Interview with Eric Schlehlein, author of “Black Iron Mercy”

Black Iron Mercy is your first novel.  What inspired you to write it?

I read a book about a man named Mickey Sullivan, who served with Company K of the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers during the American Civil War.  The Sixth Wisconsin was one of the regiments in the famed Iron Brigade of the Army of the Potomac.  The Iron Brigade suffered the highest percentage of casualties of any brigade during the Civil War.  Mickey spent his later days advocating for things like veteran’s rights and recognition.  He wrote a lot of pieces that corrected false histories, his motivations to make certain that history got the story correct.  I just picked up his message and became his champion in this generation.

What was the name of the book about Mr. Sullivan?

An Irishman in the Iron Brigade.

Black Iron Mercy is historical fiction, then?  How much of the storyline is reality?

My main character is a fictional man who is placed among a group of people who really existed.  Every soldier who is named and who wears the blue uniform of the Union Army was a real person, excepting my main character and one other, whom I used to convey a story without changing the personal history of a soldier.  A lot of research went into the work — ten months worth, to be exact.  I used 23 different resources to make sure I was honoring these men correctly.

How important is research to you when writing a book?

It’s everything in my genre.  I write historical fiction, so getting the facts of the underlying story and backdrops are essential to a plausible storyline.

How long did it take you to write Black Iron Mercy?

From research to publication, it took 4 ½ years.  About a year of that was spent in dormancy, where nothing was being attempted or attained.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired?

I write when I can.  My job and my family come first.  I’d like to say that I sit down and write for _____ hours every day, and on a set schedule, but I can’t.  I try to put something down every day, however, and I have word-count goals.

What are those word-count goals?

I try to shell out 800 words a day.  Some days I get 1200, others 600.  It’s okay if I don’t hit the goal.  Quality is more important than quantity.

How hard was it to sit down and actually start writing something?

Now, it’s not so difficult.  When I began the Black Iron Mercy project I found I was scared to begin, choosing to keep researching rather than find out I couldn’t write well.  I had to get over that hump.

Did you ever think you would be unable to finish your first novel?

Oh yes.  For a long time, I had daily doubts.  I doubted my ability, I doubted the plausibility, I doubted my discipline.

What, if anything, makes you grow and improve as a writer?

Reading, without a doubt.  Reading improves vocabulary and improves your work in areas like sentence structure, language, tone and cadence.

Do you have a day job other than being a writer? And do you like it?

Yes.  I’m a lieutenant on the local fire department, where I’ve been for the last 15 years.  I love my job.  It’s the first priority of my vocations.  I’m also a freelance writer, taking jobs as offered.

Does your day job ever get in the way of your writing?

All the time.  Again, the fire department is the priority.

They say books die every time they are turned into a movie; what do you think?

Ha! I wouldn’t know, but I’d be willing to find out.  Do you know a guy?

Do you read and reply to the reviews and comments of your readers?

YES!  I wish I could get more reviews and comments.  I seriously cannot get enough contact with my readers.  I am so very grateful to them for reading my book, and I love having one-on-one conversations with them.

Do you enjoy book signings?

Again, YES!  I adore my fans and love introducing new readers to my work.

How would you feel if no one showed up at your book signing?

It’s happened.  You take the good with the bad.  The publishing process, queries and rejection, steels you for some bad times.  You take it with humility and grace, and thank the hosts of the event for their time anyway.

People believe that being a published author is glamorous, is that true?

No.  Maybe it’s true for a best-selling author, but not for your average one.  Being an author is work.  In today’s world, you need to pound pavement and write a lot of letters, promoting and often marketing your own work.  It’s all worth it in the end, though.

Is it true that anyone can be a writer?

Yes.  Not everyone can be a traditionally-published author, though.

Which writer’s work do you believe most resembles your work?

I like to compare myself to Howard Bahr, who wrote a few novels about the Civil War from the Confederate viewpoint, including The Year of Jubilo, The Black Flower, and The Judas Field.

Any advice you would like to give to aspiring writers?

Research the publishing industry before you begin.  You’ll need to jump through the hoops, so to speak.  From the research point all the way through to production, you’ll need to understand the industry to have a chance.  Learn about literary agents, publishers, including the big names and the small presses.  If you don’t prove to these people that you understand their territory you’ll be rejected before your material is even seen.

Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?

My next project is also a civil war novel with a touch of paranormal in it. I’d say it’s like The Killer Angels meets The twilight Zone.

When can the readers expect your next book in print?

I’m hoping it’s ready for publication by September of 2017.

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