My ECW Story: Sarah Kay Bierle

Continuing our series, this month we have ECW Managing Editor, Sarah Bierle…

ECW: Tell us about yourself. Where are you from? What do you do? How did you become interested in the Civil War?

Sarah Kay Bierle

SKB: Hi, I’m originally from California—born, raised, and resided there for a quarter century! Now, I live in Virginia with four battlefields in my “backyard.” I’m employed at Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, working on battlefield preservation and research at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House. My interest in the Civil War started when I was eight years old because the illustrations of the ladies’ beautiful dresses, then I found “heroes” and military history, and the learning paths were set. (Although I eventually quit the hero-worship aspect.)

 

ECW: How long have you been involved with Emerging Civil War? How did you get your foot in the door?

SKB: My first guest author blog post for ECW published on May 8, 2015, after about three rounds of revisions. I found ECW and had been reading the blog for about a year before I submitted a post. The guys invited me to guest post a few more times and then to become a member in December of that year. From there, I just got involved as much as I could long-distance (still in California at that point). Working on the editorial committee was a lot of fun, then Dan Davis invited me to co-manage the blog with him; when Dan went on to new heights in his career in 2018, I became managing editor and still help-out in that role today.

ECW: Do you remember your first article with Emerging Civil War? What made you want to contribute?

SKB: Yes, of course. It was an article about Captain Hugh McGuire of the 11th Virginia Cavalry. I really wanted to share the research I had started on his life and death on a larger platform. It took multiple rounds of revisions and now it’s NOT my favorite piece that I’ve ever written. But we all start somewhere and that was the beginning of my boot-camp to learn not to fictionize and to cite EVERYTHING when writing non-fiction.

sarah bierle_gettysburg_21ECW: You’re another one who wears many hats around here. What are your day-to-day/week-to-week duties with Emerging Civil War?

SKB: Ummm…well…emails, schedule, formatting almost daily, and long-range blog planning. Maybe I can just walk you through a typical week’s list of things that happen in an hour or two each evening:

Monday – usually the first half of the week’s blog schedule is set or at least prepped, so this day is good for catching up on weekend emails and getting ahead on my own writing or special ECW projects

Tuesday – similar to Monday; making sure there’s a Symposium Spotlight “in the hopper” for the next morning; if we’re doing a special series, I’ll spend extra time on communication and planning at this point.

Wednesday – start looking ahead at the weekend blog schedule; collecting material for the weekender, Saving History Saturday

Thursday – write (or schedule) the Weekender for Friday; possibly get a head start on the weekend writing

Friday – write (or schedule) Saving History Saturday; usually a lighter night of work so I wrap up my ECW stuff earlier than usual and get to start my personal weekend.

Saturday – I don’t usually answer emails on the weekend, but I’ll usually check in on the blog and typically prep the Question of the Week and start scheduling for the first half of the coming week.

Sunday – I like to get up early, listen to music, and write up Week in Review over breakfast/brunch before heading to church; occasionally a board meeting or committee meeting night.

ECW: What do you find so fulfilling about your work with Emerging Civil War?

SKB: I really enjoy seeing new writers “emerge.” I’ve had so many opportunities start because of ECW, so I hope I can give back.

ECW: This is your first year serving as Co-Chair of the upcoming ECW Symposium. How many symposiums have you attended? Why would you encourage everyone to attend a symposium?

SKB: I’ve attended 3 ECW Symposiums (2016, 2018, 2019) and two ECW filming days during the pandemic months. The Symposiums can be more than a history conference, if you wish! There are great opportunities to network and chat with other researchers, tour guides, writers, social media gurus, and others with special areas of expertise. I really enjoy the casual moments and visiting with attendees during the Friday reception, Saturday night hang-out, or during the Sunday tour. And, of course, there’s always lots to learn during the presentations and tours.

ECW: How has your involvement with ECW made a difference in your Civil War career? Has ECW furthered your interest, or opened up any new avenues of research/writing/work for you?

SKB: Emerging Civil War has made a huge difference in my life and career. I’ve made friends who understand my history jokes and friends who I’ve called for advice in challenging moments. Some of the professional networking that led to my current job at Central Virginia Battlefields Trust happened at the 2019 Symposium. ECW pulled me into the world of writing non-fiction and it has been a huge and positive change with many new opportunities from publishers on the horizons. I’ll always be grateful that the guys decided to take a chance and helped to train me to do better research, writing, and speaking.

ECW: What was it like moving from California to Central Virginia? You literally have battlefields in your backyard!

SKB: It felt crazy at the time, but also it’s been one of the best adventures I’ve ever had. With the pandemic last year, 2020 was very different than I thought it would be, but I was blessed to have good places to walk and friends to social distance with on the back porches. Yes, I still get excited chills when I say “oh, I have to drive into Fredericksburg.” Driving around the county is like driving through a history book—“now this intersection is where the snowball battle happened. And over there was Longstreet’s headquarters. And Chamberlain…” It’s sobering, too. Realizing how many men never came home from these fields. I’m not sure I was prepared to really have that on my mind as much as it has been in the last year, but I wouldn’t trade what I’ve learned even in sad moments of 2020.

ECW: What advice would you give to someone who is looking to become involved in Public History or Civil War History?

SKB: Read a lot! Get involved in a good network of friends and colleagues. Definitely be around people who know more than you and listen, listen, listen, and then ask questions. I think this should happen at every stage of learning and career. Figure out ways to interact with and observe the public, even if it’s just regularly reading comments on social media or standing in the background at a museum or history event to watch and listen. I do this to hear/see the thought patterns, find myths that might need addressing, and try to figure out the “pulse” of history in the public setting.

ECW: I understand you have a few projects in the works. Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

SKB: I’m working on a biography for the ECW Series about Major John Pelham; it’s been delayed by closed libraries, but still in progress. There’s also something in the works focusing on Chancellorsville that will be outside the ECW brand. Anything else is still top secret, but let’s just say…I have research files…

ECW: You also have several historical fiction books to your credit. Do you see any more  fiction books or novels in your future?

SKB: I hope so! I’ve had three published to date. I’m very slowly writing another now, with several others on the outline boards. There are only so many hours in the day and—for better or worse—fiction is often the thing I’ve chosen to let slide far down on the priority list at the moment. There are thoughts and deep feelings that can be explored appropriately in fiction that just don’t fit in the nonfiction field; it’s been interesting to explore that aspect of fiction as time allows and see my overall writing style evolve further.

 

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