteran reacted to someone calling President Lincoln by "a vile name." Also John K. Tener, the Governor of Pennsylvania who presided over the occasion, was a former major league baseball pitcher in the 19th century and would soon become the President of baseball's National League...even while he was still governor!
Also, some of the speeches given during the formal portions each day are deeply moving; for example, a speaker by the name of Bennett Young proclaimed: "Those who fought then now meet as friends. They grasp each other's hands; they look kindly face to face. War’s animosities are forgotten; the noise of battle is hushed. Peace waves its wand over these bloodstained hills and cries out to war: ‘Be still.’”
Why was the Great Reunion such an important event in US history?
John K. Tener, the Governor of Pennsylvania, proclaimed in his opening remarks: “We meet on this occasion to participate in a ceremony that stands unmatched in all recorded time.” And James Schoonmaker, a Pittsburgh industrialist who won the Medal of Honor during the Civil War and was Chairman of the Pennsylvania commission that ran the event, proclaimed in his opening remarks: “The honor falls to me, as chairman of the Pennsylvania State Commission, of presiding at the opening exercises of a celebration unparalleled in the history of the world.”
The words of both Tener and Schoonmaker tell us why this was such an important event: it was indeed unmatched in all history that former enemies came together in such numbers for an event dedicated to healing and forgiveness.
What types of books do you enjoy reading yourself? Do you stick to historical novels or also read other genres?
Historical novels are certainly on my list, with a preference for those set during mid-20th century. My other novels focus on the World War II home front and the postwar years, and I enjoy reading other authors' works with similar settings. I also enjoy contemporary novels, and have started dabbling in this area for my own future writing.
Your book focuses a lot on the personal experiences of the veterans who survived this war. Why did you take this approach?
Think of the lives of these veterans of the Civil War who were granted another fifty years to live to the dawn of World War I. All the things that they lived through, whether they were Union or Confederate, and all that they had endured during the war...yet despite the horrors of war, they were able to join with their former enemies as well as their former colleagues, each man in the twilight of his years, putting behind them any remaining bitterness or hatred. To me, that is a powerful and moving theme.
Your characters are relatable and have a lot of depth. How did you manage to bring them to life for the readers?
I've been fortunate that when writing this and other novels, I've been able to "get inside a character's head" - to feel as if perhaps I'm that character, and to tell his or her story as if I were relating my own life story and experiences. I give my characters backstories and do my best to flesh them out as best as I can.
Which character did you find the most challenging to create?
Characters that we see in different ways at different parts of a story; favorably and sympathetically in one part, but critically and unfavorably in another part. Achieving this complexity is difficult to do and still have the character be realistic.
You also wrote about how people had to put the animosity of the war behind them. Do you think that is something a lot of veterans struggled with?
I think veterans from every war struggle with this. In the case of the Civil War, the sheer brutality of Americans fighting other Americans was difficult for many to live with, regardless of which side of the fight they had been on. I think the same is true for veterans of all of our 20th and 21st century wars as well. I was a U.S. Air Force officer and fortunately never had to go to war, but perhaps that gives me some insight into what other veterans who did have to fight have endured.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I'm a faculty member in the Information Systems Department at Arizona State University, and spent years in the technology and consulting worlds.
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Ever since learning about the Great Reunion, I've found it a shame that the occasion has been all but forgotten during the century that has passed. This book is very much a "cause" for me: to help bring the occasion to life for those of us in the 20th century.
What are you working on right now?
I'm planning for 2017 to be my busiest year yet writing...at least in the fiction arena. Years ago I sometimes had five or six non-fiction books at various stages at the same time, so I'm trying to achieve that with my novels. I'm working on the 4th novel in my "American Family's Home Front Saga" series, as well as a spinoff novel set on the World War II home front. I'm also planning for my first foray into novels other than historical fiction, with a contemporary setting planned.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Our website at www.alansimonbooks.com has a "Contact Us" page, which sends an email to [email protected]; anyone can just send an email directly. All of my current novels are on that site, as well as in various eBookstores.