Tag Archives: Civil War

Andrea Boeshaar on Writing Christian Romance Set during the Civil War

ATSF cover

Today, The Writing Well turns from horror and zombie apocalypse writing to the polar opposite genre of Christian romance writing set against the backdrop of the American Civil War.

We examine the latest work of Andrea Beshaar, a veteran romance novelist, writing coach, grandmother of five, and co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers.  Her newest book, A Thousand Shall Fall: A  Civil War Novel, opens in autumn 1864 in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, a 50-mile swath of fertile land situated between the Alleghenies to the west and the Blue Ridge to the east.

The book explains the significance of the Valley, whose rich stores of grain earned it the name the “Breadbasket of the Confederacy.” Of equal importance was the Valley’s role as a crucial transportation network for the South (General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson once said, “If the Valley is lost, Virginia is lost.”)

The book’s heroine, Carrie Ann Bell, shows plenty of pluck as a protective older sister and aspiring journalist eager to follow in her father’s footsteps. She is trying to keep her papa’s newspaper alive after he leaves to chronicle the war for the Confederacy,  She and her two sisters and her mentally unstable stepmother are forced to move into a disreputable inn and to work as servers for their board and keep when they come upon hard times. While there, Carrie Ann meets Colonel Peyton Collier, an injured Union cavalry officer, whose gentlemanly conduct moves Carol Ann to provide medical care in spite of their divided loyalties.

Months later, Carrie Ann learns that her younger sister has run off, so she disguises herself as a Yankee soldier to find her.  The last thing Carol Ann expected was to run into Colonel  Collier, who immediately arrests her for impersonating an officer, but,remembering her kindness to him, shields her from worse punishment. As the two spend more time together, Carrie Ann and Peyton begin to fall in love.  But, things aren’t quite as simple as they seem, as Carrie Ann struggles to reconcile her feelings for the cavalry officer with loyalty to family and her best friend,  Joshua, a major and Confederate spy.

There were times while reading A Thousand Shall Fall that I would have liked more romantic tension and struggle between these two characters, even in the context of this being a Christian love story, but overall it was still a compelling read.

I thought the author’s  secondary characters, particularly the colonel’s spinster aunt (who takes a lot of heat from her neighbors for being an abolitionist with Northern sympathies) and the aunt’s old rival, Mrs. Monteague, a pampered and stalwart defender of Old Virginia, were well crafted and engaging.

I would have liked to have seen a similar amount of depth devoted to the narrative around Carrie Ann’s family– as a reader, I didn’t feel vested in the missing younger sister because I never got the sense that the sisters were close.

ColonelJohnSMosbyPortrait

John S. Mosby, the “Gray Ghost”

What was well developed was the battle scenes (including the horror of war as experienced by civilians) as well as the historical detail. I applaud Andrea for weaving in historic military figures such as  Union General Philip H. Sheridan and the elusive Confederate Calvary commander John S. Mosby, the Gray Ghost.

Below, The Writing Well, asked Andrea about her writing inspiration and what she hopes readers get from her latest work. I for one highly recommend this story, especially for fiction lovers of Civil War history. A Thousand Shall Fall is set for release on Nov. 27.

Andrea Kuhn Boeshaar

Andrea Kuhn Boeshaar

THE WRITING WELL: What draws you to Christian romantic fiction as a writer and to the Civil War time period specifically? Is that your favorite time period to write about?

 

Andrea Boeshaar: I used to love reading secular romances when my sons where young. In the 1980s, I decided to try my hand at writing secular romance. However, after I became a Christian, I felt personally convicted about writing stories that didn’t honor the Lord Jesus Christ. I began reading novels published in the Christian market. At the time, there weren’t many out there. The market has grown by leaps and bounds!

 

As for the Civil War – my father was a CW enthusiast and as a child I remember walking through the Vicksburg Battlefield. I didn’t appreciate that trip until I was older. My father was still alive when my first novel was published in 1994. He read it, although as an associate professor at a local university, Christian romance wasn’t his cup of tea. However, I think my father enjoyed the amount of historical facts I blend into my stories. So many Civil War novels skirt the war, specifically avoiding battles. I decided to tackle the time periods. When I do research, I become engrossed in it and my characters evolve from it. I’ve written novels and novellas in all different time periods, including contemporary fiction, but it’s always here in the United States because my true passion is American history. In the same vein, I read all sorts of Christian fiction – and some secular fiction too.

