Being There

North Carolina seawall

It hangs at the southern tip of Cape Fear, where North Carolina ends. The narrow, curving rock seawall runs for six miles, separating the Atlantic Ocean (left) from the Cape Fear River (right). Before I set foot onto the rocks, I had no thought to using the wall itself as a setting in SILVER CROSS. I knew part of the story would be set on the Carolina coast, thanks to the historical event that drives the story. But the seawall itself played no part in it–until I saw it.

There is no substitute for being there, for walking the steps my characters walk. As I’ve blogged about before, it’s not always possible–kids, day jobs, budgets, etc. But my visit to North Carolina led directly to a critical scene early in the book, a scene that takes place at a setting I didn’t know existed prior to seeing it–the seawall.

Fort Fisher

I knew Fort Fisher (a few miles north of the seawall) would play a part  the book, thanks to Rose Greenhow’s drowning within sight of it in 1864, setting the events of SILVER CROSS in motion. There isn’t much left of the fort as it would have appeared during the Civil War. But as I looked along the wooden fence toward the ocean in the distance, I imagined a Confederate soldier on guard, looking toward the place where the “Condor” ran aground, helpless to aid his countrymen and women.

Travel in researching novels is a study in careful planning, punctuated by bursts of the unexpected. (As a landlocked Oklahoman, this was my first view of the Atlantic…just be thankful I’m not posting the silly pictures of my bare feet in the ocean…) These two pictures tell two different stories, yet they merge into one: the view I expected and imagined from Fort Fisher, juxtaposed with the one I discovered from the seawall–the place where Meg Tolman’s friend Dana Cable is murdered, her body arranged in the center of the wall. That is the gift of travel, and the gift of on-site research.

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When I have spoken to people who read SILVER CROSS, I am asked about the setting of the silver mine in the Texas Panhandle, and if I had a particular place in mind when writing the book.

Nope–I had to search for it. I knew I wanted to put my fictional silver mine on the high Panhandle plains, with its brutal, stark and dramatic landscape. With only the slightest notion of what I wanted, I spent a Sunday driving the back roads of the Panhandle, meandering aimlessly. I would know the spot when I saw it.

Indeed I did, and these two pictures are why the mine–setting of the climactic scene of SILVER CROSS–is set in Hall County, Texas. I didn’t realize what I was seeing until after I took the picture of the highway. The crumbling wall of the bridge, the play of the shadows, the look downward to the dry river bed–I knew I wanted Journey and Tolman and Sharp and Ann Gray to meet here. The other is a bit to the left o the bridge, encompassing more of the river bed. Look closely–there is a barbed wire fence running through it, which struck me as odd. That fence made its way into the book, though in a somewhat altered form: much higher and topped by razor wire.

The day I visited the Panhandle was in high summer, and anyone who has visited west Texas in July knows the heat is murderous. It was 101 degrees when I walked along the bridge and down to the river bed. You may recall from the book that it was a similarly hot day when Journey and Tolman discovered the location of the Silver Cross.

“But what about the mine?” readers have asked. “There are no silver mines in west Texas. How did you know…”

IMG_0126I got to have some fun here, by indulging in a bit of geographic (and geologic?) creativity. True, the closest working silver mines to my Oklahoma home are in Nevada. Couldn’t make it there, but my research told me that modern mining processes are very similar for gold and silver. So I struck gold–by visiting the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mine in Colorado…a much easier drive. Combining a vacation with my sons (“No really, guys, a gold mine will be much more fascinating than the arcade.”) with research was just what I needed. I simply transferred my mine from the Colorado mountains to the Texas plains. This is the pit into which Darrell Sharp fell during the climax of SILVER CROSS. I kept this picture open on my computer while writing the scene.

And finally, a few pictures of settings of COLD GLORY…”by popular demand,” as they say. (Well, a few people asked, not really demanding. They were much more polite than that.)

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When I visited the Louisville, Kentucky area and the Falls of the Ohio, I knew I wanted to use the area in COLD GLORY. This was another case of the conditions at the setting on the day I visited winding up in the book. Falls of the Ohio is known for the fossil beds, which in the dry season are uncovered, allowing visitors to literally walk halfway across the Ohio River. But when I visited, the area was only a week out from devastating floods. The river was high and swift, almost spilling its banks on the Indiana side. These wooden stairs are where Nick Journey is chased by the Glory Warriors. He is shot and falls into the river from this platform. Note the debris at the bottom–in a “typical” year, this would have been sandy shoreline. Just as it was the day I visited, the river was up when Nick Journey raced down these steps, leading to one of the most dramatic and suspenseful scenes of COLD GLORY.

