21 January 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 2 comments

A couple of years ago, against my better judgment, I allowed myself to be talked into doing a 45,000 word biography of George Custer for the series of Military Profiles that Brassey’s has been publishing over the course of the past several years. Brassey’s–now known as Potomac Books–came to me and asked me to do this, largely as a result of my prior work on the Michigan Cavalry Brigade, some of which dealt specifically with George A. Custer. I immediately protested, indicating that I believed that, given the tens of thousands of pages devoted to Custer’s life and untimely death, and in light of Jeff Wert’s terrific 1996 biography of Custer, there was really nothing that I could add that hasn’t already been said, and certainly nothing that I could add in such a short book. With only 45,000 words to cover an entire life–and especially a life as full as Custer’s–you certainly can’t go into any detail. At best, it’s a broad overview.

My editor at Brassey’s kept after me about it and they finally wore me down. I agreed to do it, even though I didn’t think it was a good idea. Writing it meant that I would have to spend quite a bit of money buying books to complete the research, and I did just that. It finally came time to start writing, and I had major motivational problems. The truth is that my heart was never in this one. I never wanted to do it in the first place, and to this day, I can’t justify it. I managed to eke out three chapters, and when I got those three chapters done, I was absolutely convinced that I didn’t want to finish the project since I didn’t believe I could add anything worthy of publication. So, I started finding excuses not to work on it. At that, I was quite successful. Almost any excuse was a worthy one–the dog has gas, so that means I can’t work on this. I didn’t want to do it, so I didn’t.

The thing was due for submission last month, and needless to say, I didn’t have anything to submit. I finally came clean with my editor at Brassey’s this week, and we have such a good working relationship that it wasn’t really much of a problem. I’ve been released from the contract and feel much better about things. I’ve been feeling guilty about not finishing the thing, and have been feeling badly about it, but it’s all now in the past, which is a very good. It was another difficult decision for me, as I really do value my relationship with the publisher and was very worried about how the failure to complete the project might impact it. That fear led to me to simply ignore the problem and hope it would go away, and, predictably, it didn’t.

It took an e-mail from my editor to get me to finally deal with this, and I’m now quite glad I did. There does not seem to be any negative impact on the relationship, and I’m glad that this particular problem is now off my plate. It allows me to concentrate on the projects that I really want to do, such as Ulric Dahlgren.

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  1. Dave Kelly
    Sun 22nd Jan 2006 at 10:34 am

    Example 246 on how to avoid eating spinach. ;).

    Comes under the heading of life politics. Negotiating chores when your cup runneth over and somebody wants what you really can’t give.

    Sounds like a happy resolution for both sides. I’m relieved. I’ve never read a “custer” book anyway. George always struck me as Peter Pan on a horse. He was a very useful field officer, but a little shallow for senior leadership in peacetime. (George Patton)

    I have a Custer connection. Pvt George Hunt of the 7th is the step son of a maternal relative who survived the CW and married his mother. CW tales of glory propelled this Yankee into post war service 73-78. Little cuss got courtmartialed twice for belting NCOs. (Shades of a John Ford Cav movie). Only memorabilia is his discharge papers listing 5 sinister Indian Campaigns he participated in.

  2. Sun 22nd Jan 2006 at 11:57 am


    LOL. Indeed it does.

    Funny you should make the Custer/Patton comparison–I do a talk on that subject. In some ways, it’s a pretty superficial comparison, but in some ways, it’s quite valid.

    As for your ancestor, I see now where you get your ornery streak. 🙂


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