Monday, February 6, 2017


Yep. You read that right. I'm pulling down the shades on this blog for a while. Why? Well, let me tell you a little about sabbaticals and what they are intended to do.  In an ideal world (admittedly, that's fantasy!), a college professor gets to take every seventh year off. That's not because they hate what they do, but because they need time to replenish their creative juices--to experience the world outside the ivory towers, learn something new, try a new approach to an old problem.

While I taught at Rhodes, I had two sabbaticals. The first came in 1995, right on schedule. Although I loved teaching, I had just been offered an additional position, as editor of a brand new online research website aimed at people who were involved in some form of medieval studies--not just historians, but students of literature, music, art, architecture, political science, religion. The list went on and on.

The idea was to make available to anyone who needed such information a collection of facts, translations, bibliographies, new studies, databases, and ongoing controversies. The idea first arose at a well-known medieval conference and had the support of scholars from all over the world, but when we sat down to discuss what was involved, only a few individuals volunteered their time. I was headed into a sabbatical year without a clear plan; this seemed to be an ideal proposal. And so it turned out to be.  I spent my year working at my computer, learning to do HTML coding, devising outlines of subject areas, and then hunting down experts to make contributions. The whole experience did much to make me the medieval scholar I became. It broadened my knowledge, made my name familiar internationally, made me a better teacher, and sharpened my organizational skills. By the time I gave up the editorial position, the website had over 200 contributors and was receiving nearly a quarter of a million hits a week.

The second sabbatical came in 2003-2004, as I was preparing for retirement. This time I concentrated on my own studies, with the intention of continuing a writing career after I left the classroom. I needed a change of pace, so I set myself the task of learning the geography of two states in which I had never lived--Pennsylvania and South Carolina--and the history of a period I had studied only casually--the American Civil War. The result, as you know, has been a whole series of biographies and historical novels.

And now, I'm overdue for another break. I've been writing for twelve years and have published eight books. Each of those books has had some connection to the ones that came before it, so I could never see a clear space to refresh and re-define what I was doing. It's time to do that.

Oh, I'm not giving up writing. I already have another book brewing inside my skull. But it's different. Although it will once again be set in Civil War South Carolina, it will deal with topics I don't know enough about. I need to learn about international treaties and diplomatic maneuverings, about law-breakers and scoff-laws like pirates, smugglers, and blockade runners. I've never written a mystery, let alone a murder-mystery, and this one will involve all sorts of evil-doings, including murder and kidnapping. And then, just to keep me on my toes, many of the clues will be written in code, which will require me to learn how to create a code and how to break one.

I'll be busy for quite a while. I'm not even guessing at a publication date for the new book. We'll have to see what happens. It will be ready when it's ready. And when that happens, I'll be back here again, to give you a "heads up," and to fill you in on some of the details. Until then, you can follow my research adventures over on my other blog site on the Katzenhaus website.

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