We welcome alum Bobbi Miller to the Launch Pad today.
What was the spark that ignited this book?
As I was researching another book, I came across a small newspaper article dated from 1863. It told of a Union soldier on burial duty, following the Battle at Gettysburg, coming upon a shocking find: the body of a female Confederate soldier. It was shocking because she was disguised as a boy. At the time, everyone believed that girls were not strong enough to do any soldiering; they were too weak, too pure, too pious to be around roughhousing boys. It was against the law for girls to enlist. This girl carried no papers, so he could not identify her. She was buried in an unmarked grave. A Union general noted her presence at the bottom of his report, stating “one female (private) in rebel uniform.” The note became her epitaph. I decided I was going to write her story.
What research did you do in order to write it?
Researching this story was a daunting task because no other battle has been studied so thoroughly. I read A LOT to get these facts right. But then, there’s the emotional truth, the story behind the facts. This is the heart that belongs to Annie’s story. Historical fiction makes the facts matter to the reader. If I didn’t get that right, creating characters true to their time and place, the readers wouldn’t care about the facts. For me, the only way to discover this emotional truth was to walk the battlefield of Gettysburg, and witness that landscape where my characters lived over one hundred and fifty years ago. I traveled to Gettysburg four times, walking the battlefield and talking to re-enactors and the park rangers. (For more about my research process, see my discussion at Donna Marie’s Peace and Poetry: http://donnamariemerritt.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/bobbi-miller-folklore-artist-extraordinaire/
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Of course, finding the heart and voice of my stories were the center of my studies at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I’ve been a student of American folklore since my days as an undergraduate student, and have written extensively on using folklore in the classroom. American folklore is unique in the world, and its characters are absolutely engaging. More than this is the language itself. The language defies the tidy and restrictive, even uptight structure of formal grammar. I studied the story’s voice with the master storyteller Eric Kimmel while a graduate student at Simmons College. That tutelage continued while I was a student at VCFA, when he became my advisor. He remains to this day my Master Guru, as I call him. And, I am so very lucky and honored to call him one of my best personal friends. Likewise, I studied with Marion Dane Bauer, whose stories remain some of my all-time favorites, and I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher to show me how to find the heart of a character, or the soul of a story. That’s what makes VCFA so special: the relationships that I established while a student evolved into lasting, treasured friendships. In many ways, VCFA not only gave me focus in my writing, and purpose, it saved my life.
How inspiring! Thanks, Bobbi!
You can read more about Bobbi Miller and her new novel The Girls Of Gettysburg on the web-
Publisher Book Page for Girls of Gettysburg: http://www.holidayhouse.com/title_display.php?ISBN=9780823431632
Represented by Karen Grencik, Red Fox Literary: http://www.redfoxliterary.com/bobbimiller.html
Girls of Gettysburg, Holiday House, August 1, 2014.