THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY
I’m often asked where my interest in the American Civil War comes from. Growing up in Maryland, I had lots of opportunities to visit Civil War battlefields. Since Maryland was a border state, I also had plenty of opportunities to consider the experiences of people on both sides of the conflict. And in addition to learning about the soldiers’ lives, I always tried to imagine what it was like for civilians who found themselves in the midst of fighting.
After moving to Wisconsin, I got a job at a large living history site called Old World Wisconsin. For the first two years that I worked there I spent every day in period clothing, going about daily chores from spring through fall.
I got a lot of hands-on practice with cooking, craftwork, gardening, livestock, etc., etc. Later, I did a lot of the research that helped develop new programming at the historic site. Some of the details in my books come from those experiences.
Three of the farms at Old World Wisconsin have been restored to the 1860s. Working at those helped me gain insight into women’s work during the Civil War years.
During that time I also got involved in Civil War reenacting. Most visitors come to Civil War reenactments thinking only about soldiers and battles.
Civilian reenactors in the units I belonged to tried to add an additional layer by portraying the experiences of women, children, and non-military men at events around the country.
I usually portrayed rural working-class women.
In October, 1994, I participated in a refugee camp scenario planned as part of a huge reenactment held in Spring Hill, Tennessee. The day we set up camp was marked by torrential rain, and soon the entire area was a sea of mud. I slept in a small tent that evening, but I remember well the women who managed to spend the night under makeshift shelters formed from quilts and gum blankets—just as families left homeless during the Civil War had to do.
The event organizers had worked hard to prepare a full weekend for the participants. We were busy with food preparation and cleanup, inspections from the provost guard, and interacting with other reenactors and event visitors.
Before that event was over, I knew I wanted to write a novel about children who end up as refugees during the Civil War. Hearts of Stone began taking shape in my mind.
My main character, Hannah, is a young teen forced to leave home her three younger siblings when the war tears her community apart. With both parents dead, she tries desperately to keep her little family together. She takes the young ones to Nashville, believing that city provided their best hope, but her heart aches to be back home on Cumberland Mountain in Tennessee’s eastern mountains.
The children participating in the scenario at Spring Hill were adorable, and what an experience for them! But watching them made me feel sad as I thought about all the real children who became homeless during the Civil War.
When the event was over, I needed to do a lot more research. So, I went back to Tennessee. I visited libraries. I read letters and diaries and old newspapers. I went hiking in the mountains, and I drove the route Hannah and the children took to Nashville (at least as closely as I could, considering how much has changed since the 1860s.)
I looked at photographs and artwork, too.
It took me about ten years to research, write, revise (many times!) and find a publisher for Hearts of Stone. I believed in the story, and was delighted when Dutton published the book. I hope it touches your heart.
PS: Once published, this book had a wonderful reception! Among other honors, Hearts of Stone was named an Editors’ Choice Selection of the Historical Novels Review.