THE WRITING WELL:  What character do you most identify with in A Thousand Shall Fall? What techniques do you employ to give your characters their unique voice?

 

Andrea Boeshaar: I identify with Aunt Ruth. She’s a little quirky and manipulative, but she does what she does out of a fierce love – and out of spite for her next door neighbor. Personally, I’ve got the quirks, but I’m not manipulative. However, I love my husband and sons fiercely and my daughters-in-law could probably tell you a few interesting tales about tangling with me.

THE WRITING WELL:  The setting and historical references in your novel really put me as a reader into the time period of the Civil War. I especially admired how you exhibited the animosities and loyalty of people who were neighbors, friends etc. before the war but who now were fighting on opposing sides of the war. How important is research to getting the atmosphere and details right to make this kind of novel authentic to history buffs?

 

Andrea Boeshaar:  It’s extremely important! As I mentioned above, I get an idea for a story and immediately begin researching it. My characters evolve from it. I’ve read Mary Chestnut’s diary and Sarah Morgan’s diary and then I got a feel for how people spoke and wrote back in the 1860s. I read Shelby Foot’s books on the Civil War and James McPherson’s book, “What They Fought For.” All the while, the idea of my novel percolated in my brain. The same system works for any time period I choose to write in. But what is essential is to visit the location (if possible) as I’m writing. When I do that, my entire story comes alive to me.

THE WRITING WELL:  I loved Aunt Ruth – do you have plans to write a “prequel” to A Thousand Shall Fall that captures some of her story and that of her loyal servant Tabitha and rival and neighbor, Frances?

 

Andrea Boeshaar:  I’m glad you liked Aunt Ruth. At this point, no, I don’t have plans for a prequel, but that doesn’t mean I won’t eventually write one. I think it would be fun!

THE WRITING WELL:  What do you want your readers to get out of this story – and your other novels?

 

Andrea Boeshaar:  My prayer is that readers see the transforming power of God in my characters’ lives. Jesus wants us to come to Him as we are, in humility and brokenness. We can never be good enough to come to Him. Jesus, Himself, said that He came to save the unrighteous, not the righteous. So that’s what I hope – I hope this story is faith in action.

THE WRITING WELL:  What’s next for you in terms of writing projects?

 

Andrea Boeshaar:  Currently, I’m writing book two in my Shenandoah Valley Saga. It will release, God willing, November 2016; book three in November 2017. I also signed a three book contract with Prism Book Group to write three shorter contemporary romance novels. In addition to my writing, I own a corporation called Pink Ink, Inc. I’m an Avon Representative, which is proving to be so much more than selling lipstick to my neighbors. It’s becoming a ministry! And I operate Steeple View Coaching and Writer’s ER. So…I’m busy and staying out of trouble.

Historical Novelist Tracy Groot on Writing, the South & Andersonville Prison

groot_tracy_01Tracy Groot, a Michigan native, found out early she loved to write.  But it’s the topics she’s tackled that make her so intriguing:  faith and finding your moral center against the backdrop of history.

“I am drawn to stories with a lot of darkness in them, because I want to find out where the light shows up,” says Tracy.

Her debut novel, The Brother’s Keeper, based on a play she penned, explores the story of James, brother of Jesus.  Later, she tackled another Biblical story in Madman, a story about the Gerasene demoniac.  After signing with Tyndale Publishers, she found her niche: writing stories set against historical events—“the small hinges, Winston Churchill once said, upon which history turns,” as she describes it in her author bio. In Flame of Resistance, she weaves the Biblical story of the prostitute Rahab into a tale of a young French woman who survives the Nazi occupation of France.

Sentinels-of-AndersonvilleIn her latest book, The Sentinels of Andersonville, to be released Feb. 1st, Tracy delves into the infamous Confederate prison where 13,000 Union soldiers perished in only fourteen months. In this riveting retelling of a tragic chapter in the Civil War, three young Confederates and an entire town come face-to-face with the prison’s atrocities and learn the cost of compassion, when withheld and when given.  The book has already earned high praise from the likes of James M. McPherson, who calls it “a poignant, heartwarming story of how human kindness and the willingness to take risks can make a difference.”