The railroad trestle above the Ohio River looks from the Indiana side to Louisville across the river. Before being shot and tumbling into the river, Journey warded off an attack by another assassin from this spot atop the trestle. Note how the sign is bent, a fact that is in the book.

Finally, Fort Washita, Oklahoma…I was raised 10 miles from here, but viewed the old fort with fresh eyes when researching the book. These are the ruins of the west barracks, just as they were when I was a boy.

But most powerful of all…

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Of all the places in both books, I am asked most about the Chickasaw burial ground at Fort Washita. It is exactly as I described it in the book. The only marker is this one, and the powerful phrase “Known But To God” has a simple eloquence that I could not forget. The Chickasaws of earlier generations did not mark burial places–most were buried under their houses, according to the Chickasaw Nation’s tribal historian. But this small enclosure, with its unnamed and unknown Chickasaws forever at rest, is a place where I felt the physical and spiritual worlds keenly, at the same moment. The climactic scene of COLD GLORY takes place here.

I’m a writer, and words are my life. But these pictures show the intersection of fiction and real life. There is nothing compared to being there, to use all five senses to understand a place, to bring it to life, to make the fiction real. Thanks to the readers who requested that I post some photos. It helped me reconnect with the reasons I write, and I am happy to share.

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Suspense Radio

Earlier today I was interviewed on Suspense Radio with John Raab, a production of Suspense Magazine. It was a wide-ranging conversation about both COLD GLORY and SILVER CROSS, and also includes my plans for the day after Thanksgiving (I refuse to use the term “Black Friday”) and making sure I don’t forget small details from one book to the next. Here’s the link to the audio:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/suspensemagazine/2012/11/17/suspense-radio–inside-edition-november-17th-2012

Check it out!

Ten days until SILVER CROSS publishes in hardcover! I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the UPS driver with the package containing my author copies. Onward!

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Silver Cross available for pre-orders

 

SILVER CROSS is available for pre-orders!

Check it out: http://www.amazon.com/Silver-Cross-B-Kent-Anderson/dp/0765328623

Of course, I will be doing events and signings around my home state of Oklahoma and a few other places. Keep checking the events page to see when I will be at a bookseller near you, and come see me. I’m still working on filling out the calendar. Otherwise, if you are an online shopper or in a different part of the world, get your pre-order in now! Tell your friends and pass the word–pre-orders are very important and will factor in to my next publishing contract.

Keep on reading!

 

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Time to Write

At an informal gathering with the crew from my day job a couple of months ago, one colleague said to another: “You know that Kent doesn’t sleep, right?”

A reference, perhaps, to the full-time day job, the part-time evening/weekend job, the fiction writing career, and the three teenagers.

Sleep is a fine thing, I seem to recall.

Be that as it may, I am often asked when I speak to book clubs or at libraries when I write. The answer is about as vague as the answer to, “How long does it take to write a book?” I dealt with that question on the blog a few months ago. The answer is: I write when I can.

I don’t have the luxury of a set writing schedule, where I can sit down at my designated writing desk in my designated writing room and spend X hours focusing on nothing but my fiction. The honest truth is that all my books have been written in snatches of fifteen minutes here, an hour there. Sometimes I may have a day or two off from the rest of my life and can spend eight hours (or more) doing nothing but writing, but those days are rare. (Actually, on those days I have to discipline myself not to just sleep.)

So I’ve had to learn to take time when I can. Just as I’ve embarked on writing the third book in the Journey/Tolman series, I’ve also had several big magazine projects at my day job, and the kids have all had a very busy summer. (My oldest is heading for college next month, and a lot has been going on in that direction.)

I write best in the morning, and there are days when I get up at 5:00 a.m. to try to squeeze in a few pages. I despise getting up at that hour—my body thinks it is quite an insult. But it is when my mind is most alert and focused. I am fortunate in that I can grab a few minutes here and there in between assignments at the magazine to write a few paragraphs of fiction. Sometimes I can get in a few unbroken hours on a Saturday morning. I don’t write at night, as my mind is usually mush after about 8:00 p.m. (Plus, during baseball season, there is usually a Rangers game on at night, and one does have one’s priorities.)

