Memorial Day seems a fitting occasion for an inaugural blog post in support of a book about a soldier. My upcoming novel, Wilderness, tells the story of Abel Truman, an aged, ailing confederate veteran of the American Civil War, who undertakes one last journey that, in his heart-of-hearts, he knows he has no hope of completing. The book comes out this fall from BloomsburyUSA and elsewhere on this site you can find out all about it.
I was never a soldier. My health closed that door early and, truthfully, I’dve been ill-suited to it anyway. No, I did all the other things that were more or less normal for someone of my generation: I flailed around, got a middling education, flailed around some more, fell in and out of love a few times before finding the person I was meant to find, and began to feel a great, gnawing lack that I found I could more or less fill with writing fiction.
I’ve tried to Write with a capital “W” my whole life. Even when my hands were still I strung sentences together in my mind and early on I learned to always carry a pad-and-pen with me. Some of it’s been all right, most of it not, but some early success with a story for Glimmer Train Stories that won a nice award convinced me I was on the right path. But then ill-health, bad luck and, yes, laziness set me adrift. For a long damn time.
When researching Wilderness I read a lot of soldiers’ stories of the Civil War. A lot of books, a lot of diaries, a lot of footnotes and endnotes and citations in the backs of a lot of histories. I went through the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion and slowly, slowly, I began to get an idea of what it must have been like. Then I went back east to walk the battlefields themselves and found myself back upon a path that felt familiar and right.
I was never a soldier but I’ve spoken with a lot of soldiers. I’ve hiked the areas of Washington State where Wilderness is set—the wild north coast and the deep, green forests of the Olympics—with a soldier and I’ve listened to the stories he had to tell. I can’t tell those stories, they’re not mine and I’ve no right to them. But I am an American and, as such, have been shaped by events that on the page may seem remote but, down in the dirt of Saunders’ Field in the middle of the Wilderness of Spotsylvania, still resonate, still echo through all our hearts—soldier and citizen both. The story of that echo is what I’ve tried to tell in Wilderness.