AGNES CANON'S WAR
Guest Post by Deborah Lincoln
It’s the detail that makes the story. Anyway, that’s what has always drawn me to historical fiction. I like knowing that the mother in a sod hut on the plains had to cover her pies with a dishcloth to keep out the dirt falling from the ceiling. I wonder how women in forty yards of skirt managed an outhouse. It adds a touch of reality when Diana Gabaldon writes about a young woman who saved the Earl of Montrose’s life by mixing barley and water in her shoe and feeding the “mess” to him.
Those are the details that make a story come alive, transport a reader to the time and the place, make us wonder how on earth those people survived.
During the writing of Agnes Canon’s War, I sometimes got no further than a couple sentences before I stopped to chase a detail through books, websites, pictures. In fact, the story really didn’t take off until I had access to the Internet, source of hours of fascination, procrastination and frustration.
There’s the amputation scene, for example. Jabez, my protagonist, is a doctor who has performed many of these operations. A description, along with detailed and gruesome pictures, is available on several sites. I bought a book of nineteenth century medical instruments and studied the pictures, trying to fathom how they were used and the pain they must have caused.
Thinking about my own pregnancy during a heat wave, I wondered about Agnes’s experiences. All her children were born in the summer. In Missouri. Without air conditioning and probably, by August, without much ice. So I researched the climate during those years and discovered that yes, during her second pregnancy, in 1860, the temperature did actually set records in Northwest Missouri, well over a hundred degrees for most of July. How did she bear it? She was made of sterner stuff than I am.
I can pass hours dawdling through books and websites on food and clothing. Agnes’s wedding dress is taken from a description out of an old Godey’s Lady’s Book, and the meal on the courthouse square was taken from a book called Civil War Period Cookery that I picked up at a museum gift shop.
For guns, Cabela’s catalog carries Civil War-era models (Sharps carbines, for example), and somewhere I came up with a catalog from an outfit called Dixie Gun Works, which carries anything you could possibly need to recreate the stylish bushwhacker outfit. I even picked up a collection of replica Civil War bullets—a Minie bullet, Burnside carbine bullet, one for a Sharps, another for an Enfield—at the Antietam Visitor Center in Maryland.
The organization of the armies can be confusing—probably confusing as much for the men who were thrown into them as it is for us today. There was the regular army—Federal and Confederate—and there were the militias. Each state had a militia (I think of them as today’s National Guard), and in a state as divided as Missouri, it’s sometimes difficult to be sure where their loyalties lay. The Governor commissioned the militia, and when the Governor sympathized with the South, like Missouri’s Claiborne Jackson did, the militia was largely made up of Secessionists. They were opposed by something called the pro-Union “Home Guards,” and eventually, when Missouri finally declared officially for the North (and ran off Claib Jackson and his buddies), the militia fought on the side of the Union.
(I think I have this right. Those of you who are rabid Civil War buffs, please be kind.)
The resources on the Internet for figuring all this out—and for tracing your ancestor’s unit and where he fought—are vast. The best place for Missouri information is something called the “Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Missouri Commandery.” It’s a mouthful, but it’s also a treasure trove of military detail. I used it largely to come up with names for my secondary characters and to figure out where Billy Canon fought and with whom.
An author of historical fiction probably uses about five percent of her research in the final product. Much more than that and the story becomes a treatise on How the War Was Fought. But immersing oneself in the detail allows the author to saturate herself in the feeling, the atmosphere, the flavor of the setting, all of which infuse the writing with authenticity. The best book is the one where the details are almost unheeded by the reader, like the background props in a movie. That’s my goal when I write.So as you read Agnes Canon’s War, enjoy the ambience. Let yourself sink back into a time when women wore voluminous skirts and gave birth at home; when doctors used willow bark to ease pain and performed surgery without anaesthetic. Give some thought to how our forebears lived and remember that as L.P. Hartley said, “the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”
About the bookPublication Date: October 1, 2014
Blank Slate Press
Formats: eBook, Trade Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
“I saw a woman hanged on my way to the Pittsburgh docks..” Agnes Canon is tired of being a spectator in life, an invisible daughter among seven sisters, meat for the marriage market. The rivers of her Pennsylvania countryside flow west, and she yearns to flow with them, explore new lands, know the independence that is the usual sphere of men. This is a story of a woman’s search for freedom, both social and intellectual, and her quest to understand what freedom means. She learns that freedom can be the scent and sound of unsettled prairies, the glimpse of a cougar, the call of a hawk. The struggle for freedom can test the chains of power, poverty, gender, or the legalized horror of slavery. And to her surprise, she discovers it can be found within a marriage, a relationship between a man and a woman who are equals in everything that matters. It’s also the story of Jabez Robinson, a man who has traveled across the continent and seen the beauty of the country and the ghastliness of war, as he watches his nation barrel toward disaster. Faced with deep-seated social institutions and hard-headed intransigence, he finds himself helpless to intervene. Jabez’s story is an indictment of war in any century or country, and an admission that common sense and reasoned negotiation continue to fail us. As Agnes and Jabez struggle to keep their community and their lives from crumbling about them, they must face the stark reality that whether it’s the freedom of an African from servitude, of the South from the North, or of a woman from the demands of social convention, the cost is measured in chaos and blood. This eloquent work of historical fiction chronicles the building of a marriage against the background of a civilization growing – and dying – in the prelude to civil war.
