Interview with Meredith Miller, author of The Stiff Heart

Meredith climbing through Men-an-Tol
Meredith climbing through Men-an-To

Meredith Miller contributed the short story “The Stiff Heart” to Alt Hist Issue 5. She kindly agreed to answer some questions about the story and about her writing – and sent us a rather fund photo too!

Can you tell our readers what the background is to the title of your story, “The Stiff Heart”?

This is an embarrassing story! The title is taken from a line in Emily Dickinson’s poem, ‘After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes–‘. For some reason, I spent a good deal of my life believing Emily Dickinson had shot herself! In my defense, neither poetry nor nineteenth-century American Literature are my academic area! I must have gotten this idea somewhere in the poems themselves when I was young. In any case, I have been preoccupied with the idea of the female recluse. Another of my stories, ‘The Window’s Wife’ (in Prole 6) centers on a different reclusive female figure. I knew about Emily Dickinson’s self-seclusion and also that she was in love with the young woman who became her sister-in-law. I decided to take all that for the subject of my story.

One problem with historical fiction can be when facts get in the way of good story-telling. For this reason, I always develop a bit of character before I embark on research. So I drafted the story, then read some biography on Dickinson, only to discover that she had, in fact, lived a fairly long time and died of an illness!

Just to clarify, the story is not intended to be about Emily Dickinson at all, it simply explores those ideas and that middle-class, late-nineteenth century New England setting.

What drives your central character to do what she does?

What drives the narrator here, really, is a sense of anomie, a feeling that there is no place in her social world where she can be fulfiled and make sense. I realise now that most people will assume she wanted to marry Gordon. In fact, my idea was that she was in love with Patience! That doesn’t matter, though, as much as the fact that there was no room in her world for her to simply be a person on her own.

What attracted you to the setting and period of “The Stiff Heart” (American Civil War)?

As an academic, my research is on the novel between 1865 and 1965. At the time when I first drafted this story, I’d been reading a lot of late nineteenth-century periodicals, both the serialised fiction and all of the other wonderful things they contain – political and philsophical essays, scientific musings, cultural criticism, gossip, etc. I am American, but live in Britain, so I was interested in the way British periodicals viewed what they referred to as ‘the American war’. In fact, there was more support in Britain for the South than contemporary Britons like to admit! Also, though, left-wing British writers were very much in support of abolition and union democracy.

How did you get into writing?

I’ve been writing since before I could write. When I was four, I used to dictate poetry to my older sister, and she would write it down. I’ve never really seen myself as anything else.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Garden my allotment and work on my house. I bought a derelict house a few years ago. It’s a lot of work! Also, I am an academic so I publish literary criticism and teach both undergraduate and postgraduate students. That last is a real privilege and a joy. Also, I like people and love to talk! I have a wonderful, clever daughter and I like spending time with her and with the rest of my mad and talented family.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

I am currently doing final revisions on a novel, Fish-shaped Island. It’s set in Long Island in the spring of 1979. For those of you not old enough to remember, those were crazy and wonderful years in which to be alive. The novel is about a small town in that period and its underlying creativity and violence. I won’t say anything about where it’s going, but watch this space. My next published story, ‘Ice’ will appear in the Autumn 2013 issue of Stand. Anyone who wants to keep in touch can follow me on Twitter @meredithseven. My Twitter account will also lead you to my website, The Window’s Wife.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

I have two novels completed and would love to see them both in print. A third, Whiteness, is calling loudly for me to write it. I have partially completed a novel about Enlightenment philosophy and pirates, set in the early eighteenth century and called The Ship of the New Philosophy. I would love to find someone who isn’t frightened by my unholy mix of literary and genre writing to publish it. Philosophical pirates are so much fun!

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Alt Hist Issue 5 now published!

I am very pleased to announce that Alt Hist Issue 5 has now been published!

