Interview: Terry Johnston, “Civil War Monitor”

21 09 2011

Terry Johnston and I have never met, but we’ve been corresponding and talking on the phone for at least a couple of years. Terry was instrumental in publishing my first ever Civil War writing to appear in print, a long letter to the editor that ran in an issue of North & South magazine a few years back. Over  a year ago Terry called me about an idea for a new American Civil War publication he was considering. At the time, it was nothing more than a vague notion – at least, it seemed that way to me. But after a few phone calls it started to flesh out. Terry didn’t just pick my brain – he talked to a lot of folks and you may have run across a few announcements to that effect already on the web (see here and here, for example). At long last, everything’s set to hit the fan. I received a copy of the new magazine last week, and it looks great. At left is the cover of the premier issue. But the project is more than a print magazine: Terry has integrated a strong web presence into the whole enterprise. Rather than tell you what I think it’s all about, I thought it better for you to hear from the source. In the interest of full disclosure, I appear on the masthead of the magazine as a digital history advisor, and will also contribute to the magazine’s website periodically.

BR: Terry, while I’m sure most of my readers are familiar with your work, can you tell them a little bit about yourself?

TJ: Well, I’m a native of New Jersey. I received my B.A. from Tufts University and my M.A. (history) from Clemson University. I’m also, at long last, nearing completion of my Ph.D. in history—my dissertation focuses on Irish immigrants who served in the Union army. I’ve written a few articles and one book, Him on the One Side and Me on the Other, an edited collection of the wartime letters of two Scottish-born brothers who fought on opposite sides [see extracts here]. I also spent eight years (between 1999 and 2007) on the editorial staff of North & South magazine, the last two as lead editor.

BR: What got you interested in Civil War history?

TJ: Basically, it was a children’s book on Abraham Lincoln. When I was a kid, my mother, a former high school English teacher, was so determined to get my sister and me to read that she’d excuse us from minor chores whenever we would sit down with a book. On one such occasion, the book I picked up was something called Meet Abraham Lincoln. And I was hooked. So, technically, it is true when I say that I became a Civil War enthusiast to avoid taking out the trash.

BR: So tell us about The Civil War Monitor.

TJ: In a nutshell, it’s a new quarterly magazine, the first issue of which will hit the newsstand toward the end of the month (9/27, to be specific). Our tag line is A New Look at America’s Greatest Conflict, which to us means we intend to provide our readers with well-written and engaging articles that either break new ground or cover well-known topics with a fresh slant. To help accomplish this, we’ve gathered together a terrific team of editorial advisors (with the exception, perhaps, of one fellow with the initials HS) and a battery of top authors, all of whom are well in tune with the latest avenues of Civil War scholarship.

BR: There are at least four other Civil War focused periodicals out there today. What will set CWM apart?

TJ: A number of things, we hope. For one, we’re excited about the magazine’s look. Our art director, Patrick Mitchell (www.plutomedia.com), a veteran designer of several nationally renowned publications, has brought his unique vision to the project. And frankly we’ve been blown away by the results, which I think stylistically might best be described as a perfect blend of old and new. Beyond appearance, we believe our content is of the kind you won’t find in the other Civil War magazines. This is not to say that everything we intend to do isn’t being done, in some fashion, in the other magazines—like footnoting articles, for instance. But in other respects, we will be offering—or delivering—content in ways our competitors do not. Take our book section, for example. We have no intention of publishing the cursory reviews that are regularly found elsewhere (you know, those 200-word appraisals of 600-page books that invariably conclude with some version of the sentence, “These faults aside, this is a book that should find its way onto the shelf of every Civil War buff”). Instead, our book section will consist of a rotating lineup of bookish columns. In our premier issue, these are: Russell McClintock’s take on the essential readings on the coming of the war; Robert K. Krick’s musings on recent battle books; and Steven H. Newton’s reflections on the various books that influenced his interest in, and writing on, the Civil War.

Another way in which we’ll be delivering content is through our website (www.civilwarmonitor.com), something we’re equally excited about. Visitors will find a variety of free material there, including regular photo essays and our two blogs: The Front Line (www.civilwarmonitor.com/front-line), where a diverse lineup of scholars, public historians, and talented buffs will post on a wide array of Civil War subjects; and The Bookshelf (www.civilwarmonitor.com/book-shelf), our blog devoted to author interviews and clear, insightful, and substantive reviews of recently released books (the kind we like). Lastly, we’re also producing a digital edition of the magazine for our subscribers, viewable at our website, so that they’ll be able to read The Civil War Monitor online whenever they’d like.

In short, we truly believe that our coverage—in breadth, depth, and style, both in the magazine and on our website—goes beyond what you can get from the other popular magazines.

BR: Two blogs? Hmmm…not sure how to feel about that! How else can we follow CWM?

TJ: Facebook (www.facebook.com/CivilWarMonitor) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/#!/civilwarmonitor), of course! Our social media guru, Laura Davis, is a grizzled veteran of both, and while I must admit I’ve been learning about it all as I go, I’m starting to see the possibilities they offer for presenting Civil War history to a new generation of enthusiasts.

As far as I’m concerned, we can never have too many outlets for good Civil War writing. From the looks of the first issue, Terry is off to a great start.








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