Praise for Agnes Canon's War"Impressively researched, it captures the brutality of the war in the West and the complicated, divided loyalties of the people who are caught up in it. Agnes Canon’s War will have readers anticipating the romance and dreading the battles in equal amounts." -Steve Wiegenstein, author of Slant of Light and This Old World
"The characters are likeable, intelligent, humorous, spunky and passionate people whose zest for adventure is met and then some! Superb historical fiction this reviewer highly recommends." - Historical Novel Society
"Agnes Canon’s War is brilliantly researched and written. Deborah Lincoln has successfully described the occurrences of the Civil War era in the border state of Missouri and the resultant emotions upon the inhabitants of the area. Many neighbors were bitterly opposed to one another, and severe heartache touched everyone. Lincoln’s writing places the reader in the midst of that turmoil. Her research is accurate and lends to a skillfully-designed background for Agnes Canon’s story. An example is her reference to Westport Landing. It is a little-known fact (even to most Missourians) that this original port on the Missouri River, located in the vicinity of today’s Grand and Main Streets, resulted in present-day Kansas City. This heartfelt book will likely impress even the most seasoned historians." -William R. Reynolds, Jr. author of Andrew Pickens: South Carolina Patriot in the Revolutionary War and The Cherokee Struggle to Maintain Identity in the 17th and 18th Centuries
"Years ago in fiction workshop, this manuscript leaped out at me with the most memorable opening line I’d seen in forever: “I saw a woman hanged on my way to the Pittsburgh docks.” On revisiting this story several years after my first beta-read of the whole novel, I was struck by how many details and scenes I remember. Historical fiction is not for the lazy writer. The tremendous amount of research that skilled writers weave into the narrative are simply amazing. I’m afraid I’ll be guilty of plot spoilers if I mention some of my favorite scenes or the tragic events that really happened. I will say Jabez has a first wife, and Agnes befriends her to her dying day. That first wife has a fascination for what today would sound like New Age mysticism. Any reader who hates reading about war should keep going, because all sorts of intriguing historical issues and beliefs come to light in Agnes Canon’s world. The prose is polished, the story spellbinding, the authenticity both inspiring and heartbreaking. Five stars!" -Carol Kean Blog, Book Reviews, Cosmic Rants
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Deborah Lincoln grew up in the small town of Celina, among the cornfields of western Ohio. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Michigan. She and her husband have three grown sons and live on the Oregon coast. Of her passion for historical fiction, she says: “I’m fascinated by the way events—wars and cataclysms and upheavals, of course, but the everyday changes that wash over everyday lives—bring a poignancy to a person’s efforts to survive and prosper. I hate the idea that brave and intelligent people have been forgotten, that the hardships they underwent have dropped below the surface like a stone in a lake, with not a ripple left behind to mark the spot.” Agnes Canon’s War is the story of her great great-grandparents, two remarkable people whose lives illustrate the joys and trials that marked America’s tumultuous nineteenth century. For more information on Deborah Lincoln please visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.
Agnes Canon's War Blog Tour ScheduleMonday, December 8
Review at Forever Ashley
Review at Back Porchervations
Tuesday, December 9
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes
Wednesday, December 10
Review at Too Fond
Friday, December 12
Review at Just One More Chapter
Guest Post at Mina's Bookshelf
Monday, December 15
Review at Luxury Reading
Wednesday, December 17
Review at Book Babe
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, December 18
Review at Griperang's Bookmarks
Friday, December 19
Review at Boom Baby Reviews
Interview at Layered Pages