Alt Hist Issue 5 cover

You can purchase eBook and Print copies from:

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

And eBook copies from:

Smashwords | Apple iBooks | Barnes & Noble Nook | Kobo | WH Smith

Alt Hist Issue 5 features stories covering a variety of historical periods from the 1800s to post-War USA.

This issue includes five new original works of fiction including stories about Al Capone and Italian Futurism, the aftermath of the American Civil War, the real Frankenstein, the Bridge that consumes the souls of men, and the latest instalment in a series of stories about a successful Nazi invasion of Britain.

Alt Hist is the magazine of Historical Fiction and Alternate History, published twice a year by Alt Hist Press.

You can read a free preview of each story by following the links below:

  • After Mary by Priya Sharma
  • AD 1929 by Douglas W. Texter
  • The Stiff Heart by Meredith Miller
  • The Bridge by Micah Hyatt
  • Battalion 202: Rotten Parchment Bonds by Jonathan Doering

Priya Sharma’s “After Mary” is set in the mid-1800s and  is the story a scientist with dreams of greatness who lives alone in his country house with only his assistant, Isobel, and servant Myles.  Then his friend comes to the house and leaves a copy of Frankenstein, which changes everything.

“AD 1929” by Douglas W. Texter is a story describing a meeting of artistic guile and criminal muscle. This is a tale of what might have happened if the Italian Futurist F.T. Marinetti had come to America and gone to work for Al Capone.

Meredith Miller is the author of “The Stiff Heart” which draws its title from a poem by Emily Dickinson. Meredith’s piece is a story about life under the surface, in New England in the 1870s where secrets and fears and desires sometimes refuse to behave properly. Not everyone joins in the self-satisfied complacency of this prosperous post-Civil War community.

Micah Hyatt is the author of “The Bridge”. Throughout history men have risked their lives to achieve great feats of engineering: The pyramids of Giza. The Empire State building. The Panama canal. But those who build The Bridge risk their very souls.

“Rotten Parchment Bonds”, the latest story in the Battalion 202 series by Jonathan Doering, features Harold Storey, a quiet man praying for a quiet life after the horror of the First World War trenches. But his prayers are cruelly crushed by the German Invasion of Britain in 1941. As a police officer he is forced to co-operate with Nazi officials and is thrown into moral turmoil by the accommodations that start to be made. But perhaps there is one good man amongst the enemy ranks?

Recent Historical Fiction and Alternate History News

Here’s a selection of news and features that I’ve come across recently in the world of Historical Fiction and Alternate History. Enjoy!

Polite Englishman

From Salon: The myth of the polite Englishman. I thought this book sounded like a great resource for anyone writing historical fiction set in the Eighteenth century. Interestingly enough I don’t see many stories coming into Alt Hist set in that era – not even American War of Independence stuff very often, which is disappointing. Such a rude century should definitely be better represented!

From the Guardian: Kate Williams joins queens of historical fiction.  I didn’t agree with what she had to say at the end of the article about female documentary presenters being chosen for their looks – the BBC does the same with its male presenters too!

Guardian again: Alternate history lessons for children’s fiction – new wave of alternate histories searching questions about technology. Interesting that alternate history is being more accepted in schools, but how do we make sure kids know the real version as well?

From contactmusic.com: Steven Spielberg – Steven Spielberg’s European History. Europeans are much more interested in history says Steven. Quite a debatable statement I think – certainly most of Alt Hist’s story submissions come from the US.e make sure kids know the real version as well?

From The Daily Beast: The Graphic Novel Renaissance – and historical graphic novels are leading the way! Hurrah!

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Interview with Matthew Warner, author of ‘Bummers’

Matthew Warner is the author of ‘Bummers’ the second story in Alt Hist Issue 3 set during the American Civil War. We caught up with Matthew to ask him more about this story and his other writing.

Matthew Warner picture

How did you find out about female soldiers in the American Civil War? And can you tell us a bit more about the historical reality?

