This post marks the conclusion of my interview with Dr. Donald Frazier (pictured to the left) about his new book, Fire in the Cane Field: The Federal Invasion of
Next month I am planning to present another interview with a prominent historian of the Trans-Mississippi.
Your book features a number of your own maps. What advice do you have for aspiring mapmakers?
Learn Adobe Illustrator. It’s not a real mystery on how to make maps, you just have to be prepared for a bit of a learning curve. I have drawn more than 2,000 maps for various clients world-wide. I discovered it is easier to turn a historian into a map drawer than an artist into a historian.
Geography and landforms are the canvas upon which history is painted. You understand how humans interact with terrain, and you will have an instinct for what is important to show on a map.
Also, if the place appears in your index, try to make sure at least one map in your book has it located.
You might, if you are working for others, require at least half payment up front. I have really cut down on the number of customers I am working for because of non-payment, partial payment, or other customer-vendor related issues!
Your book also features an unusual number of illustrations such as photographs, period newspaper engravings, etc. Do you have a particular philosophy that you use to help you select illustrations?
Here is one reason I published with State House Press. Since I have a say in how that operation is run, I could have a much more liberal hand in how the book would physically look and feel. I am very proud of the "heft" and weight of the book, the paper quality, design, etc. Typical university presses don't like so many images because it adds to proofing and design costs. My philosophy is, pictures help create a mood and tone for your work, just like in magazine and other print media. You may write brilliantly, but so often you can convey a "feel" better visually, and often slide in additional ancillary information in a good caption that expands on the story without interrupting the narrative. My work will be on shelves (or on Kindles or Sony Book Readers) for a very long time. I want it to be a good representation of what people (sources) are saying about the topic in addition to what I am saying about the topic; illustrations can provide a visual survey of how people were portraying the time and place in question.
I am also happy with the price, which of course is a product of design and editing costs, among other factors. I have had a few retailers and individuals squawk about the $40 price tag. Take a look at Amazon.com. They are selling it for $26.00. So, if you are paying full price, you aren't looking very hard! The $40 price allows Amazon to deep discount the book. They look like heroes while protecting their margin. Local retailers could do likewise, they just can't take that leap of faith. In the end, with a typical local retailer only stocking two or three copies of the book, we are just quibbling over a few dollars difference.
The kiss of death is when a university press "short lists" your book. They only offer a 20% discount to retailers as opposed to the typical 43-50%. That means your book won't be on any shelves. State House Press will never do that. They'll pass on a manuscript before they do that.
A student comes to you and wants to know what Civil War Trans-Mississippi related research project they should tackle; what would you advise?
Well . . . I would focus on the nuts and bolts of how these armies are raised, provisioned, how local conditions evolve at the county level, issues relating to desertion and recruitment, etc., etc. I am very curious, for instance, how many beeves were driven from
Gary Gallagher once told me that the only thing worth studying in the Civil War pertains to
At any rate, I will let the