The untitled work that I’ve been slogging through the last three years continues to morph as I try to figure out just what it is I’m trying to write. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done real research… I knew starting out I wanted the book to be set in Ohio, and I did a lot of research about Ripley as an Underground Railroad hotbed until I burned myself on all the sad stories of escaping slaves.
I didn’t want to write about Ripley, OH anymore, despite the rich history. I wanted to learn more about my city, Columbus.
So I switched my location from Ripley to Columbus in general… but back during the Civil War, Columbus was much more spread out and disconnected than it is today. Clintonville, Westerville, Grove City… they weren’t suburbs, though perhaps still part of Greater Columbus, they were areas in their own right.
I knew I wanted to write something referencing Camp Chase. What’s left of the Union barracks turned Confederate prison camp consists of the largest Confederate cemetery north of the Confederacy itself. Isn’t that fascinating by itself?
I didn’t want to write about the sad and scary conditions of the prison itself. I wanted to learn about what happened to those men after the war ended, after Lincoln was assassinated. And how did that effect people living in Columbus?
Bust mostly, it’s becoming clear to me I want to write something fun and escapist. This has been a challenge for me, because I’ve had some personal issues the last couple years which make it difficult for me to keep spirits high consistently. How would I write cheeky characters if I didn’t feel cheeky myself?
Is this what happens when a teenage writer grows up? She loses her “I don’t care, I do what I want and I’ll be funny while doing it” attitude?
I was trying to research Clintonville, OH because it’s near where I live and I figured, hey, it should be easy to find information online as a start, and then hit the libraries for in-depth research. No such luck! I couldn’t find anything very helpful about Clintonville.
On my birthday, however, The Boy took me to tour historic Grove City. This is an area south of Columbus, and has been teased over my years in Columbus as “Grove-tucky.” Ohioans have this thing for making fun of people from Kentucky; I don’t get it, I guess it’s because it’s south of us and oh, by the way, Kentucky didn’t ratify the 13th, 14th, or 15th Amendments until 1975? Your guess is as good as mine.
The fact is, Grove city has a lot of historical pride. An art gallery is housed in the first bank (1st floor) and telephone (2nd floor) building. A number of shops are in the old Gantz mill. History was within reach, and I was able to walk on floorboards and peek into old safes that might have been around during the time I’m trying to write about.
If I’m intending to write about a prisoner of Camp Chase who manages to escape before the prisoners were set free as a whole, then it would make more sense for him to escape south to Grove City, rather than north to Clintonville, wouldn’t it? Oh logic, how thee loves to play with mine heart. Anyway, Grove City has a pretty cool genealogical section in their library, which is how I took the photo of the image in this post. I haven’t had a chance to drive to Grove City in about two weeks, so I’m hoping to get there soon to continue research.
So yes. I’m writing a book that is set in Grove City, for now. I think this could work. I’ve already gotten some anectdotal stories about people’s reactions to Lincoln being re-elected, etc. Oh, the possibilities!
With the restart of the latest WIP, I’ve been using Evernote to collect research about living in 1864 Columbus, OH during and right after Lincoln’s death. As convenient as it is, I kinda miss the old way of doing research.
Once upon a time, I ran to the library to grab all the books on a topic. I filled paper journals with notes to reference when I couldn’t remember a clothing detail etc. It got a bit unwieldy the more mobile my life became. I have a bin of research for Catching the Rose, which I wrote back in high school, so my research methods weren’t quite so methodical and clean. I filled two paper journals of notes for Haunting Miss Trentwood, covering transportation, clothing, the rise of the “independent woman” in 1880s England, and even English law.
For this new untitled Work-in-progress, I’m trying something different: Evernote.
Evernote is nice because it allows me to “clip” interesting paragraphs, images, and other online research. It captures the URL for me, so I can go back and build my bibliography without fear of missing something. And, best of all, it provides tagging and searching capabilities! When I’m trying to remember just who tried to bust all those Confederates out of the Lake Erie-based Johnson’s Island prison, I can do it easily.
So it works for my mobile life of bouncing around town writing in different locations per my schedule and availability. I can look something up on my phone, which is awesome, but actual collecting of materials is best on a laptop. And it’s making a sorted bibliography super easy to create!
