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A Personal Time Machine

Photo: Middle Tennessee Mule Skinners Ride Through Woodbury, Tennessee

"You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

- Jack London

When I decided to write my first book, I’ll admit– I had no idea where to begin because I wasn’t a writer (and I still have some imposter syndrome about the title)! I knew that I wanted to write about a past time and that required research. However, I really wasn’t even sure which period I wanted to write about. I dove into some family history looking for something that would inspire me, and I found my great-great grandfather’s WW1 draft registration. He registered in a little town called Oneonta, Alabama, and after a little search I found out that the town had a historical society with lots of archives. It seemed like the thing to do to get myself on down to Oneonta, so I did!

I made the two and a half hour drive, and the very landscape I drove through sparked elements that would eventually become Dunnigan. When I arrived and started looking through the archives, I began to envision my characters. Their lives and experiences swirled around in my head, even though I didn’t have anything concrete to write down yet.

I’m not totally sure what direction my next book will take, but I became fairly convinced sometime last spring that it would almost surely include some elements of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. Since then I have visited Richmond, exploring Hollywood Cemetery where J.E.B. Stuart is buried, the Tredegar Iron Works by the James River, and the “Whitehouse of the Confederacy.” I have also traveled to Appomattox Courthouse and ordered my weight in Civil War nonfiction. Twice within the past year, I have saddled up my horse and followed a wagon train over dozens of miles of country road, considering what it must have been like to move armies and travel that way. Experiencing the sounds and smells, watching how the ‘mule skinners’ hook up and handle their rigs, and seeing everything at the pace of the wagon train is almost like throwing yourself back a hundred and sixty years. It is not only enjoyable, but it also allows me to ‘feel the feels’ of doing something the old way. Research doesn’t always mean you are going to be burning up your brain gathering facts from books, sometimes it just means putting yourself in the places and situations where things happened. It’s like a personal time machine.

So, you might be wondering what I’m getting at here. My point is simply this, Jack London was right. You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go hunt it down! I have often heard the New York Times Bestselling historical fiction author, Ruta Sepetys say that “When you go searching for story, story comes searching for you.” I have come to believe in that sentiment just as much as the one of Jack London. Is there a story you want to write? Go find it!

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