The following article appeared on Romantic Times Daily Blog May 12, 2010
I’ve been enthralled with the antebellum era ever since I was a girl in junior high. I toured the battlefields of Gettysburg and Vicksburg with my family – and my father, a Civil War enthusiast. I imagined myself a Southern young lady, hoping, praying that our soldiers would come back safely from battle. (I even wrote that last line with a Southern drawl in my head!) Southern chivalry enchanted me. Old fashioned, gentlemanly manners were something I never experienced, growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the 1960 and early 1970s.
It was during that same time in my life that my family and I visited friends in the New Orleans area. The memories of those trips will linger in my memory forever. We toured sprawling plantations. While I shunned the use of slavery and abhorred the abuse that many human beings suffered under their masters’ heavy hands, it didn’t stop me from appreciating the beauty of those majestic places. The wide lawns, tall oaks, weeping willows…and the verandahs. As an awkward pre-teen, I pictured myself all grown up, wearing a silk ball gown with its full hoop skirt, accepting the hand of a gallant young man. Together we’d waltz across the mansion’s polished ballroom floor.
And then I saw the movie Gone With The Wind (only about 49 times since) I knew I was in love with the antebellum period. Years later, being a writer, I naturally felt compelled to set a story in the Old South.
My novel Unwilling Warrior (Realms Fiction) is that book. The War Between the States has begun about six months prior to the story’s opening, and the heroine, Valerie Fontaine is frightened about her future. She never suspects she’ll be thrust into the middle of the conflict. Meanwhile the hero of the story, Benjamin McCabe, embraces a noble dream of photographing the Civil War – and he never expected to fall in love with a New Orleans socialite.
As a young mother, I read Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s Ashes in the Wind. The novel is one of my favorite stories of all time. I fell in love with the handsome Yankee Army surgeon and sympathized with the deceitful Southern girl on a mission who blossomed into a beautiful woman. I knew I wanted to write a story just as powerful and beloved.
And yet, one that was very different from both GWTW and AITW.
In 1991, I gave my heart to Jesus Christ. Soon after, I realized I was call to write Christian romance. My world changed. My writing changed. But my desire to write a romance set during the Civil War remained.
In 1994 my first novel was published. A grand attempt. But due to word length constraints, the story was only a shadow of what I really had wanted to create.
Sixteen years later, I was given my chance to write the story that’s lurked in my heart for nearly four decades. Unwilling Warrior is the result.
In researching the antebellum period for my book I read A Diary of Dixie by Mary Chestnut and Sarah Morgan’s The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman. I also studied books about photography and purchased Mathew Brady’s Civil War, a collection of photographs from the Civil War. I discovered that not everyone in New Orleans was a staunch Southerner back in 1862. My heroine Valerie Fontaine’s father is such a character. When he is arrested on charges of treason, Benjamin secures a way for her to leave the city and travel to his family’s home in Jericho Junction, Missouri where she’ll be safe.
Worlds collide in my book – the North and the South, of course, but also city life verses prairie life – as well as good and evil. My heroine, Valerie, has only known New Orleans’s high society. The soirees there were just as grand as anything in Scarlet O’Hara attended in Atlanta. But whereas Scarlet never left Georgia (and the Atlanta area), my character flees Louisiana and travels to a fictional town west of St. Louis called Jericho Junction. Valerie suffers the usual culture shock and then faces an adversary more chilling than Yankee or Confederate troops. Like Woodiwiss’s character Alaina MacGaren, my heroine adapts to a new land and a new life in order to hold fast to her new found love. There are similarities – and yet my novel is very, very different.
Unwilling Warrior is wrought from a childhood fantasy and encouraged by the classics and years of research. It captures the easy dignity of the antebellum era, the mayhem of the Civil War, and the simplicity of the prairie. But more, it’s an enduring love story of two people caught up somewhere in the middle.