Thursday, February 23, 2012

Interview: Carole Scott

I now present to you dear readers my interview with Carole Scot, author of Clopton's Short History of the Confederate States of America.  Enjoy:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am an academic economist and journalist with long experience in both. Economic and business history--particularly of the South--is one of my professional interests.

What got you interested in alternate history?

I have been interested in science fiction and history since long ago when I was a child. I have read extensively in both fields. I published a story in Analog Science Fiction in 1966. I was detoured from further pursuing this kind of career by deciding to become an academic economist engaged in journalism on the side. I am a big fan of Harry Turtledove and Asimov.

What was your story in Analog about?

A terminally ill man decides to commit suicide. Just before he pulls the trigger of a shotgun, he finds out that he is a character in a play who didn't know he was not living in the real world. (This was decades before a movie based on people living in a non-real world was made. I forget its name.)

What is your novel Clopton’s Short History of the Confederate States of America about?

It presents a hypothesized point of view of Confederate historians who lived from 1861 to 1925 in an alternative world radically different from the real world. Both the historians' point of view and the events in the story that didn't really happen are based on my many decades of reading about real people and real events from colonial days to beyond 1925. Neither the views nor imaginary events are, I think, unreasonable. The inclusion of sketches of real people in an appendix--most of who are not mentioned in the story--is to provide evidence of the reasonableness of the imaginary historians’ views and the nature of the alternative world they live in after 1860. (These sketches are largely limited to aspects of these people's lives and views that support the events and actions I made up.) There are no fictional characters in the story.

My story is different from all the counter-factual stories I have read because all the variances from reality are not the result of one, initial change. I did this because it enabled me to follow the ramifications of several initial changes. I do not consider this unreasonable, as no one thing is more likely to have not happened than any other. (The cigars wrapped in Confederate orders are no more likely not to have been found than Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston was not to have been killed early in the war. If an aide had insisted that something be done to stop the bleeding from his wound, he would have survived. ) I anticipated that my story would most appeal to people interested in and knowledgeable about the War and its causes. The story has some of what I guess can be best called “inside jokes”. I let the chips fall where they logically should. Some aspects of the story would be very unpopular with unreconstructed Rebels. Others would infuriate those indoctrinated in Yankee doctrine. This, I thought, would make it difficult to find a publisher, but I wanted to write what I wanted to.

Is it because you have more than one historian “contributing” to this imaginary history that there are different writing styles throughout the book?

If you will compare the foreword to the rest of the book—the first foreword; not the two phony ones to the original and revised copy of the counterfactual textbook—you will see that the style is different. I am pretty familiar with how people wrote in the past, and I wrote the counter factual story in a style similar to what people in the past would have used. The most obvious example of this is a statement like “at the North”. That’s the way they used to write. Obviously, styles changed over the period from 1861 to 1925. Since the imaginary author Clopton was born before 1861, and the pseudo me worked on the textbook before 1930, in the early chapters I included some characteristics of an 1860s style.

What inspired you to write the novel?

It originated from off and on discussions I had with two history majors very interested in and knowledgeable about the War Between the States and the events that led to it. We disagreed about the likelihood that the South could have won and how this could have happened. I wrote a short story in which the South won and gave a copy to each of them. I also put a subsequent, later version on the Web that I changed a little over the years.

What sources did you use when researching for the novel?

A very large number of books and articles I read over several decades before and while I was writing this story, which I worked on periodically for over 20 years, and extensive recent research on the Internet.

How did you come up with the title?

In going over the family tree I found the name Clopton. A member of this family was in the Confederate Congress. I thought it an odd-sounding and, therefore, attention getting name. I’d decided to have the imaginary textbook authored by an imaginary professor that I had to give some name to. If he was famous, his name might be in the title. I included 1861 to 1825 in the title so people would know it was what’s called a counter factual or alternative history.

Who designed the cover?

I designed the cover with a little advice from an Amazon employee. I am entirely responsible for the imaginary Confederate flag. (The flag had to be changed because I added to the states that left the Union.)

What would the history of your Confederacy be from 1925 to the present?

CSA would have fought in World War II. The different situation I created in regard to World War I would have prevented war from having broken out in Europe, as I think the way World War I ended made another war in Europe inevitable. It there had been war in Europe, the CSA might have sat it out like Switzerland, Sweden, and Ireland. If, as would not be unreasonable, the US locked horns earlier with Great Britain by trying to or actually taking over some or part of Canada, neither might have gotten involved in a war in Europe. However, the US was likely to have fought with Japan over control of the Pacific.

How long do you think slavery would have lasted in your CSA?

When the story ended in 1925 it was being phased out. There's no way it would have persisted in the continental CSA into the 1930s. I think it would have persisted for a good while in Cuba, where there likely would have been a slave rebellion. (Remember that in my story the CSA took over Cuba.)

Rarely do you see alternate Civil War stories presented from an economic perspective, even in more scholarly counterfactual essays. Why do you think the economic side of that history is ignored?

Very few people know much about economics, and it is rare for those who do not to find economics interesting; so very few people realize that it was the root of the conflict between the North and the South. I don't know what is being taught today in school and college history courses, but the role of economics was barely mentioned in the history courses I took at the undergraduate level, including a course entitled Civil War and Reconstruction taught by a history professor, who otherwise was quite good. After deciding to major in economics and make economic history one of my Ph.D. fields my eyes were opened to this root cause based on my own thinking and increasingly other economic historians'. Incidentally, despite the almost complete absence of economic analysis in my classes and the books I read when I was very young, I recognized that economics was important. So, my interest in history led to my interest in economics and me becoming an economist. One reason most of the historical articles I have written have appeared in history journals and magazines is that I'm trying to make historians aware of the importance of economics in understanding history. Historians in recent decades have become much more concerned with the role of economics. My interest in history extends beyond economics, and I have written articles in which economics plays no role.

Do you have any other projects you are working on?

I've just completed a real history article--who knows if I'll get it published--and am considering another real history article. The first is just about the Civil War. The war will play a minor role in the possible article. In the past I have published in academic journals and non-academic magazines in history--both Civil War and non-Civil-War subjects--and published a short history of the radio and TV industry in one of a series of books on the history of all major American industries. I have published a textbook in personal finance. Clopton's is the only thing I have ever self published. I was doubtful of getting it accepted for publication and was unwilling to go through what I was sure would be a long and difficult time to possibly getting it accepted. I treated myself by assuring I’d see it in print. Furthermore, I liked completely controlling the book. (I had a lot of bad experiences as a result of not having complete control when I published a textbook.)

Do you have any alternate history ideas in the works?

I would like to do another alternative history, but every alternative that interests me has already been done—some more than once. Of course, the one I’ve done, has been done before—the South gains its independence—but mine is distinctively different from any of the others that I am aware of. I have yet to come up with a distinctly different way to address an alternative that others have already been dealt with. By relying on time travel, Turtledove came up with a new way for the South to win the war via being able to manufacture and use AK-47s—a comparatively simple to make modern gun.

What are you reading now?

Mainly non-fiction concerning economics and political philosophies--the only recent fiction is a Michael Crichton novel I'd missed.

Any advice for would be authors?

Don't start unless you are sure you can deal with rejection, some of which will be unreasonable. Spend as much time writing as you can while most likely having to all your life spending enough time doing other things to support yourself.

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For those interested in learning more about Carole Scott's work, check out my review of Clopton's Short History of the Confederate States of America.

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