It started from a desire to write a story featuring a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered person. I have a lot of LGBT friends, and I feel strongly about supporting them whenever possible. So, in the course of researching possible characters, I stumbled across the topic of women who cross-dressed as men in order to fight in the Civil War. I’d never heard of this and was fascinated – doubly so because the Civil War is one of my favorite historical periods. (My collection, Death Sentences, includes a reprint of a short story I wrote about a plantation mistress.) What if the cross-dressing soldier were also a lesbian? I wondered. The story took off from there.

Here and here are links to photos of a real-life Frances who dressed as a man to fight in the war. According to the National Archives, at least 250 women dressed as men to fight for the Confederacy, and perhaps just as many fought for the Union, although the exact numbers are unknown. Like the Frances in my story, their motivations included money and the comparatively greater freedom that men enjoyed.

The American Civil War is a popular topic for US-based historical fiction writers. What do you think the main attraction of the period is?

Because it marked the end of slavery, the Civil War is still tied up in our minds with the issues of civil rights and racism, which remain enduring social issues. People still get upset when high schools use Civil War imagery for mascots or when state governments occasionally display the Confederate flag. Although it happened almost 150 years ago, the “War Between the States” (or the “War of Northern Aggression,” depending on your point of view) is still very much alive.

Also, the Civil War still holds the record for our bloodiest conflict. Even worse, it was “brother against brother,” as Hollywood says. Its artifacts permeate the old battle ground states. Here in Virginia, I can reach a Civil War monument in about five minutes. At my local cemetery, in fact, a couple thousand Confederate soldiers lie in a mass grave. Places like Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, run a thriving tourist trade of Civil War attractions. The ghosts still walk.

How did you get into writing?

I was fortunate to attend a public school system that encouraged creative writing from an early age. By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to write fiction professionally, but I took a sideways step into journalism for a while. Eventually, I wound up working in law, and now I’m a website designer. (How’s that for a crazy career path?) But I’ve never stopped writing. My first novel, The Organ Donor, came out in 2002, and my fifth book just came out this year.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Mainly take care of my sons, Owen (age 2) and Thomas (4 months). My wife Deena and I run Deena Warner Design, which services writers and publishers. I’m also a pianist and hope to get back into martial arts one day.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

The ink is drying the contract for a novel that’s coming out in 2013 from a Canadian publisher (official announcement coming soon!). In February 2012, a local community theater is premiering a two-act comedy stage play I wrote called Pirate Appreciation Day. And yes, I’m always grinding away at the rough draft of something or other.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

My biggest ambition right now is to seek an ever wider readership. That’s actually more important to me than making a bunch of money as a writer. If money were my goal, I would’ve committed suicide by now.

Union or Confederacy?

Union in political views, Confederacy in family heritage and location. With all due respect to the great grandfather who was wounded at Gettysburg, I’m glad I’m not living in the Confederate States of America today.

You can find out more about Matthew Warner at his website: http://matthewwarner.com/

Don’t forget to check out Matthew’s story ‘Bummers’ in issue 3 of Alt Hist.

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Print Edition of Alt Hist Issue 3 Now Available

The print edition of Alt Hist Issue 3 is now available for purchase!

You can buy either from Amazon.com or Lulu.com. If you’re in the US you might want to choose Amazon, if you’re in the UK then Lulu will be the better option.

Just a reminder of what’s in Alt Hist Issue 3:

The third issue of Alt Hist includes two stories about the American Civil War, one about the great Tesla, a tale of post-war revenge set in Dublin, and a compelling story about the early years of the space race.

Full list of stories and authors:

Praise for Alt Hist:

‘The second issue of Alt Hist magazine builds on the solid basis of the first issue, bringing a collection of historical fiction and alternate histories from a broad cross-section of history. There are some wonderful stories among them.’
SFCrowsnest, www.sfcrowsnest.com

‘engaging and well-written short stories with a historical setting that portray actual events or events that could have happened’
Fantasy Book Review, www.fantasybookreview.co.uk


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Historical Film Friday: J. Edgar

From IMDB – released 20th January 2012 in the UK and 3rd November 2011 in the US.

