So this is what I get for being a ‘seat of the pants’ plotter – having to set aside some really nice scenes and conversations, just because my research into the time-line of the movement to abolish slavery in America in the decades before the Civil War suggested that my lead character would be coming really late to the party, in developing serious abolition sympathies if I started in the year that I tagged for the first draft. Miss Minnie Vining, blue-stocking Boston intellectual, abolition lecturer and war nurse (as was suggested in Sunset & Steel Rails) would rightfully have been marinated in abolition sympathies from about the 1830ies on. Having an epiphany and coming to the abolitionist fray in the mid-1850ies would have been … not quite credible. In other words, very late to the party … so I had to adjust that epiphany back about fifteen years, which meant going back and tweaking certain details to make everything fit. Ages of characters, even the existence of a character, development of technologies, topics of conversation to do with current events – like before the Mexican-American War, instead of after, way before the Gold Rush, instead of after, ascertaining that certain developments were in place … (note to self – Richmond-Fredericksburg Railway; check on that, too…)

All this plot points also must jibe with what I had briefly about the Boston Vinings mentioned in Sunset and Steel Rails, and in Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart also. This is a hazard of ‘pantsing’ background elements – of throwing in relatively unconsidered details for a bit of color and corroborative detail – and then after having to make a well-developed narrative out of those casually-mentioned little scraps. I did not sit down and write the Texas Barsetshire series chronologically from earliest (1825) to the latest (1900, with brief afterwards set in 1918), mapping out the lives of each and every character, nor did I particularly plan to have minor characters in one book take front and center later on in another. The Texas Barsetshire novels grew organically – from the middle, and in both directions, backwards and forwards in time – starting with the two German emigrant families (the Steinmetz/Richter) and the American-established Becker families. The Vinings – both the Boston and the Texas branches were grafted on later, when I needed to establish the marital woes of Margaret Becker. And now this latest WIP means that I have to expand on the Boston Vinings, along with lashings of materiel leading up to the Civil War … and keeping in mind that the next book after that, which is just now beginning to take shape, will reach back to the Revolution, and the doings of the Boston Vinings and a young Hessian soldier named Heinrich Becker …

Yes, it would be sensible to write it all in chronological order – but it’s much more fun this way. Complicated, but fun!


  1. John F. MacMichael

    Writing good historical fiction is hard. Telling a good story and keeping historically accurate is a double barreled challenge. And it is even more challenging when the story setting is a historical era that many people both know a lot about and have “PASSIONATE OPINIONS” about. Like the Civil War.

    I have a private theory that this is why George MacDonald Fraser never wrote the story of Flashman’s role in our Civil War. Flashman makes some tantalizing references to this episode in his career (including the one where is mentions convincing Jefferson Davis “…that I had come to fix the lighting rod.”). But I can easily imagine GMF contemplating the avalanche of letters from readers indignant because he got it “WRONG” about various details and deciding that perhaps, say, the First Anglo-Sikh War would be a safer topic.

    • Sgt. Mom

      Oh, yes – I wish that GMF had gotten around to telling how Flashman managed to serve on both sides of our Civil War, but you likely have a point; weaving in the bits that were mentioned in passing, and keeping it accurate to the satisfaction of the amateur and professional historians … But he did tangle with John Brown’s little insurrection, though – and perhaps he thought that was enough.
      Fortunately, I have a great stack of memoirs by volunteer nurses, to flesh out Miss Minnie’s experiences, and I plan to leave the purely military war-fighting stuff to one side.