Living the Research

by Julianne Lee

I’ve always loved researching my novels, and even before I began writing historicals I immersed myself in minutia. If a character had a gun, I sent away to Sturm-Ruger for a photo. If a character took a trip on a luxury yacht, I acquired the floor plan and specs of the Trump Princess. People say to write what you know, but I have always written what I wanted to know. These days my personal library amounts to nearly five thousand volumes, and I would hate to give up any of them.

Kindred Spirits, my first venture into ebook publishing, is a novel I wrote during one of those fits of wannaknow about the Civil War. (All of my work published in the U.S. is set in the U.K., and Kindred Spirits, which enjoyed some popularity in Germany, never found a home here. I think it’s ironic that my one book set in America never was published here, but I digress…) I wrote this book originally because I live in Tennessee and was curious about the local history. Kindred Spirits takes place in Hendersonville, during the American Civil War.

Yeah, I know, Civil War again. But the story needed writing.

At the time I knew little about Hendersonville. I am from Los Angeles, came to Tennessee reluctantly, and never had much interest in this place until historical curiosity smacked my upside the head one day. But as time passed—and I’ve been here nearly thirty years now—I’ve become fascinated with the events of that big nineteenth-century hoo-haw. I found real ghosts in this town, stories about Indians, about Andrew Jackson, about the ancestors of people I knew from church,  and I wanted to find out more about them.

Of course every town has its amateur historians who self-publish their families’ oral histories. Folks with a bit of money and a love for the past but little discipline for tracking down facts. Some of the texts I read were a bit fanciful or vague. Some seemed based on each other, which of course can be a pitfall even in scholarly work. I rather enjoyed the sometimes purple and turgid writing styles of these amateurs, and used them to train my ear for the local accent.

I spent weeks reading about Hendersonville’s history. I found out where the oldest graveyards are, and learned about the tiny plots behind a barber shop on Main Street and down a back road not far from my house. I went to an antebellum mansion that had been used as a medical center after a nearby skirmish, and felt the ghosts that lingered there. The house has since been torn down and there now stands a Tractor Supply store. I suppose this town needed that store, but not that bad.

Over those months of writing Kindred Spirits, I found myself so transported I lost touch with present day. One day in the library, idly browsing a list of Sumner County volunteers, I realized I was looking for the name of my fictional character, Lucas Brosnahan. I can still visualize the nonexistent photograph of him, described in the novel. Equally eerie, for that entire year every time I saw the railroad tracks that run through town, I imagined Yankee patrols on the lookout for Morgan’s Raiders, riding alongside the rails at a slow walk. The house my characters lived in exists, though it’s in a different spot, and several other locations are described exactly as they were. And still are.

Kindred Spirits is one of my favorites of my books, for I almost feel as if I lived it. I hope it works that well for the reader.

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