I’ve always enjoyed writing stories. I guess that’s pretty obvious since I have a blog. Once upon a time I was an English major, so it helped that I liked to write. While English was the subject I most loved, my second favorite subject has always been history, particularly American History. My interest in history hasn’t waned, but the longer I live, the more fascinated I’ve become with family history and genealogy. I’ve researched both sides of my family on Ancestry and Family Search, and I have learned volumes. Of course there are dead-ends, but I’m still finding clues, which fuels my desire to keep trying.
Before I began my research I knew that my great-grandfather on my mother’s side, Jasper Brink, served with the Union Army during the Civil War. During the course of my research I learned that Jasper was part of the regiment, which was sent by then Ohio Governor Tod to quell a rebellion over Conscription in Holmes County, Ohio, in June of 1863. It was the only battle in Holmes County during the Civil War. Family rumor, most of it via my Dad and Uncle Fred, was always that my great-great-grandfather on their side, Sam Kinsey, was one of the leaders of the rebellion that day, and the fact that he had done so was cause for family pride in his leadership and, simultaneously, shame that he fought against the Union.
Armed with newly attained knowledge and an abundance of family stories, I decided to write a novel about that rebellion and its effect on my ancestors. A year and a couple of months into it, I thought I was finished. I asked one of my best friends, a retired history teacher, to read and critique it. She gave me an abundance of thoughtful, constructive criticism. A few months later, a literary agent, though she did not wish to represent me, generously took the time to make numerous suggestions to improve my manuscript. So I tore the book apart, added, subtracted, and rewrote it… rewrote some more, and so it continued.
While I’ve continued to rewrite this book, which is actually my third one, I tried to work on other projects. I wrote a fourth book, and am about half-finished with a fifth one, but I’ve been stuck on that one for months. When I woke up Sunday morning I decided: enough already. It was time to put thing to bed, once and for all. So, four years to the day after I originally began, I declared myself finished with my historical novel, Fizzled. It’s time to move on.
Fizzled chronicles events leading to that Holmes County battle on June 17, 1863, between local Copperheads and Union troops. My story depicts the effects that this civil insurrection, and the war itself, had on two Civil War couples. Fizzled is narrated in alternating chapters by four characters: Jane Brink, who is forced to run their farm alone while her husband is at war; her husband, Jasper, a Union soldier who serves in one of the Ohio Regiments that is sent to restore order at that fort; Anna Kinsey, Jane’s best friend, who struggles with her conflicting feelings about Conscription and the war; and Anna’s husband, Samuel, a farmer, dreamer, and pacifist, who is persuaded to help lead the Anti-Conscription fight against the Union army that June day. This fight was later dubbed the Battle of Fort Fizzle, primarily because it ‘fizzled’ out after that one brief skirmish, hence the title.
I never met any of the people in my story. But the family anecdotes I grew up with and the stories I’ve learned researching them make me feel like I knew them. I have no photos of my great-great-grandparents, Sam and Anna Kinsey, who both emigrated from Switzerland. But I know that Sam was a dreamer who longed to travel and see the world, and was never happy being a farmer. Anna came to America alone as an eighteen year-old, with little except the rocking chair her parents gave her as a farewell gift. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos of them, but Anna’s rocking chair has a permanent spot in my family room, and Sam’s corner cupboard graces my living room. I do have a couple of photos of the Brink’s, natural-born Americans whose ancestors hailed from Sweden, Denmark, and England.
As I ended this novel that’s been part and parcel of my life these past four years, I glanced at a photo of the Brink’s on the porch of their farmhouse, the snaking branches of an overgrown bush creeping around the left side of the house. Jane’s thriving kitchen garden, next to the porch, fills the right side of the photo. The Brink’s were an impassive-looking pair, probably in their late sixties in the picture, her white hair pulled back into a low ponytail, without any attempt to pretty herself for a photograph. I was always told that she was proud to be a farm wife, and was not fancy or vain. In the photo Great-grandpa Jasper sits straight on a wooden bench with a newspaper on his lap, his bifocals perched on the end of his nose. Great-grandma Jane, to his left, nestled in a wooden rocker, is knitting. Neither of them is smiling, though they don’t look unhappy either, but as if they were ready to get back to what they were doing as soon as the photographer finished.
Jasper’s hair, sticking out from his bowler hat, is curly and uncombed. His heavily creased face is adorned with an equally wild beard. The photo is black and white, obviously, so I can’t tell if his eyes are truly as green as I’ve always been told they were. He was quiet, my Grandma Loverta always said, though sometimes funny and always kind, a farmer who loved to fiddle and dance. Grandma said that her mom, Jane, was a strong woman who could cope with anything thrown her way. One of Jane’s rocking chairs, though not the one in that picture, graces my living room next to Sam’s cupboard.
After I decided to officially declare Fizzled a wrap, my hope was that the writer’s block I seemed to be suffering would end. And, lo and behold, the past couple of days, the muse decided to come back and visit again. The words just flowed. Perhaps my conscious decision to end one project let my unconscious open up. My newest project is a historical mystery and I even figured out who I am going to have commit the crime. Oh, happy day. Sometimes it’s just time to move on.
I have not sold any books yet, and I realize that the odds are against me ever selling any of them, but I’m going to keep trying. And I’m going to keep researching and writing… because I’m not getting any younger, and I still have so many stories to tell.