Greetings from Marti Pieper in lovely Seneca, South Carolina, where April showers came in March this year! No April Fools here today as I introduce author, editor, and friend Dr. Craig von Buseck! Craig and I first met at the Florida Christian Writers Conference a number of years ago and have renewed our acquaintance at various conferences along the way. I know you’ll enjoy hearing from him.
Welcome, Craig! Please tell us about your featured book.
In the greatest victory of his life, Ulysses S. Grant overcame financial collapse and throat cancer to write an American classic and to care for his wife after his death. Read this inspiring true story in Victor! The Final Battle of Ulysses S. Grant, from Dr. Craig von Buseck.
I know you have a deep interest in history, but what inspired you to write this book?
My interest in the final two years in the life of Ulysses S. Grant began sometime in the 1990s when I first viewed The Civil War by Ken Burns. Living in Virginia during those years, I began a tradition of visiting Civil War battlefields and museums that continues to this day. I am grateful to the amazing battlefield guides and expert staff at the numerous museums, national parks, and historical sites I have visited since that time. Check out the list of the historic sites I visited while doing research for Victor!
And what do you hope readers will take away from this book?
In the midst of the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant emerged to guide the United States first to victory and then to the beginnings of reconciliation. As president, he called for renewed good will among his fellow Americans, declaring, “Let Us Have Peace.”
As incredible as these events were, perhaps the most dramatic season in Grant’s life came in his final two years. After leaving the White House, he lost all his money in a massive Ponzi scheme. Only months later, he was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. Without income and facing a painful death, Grant teamed with his friend and publisher Mark Twain to write his personal memoirs in an attempt to restore his family’s fortune. He finished the book four days before his death. Twain published the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant later that year. In the end, the book made $450,000 for Julia Grant—the equivalent of more than $10 million today, securing her future and restoring the Grant family fortune.
In this amazing act of selflessness and love, Grant restored his family’s fortune. At the same time, he fought the growing “Lost Cause” school of historical thought, which argued that the Civil War was about state’s rights and not about slavery. On both counts, Grant triumphed as a result of his courage, his perseverance, his strong family bonds, his education, and his faith in God. I believe he is a role model for our times—and for all time.
So inspiring! What’s your favorite scene in this book?
There are many amazing and moving scenes in this book, but one encounter between Julia and Ulysses poignantly shows their affection for each other—a glimpse into a love affair that lasted their entire life. After his tremendous victory at Vicksburg, Ulysses was being spoken of as a future presidential candidate, Julia Grant realized that she too was becoming something of a public figure. Suddenly self-conscious of her strabismus—the condition of crossed eyes that she had from birth—Julia consulted an old medical acquaintance to see if surgery could correct the problem.
“I had often been urged in my girlhood by Dr. [Charles A.] Pope, the most distinguished surgeon in the country at that time, to permit him to make a very simple operation on my eyes,” Julia explained. “I had never had the courage to consent, but now that my husband had become so famous I really thought it behooved me to try to look as well as possible. So I consulted the Doctor on this, to me, most delicate subject, but alas! he told me it was too late.”
Ulysses was surprised when Julia gave him this news. “What in the world put such a thought in your head, Julia?”
“Why, you are getting to be such a great man,” Julia responded, “and I am such a plain little wife. I thought if my eyes were as others are I might not be so very, very plain. . . .”
Ulysses drew Julia to himself and said gently, “Did I not see you and fall in love with you with these same eyes? I like them just as they are, and now, remember, you are not to interfere with them. They are mine, and let me tell you, Mrs. Grant, you had better not make any experiments, as I might not like you half so well with any other eyes.”
I love that! When did you first recognize God’s call to write for Him?
When I was a senior in high school, the members of our church youth group sat in the balcony during the services. As I sat there listening to the pastor’s sermons, I often could see the biblical events in my mind’s eye as though I were watching a movie. That was the beginning of my calling to share God’s message through media. I started my writing career as a songwriter for a Christian band I traveled with. My desire to write grew as I penned op-eds for the newspaper, articles for the church newsletter, and worship songs for my church praise team.
My desire to write continued to grow, and so after entering seminary at Regent University, I enrolled in a class called ‘The Craft of Good Writing,” taught by Bob Slosser, a former New York Times reporter and former president of Regent University. Bob exhorted his students to make an impact with our craft. “Don’t just make writing a career or a hobby,” he implored. “Make writing your ministry.”
I set an appointment to speak with Bob about switching to a joint degree program between journalism and divinity. His response was like a prophetic word to my heart.