Below, she talks about her journey to Andersonville and her own discovery of what it meant to be a southerner at that time. Tracy also offers her own view of the state of publishing and being a writer today. Reach Tracy on her website or connect with her on Facebook.

Q. What inspired you to write The Sentinels of Andersonville?

I saw a movie when I was a kid called The Andersonville Trial, directed by George C Scott. I was horrified to learn that donated food had been turned away and I wanted to find out why.

Q. Do you have an interesting Civil War family history?

No, but my husband does. Jack’s cousin, Jim, has a grandfather who, believe it or not, fought in the Civil War. Jim is around 60 years old and his father had him when he was around 70 years old and his father had him when he was around 70 years old. So, if you add it up, Jim was born around 1950, his father was born around 1880 and his grandfather was born around 1795. So, his three generations actually span four centuries!

Tracy Root on a research trip to the site of  Andersonville Prison in summer 2012.

Tracy Groot at the site of Andersonville Prison, 2012.

Q. What did you find most challenging about this story compared with your earlier books?

To write accurately from a southern point of view, I needed to understand what independence meant to a southerner. Searching to understand that was critical to the story. I was also challenged to get the details right for Andersonville prison, because this is a piece of our American history.

Q. Which character do you most identify with? Why?

I identified with so many, but in my heart I’d have to say Dance. Why? Because he was judging others for what they were not doing and I sometimes do the same.

Q. I know research was an important component to making this story authentic and for my part, I found your recreation of the horror inside this overcrowded and disease-ridden place raw and haunting. What was most helpful to you in the research phase? Anything surprising or unexpected emerge?

The most helpful were the original accounts of the prisoners through diaries, letters and writings

Capt. Wirz was the only Confederate soldier charged with war crimes in the Civil War. He was hanged on Nov. 10, 1865.

Capt. Wirz was the only Confederate soldier charged with war crimes in the Civil War. He was hanged on Nov. 10, 1865.

featured in various historical documents. I wanted to go directly to the sources. I read through over 100 of these sources and the amazing thing is that these and many more are still out there. Several history books about Andersonville were also very informative, as were documentaries and film. A few unexpected things emerged.

  • First, I wanted to hang Captain Wirz all over again when I initially embarked on my Andersonville research; when I finished my research I was surprised that he was no longer my target. I came into the project with ideas that changed as the research progressed. The culpability for Andersonville could not possibly fall on one man, although in my opinion General Winder should have faced the scaffold sooner than Wirz.
  • Second, I began to understand and appreciate what independence meant at that time to a southerner.
  • Third, I was amazed to discover that a neighbor of mine’s great-great-great grandfather had been a prisoner at Andersonville. We were on the subject of research for the book and when I told him what it was about, he told me about his grandfather. Later he came over with a transcript that had been published in an Indiana newspaper with his grandfather’s account.

Q. A major theme of your story is the role of individual action – doing something, no matter how small, to help those in need can make a difference. Do you think that is a message that has relevance today?

With all my heart. We have a shopping cart in our foyer at church where folks can put something in to help the needy through the Food Pantry. Every week I have an opportunity to put something in that cart to help someone out. Since writing Sentinels, I don’t miss that opportunity—and I no longer get annoyed if I think others are not giving or don’t care; I make sure that I am.

Q. Any advice to aspiring historical novelists given all the changes in the publishing industry?

Here’s what hasn’t changed: calling, purpose, and desire. 

Q. What is your view of traditional versus self-publishing, the role of agents, the importance of social media, etc. What should writers do to find an audience for their work?

Everyone’s publishing story is going to be different. For some, traditional works, for others, self-publishing is the route to go.  Same deal with agents. Given the state of the publishing industry today, I don’t think there’s a wrong or a right way to do things. You have to feel your way, find your way. The number one thing a novelist must do, the new non-negotiable, is to stay connected with social media. These days, an author is both novelist and bookstore and there’s no getting around it. For myself, I give a certain amount of time to investing in social media daily, and call it good. People need to know your book is out there. Goodreads and other book sites do that. Of course, the most important thing to do is make sure you have something to market; write a good book. All starts there.

