BRUNSWICK — From the statue across from his old house at the corner of Potter and Maine streets, to the town’s most popular watering hole, the legacy of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is alive.
But local business owner, teacher and author Matthew Cost does not think remembering names and dates is always the best way to honor history.
Instead, he said in an interview Tuesday, fiction can “make it more real.”
Cost has recently published a historical novel about the Civil War general, “Joshua Chamberlain and the Civil War: At Every Hazard.” The book, in his words, tells the story of one the war’s “genuine heroes, a college professor with no formal military training who, together with a small company of men, turned the tide of the battle and the war with a bayonet charge at Gettysburg.”
The novel is the culmination of six years of work. Cost said he got the idea for the book while teaching U.S. history at Brunswick Junior High School.
In the classroom, he realized that to some people, “most nonfiction history is boring.” But historical fiction, he argues, “is a way to fool people into learning about history.”
Cost said he spent three or four years just reading about and researching Chamberlain, and then two years writing the book. He took a sabbatical from BJHS last year to finish the book.
The novel, he said, is guided by a personal philosophy of what historical fiction should be.
“Fiction … is how much imagination an author has with reality,” he said. And that reality “is very historically accurate.”
For example, for a scene in the book describing Washington, D.C., in 1863, Cost said he read “several books about Washington, D.C., from 1863-65.”
To describe what was on the marquee of a theater then, he dug up old newspaper advertisements from the time. “Ads back then were a beautiful thing,” he said.
What nonfiction can’t do, he said, “is fill in dialogue, fill in emotions and thoughts … (it can’t) humanize or fill out the skeleton of the event in the past.”
The book, published in April, has received some positive reviews from Civil War News Book Review and Kirkus Review. The review from Kirkus has especially helped his sales, Cost said.
The novel is selling well on Amazon.com, and in Maine bookstores. Cost also said libraries started to buy the book after the review in Kirkus came out.
The book is doing so well, he said, that he’s decided to double down and start another book.
Besides teaching junior high, over the years Cost has owned businesses in Brunswick, including Matt & Dave’s Video Venture and the Cellar of Fitness.
But he’s now writing full time. The new book, he said, will be about the Cuban Revolution, and the hero will be Fidel Castro.
“Joshua and Fidel are both fascinating men,” he said. “And they’re both very complicated.”
He hopes to travel to Cuba sometime this year to do on-the-ground research like he did for the Chamberlain book. Before and during his work on “Joshua Chamberlain and the Civil War,” Cost said he went to Gettysburg six times.
He said it was easy to go back in time when he was standing on top of Little Round Top, where Chamberlain led his famous charge.
“If you stand on Little Round Top … as the sun is starting to fall, you can still feel it,” he said. “The hair on the back of your neck will stand up.”
“History,” he added, “is the greatest story ever told.”
Matthew Cost of Brunswick has written a new historical novel about Civil War Gen. Joshua Chamberlain.