“There are a lot of right-thinking pastors out there (meaning biblically-thinking),” he said with a gentle passion. “There are a lot of right-thinking missionaries and Bible school professors,” Bob continued. “But there are NOT a lot of right-thinking writers and communicators. If this is what you believe God is telling you to do, I want to support it however I can.”
I enrolled in the program, started writing nearly every day, and I have never looked back.
That sounds so similar to my own seminary training. Tell us about your most touching moment with a reader.
One of my most touching moments turned into an event that affected my writing career and will remain with me for the remainder of my days. After reading my book Nobody Knows: The Harry T. Burleigh Story—a narrative biography of one of our first great African-American composers—bestselling author Eric Metaxas wrote this kind endorsement:
“I’m thrilled that the historical and important story of the legendary Harry Burleigh is finally being told! That he was, for fifty-two years, a member and celebrated soloist at the very church I attend here in New York City makes it all the more extraordinary. Hats off to Craig von Buseck for his tremendous research and work!”
Not only did Eric attend Burleigh’s church, St. George’s Episcopal in Manhattan, but he was an elder at the time. Burleigh was handpicked to be the baritone soloist by a committee that included the pastor, the choir director, and J. P. Morgan, who was also an elder at this prestigious church. Burleigh was not just the first Black soloist at the church, but he was also the first African-American to ever attend St. George’s. Burleigh remained a soloist at St. George’s until his retirement 52 years later—becoming a legend in the process.
When Eric heard I was writing a narrative biography of Burleigh’s life, he arranged for us to hold the book release party at the very church where Harry served for half a century. Working with my publisher, Baker Books, and the musical director, Kamel Boutros, we organized an amazing evening that included dramatic readings from the book, performances of Burleigh’s music by a string quartet, interpretive dances set to Burleigh’s songs by Lisa Attles of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the unveiling of my father’s portrait of Harry T. Burleigh.
It was the most touching event of my writing career, thanks to Eric Metaxas and Harry T. Burleigh.
A night to remember indeed! Now, switching gears: Everyone struggles with time management in our 24/7 world. How do you stay disciplined and meet your deadlines?
Over the years I’ve discovered that I do my best writing first thing in the morning. To take advantage of this, I’ve readjusted my natural body clock so I can get up early and write for two hours before I have to leave for my day job. To do this, I had to give up some of the things I used to do, like watching TV and news late at night. In time, my body adjusted to this new schedule, and now I get sleepy much earlier in the evening, which allows me to wake up much earlier in the morning. My productivity has increased tremendously as a result of this regimen.
In addition, I have cut way back on my television viewing. Years ago I used to have favorite shows that I followed and I tuned in weekly for those programs. Now, I will do a little writing after work—especially if I’m under a deadline—but the evening is often spent doing marketing or other writing or speaking-related business. Then, around 8 p.m., I will put on either a documentary, a movie, or a TV show that I am binging at the time, or I will pull out a good book to relax. The digital revolution allows me to better schedule my time and watch what I want, when I want.
I typically take Friday night off to see a movie or hang out with friends. I use my Saturday to write or work on writing or speaking business. I’m currently using my Saturday to record my work as audio books. Then I try to set aside Sunday for worship, family, and rest.
I wasn’t able to have this kind of schedule years ago when I was raising my three kids. But now that they are grown, I have much more time to write. I still take one weekend a month out to just do something fun or interesting—unless, again, I’m under a deadline.
That’s such a great example of self-discipline, Craig. What are your hobbies or activities or passions outside of writing?
I love to spend time with my three adult kids—and now my soon-to-be daughter-in-law. I love to hike, and I enjoy finding new places to hike. I love history, so I enjoy going to museums, historical sights, battlefields, and archives. I enjoy the research process of getting deep into a subject by reading books, watching YouTube videos, going to their historic sites, and learning about them from experts, eyewitnesses, and museums. I am also a big movie fan; I watch a lot of movies, and my kids and I enjoy quoting certain great lines from classic movies.
That’s great. Now, tell us about your next project.
The companion to the Victor! biography will be released in late May: Forward! The Leadership Principles of Ulysses S. Grant. Also, my son, Aaron, and I have been working on a film adaptation of Victor! I believe the tale of Grant fighting back from bankruptcy and racing against death from throat cancer to write his memoirs and restore his family’s financial stability is one of the most heroic and inspiring true stories in American history—and it will make a great movie!
Thanks so much for sharing with us today. You’ve already taught me more about Ulysses S. Grant than I knew before, and I know our readers have learned as well.
For His glory,