Transformation & Redemption: A Conversation with Civil War Storyteller Robert Hicks

Book_WidowoftheSouthAfter a long hiatus I am delighted to feature author Robert Hicks on The Writing Well.

Writing about history – especially the Civil War – takes more than just an encyclopedic knowledge of battles and the generals who led the soldiers in the blue or the gray; it takes a passion for both history and storytelling. Those are two qualities not in short supply for Robert, acclaimed author of two engaging books about the war and its aftermath:  

         The Widow of the South — the tale of Carrie McGavock, a headstrong wife and mother dealing with her own tragic losses when the war lands on her front step. The devastating one-day Battle of Franklin in November 1864 is widely considered as among the five bloodiest hours in the entire war.  Carrie, whose plantation home is converted into a field hospital, later oversees the reburial of 1,500 Confederate dead on her land.

         A Separate Countrya novel set in New Orleans in the years Book_ASeparateCountryafter the Civil War, focuses on the life of John Bell Hood, arguably one of the most controversial generals of the Confederate Army–and one of its most tragic figures. The story delves into Hood’s arrival to New Orleans after the war, and his marriage to a girl from one of New Orleans’ better families. The story opens in August of 1879, and is told through a fictional memoir left behind by a dying Hood, the confidential diary of his wife Anna Marie, and the notes of Eli Griffin, an orphan of the war first introduced in The Widow of the South. We learn about Hood’s struggles as a husband and father, as he confronts the demons of his past while dealing with issues of racism, honor, forgiveness, poverty and disease.  In this rich tale, we come to appreciate Hood the man, and to see beyond his physical war wounds to the much deeper spiritual scars that haunt him to the end of his life.

As a history buff who can trace my family on my father’s side back to one of the generals who led Pickett’s Charge, I was already a captive audience for these stories. But as a writer myself who has spent the last year researching my own historical novel, Robert’s approach to making “place” a character and his ability to breathe life into his fictional and historical characters make him a novelist worth studying. Modest to praise for his writing ability, Robert tells me, “If I do have a talent – it is storytelling.”

He is currently writing his third novel about Mariah, Carrie McGavock’s ex-slave and confidante first introduced in The Widow of the South. He also is compiling a collection of essays on why the Civil War still matters, a topic he explored in a New York Times’ essay last July in observance of the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg. 

Below, he talks about his experience becoming “a reluctant novelist,” why America’s war with itself 150 years ago continues to be important to our nation, and who inspires him as a writer.  Read more about Robert and his novels on his website or follow him on Twitter.

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robert-hicks

Storyteller Robert Hicks

Q. You grew up reading books, but did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

A. Our house had two libraries – it had a library on the first floor and it had a library on the second floor and I remember when I was in the eighth grade, my best friend and I were up in the upstairs library and we wrote down a list of titles of books we’d write someday. There must have been something in me that thought I was going to be a writer. With that said, none of those books will ever be written.

carrie

Carrie McGavock

When I decided to write The Widow of the South because of my involvement with Carnton Plantation and trying to figure out a future for it, I was deluded enough to believe that I could write.  I actually tried to get other people to write the book before me. I had a real job I never had taken creative writing courses; I didn’t have that drive to be a writer. I wanted to find someone who would be as driven by this story as I was that they would write it under their own name.  

 The Widow of the South was written because Carrie’s story – the story of that place – needed to be told.

Q. What is it about the American Civil War that holds such a fascination for you?  

My grandfather was born in Madison County, Tennessee, in 1860, a year before the Civil War started. He had vivid memories of the war; his father fought in the war. He can remember when Grant’s army came to their farm when he was a child, and consequently, when my father was a child in the early 20th century, my grandfather would say, “Do you see over that hill? I saw Grant’s army come.” Then in the 1960s, my parents had us in a station wagon, traveling through that area, and my father would say, “You see that strip mall over there? That’s where your grandfather saw Grant’s army come.” It was like I grew up in a world of layered history — I could see the McDonald’s and the Burger King but I also could see what had been there before.