As the face of law enforcement in America for almost 50 years, J. Edgar Hoover was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.

Here’s the Trailer:

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Historical Film Coming Soon: Red Tails

Another Historical Film Friday!

Red Tails is about a crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard.

It’s released 20 January 2012 in the USA.

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Historical Fiction for Columbus Day

Christoper Columbus arrives in America
Image via Wikipedia

With Columbus Day coming up soon as a holiday in America – 12th October is the date celebrated I believe, I though it might be interesting to see what historical fiction has been inspired by Christopher Columbus the great explorer (although the Vikings got there before him didn’t they!)

If you do a check on Amazon for books featuring Christopher Columbus, the following spring up as most intriguing:

Codex 632: The Secret of Christopher Columbus: A Novel by José Rodrigues Dos Santos

Christopher Columbus Answers All Charges by Yuri Rubinsky

There also seems to be quite a bit of self-published material (I am guessing anyway by the look of it and the lack of popularity), and no really big name authors. I’m probably missing something huge, but has anyone really done a good fictional account of Christopher Columbus?

I have the feeling that someone is going to comment and provide the answer! Please let me know. Perhaps we’ll find out before Columbus Day itself dawns?

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Book Review Offer: Wolf Hunt by Sebastian P. Breit

We have another review copy available – this time an alternate history novel by Sebastian P. Breit called Wolf Hunt. If you would like to review this title for Alt Hist then simply email me at althist.editor@gmail.com with some information about your past reviewing work and if you pass muster I’ll email you a copy of the PDF review copy of the book.

Here’s some more information about the book and about Sebastian.

About “Wolf Hunt”:

“2024. The world we know is crumbling. A devastating war in the Persian Gulf has left the global economy in ruins, and civilization itself is beginning to crack under the strain.

When a war-weary task force of NATO ships races against time and a rival fleet to prevent Brazil’s descent into a murderous civil war, their mission is unexpectedly upset by a mysterious tempest. Thrown back in time, Captains Steven Flynn and Florian Hallwinter with their crews emerge in the year 1940 as the world is gripped in the fires of World War Two.

Presented with the opportunity to change both past and future for the better, they find themselves drawn into a maelstrom of conflicting interests. While overcoming the suspicion of their natural allies of the time proves harder than they imagined, they soon discover that even the best intentions carry the seeds of doom. For whereas Flynn is American, Hallwinter and his crew are from Germany…”

Wolf Hunt is as much about the journey of these two similar yet different groups of men to change history itself as it is about the clashes—and the clash of cultures which ensues—along the way. For the Americans, it’s about witnessing a place that calls itself America—the America of the ‘Greatest Generation’ even—but which culturally and socially is rather alien to the place they know. For the Germans, it’s as much a story about clashing head-on with their nightmares as it is a quest for national redemption.

Available as ebook & paperback:
Paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Wolf-Hunt-Burning-Ages-1/dp/1463570104/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1309960929&sr=1-1

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Wolf-Hunt-Burning-Ages-ebook/dp/B0056QJGN0/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1308844347&sr=1-4

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0056QJGN0

Smashwords: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/64670

About the author:

Sebastian P. Breit has worked in the financial sector and has studied English and Political Sciences at the University of Trier, Germany. He currently lives in Germany’s oldest city, Trier where the Roman past lurks behind each and every corner. You can follow his writing progress & projects as well as his ramblings on a wide range of topics on his web page: “The Burning Ages”
www.spbreit.com

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Free Story Available: Disambiguation by Ian Sales

Ian Sales who wrote the story ‘Travelling by Air‘ for the first issue of Alt Hist, has kindly allowed us to distribute his story Disambiguation. This is a great alternate history story, and is available for free as it’s published under a Creative Commons licence. The story also includes some great photos provided by Ian.

The story is available here.

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