No alternative: The Preacher’s Promise comes from historical facts


Amanda is based on wonderful teachers like Mary Peake who I wrote about in the spring.

Amanda is based on wonderful teachers like Mary Peake who I wrote about in the spring.

Before I return to discussions about Reconstruction Era Georgia in September and October, I want to finish out the month by defining some approaches writers may take in telling a historical story. Some people have asked for some clarification about the historical events that take place in The Preacher’s Promise. I use the blog to discuss these historical events and people and readers are always welcome to look through the archives for the historical background of my stories.

There are several types of historical fiction (and romance may come into play in any of them). I’ll discuss three of them here.

Alternative history: This type of historical fiction is relatively new, but is gaining popularity in books like The Boleyn King series. The author, Laura Anderson, has taken on the historical problem of Henry VIII’s desire for a son. Her series is based on a big historical what if: What if Anne Boleyn did have a son? Since poor Anne lost her head for not giving Henry VIII a son, we know this didn’t happen, but Anderson has crafted a trilogy (and gotten a lot of sales), for writing stories based on the alternative way history might have turned out.  No, I’m not jealous of her series. It’s a brilliant idea I wish I thought of first….

Factual Fiction: This is where The Preacher’s Promise would be appropriately placed.  There are people/events in the story that are a part of the historical record:

Reconstruction-when the Union determined to punish the Confederacy after the Civil War by putting various states under martial law and allowed some of the formerly enslaved into positions of authority. Reconstruction lasted from 1865-77, but this primary shift of power occurred mainly in the first six years or so.

  • Teachers of various races who came south to teach the enslaved after the Civil War
  • Skilled workers like blacksmiths who were able to purchase their freedom
  • Formerly enslaved African Americans who made advances in politics and leadership during Reconstruction
  • White southerners who tried to help the enslaved population after the war (a.k.a. scalawags)
  • A farm utopia like Mont Blanc in Mississippi where the formerly enslaved received assistance from white southerners and banded together to farm and make a way in the world.

I, like many writers of this type of fiction, will take these historical events, create characters and situations who lived in these times and make fiction out of it. I chose to create a romance out of it featuring African American characters who live Christian lives.

Fictional Fact:   I hope to write some of these stories one day.  This is the type of fiction where a writer takes a real life event or person and uses fiction to explain the events in their story.  Writers may create conversations or composite characters, but the life events remain the same.  The movie Lincoln falls in this category, for instance.  A lot of the books in the “wife of” genre belong here as well—stories that are told from the point of view of the wife of some famous person.  The Paris Wife, written from the point of view of one of the wives of Ernest Hemingway, is a book example.

The Preacher’s Promise is no alternative history.  Understand, we’ve been taught a particular narrative in school about African American history. For some, it is hard to buy into the belief that in some ways, 1866 looked pretty promising to the formerly enslaved.  Three things have to be kept in mind about that narrative: first, that narrative is the product of scholars who harbored certain ill feelings toward the enslaved; second, the formerly enslaved were largely illiterate and could not tell their own stories; and third, new scholarship has emerged since we were in school.

Overall, it is the job of the historical writers to keep readers firmly in the place and time they have chosen. That is my intent.  I hope that people who are reading my “Home to Milford College Series” will choose to continue reading to see how Virgil and Amanda will accomplish something great. We will next visit them in The Mayor’s Mission in 1868 as more challenges come their way.

Meet the real-life inspiration of Virgil Smithson

I beg your indulgence during this, the month of my birth, as I continue to reflect on the events, circumstances and real-life characters that formed the basis for my nineteenth century characters in the “Home to Milford College” series.

The hero of The Preacher’s Promise, Virgil Smithson, seems to be have a bit of a Superman complex.  He’s a preacher who draws crowds with his fiery oratory, a skilled blacksmith who bought his own freedom, he’s the town’s mayor and is on track to join the statehouse as a representative for the state of Georgia—all just after the Civil War ends.  Impossible? See the life story of one Reverend Wilkes B. Flagg (pictured above from the Georgia Archives), a blacksmith whose story actually predates Virgil’s story by several decades.

Reverend Flagg bought himself and his family out of slavery.  In the Reconstruction era, he bought a lease on a large former plantation of more than 1,000 acres and established a community where the formerly enslaved could earn a living for themselves.  He also established a black school at his church and was able to attract teachers from the American Missionary Society to teach black children. His school was the first to teach African American children in Milledgeville, Georgia. The church that he established, Flagg Chapel Baptist Church, still stands today. He died in 1878.

The more that I learn about history, the more I learn we are taught so much about the generalities of history and not as much the particular exceptions who do not fit in to any particular rule.  Thanks to exemplars like the Reverend Wilkes B. Flagg, I am able to create historical heroes like Virgil Smithson—a strong Black man every bit the hero for my teacher heroine, Amanda Stewart.

For Chapter one of Amanda and Virgil’s love story, see my entry as part of Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest.

The top fifty will be selected this week.  If you like the story, feel free to leave a comment at the end—it’s not exactly a vote, but it can’t hurt!