I believe that the American Civil War is at the base – good and bad – of everything that this nation is, and without it, we don’t become this nation that people strive to come into.  

I’m not always convinced the Civil War had to be fought — I waver on that. When I can look at every other nation that could have slavery and they were able to end it without a war, I sometimes shudder to think it didn’t have to be fought. Whether it had to be fought or not, what comes out of it is that nation that we strive to be. It’s at the base of who we are – it’s when we stopped being Floridians and New Yorkers, Georgians and Tennesseans, and we become Americans.

cemetery

The Confederate Cemetery at Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tenn.

Q. You live in Franklin, the setting for The Widow of the South.  How did you get involved with the renovation of Carnton?

 

Carnton Plantation was saved by a handful of people in Franklin who persuaded the last owner to donate 10 acres to be preserved. Somewhere along the line I got involved in it. So, I wanted to know the story. I wanted to know why we had one of the largest private military cemeteries in our backyard. And, that was really the nucleus of it all. It was simply trying to find the story. The house was sort of falling in on itself – it was in a long period of decline. It was my need to understand the story that got me on the path to the book.

Q. Why was the Battle of Franklin so significant? 

Five of the bloodiest hours of the American Civil War were fought in Franklin – only an afternoon at Antietam was bloodier. Also, more American generals were killed there than at any other battle in American history, on any continent in any war.

When I moved to Franklin, I was told it was a totally futile battle, but I discovered that was far from the case. Both the town of Franklin and the South have convinced you and me and everybody else that the battle had no significance, but yet you have people like Arthur MacArthur say that Franklin’s importance was second only to Gettysburg.

What’s important about the battle is what didn’t happen. After Vicksburg, I don’t believe the South

Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood

Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood

had the ability to have a military victory in a war. And, so after Vicksburg splits the South in two, it’s only a matter of time. The South is now trying to keep the war going as long as possible. Before Atlanta, there is still a very good possibility that the South can have a political victory – that Lincoln can be defeated. Lincoln thinks he can be defeated in 1864 himself and so, if that happened, then the South can do what it wants to do.  Let’s say instead of the Union Army getting past Hood and the Confederates at Spring Hill and landing in Franklin that Hood had his day at Spring Hill. If that had happened, I think there was a good chance that the war could have gone on for another four to six months. At the rate we’re going that’s probably another 100,000 dead. That’s the effect of the Battle of Franklin – that another 100,000 were not killed.

Q. How long did it take you to write your two novels?

The Widow of the South came out at the end of 2005 and A Separate Country came out in 2009.  I already had an agent for The Widow of the South even though I didn’t have a book written, just an outline. My agent told me, “You have to write it. You have to take the outline you’re trying to get other people to write from and do it.” I had it divided into three sections.  It took about a year to the write the first section. When I handed that in to him, he came back and said, “You’re a writer.” He actually pitched the story on a Friday and had a book deal on a Monday. When that happened, I had to finish the book, so it took me another year and a half.  It was about two and a half years of writing.

In some ways The Widow of the South was an easier book to write since so much of my research had been done while trying to understand the house and the place after we brought in scholars to restore the house. We brought in the same scholars who worked on places like Monticello and Mt. Vernon. I knew so much about Carrie McGavock before I ever sat down to write this book.

Q. Of the historical characters you’ve brought to life on the page, who do you most admire?

That would be like asking a parent who their favorite child is. There are aspects of Carrie McGavock’s personality that I totally admire. In some ways, my voice felt closest to Cashwell and Eli. There’s a part of me in all of the principal characters in my books.

Q. Did anything surprise you during the experience writing and getting a book published?  

Everything surprised me. I had no clue. I think what surprised me on the biggest level was simply how important of a role everyone plays, whether it be your publisher or your editor, your agent. There was all this supporting cast of people. I had the good fortune of having an amazing agent, Jeff Kleinman. I feel so connected and grateful for him. I can say the same thing about my two editors –Amy Einhorn, who edited my first book, and Deb Futter, who worked with me on my second book and will edit my third. They got what I was trying to do and really gave me the chance to try to do it.

Q. Your writing really puts the reader into the time and place and especially into the emotional mindset of your characters.   What was your process for understanding these characters?  

