Writing Historical Fiction

Lorraine
Ladies were not part of the battle, but when you’re doing a reenactment with only a handful of folks, the ladies might hide in the trees and fire off a dozen or so rounds to add to the ambiance.

Oh dear.

As I hope most of you know, I write historical fiction. But not VERY historic. I’ve written as far back as the 1940s, which means when I want to do research I can often pick up the phone and just call someone who was alive then.

But this past weekend I went to a reenactment of the Battle of Kings Mountain. That would be a Revolutionary War battle fought to the south and east of where I now live. And while there were only a handful of folks depicting the unexpected overthrow of the British, it was oddly moving when the battle was won and a spectator yelled, “Go USA!”

I attended because some friends are reenacters. And VERY authentic, too. Their clothing is all handmade and true to the period (no buttons for the ladies and yes, Lorraine was wearing stays). The muskets were reproductions of the real deals and while they weren’t firing musket balls, they did use paper powder cartridges as the soldiers would have.

Seeing men firing long rifles against the beauty of the mountains brought history to life in a way I hadn’t expected and it occurred to me . . . shooting

One of the main reasons I don’t write fiction from longer ago is all the research that’s required. I love to jump into stories having a pretty good idea about what daily life would have been like so I can focus on the people. (Lazy? I won’t argue if you think so.)

But with friends like Dennis and Lorraine if I DID want to write a story from the late 18th century, and I had a question . . . I could just pick up the phone and ask it. My family’s history in Appalachia certainly goes back that far. Brothers David & Elijah Phillips left Massachusetts for what is now French Creek, WV, because they were Patriots and their father and brothers were Loyalists. A family divided!

Like I said at the beginning. Oh dear.

My problem isn’t trying to think of something new to write, it’s deciding which of the hundred stories bouncing around inside my head I’ll give a voice.

Lest my editor or agent see this and get worried, I have no plans to write a Revolutionary War tale. It’s not really my brand. But maybe one of these days . . .

Appalachian Thursday–Civil War Stories

sarah brandon
Photo from Civilwartalk.com

I keep stumbling upon stories that make me think I may have to buckle down, do the research, and write a Civil War novel one of these days.

Last week I learned about Sarah Brandon, known as the “Mother of the Civil War.” I don’t think it’s the most apt nickname, but I didn’t get to choose. She lived in southern Ohio just across the WV state line from Moundsville and her claim to fame is having had 16 (SIXTEEN!!) sons fight in the Civil War. Of course, there were 23 (TWENTY-THREE!!) children in total and only ONE was a girl. Whoo-wee!

But the Civil War aspect isn’t what intrigues me most. It’s the sheer, raw character that Sarah Brandon presents. Here are a few bits and pieces gleaned from newspaper accounts:

  • She allegedly lived to be 113, although a birth record is hard to come by.
  • At the age of 15, she married a man who already had TEN children.
  • In all, she outlived THREE husbands even though she was the one who must have been pregnant pretty much all the time.
  • Her sons were described as “Large, rugged men, noted for their strength, stamina, and endurance.”
  • Near the end of her life she lived in a cabin with her son Evan who was known as an expert wood craftsman as well as reckless and adventurous (he was in his 70s by then).
  • Even when she was supposed to be more than 100 years old, Sarah would walk the mile to town regularly. Perhaps to buy the strong “scrap” tobacco she smoked in her pipe. She was quoted as saying, “Life without my pipe would not be worth living.”
  • She was blind in one eye since childhood. Her then 11-year-old brother shot her right eye out with a bow and arrow.

I mean c’mon. You can’t make up stories this good!