I’ll try to do a better job sharing some of the things I’ve been learning, whether that particular research detail makes it into the book or not. In terms of progress, I’ve written two-and-a-half chapters and it’s felt like pulling teeth, but at least it’s progress!
When you’re in school in the States, it’s really easy to make it seem as though the Civil War was Yankees vs Rebels, North vs South, Unionists vs Confederates, Abolitionists vs Slaveholders. As if Yankee = North = Unionist = Abolitionist and Rebel = South = Confederate = Slaveholder. Without question.
It’s only after doing a (very little) bit of digging that I’ve realized this is not the case at all. You could be a slaveholding Unionist, i.e. supporting the federal Union that made the USA government. You could be a Confederate abolitionist, i.e. someone who supported state rights but disagreed with slavery. And on and on. It’s a fascinating mess.
Anyway, The New York Times is continuing its great series about the Civil War, chronicling the four years on its 150th anniversary. Today it’s a great article about Kentucky during the Civil War, this time about a staunch Unionist family who also happened to be slaveholders.
Though the Underwoods, like Kentucky, stayed loyal, their staunch Unionism made them outsiders at home. Josie’s father campaigned across the state for peace, leading to charges that he was under the sway of “Lovejoy and the abolitionists” and thus not a “consistent Southerner.” Crowds of secessionists shouted “hurrah for Jeff Davis” at trains passing through town on the L and N. “Every man on that train will think Bowling Green is Rebel — when she’s Union,” Josie lamented, “though the Union sentiment is much the greatest in Kentucky, the Rebels have so many rowdies they make the most noise.”
Make sure you read the entire article. It is certainly eye-opening and great material for The Rebel’s Touch, since Tempest is a slaveholding Unionist.
Honestly, the more I read about the Civil War, even though I’m focusing on one year around the Ohio River at Ripley and across the river in Kentucky… I keep learning so much. It is a real struggle to know what to include in the book and what to keep out. Which real people to I add as supporting characters, and why? How does it support the story of a man trying to regain his memory during a tumultuous time in history? My brain hurts just thinking about it. Goodness, why do I have to make everything so difficult…
I have been beyond busy practicing for a local swing dance/lindy hop team competition, which is exhausting, thrilling, stressful… but we won first place, so all the hard work was worth it! It would have been worth it had we not won, I became close to some really amazing people, but winning… yeah. It was indescribable. I might have almost started crying.
In other news, I just found this awesome website called Old Maps Online, via Flowing Data.
So of course, I had to look up Ripley, OH where The Rebel’s Touch is supposed to be located. They don’t have a specific Ripley map form 1860 – 1865, but they do have a map of Ohio and Indiana linked, which is pretty freaking awesome. And! A map of Kentucky and Tennessee (because Tempest is actually from Kentucky).
Now that the competition preparations are over, I have more time to read and write. I am dipping my toes into The Rebel’s Touch again, trying not to feel like a total loser for not writing for three months and for feeling completely stuck at where I did stop.
Rather than picking up the story right where I left it, last night I let my mind wander and wrote a scene that would happen a couple chapters after the current written point. The scene is internal, Tempest thinking about Daniel and how her feelings might be starting to change but she has no idea how he would react…
Not gonna lie, writing the scene almost made me cry. Sometimes there is nothing worse than the not-knowing, the wondering, the too-scared-to-ask-and-ruin-a-good-thing. Happens all the time in real life, happens in fiction, too. Heartbreak via silence is a tough thing to handle. Not sure if you have experienced it, but believe me, it’s no fun. But boy is it a great thing to draw inspiration from to write about!
I have stumbled upon an amazing discovery where a letter from a former slave to their former master’s request to “return home” has surfaced in blog format. This is such a great find for me as I continue to do research for The Rebel’s Touch, and I wanted to share the experience with you. Below is the first paragraph. So fantastic.
August 7, 1865
To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee
Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance…
We have some housekeeping to do here at the blog, namely that we had a contest with Sean MCartney’s book in the Treasure Hunters series. We had a number of submissions, and the winner is…
da dah-dah-dah DAH dah-dah DAH…
Judy Cox, commenter numero tres! The winner was selected using the Random.Org number generator. There were six commenters expressing interest in the book, and the generator returned the number three. So there you have my transparent, incredibly technical process for determining contest winners. I will email the winner and author later.
