When I first decided to write a book the question became, what to write about. I’d always envisioned writing fantasy, being originally inspired by Tolkien (still my favorite.) But when it came down to it, the idea of inventing an entirely new, unique world was daunting.
But I also loved historical fiction, and that tied in well with my interest in, and knowledge of, politics and history. I liked the idea of a world and time period that already existed, with all it’s major events, personalities, geography, technology, dress, etc. already laid out for you and well-documented. The challenge was then to create the right characters and plot and weave them into the real events of the chosen time and place. This would involve more work in the form of research (in my opinion if you are going to write historical fiction you MUST get the history part right!) but less in the form of creating your own world from whole cloth.
I remembered growing up and visiting my Grandma Pember (on my Mom’s side) who’d been a high school history teacher and had a room full of history books. The majority of these were on the Civil War, and perusing her library I became very familiar with the major characters and events; Lincoln and Davis, Grant and Lee, Gettysburg and Appomattox. I’d also always liked the thought of how West Virginia became a state by splitting from Virginia in order to re-join the Union after the secession (though I’d never studied it in depth.) I figured there must be a fascinating story behind how that happened! And then my Mom reminded me that my Aunt Gay (her sister) was also a retired history teacher, and had recently finished a long stint on the local school board and might be looking for something to do … (hmm!)
And though I considered other time periods and events (World War II being one of my favorites – look for a future series based in that world – possibly featuring a descendant of Nathan Chambers!), I kept coming back to the Civil War / West Virginia concept. I started thinking about several themes that might be woven into the book:
How would a man of good conscience, morally opposed to slavery, react to suddenly inheriting a fortune dependent upon the institution of slavery?
How would the slaves react to this new and entirely unexpected type of master?
How would a pro-Union, former army officer react to the Virginia secession (think Robert E. Lee in reverse)?
What tremendous advantage would a group of soldiers with experience fighting Indians out West have if they happened to be back East just as the Civil War broke out, and they were faced with enemies many of whom had never fired a rifle? And what further advantage if they brought a highly skilled allied Indian scout along with them?
What would the relationship be like between men with no particular interest in slavery (the soldiers from out West) and the slaves? And between both groups and the original white farm hands who’d been raised under the "peculiar institution."
And finally, what would this world be like for a strong-willed, take-charge woman who wasn’t content to just be somebody’s wife? What would she do to satisfy those needs in a society that expected (and insisted upon) just the opposite? The inspiration for this one comes from being surrounded by that kind of women, especially my wife Patricia (runs her own software company), and my daughter Rachel (a midwife and now owner of a popular local restaurant.) I should also give a shout out to my two sons, Nick and Josh who are more interested in (and have given me ideas about) the military and fighting aspects of the story.