I have Done It. Working late in my Chicken Shed Office, after nightfall, while the rest of the family lolls around inside eating popcorn and playing Settlers of Catan, I have finished the dreadful Author Questionnaire.

And I have not only finished it (all 48 pages), but have now filed it, so that when I’m NEXT faced with it (when production time on the History of the Medieval World rolls around), I’ll have a previous draft to work on. The annoying thing about these questionnaires is that I’ve done them at least six times previously, but I can never FIND one of my old copies when I’m working on a new one.

I am free! I am free! No more author questionnaire!

So while I’m finishing it up, a thunderous roar splits the night and I go out to find that my fourteen-year-old has bagged a rabbit that was trying to level the baby sweet corn plants. Here he is–and before you go all Watership Down on me, remember that rabbits on a farm are kind of like locusts in ancient Egypt. They destroy EVERYTHING.

(I am becoming more and more of a pacificist, as I grow older and study more history, but still–how cool is it to be a fourteen-year-old boy and be allowed to fire off a shotgun in your own back yard?)

Time now to turn back to the next two things on my to-do list–churning out dissertation chapters (the stack on my desk is growing higher) and finishing up my outline of Volume II to send on to Starling Lawrence so that I can get started on the next manuscript before the page proofs for Volume I land on my doorstep.

This last chore involves taking pages and pages of badly spelled incoherent notes that look like THIS:

Chapter Four

376, Rome: Visigoths granted land on southern bank of the Danube and accepted as foederati.

378: Rome: Visigoths rebelled. Battle of Adrianople, in which the Romans were defeated by the Germans, which had little immediate consequence but proved to be an enormous mental turning point: they could be defeated. The emperor Valens was killed, becoming the fourth to fall in a fight against foreigners. This would also be the good place to do the first phase of the Migrations, (the name for Central European movements 300-900), the movement of the Goths, Vandals, Franks, and other tribes, shoved by the Huns. The movement of Germanic tribes was central to this first phase and included the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Burgundians, Alans, Langobards, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Suebi, and Alamanni.

384, Rome: Stilicho, whose father was a Vandal, was appointed envoy to the court of Shapur III of Persa; he was then promoted to general and married the adopted niece of the emperor Theodosius the Great (emperor, 379-death, last Roman to rule a united Rome).

395: After this, Latin and Greek halves remained separate; permanent division into two; Christianity became state religion in 391.

410, Rome: Rome sacked and burned by Visigoths, under Alaric. Alaric had become king of the Visigoths in 395. He then tried to invade Africa but died of fever and was buried beneath the riverbed of the Busento; it was diverted, he was buried, it was redirected into his channel, and the gravediggers were put to death. See the historian Orosius and the poet Claudiun; also Jordanes.

409-414, Persia: First the king Yazdegerd makes an edict of tolerance for Christianity; then he begins a four-year campaign against Christians that gives him the nickname “the Sinner.” In 420 he is overthrown by his nobles and succeeded by his violent son Bahram V.

and turning them into literate, editor-friendly paragraphs like THIS:


Chapter Four
Migrations and Divisions
The movement of Germanic tribes into Roman land (pushed by the Huns coming through central Europe) pressures the Roman emperor into granting land south of the Danube to the Visigoths. They rebel shortly after, and the emperor Valens is killed at the Battle of Adrianoble in 378. But some “barbarians” are folded into the empire: the half-Vandal Stilicho becomes envoy to the Persian court of Shapur III, and then son-in-law of the emperor Theodosius.
Theodosius is the last to rule a united Rome. By 395 the empire has permanently split in two, and in 410 Rome itself is sacked and burned by the Visigoths under their leader Alaric. Meanwhile, the Persians are fighting a different enemy; in 410 their king Yazdegerd the Sinner begins a four-year campaign against Christians within his empire.


This is useful for me too; it forces me to identify the central narrative in each chapter before I start researching. For Volume I, I overresearched something chronic. I ended up writing something like 800,000 words (no, I’m not kidding) and then cutting it down to 240,000. This is NOT the best strategy for a writer who wishes to remain sane.

Showing 6 comments
  • Kolbi

    Just LOOK at that Triumphant Hunter Expression! What a great look on his face!

  • Sherrill

    OK, I’m trying REALLY hard not to go Watership Down on you. Before we had children, we had house rabbits and adored them. But I totally agree that they are a menace in the garden. Sigh. And your 14-yr-old looks so incredibly smug that I can’t speak against it.

    Congrats on finishing the dreaded questionnaire!

  • Jessica

    Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors! Glad no one but the rabbit got hurt.

  • JD

    Settlers of Catan? What a fantastic game! My kids are only 4 and 1 now, but one of the things I’m looking most forward to as they grow up is playing games like that with them. I applaud you on your choice of family entertainment!

    Along with history, literature, science, math, reading, etc., I wonder if strategy shouldn’t be added to a classical curriculum. 🙂

  • Anne in TN

    Now I’m going to be humming like Elmer Fudd all day….Thanks 🙂

  • Jamie Cain

    Thanks for the humor; no fear of Watership Down from me. And as a former 14-year-old boy, I can say there’s very little that’s cooler than firing a shotgun in your own backyard, particulary when you hit what you aimed for. Well done!

    About the writing/editing process: thanks for sharing this. It’s always nice to see how other writers do it (it being ‘shaping notes into readable prose). Looking forward to reading the history.

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