But somehow I work all this mishmash of a schedule into books. I know writers who must have their set schedule or they can’t produce. They need so many hours to get into their rhythm. For me, the circumstances of my non-writing life dictate that I better find my rhythm, and find it fast, or the book doesn’t get written. Having an outline helps, though as I’ve said before in this space, I am never a slave to my outline. But when I am working on a book, I wake up thinking about the story, and it hovers around my head throughout the day. I am working out scenes even while doing the other sixty-three things I may be doing at any given moment. I worry that Nick Journey and Meg Tolman and company may be annoyed at me for leaving them in dangerous situations for too long while I am occupied with other parts of my life. But I am thinking of the story constantly—and when I sit down at the keyboard, the scene has already unfolded in my head many times. By the time I am in the chair, hands on the keyboard, I am ready to write. I rarely sit and stare at a blank monitor for hours on end—I simply don’t have the time.

Maybe one day I’ll make a living writing fiction full-time. Or maybe I’ll at least need only one non-fiction job instead of two to support my family. Then I’ll think about crafting a special place and a special time to write each day. In the meantime, I’ll make time whenever and wherever there is time to be made. (Thank God for flash drives…)

Or, maybe I’ll take a nap.

 

 

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The Road Trip

I love road trips, and I have an infuriating tendency to view life through “trip” or “journey” metaphors. (Do you think it’s a coincidence that the male lead character of my new series has the last name Journey?)

There are lots of “trips” going on in my world these days. My oldest son graduated from high school last week, and will be heading to college in the fall. My youngest will “bridge” from middle school to high school tonight. My middle son, who has profound autism, is always learning to deal with transitions, how to adapt to new situations and circumstances. It is a process—a journey, not a destination.

SILVER CROSS is in production. I’ve made all the changes I can make to it. I’m finally able to turn my fiction writing attention to the third book of the Journey/Tolman series. My working title is WOUNDED LAND, and I’ve done the reading, taken the research trips, written and rewritten the outline, then filled pages of incoherent notes to myself, which I will soon tape up above my desk, covering the wall.

It’s time to write the book.

There are always a few breathless moments before I start a new book, when I sit at the computer and type “Prologue” or “Chapter One.” It is like the beginning of a cross-country road trip. Did I check the tires, change the oil? Where is my Rand-McNally? Did I pack enough socks? But eventually I will stop pestering myself about the preparation. It’s time to get behind the wheel, pull out of the driveway, and point the car down the road. If I forgot something, I can figure it out along the way. That is part of the thrill of the road, the joy of discovering something unexpected…just as in my recent weekend trip up the road to Kansas, where I pulled off the road to marvel at courthouse architecture and to climb around a century-old steam engine in a small-town park. Likewise, in the research part of the same trip, I didn’t learn what I expected to learn…but I was able to fill in some of the blanks in the plot for the new book. I didn’t fill them in the way I anticipated, and the story took on a totally new dimension. My mind is filled with the history, with John Brown and John Wilkes Booth and Sergeant Boston Corbett, the man who shot Booth…and, as I have learned in the last few weeks, one of the strangest and most fascinating historical characters no one knows. My mind is filled with Nick and Andrew Journey and some difficult decisions that face Nick, with Meg Tolman and Ray Tolman and Sandra Kelly and Darrell Sharp and Kerry Voss, and with (as always) some shadowy figures who seek to twist history to their own ends in the present.

In the meantime, keep watching this space. I’ll post an excerpt from SILVER CROSS soon. It will publish on November 27.

Time to buckle up and head down the road. In a few days I’ll create a new Word file, and I’ll type the word Prologue…and I’ll begin to tell the story of WOUNDED LAND.

 

 

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Silver Cross teaser

Just got the cover copy for SILVER CROSS, and here it is:

History professor Nick Journey and federal agent Meg Tolman return in Silver Cross, the thrilling sequel to B. Kent Anderson’s Cold Glory.

When her friend is murdered, Tolman rushes to North Carolina to investigate. She finds a vast conspiracy hanging on a letter from Napoleon III to Confederate president Jefferson Davis, pledging French aid to the Southern cause during the Civil War in return for the “Silver Cross.” The letter was lost when Confederate spy Rose Greenhow drowned off the Carolina coast, just yards from Southern soil.

Tolman asks history professor Nick Journey for his help, and soon the two are following a treasure map deep into the west Texas desert. Hot on their trail are others desperately trying to cover up the existence of the Silver Cross, including Ann Gray, a freelance assassin gone rogue, and her former employers, a secretive group known only as the Associates.

As horrifying acts of domestic terrorism erupt throughout the country, Journey and Tolman seek an answer to the 150-year-old riddle before it’s too late.

