Several years ago, a historian-friend told me a true story. It concerned two brothers who fought for the Union during the Civil War. The historian had written several textbooks on the Civil War and thought the story of the brothers would make for a better novel than a textbook. He gave the story to me and asked me if I would write it.
I jumped at the chance. Except back then, I wasn’t a very good writer. I hadn’t published anything, had never worked with an editor and only had a dream of someday seeing my words in print. I read my primary source extensively, poured over the major secondary source and, in general, relived these men’s lives for over a year. I even talked my husband into visiting both Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, toting along two children under the age of five. He loves me very much because he took care of the kids in the parks’ playgrounds while I inspected fortifications, retraced routes, and sat on hillsides with my mind a hundred and forty years in the past.
I learned a lot in that endeavor. I learned how geography plays a decisive role in the winning and losing of battles. I learned how the everyday stresses of being a soldier can both make—and unmake—men. And I learned how easy it is to become so wrapped up in the lives of these men that you grieve when you finish writing their story and they’re no longer a part of your daily life.
I was reminded of this last just a week ago. You see, this year is the 150th anniversary of that war—a war some say we’re still fighting today (in state’s rights, among other issues). I decided to dust off that unpublished story of two brothers and rewrite it, using what I’ve learned about storytelling over the past ten years. These men deserve to have their sacrifices known, to have their names polished with the hindsight of history, to have the painful lessons they learned recorded so we do not make the same mistakes. Once more these brothers and the men they fought with entered my life, consuming my conscious and unconscious mind as I struggled to find the right words, the best words to do their lives justice.
And now the manuscript is off to an outside editor for review and to the historian for fact-checking. Once again I am bereft, sitting here with a feeling of loss that they are gone from my life. Some of them died during the war, some died many years later. All of their graves are nearby. I haven't visited in ten years. It's time to visit again and once more bring them flowers.