A Chapman is literally and historically a peddler, often of books as well as other trifles. That is how we began anyway, and I have been continuing the tradition. The first popular books for public consumption were chapbooks. Today we would call them pamphlets or paperbacks. One of my favorite Seventeenth Century chapbooks, held in the Lowenbach Collection in Chicago when I was the curator, was titled “Cures for the Plague,” and of course none of the cures would have worked.
One of the advantages of travelling around the country peddling my books is finding out where I have made mistakes in writing them. This has got to be as true when a person writes historical fiction as when writing legitimate history, if that person is concerned about getting as close to the truth as possible, both in telling a good story and in telling an accurate one.
I have known that the stories I have written in my retirement years have been about histories that will never be totally accurate, but are important nonetheless. I have tried to write my father’s early life stories so that they would be interesting and faithful to his spirit, my son-in-law’s and his brother’s emigration from Vietnam and Cambodia so that the stories would honor the ancestors who made their lives possible, and my wife’s Cherokee ancestry so that more contemporary people would appreciate the real sacrifices that have been made in building our country and the values that we should try to serve, even when they have not been served well in the past.
Talking to other people who know some of these backgrounds can be humbling. The soldier who served in Vietnam told me that he doesn’t want to listen to someone who wasn’t there, and he doesn’t want to hear the stories of his enemies, and I can understand his reasons. The family member doesn’t want to have the privacy of her dear deceased grandparents invaded, and I sympathize with that motivation as well, although our grandparents had nothing to be ashamed of and much to make them proud. The active member of the Cherokee Nation doesn’t need another white man making money off of his people. I can only reassure him that I am not making any money.
I am learning and correcting as I go. I am finding out much that I could not have if I had not published. I am discovering that it is good to write on matters in which you have little prior knowledge or experience, because you begin to fill the holes in your own ignorance.