Those of you who didn’t win a copy of the book, I highly suggest you buy a copy anyway.
In other news, I wrote lots of words last week. Somewhere over three thousand, I think, which has left me feeling pretty good. I have this method where as I’m writing a chapter, I just force it out. Then I leave it for a day or so only to re-read that chapter with historical facts and figures, as well as all of my senses on high alert.
You see, when I write a first draft, I do a lot of telling. A lot. The second time through ensures that I’m delving into the minds and emotions of the characters. I start to describe smells, scents, sounds. I become my own editor, asking why and what does this mean?
In doing so, I will expand a 750 word chapter into a 3000 word chapter, which means I will most likely split it into two chapters.
So there you go. That is my secret. Turns out I’m not a magician after all.
Historical fact of the week!
I often find it interesting (and a bit disturbing) how many southerners hold close to their heart this hope that the “South will rise again!” Though the events of the Civil War occurred 150 years ago, the memory and impact are very much alive today, but moreso in the south, or so it seems to me.
My theory behind this phenomenon is because 1. the Confederacy lost to the Union and 2. the Union did its best to destroy the spirit of the Confederacy. You see, everyone loves the underdog. And there wasn’t a bigger underdog than the Confederacy.
People seem to forget, however, that the Confederacy had some major wins of their own when it comes to scaring the pants off Union civilians.
Brigadier General Morgan, a Confederate, did enter the Union during the war in 1863. He cut a swatch with his raiders starting in Tennessee, up through his home state of Kentucky, further still into southern Indiana, and into Ohio along the Ohio River. He got as far north as Salineville, which is around 90mi south of Cleveland. That is really far north! Morgan terrified the Union civilians, who until that point hadn’t really suffered from the war.
So there you have it. Your historical fact of the week. Will it end up in The Rebel’s Hero? I have no idea. It might. The heroine is from Kentucky and has suffered from slight starvation due to the Union blockade, and one of the two family slaves has already run across the Ohio River by the time the book starts. Maybe the heroine knows Morgan’s family. Maybe she’s rooting for Morgan. Maybe she thinks he’s a brigand. We won’t know until I write it.
- – -
This post is part of the ROW80 bloghop.
Last week I started The Rebel’s Hero over again. Yes, again. This is the third try, and I already feel much better about it. I’m keeping to my goal of writing at least 750 words a week in these crazy creative bursts that leave my head aching afterward.
Case in point: I’ve written about four thousand words so far, using much of what was already written, but rearranged and with more sensory detail. I got some critique from Haunting Miss Trentwood where readers wanted more description to really feel immersed.
Writing is becoming fun again, because this is a fun concept. The Rebel’s Hero is about a young woman who stumbles onto a runaway attempt and gets kidnapped by the Underground Railroad agent determined to keep his operation secret. Things start to heat up when physical contact triggers memories from his lost childhood.
This is still in keeping with the original plot I’ve been talking about for The Rebel’s Hero, with some tweaks. This should be a fun read, because I’m having fun writing it. I’ll probably be asking newsletter subscribers whether they would like to
Facts of the day
Slaves had been escaping captivity since the peculiar institution was established in America back in the 1640s. The Revolutionary War was a huge boon for slaves bent on escaping… according to my sources around 100,000 Africans and African-Americans took the war as an opportunity to run away.
Around 1500 slaves escaped successfully each year between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, i.e. not including the slaves who were recaptured.That’s a much larger number than I expected!
As the nation expanded westward, the Ohio River became pivotal for escaping slaves. In fact, the river gained such nicknames as the “River Jordan,” and the “Dark Line” between slavery and nominal freedom.
Fascinating stuff, right?
- – -
This post is part of the ROW80 bloghop.
Quick update today. I went to rural Minnesota for my grandparents’ 50th anniversary over the weekend, which was a nice break from my usual hectic pace. I mean, the travel was hectic, but once we all got to the farm and I got to play with all the babies and puppies, life was pretty good.
In terms of writing, I have been guzzling articles and books about the Civil War, which is proving very helpful for The Rebel’s Hero. Luckily, I think I can keep most of the premise the same… I only have to change the location and some of the character motivations in order to be true to the time.
