Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Midlist Writer blog, where he talks about writing, adventure travel, caving, and everything else he gets up to. He also reproduces all the posts from Civil War Horror, so drop on by!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Guest Post: Bringing History to Life

Today we have a guest post by genealogist and novelist Dr. Clyde W. Payne, who with his son Jerry Payne has written the novel Beyond the Door, based on their ancestors' experience in the Civil War. You can learn more about the book and its authors at their website.

For each of us, at the heart of all the shared destinies, is our family: our fathers, mothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts—all exist forever in some part of what we are and what we do. These close family connections are as inescapable as life, as inevitable as death, and even if you somehow shut them out of your waking reveries, they remain a part of everything that moves, molds, and renews you


As a genealogist for at least the past twenty years, my interest in family roots has expanded into recognizing the voices of the people who lived the Civil War as members of our family. In listening to those voices, you really get a sense of who these men are, and that they are real people. It makes history a lot less about dates and places and times and more about the human story. Let’s put words into the mouths of our ancestors—let them help us tell their stories.

And it’s in this direction I began to follow the Civil War road with the 101st Pennsylvania Volunteers. One member in particular, a distant uncle, was David Wesley Horner, a private in Company H. During the search, Horner’s life and death as a soldier piqued my interest when I found that the members of the 101st were eventually captured at Plymouth, South Carolina, with most sent to Andersonville. Our book title, Beyond the Door, of course, refers to the entrance into the hell that was Andersonville prison.

After further research which, among other things, allowed me to acquire copies of seven original letters of Private Horner, my interest in the Civil War was again sharpened, to say the least! This was the true beginning, where I chose to build a story around this regiment of captured soldiers, and follow two of them through their plan of escape from Andersonville. I’ve tried to make the characters come alive as heroic, yet, very na├»ve young men.

Apart from the actual battles, events, and locales that figure in my narrative, the two principal characters are a representative pair of boys whose lives mirror so many others who became caught up in the fervor, but faced massive disillusionment and the darkness of despair and desperation along the way.
With my son, freelance writer G.S. Payne, we’ve developed a story about survival and related themes—universal themes about fear, courage, and humanity.

Happy endings? Perhaps if we hang onto our lives long enough, we may be able find focus on such things that we experience in this world. If we continue to delve into the world of genealogy, we’re bound to find elements that motivate us to want to further dig into our past. But, in order to provide the sparks of life, we need to provide the footsteps, the beat of a drum, the turn of a smile, the crack of a rifle, a falling tear or two from the eyes, and a satisfaction with ourselves when we put pencil to paper (or finger to a  computer) and make history live.

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