C.J. Heigelmann - Different Perspectives and Intimate Relationships During the American Civil War
Strongly influenced by the works of Homer, Hemingway, Tolkien, Twain, Emerson, Hawthorne, Alice Walker, and Whitman, C.J. Heigelmann fluently expresses his work through a unique style in the classic form of innocence and eloquence, balanced by raw truth and grit without pretension. As our Author of the Day, Heigelmann tells us all about his book, An Uncommon Folk Rhapsody.
Please give us a short introduction to what An Uncommon Folk Rhapsody is about
An Uncommon Folk Rhapsody is a novel about the different perspectives and intimate relationships of people living during the American Civil War, primarily following the plight of two young children from different parts of the world as they grow to young adulthood and eventually meet. Meanwhile, it weaves together lesser known historical events and characters into the plot, creating several underwritten storylines, relationships and perspectives about life and Humanity.
What inspired you to write an epic American Civil War story?
This story came to me by epiphany with the time period and back drop set in place. I cannot speak to what catalyst brought on the inspiration, only that from the moment I received it, I was inspired and determined to decipher and record it.
Your book tells the story across different cultures and continents. Why did you take this approach?
Education of lesser known historical facts. Did you know that over 200 Asian Americans fought in the American Civil War? Probably not, and you would not be alone. I think that fact is extremely interesting. When speaking about America during any period, diverse cultures and countries are always part of the conversation. That is exactly what America is and has always been.
The main characters are inspired by lesser known historical figures; Shay being from China and Chimanda from Africa, as they immigrated to America via different scenarios. I wanted to explore the regional and national histories of their homelands for the reader, as well as the current living conditions during the mid 1800’s. Underneath the many blankets of Culture, lay a human being who is no different at their core than any other. Pulling back these blankets exposes all of us to the beautiful truth that all people are part of one Human family.
How much research did it take from you to make the history-part of this book ring true?
I spent nearly 1500 hours over the span of two years researching the subject matter for this novel before beginning. This does not include the active and progressive research that arises during the writing phase. Great care and painstaking detail were given attention to ensure the accuracy and realism of life, speech and dialect as it pertains to class, ethnicity, occupation, region and educational variances. A great bulk of the work was in depth historical research of Antebellum America, China, Africa (Oyo and Aro empires) and the geo political climate during the 1800’s. I read of hundreds of letters written by slaves, freed slaves, soldiers, wives, slave masters, clergy in order to ascertain their speech patterns, thoughts and emotions. The study of Civil War battles, skirmishes, spy networks, weaponry, tactics, conditions etc.
What was the most interesting aspect of this research?
Learning facts about the time period, especially the politics of Nigeria and its history concerning slavery. Also, another aspect is that I find the emotional foundation is best to be laid first, even before the gritty and all-encompassing historical investigation begins. After that I find a process where those initial emotions are either tempered or accentuated by the research results. I believe Historical fiction novels are among the most difficult to write due to this process. However, they have the greatest potential to become profound, linking the hidden past with the present-day reader. Illuminating the relevance of the past with the present has a way of revealing an individual's perspective of the future.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Producing work that can inspire people to greater heights of understanding, achievement, communication and healing.
Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?
These authors have had an effect on my writing style and could be said to influence me; Homer, Hemingway, Tolkien, Twain, Emerson, Hawthorne, Alice Walker, and Whitman.
You write about some heavy themes—things that many of your readers have probably never experienced—yet it's very easy to identify with your characters. How do you make them so relatable?
I write from personal experience and am also a very empathetic person. I also write from a place objective truth and that’s why I believe my characters are easily relatable to most readers. The people, the feelings, the triumphs and tragedies I write about have already happened, are happening and will happen again. My characters are us and we all are inclusive to the Human family. As much as human nature craves individuality and individual expression (a good and natural thing), on the deepest level even the ego must accept that we are all the same at our core. The ego might not agree, but it must accept.
When writing from these sorts of perspectives, did you feel you had to sidestep certain stereotypes?
Not at all. In fact, I portray the stereotype and display it in full view. Then I push past that portrayal into the character’s intimate life and relationships so the reader can see who this person truly is. This is no different than breaking stereotypes in real life, which is breaking through intellectually lazy labels of people or groups and gaining a true perspective. An Uncommon Folk Rhapsody breaks many stereotypes in this fashion.
What are you working on right now?
My next novel, Crooked Fences will be published this summer. It is the story of a modern-day war veteran who returns home with PTSD and faces the challenges of assimilating back into civilian society. He is plagued by his own moral family dilemmas and the demons of racism and homophobia. These issues escalate his condition and state of mind when he accepts a job managing a subsidized low-income housing project. Will he find the answers in time to change the course of his life for the better, or will he self-destruct and harm himself along with others?
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I welcome readers to message me with questions or comments anytime!
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