I just decided I will be doing A Round of 80 Words – Round Three. As in, just. I feel guilty for not keeping up as a sponsor during Round Two, but oh well. I think my goals will be the same… write at least 750 words per week. Doesn’t matter the project, I just need to keep writing.
And here’s something interesting I read over the weekend while doing research…
From the Notebook
Kentucky was a perfect reflection of the emotional and socio-political climate of the nation before and during the war. Free Kentuckians were split three ways: those who supported the Confederacy, those who supported the Union, and those who were for neutrality. Technically, you could say people were split four ways, because Unionists weren’t always abolitionists. Saying you were for the Union only meant you were against secession, not for freeing slaves.
Now here’s where it gets REALLY interesting. The Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves from those states that had already seceded from the union. Because Kentucky was in the hands of the Union by this time, it didn’t have to free its slaves. Neither did Maryland, or other northern slave-holding states. Kentucky didn’t free its slaves until it was forced to via the 13th Amendment almost eight months later.
The kicker? Wait for it.
Kentucky didn’t offer its support of the 13th Amendment, officially, until 1976.
Anyone who says history is dead is walking around with blinders on, so says I.
Last week I came to the point in The Rebel’s Hero where I realized I need to do more research because I was operating on assumptions. I kind of freaked out and ran to the library to check out fifteen Civil War books. It was rather a sad event, actually. When I wrote Catching the Rose, there were two more shelves of books. For whatever reason, they have thinned the herd a bit. And this being the 150th anniversary year of the Civil War!
Anyway, one of the main events in Catching the Rose was the First Manassas battle (Bull Run to Yankees), so I got out a bunch of books about the first two years of the war. I got home, started looking through the books in detail, and realized if I wanted to give my characters any hope of a happily ever after, I needed to shift the timeline and location.
I’ve shifted the timeline back a year or so, and moved the location from a house in Richmond, Virginia and a plantation in South Carolina to farms in western Virginia and Ohio. Sadly, I know just about nothing about what the Civil War was like in these areas… except:
- Any battles in Ohio were in the Cincinnati area when Confederates tried to take over supplies etc and break into Union territory, and
- In 1861 western Virginia had seceded from Virginia to be its own state and in 1863 the Union welcomed West Virginia to the fold.
It kind of ticks me off, having to pause writing until I know more about the war and how it affected the areas I’m writing about. This is time I’m losing! But on the other hand, it has to be done. I’m excited to travel to some of the locations I’m writing about because they are within driving distance. At the very least, I need to make friends with the historical societies in Ohio and West Virginia, and chat up my friend who got his undergrad degree in History focusing on the war. I have a plan. It’s a plan that is pushing my deadline out, but it is a plan.
Have you ever had a project, writing or otherwise, where you were excited, going gangbusters, and then had to stop and backtrack to get more information?
- – -
Haunting Miss Trentwood began as an exercise to understand how my parent felt about losing both of their parents.
I researched adult (or midlife) orphans, which is such an important, and under-recognized topic. I’m certain the public library thought I was going through some deep trouble because I read every book on the topic.
I became fascinated and terrified by the idea that one day, my parents will die, and with them goes the only people in the world who have seen it all happen to me. They exist as a living record and archive of the traumatic moments in my life. They are my anchor.
I asked the questions: What happens to someone who loses both their parents? How do we continue, knowing there will never be anyone who knows us entirely? How do we keep the spirit of our parents alive?
Soon thereafter, I began dreaming about ghosts. Specifically, one ghost: the ghost of Mary’s father. I didn’t know why he was there. Mary certainly didn’t know why he was there. But we both knew his presence would forever change the plot and purpose of Haunting Miss Trentwood née Trentwood’s Orphan.
Looking back, I can see influences of Hamlet involved in the inspiration of Haunting Miss Trentwood. We so often underestimate the importance of the role our parents have in our lives, or the lack thereof if our parents are not a part of our lives. We underestimate the influence our parents have on our judgments and decisions.
This book is my attempt to understand and cope with the idea that one day, my parents will be gone, but I hope to keep their spirits alive within me. Is that crazy? Am I alone in worrying about this? Are you wondering how in the hell can I make an entertaining read about such a morbid topic?
Don’t worry, I wonder the same thing all the time. It’s a challenge, but it’s one I’m excited to face. Which, in retrospect, seems kind of weird, doesn’t it?
All the best,