***SILVER CROSS publishes in hardback on November 27.***

Yes, the settings in SILVER CROSS range from my native Oklahoma, to the coast of North Carolina, to the desolate Texas Panhandle, to a ferry in the middle of Lake Michigan, to the Washington Monument. I’m very excited about this book. Can you tell?

 

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FAQs

I’ve been saving a few questions from readers that have dropped into my e-mail inbox over the last few months, and there are a few that have come up more than once. A few FAQs for you—enjoy!

I wish Nick Journey had stepped up and shown Sandra Kelly some love. She was there for him and even helped care for Andrew. Will they ever get together?

Journey is still skittish about relationships and not so sure he’s ready for one. But I think if anyone has the ability to break down the walls he’s thrown up around himself, it’s Sandra. I’m happy to say that Sandra is still around in SILVER CROSS, and she and Nick have quite a bit more time together.

Darrell Sharp is such an interesting character—almost childlike in some ways, but capable of sudden violence. Is he based on a real person? Will he be back?

Sharp is back in SILVER CROSS, and in a larger supporting role. He is not based on any one person, but on several people I have known who have been in recovery from PTSD and depression, including military veterans and former law enforcement officers. I would like to write more of Sharp’s story someday, with him in a leading role, as I think he has many other stories to tell. One aspect of his character—the fact that he is capable of extreme violence but paints delicately on china—is based on the character of the assassin Joubert from “Three Days of the Condor,” one of my favorite movies.

Do you visit every place you write about?

I try. It’s not always feasible (kids, day jobs, budget, etc.), but if at all possible, I like to do on-site research. I like to walk in the steps I’m asking my characters to walk. Next week I am headed for Kansas for site research for the third Journey/Tolman book.

Are there really that many conspiracies from the Civil War era? Are you a conspiracy theorist?

I’m not one of those black-helicopter people. I like my conspiracies to be fictional, thank you very much. But I will say that the period around the Civil War is fascinating, filled with intrigue. They are many, many true stories out there that can provide a jumping-off point for a good fictional conspiracy that can reach out from history into the present.

Are any of the characters in COLD GLORY real people?

Aside from the obvious historical figures (Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Mark Twain, etc.), there is one modern character who in many ways mirrors a real person. Kerry Voss’s appearance, musical preference, manner of speaking, all come from a dear friend of mine. The most interesting part of this is that I did not intentionally set out to give Voss my friend’s characteristics. But after I’d written two scenes with Voss, I sat back, almost did a classic forehead slap, and said, “That’s my friend so-and-so!” Fortunately my friend didn’t mind this. This is the friend who asked if she could be a bloated corpse in one of my earlier, pseudonymous books. Yes, she’s a good friend.

 

You’ve heard it before: everyone a writer encounters winds up in his writing in one way or another. Parts of Meg Tolman come from at least three different women (a former girlfriend, a non-romantic female friend, and my maternal grandmother)—and one man (a former colleague). And while a few people insist that Nick Journey is my alter ego–yes, we share a few character traits, but really, he is a lot more courageous than I am–there are important parts of him (like the ability to throw a curveball) that come from other people as well. Of course, many parts of all these characters are conjured from thin air as well—that’s part of the fun of writing fiction!

Do you do an outline?

I do an outline, but I’m not a slave to it. Some of the most interesting things are tidbits I discover during the writing of the book. The ending of COLD GLORY is different than I originally envisioned. The epilogue, with the setting in south Texas, was discovered well into the book. I had already named the character of Samuel Benjamin Williams (using the names of my three sons), when I found that the last man to die in the last battle of the Civil War was named Williams—and that he had come from Indiana, just across the river from Louisville, Kentucky. I knew I had to incorporate that into the story, and the ending became very different.

Is Amelia supposed to represent your ex-wife? If so, I bet she doesn’t like it.

No. Absolutely, unequivocally, no. My ex-wife and I have a positive, functional co-parenting relationship, and we share custody of our children. Nick Journey’s ex could not be more different from mine.

What are your political views? I can’t tell from the book.

Good! I have strong personal views, but try to keep them out of my fiction, for the most part. It’s a tricky business at times, since I write fiction that has a political component, but I’m not out to promote (or criticize) any party or agenda in my fiction.

There you have it! Feel free to drop me a line via the contact page—I love hearing from readers. In the meantime, I’m almost ready to begin the actual writing of book #3 in the series. Can’t wait to get to it!

 

 

 

 

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