I like discovering lost things. It’s why I enjoy compiling the historical research for my novels. It’s the challenge, I think, like an Easter egg hunt across history. I sift through statistics and sepia photographs and historical testimonies armed with the studious mind of an academic and the insensitive heart of a voyeur. I revel in all its grittiness and squalor, its human foibles and terrible injustices and glorious triumphs, all viewed through the safe perch of my 21st century life. I’ve discovered oodles of appalling trivia about dental care, feminine hygiene products, and the disposal of organic waste that horrify my modern sensibilities, and yet I can’t wait to inflict said horrors upon my unsuspecting heroes and heroines. I have a bit of the perverse in me, but thankfully expressed only on paper.
And yet those bits of historical minutiae, be they disgusting, charming, or simply sobering, breathes life once more into beings that have long since been reduced to old daguerreotypes and yellowing diary pages. I write historical romance, but it would probably be more accurate to say my genre is “historical fiction with a strong romantic element.” If, like me, you think that mouthful sounds terribly unwieldy, then you’ll understand why I’m content simply saying I write historical romance.
Still, my narratives tend to involve ambitious undertakings, impossible feats of human willpower, and no shortage of hardships and adversity, and that probably makes my novels starker than most romances. Consider the circumstances that take place in Clingstone. The American Civil War has always intrigued me as a setting for a potential story, but what could I contribute that was different? Literature already had its Scarlet O’Hara, its Kunta Kinte, its Orry Main and George Hazard.
Enter the plight of the Georgia mill workers. I had considered myself well-versed in this period of American history and was surprised when my research introduced their story. It was one hell of an Easter egg. It horrified me. It intrigued me. It was too unbelievable to be real. My understanding of justice and legal precedent balked at workers being charged with treason simply because they were employed in mills that had textile contracts with the Confederacy. They were arrested, convicted without a trial, and deported to northern prisons. Most were women.
Truth truly is stranger than fiction. As my heroine would inevitably ponder, was it deliberate cruelty or government ineptitude? I’ve had a long time to think about their situation, and I’m still not entirely certain which is the answer. Perhaps both.