Suggestions For Ambitious Students
I have only two suggestions: Read and Travel. That's exactly what writers of historical fiction do, and there's no way around it. Some things can be learned by connecting with experts, but many things must be touched, seen, and felt.
Those were the two modes of learning that helped enlarge Joshua Carter's thinking in Just Following Orders. It's difficult to imagine how limited his perspectives would have been if he'd stayed in one place. What if he'd not found his father's hidden papers? Could he possibly have known what life was like in a mansion if he'd not ended up in one? Could he have understood bigotry without encountering the various people on his journey who clearly demonstrated their prejudices? Without finding the work of Harriett Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens, Louisa May Alcott, and Mr. Howe, he would never have been inspired to formulate his own deep thoughts and opinions.
History should not be kept a secret and neither should the process of discovering it. Yet there are secrets waiting to be found. In fact, had I not run across a near-secret myself, I would never have gone on the intensive exploration that I made in order to write Just Following Orders.
Keeping valuable secrets about things gone wrong, whether it's personal ones that protect wrong-doers or those that keep us from knowing the truth about history, is never a good choice. It's like hiding buried treasure, assuming that if it's hidden, then nobody will care. Well, we're supposed to care because only by unraveling the secrets are we able to gain insights that will make things better for ourselves and others. So allow me to direct you to the place where I've carefully kept the secrets, just for the fifteen months I spent writing this book. It's all here in my bibliography, and it's now yours.
If you've not yet visited the Traveling On section in the right sidebar of the home page, I hope you will. There you'll find four dozen places, spread from Montana all the way to England, just waiting for you to visit. Because most of these were chosen because of a direct connection to something written into the plot of Just Following Orders, these are only a small percentage of what's probably in your own back yard.
Of course, you can't personally go each place on my list--at least not this year. Yet you can make your own wish list, perhaps talking to your family about possible vacations to some of the far-away spots and also taking day trips to any nearby. Someday, even many years from now, when you have your own resources and the freedom to make your own plans independently, who knows what you'll see and do?
Whether you are traveling or reading to enlarge your understanding of history, I hope you'll always ask yourself four simple questions: 1. How were things different then from now?
2. How many things of the past remain the same?
3. What things of the past still need to be changed?
4. How can I be a part of the process to change things for the better?
Whatever you do, as Jim might have reminded us in chapter 23 of Just Following Orders:
“People do change, but we all change slowly.”