When I wrote my first blog back in July 2011, I promised to discuss the writing life from time to time. In this posting, I will return to that theme.
Writing, it hardly need be said, can be a lonely endeavor. It is especially lonely if you are a mid-list writer, as I am. I don’t write big blockbusters that sell hundreds of thousands of copies and are optioned for movies. I sell perhaps a few thousand copies, if I am lucky, and hopefully garner generally positive reviews if my luck and skill hold out. I won’t quit my day job, in any case.
It can feel lonely to be ensconced in a room for hours at a time, hunched over a keyboard, banging out chapters that few people will ever read. Still, writers write. It’s what they do; it’s who they are.
Because I am determined to persevere in my writing career, such as it is, I am already planning for my next few books. Accordingly, here is a list of three projects I have in the works:
1. Congressional Lions: I am currently writing a book that examines influential members of Congress throughout American history to understand their role in shaping the life of the nation. Tentatively titled “Congressional Lions,” the book is organized into three distinct sections: trailblazing legislators, influential leaders, and congressional “firsts.” In Part I, trailblazing legislators were those members of Congress who sponsored or championed legislation that fundamentally affected the lives of Americans for years to come. Carter Glass, for example, is not a household name, but he greatly influenced the development of American fiscal policy. He was the principal architect of the Glass-Owen Federal Reserve Act of 1913, creating the Federal Reserve System. He also co-sponsored the U.S. Banking Act of 1933, commonly known as the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated the activities of banks and securities firms.
Trailblazing legislators need not be progressive champions. Some pioneering legislative achievements were targets of fierce criticism, but they nonetheless represented important, albeit controversial congressional milestones. Consequently, Stephen A. Douglas, author of the divisive Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, is included in the book even if the statute he authored ultimately proved to be a major precursor to the U.S. Civil War. Glass, Douglas, and the 12 other trailblazing members of Congress discussed in Part I altered the lives of Americans for generations and forever affected the history of the republic.
Part II covers effective congressional leaders—speakers of the House of Representatives as well as majority and minority leaders in both chambers. These figures were not always associated with landmark legislative achievements, but they used their leadership positions to shape the policy agenda. Their influence in Congress, for better or worse, significantly altered the trajectory of American politics and government. Examples include Thomas B. Reed and Joseph G. Cannon, two powerful House speakers whose legacies were mixed, but who undeniably exercised enormous institutional power and control.
Part III highlights public figures that did not always enjoy longevity in office or sponsor significant legislative initiatives, but they became important symbols of diversity and inclusiveness in the U.S. Congress. Hiram Rhodes Revels was the first black man elected to Congress during Reconstruction, and Oscar De Priest was the first black man elected to Congress in the post-Reconstruction epoch. Jeanette Rankin was the first woman elected to Congress. Nancy Pelosi was the first woman elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. Gerry Studds was the first openly gay member of Congress. Whatever their successes or failures as legislators, the members of Congress discussed in Part III influenced the history of the nation by virtue of their service.
The manuscript is due at the publisher, Lexington Books, later this year (2018), with publication sometime in 2019. Stay tuned.
2. Political Scandals: I have developed a book proposal to study political scandals throughout American history. Scandals have influenced politics enormously. If politics can be thought of as the art of the possible, one feature that makes political solutions possible is the support of an elected leader’s constituents. The covenant between voters and their elected representatives is that the populace will vote a person into a position of power, and the elected official will work in good faith on behalf of his or her constituents. Sometimes, however, political leaders violate the covenant and become embroiled in scandals.
A scandal is defined as an act generally regarded as morally or legally “wrong,” thereby causing public outrage. Typically, political scandals take one of two forms: sexual misconduct or corruption (such as a quid pro quo exchange of money for favors). Political scandals have become an indelible feature of the American political system since the creation of the republic more than two centuries ago. This book will examine both the most infamous scandals (e.g., Watergate and the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair) as well as more obscure episodes (e.g., the Daniel Sickles-Philip Barton Key II incident, and the Yazoo land fraud) in an effort to understand how these incidents have altered the course of American political history.
The book will include an introduction, an afterword, and 26 chapters, with 13 chapters focusing on sex scandals and 13 focusing on political corruption. I do not yet have a publisher, but I will focus on the project after I complete the Congressional Lions manuscript. Ideally, I will work on the manuscript in 2019, with publication to follow in 2020.
3. Three Episcopal Clergymen in the Reconstruction-Era South: My uncle, the Reverend Loren B. Mead, was exploring the possibility of writing a book about three Episcopal clergymen who were ardent Confederates during the Civil War, yet sought to allow blacks to join the church in the postbellum era. The clergymen were William Porcher DuBose, A. Toomer Porter, and Peter Fayssoux Stevens. Unfortunately, Loren was ill during much of 2017 and 2018. He died on May 5, 2018. Before he passed away, I agreed to act as his co-author.
After I signed onto the project, I performed preliminary research to determine if enough information existed to allow for a book-length treatment. I found a great deal of material. DuBose was one of the most prominent theologians in nineteenth century America. Numerous books and articles have been written by and about him. Porter was less well known than DuBose, but he was still a prominent figure in his own right. Aside from founding the Porter Military Academy (a forerunner of the Porter-Gaud School in Charleston) to educate orphans in South Carolina at the conclusion of the Late Unpleasantness, Porter published a voluminous autobiography in 1898. Stevens, superintendent of the Citadel and commander of the corps of cadets that fired on James Buchanan’s relief ship Star of the West in 1861, is a little more difficult to track down. I see that the Citadel has some material on him in its archives, which I have not yet explored. In addition, a lot of work has been published on the Reformed Episcopal Church of the Reconstruction era. Allen C. Guelzo, one of the greatest living historians of the Civil War and Reconstruction, has written extensively on the subject, including a 1994 book.
As soon as I get a handle on Congressional Lions and Political Scandals, I intend to develop a book proposal for Loren’s project. My projected timeline is to begin my research in 2019, with writing in 2020 and (hopefully) publication in 2021. Thus, my writing schedule is filled for at least the next three to four years.