I read everything I could read about the characters and the time period. With Carrie McGavock, I knew that house. We’d done so much scholarship on the house that I knew the quirks of that place. I began with what I did know about her, and I tried to see how she would respond to the events of history. How is she going to respond to this battle that shows up on her front lawn, her back lawn and in her house when she is for all intents and purposes, clinically depressed? 

I find it annoying when people say that these characters “speak to them.” Once you know these characters, after a while, you know how they respond to these events.

Q. What devices or techniques do you rely on most for your brand of storytelling?  

First and foremost is to always know the place of where the scene is taking place. When I was writing I used a series of maps that had come out in the 1870s. In New Orleans I could walk down the street and tell what the smells would be like in every corner because of the Sanborn Maps telling me where the coffee was being ground and where the butchers were working.  Knowing the place is the most important and then, when you have these characters that you know, then hopefully – on a lucky day – it all comes together. 

One day my publisher and I were talking about my third book and she said, “Let me tell you about what this book is about.” She said it was about transformation and redemption. She was right. “Robert, it’s all you write about,” she told me.

Transformation and redemption are the most important issues in this world. Whether you are caught in war or peace, everything in our lives is about being transformed and being redeemed. I think it’s all that really matters.  

In A Separate Country New Orleans was almost a character in your book.

That was my goal. New Orleans has always been a part of my life.  And, so when I showed up after

A perfect rendering of the French Market at the end of the 19th century. The market figures in several important scenes in A Separate Country.

A perfect rendering of the French Market at the end of the 19th century. The market figures in several important scenes in A Separate Country.

Katrina (to promote The Widow of the South), people weren’t buying books; they were barely buying groceries. I really wrote A Separate Country first because I wanted to write about New Orleans. So, then afterwards, I fell in love with these people.
 

Q. You use different points of view in both your books – why is that important to do that?

It’s important to do that because I never took a creative writing course so I don’t know how to write in a universal voice. It is the way that seems logical for me to write. In truth, I don’t write about how a woman is affected by the death of a child; I write about how a person is affected by the death of a child. I try to write about how human beings are affected by good and bad.

 Q. What advice can you offer writers out there with a passion for historically based stories?  

You need to be reading history; you need to have a grasp of history, you need to have a passion for it. You have to love it. I would hope that writers who delve into history can remove their own prejudices about it and really try to tell the story – good, bad, indifference – whatever it is. That’s the most important thing. What I would say to writers is to just do it. I don’t know it will make you have an instant gift, but I am the best example of someone to strive for it, and you may fall on your face and I often do in my work.

I had a long outline with The Widow of the South. One of the reasons my agent said I could do it when I was trying to get an author to write this story, but when I finally asked my agent why he thought I could even do this. I had character studies in my outline. He said I think you can turn a phrase; I think you have more passion for this place, these people, than anyone else out there. I did know I had passion for them. I had written in this outline I’d written these character studies, there wasn’t any real dialogue, there was descriptive writing and that is what he saw.

 Q. What book are you currently reading?

I’m reading a piece of history – a book called Georgiana (by Amanda Foreman).  It’s a story of the Duchess of Devonshire and the huge role she played in British politics. The book is incredibly well written. I’m not sure where it’s leading me in my writing; I picked it up to have an escape.

 Q. Who are your favorite writers?  

anna-karenina1

Once I learned how to read him, Faulkner. It was tough – it was like learning Flemish or something. It’s a language – the way he constructs. Shelby Foote had a real profound role in my life in persuading me to write my first novel.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is one of my all-time favorite books.  The Russian writers are some of my favorite writers of all time. 

In preparing to write The Widow of the South – one of the things I did out of nervousness, was I went back and read all the Russian novels that I claimed to have read in college. These writers were dealing with that theme of transformation and redemption — the human struggle.  

There are some parallels between the Russian writers and the great Mississippi writers — specifically you have a population that is overwhelmingly illiterate yet you have some of the best writers the world has ever known coming out of there. They are telling these moral stories about these men and women who are struggling to find their way in this world.  It’s hard to beat Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a book I’ve come back to several times.

I’m very obsessed with storytelling. That’s so much of who I am as a person and as a writer.