I never enjoyed writing assignments in college. I always felt like I had to write what I thought my professor wanted me to think and say. Not a very original concept, nor did it inspire me to want to write.
When I decided to write Lost Letters: A Civil War Love Story, it was after finishing a ten-month Masters program to get my Master of Arts degree in curriculum and instruction. It also was the beginning of another school year. Let’s just say it was a way to escape from a bad I was certain to have.
Each evening I found my little world a much happier place because I could leave the stress and drama from my workplace in the trash as I locked the door and drove away!
I wasn’t sure who would be part of the book, but I had a good list of central characters that were spinning in my head each evening. I was afraid the stress from my work environment would keep me tossing and turning. I found the faces in my subconscious state those of unknown people from the past. I found that after I had written an hour or two each evening only made me more susceptible to a night of peaceful slumber.
Before long, I was having no trouble writing a chapter every couple of days. The little book I was writing for my own pleasure and the opportunity to leave something for my two recently born grandchildren had quickly become a novel.
As a teacher, I have a habit of writing things out…a road map of what I’m going to teach or how I am going to present a particular history unit to my class. It was with this same mindset that I started Lost Letters. I brought home a large sheet of poster board and began to map out the different time settings as well as who would be involved in those locations and times. It worked well- I was able to keep track of names and places much easier during the movement of the book. I also wanted to have a face to go with the people in my novel. As I wrote, I needed to ‘see’ their faces. I decided the best place to begin was online where there would be no copyright infringement with any of the likenesses I would choose. I went though the Library of Congress, having recently been to their D.C. location, it was a gold mine for this teacher who cabbages on to any and everything not nailed down. (all obtained in an honest manner, naturally).
As I went through over 1000 images one afternoon on my lunch break, I had my first cold chill run through my spine. There would be several throughout the course of writing this novel. In a grouping of Civil War Unknown soldiers, was the likeness of the young Raford Collins. When I saw his tin type staring back at me, I almost screamed out loud- he had a hankie tucked in his jacket!!! When you read the story, you will see why this was such a ‘moment’ for me. Mind you, this all had been written prior to finding his tin type. There were only four other people at this time who even knew about the book, so my joy was shared later that evening with Doug, my husband.
As I continued my search, I found likenesses for all my characters and minor characters throughout the novel. I had only pencil sketched my idea for Mimosa Grove. I knew what I saw in my mind, but putting it on paper was all together another story. I went looking in another direction for the home that would be the setting for the story. I spent a few weeks going through several dead-ends; then, one evening over Fall break, I found a site from a random search of Tennessee plantations. Not only did it bring me to Middle Tennessee, but not more than a few miles from where my story actually takes place. When I uploaded the series of 1930′s photographs, I had yet another moment where I had to call someone to actually confirm I had found Mimosa Grove! When I downloaded and printed off the photo, one couldn’t have described the plantation any closer without having seen this prior to writing the book. The plantation house was saved, restored, and is in Hendersonville, Tennessee. I later located it and found it in all of its glory after I had sent the manuscript to the publisher for the first round of edits. As I said, just one of the many moments in the writing of this book that left me with chills.
I began writing the novel in August of 2011. By Christmas morning, 2011, I finished the book and went to sleep. I was very proud of my first attempt to undertake such a project. Next, I would have to let go and put myself out there for others to judge. I hope it does well!