And now, a message for my readers 🙂 : If any of you bought the Kindle version of Born to Treason recently and found that the file was corrupted, the publisher has re-uploaded a fresh, shiny file to Amazon, so you should be able to update it by the end of the day. Sorry for the inconvenience. Isn’t technology a wonder? Such a headache sometimes, but it’s also amazing what it can do. Thanks for reading!
I like cemeteries. They’re peaceful, the older ones have interesting gravestones (not to mention occasional antique roses), and they’re full of stories. As a casual observer, I can only guess at most of the stories, but it’s easy to be moved by memorials to deceased children, or to smile at the humor in some people’s final messages to the world. There are so many stories, though, that are in danger of being lost in the passage of time.
Here’s one. In November 1917, the U.S. was racing to get troops overseas to join the Great War, and many young men enlisted or were drafted. Two of those were Guy Alexander and Claytor Preston of Logan, Utah. They were best friends, playing in the city band together, getting married on the same day, and enlisting together to play in the military band in support of the U.S. troops fighting in World War I. As they were heading to the East Coast, their train stopped on the tracks, and another train slammed into it, killing Guy and Claytor, and injuring several more Utah men.
The deaths of Guy and Claytor hit Utah hard. They were among the first Utahns killed as part of World War I, and were the first from Logan. They never fought, but they died in the service of their country, and they were given a huge memorial service in the Logan Tabernacle, with many local and state dignitaries in attendance. They were then buried near each other in the Logan Cemetery.
Jump ahead 99 years. There’s very little left of their story. My co-author, Jeff, and I only happened upon one of the few remaining mentions of them because we were reading intensely in newspapers from the time period while working on our World War I novel, No Peace with the Dawn. As far as we know, Guy and Claytor had no children, and their young wives very likely remarried. Here are their tombstones today, on Memorial Day 2016:
Claytor’s tombstone is part of the Preston-Thatcher family plot, so all he gets is his first name on a stone. At least he’s near family, and the American Legion hasn’t forgotten him, so he has his flag (the irises are from my kids and I). Guy’s tombstone is nearby, and difficult to read, so it looks like even the American Legion overlooked him. The graves were very lonely looking this busy Memorial Day, especially Guy’s, so far from any family. He is close to his best friend, at least, after they went through so much together, but still an awkward satellite to Claytor’s family plot.
This was once the scene of great drama and mourning, a focus for the community as Logan and the rest of Utah found itself stepping onto the stage of the First World War. But World War I is largely forgotten, and without any living relatives, these men’s grave sites are now overlooked (though I’ll be visiting again). They serve as a reminder that we all play our roles and have our stories. Events that seem large in the moment fade as time rolls forward, but each life still left its mark, a thread in the tapestry of human existence. One of the joys of writing historical fiction is finding those faded threads and shining a new light on them before the stories are lost forever.
I’ve loved to read and write for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I read some of everything: classics, poetry, fantasy, thrillers, mysteries, romance, historical fiction, etc. That lasted until I went to grad school.
Then I turned into a book snob.
I was studying history and landscape architecture, and, honestly, I didn’t have time to read anything but nonfiction. It was all history, biography, and psychology. I loved it, and I didn’t really miss fiction at that point. I also got my first writing job creating scripts for educational software programs, and that meant spending even more time in the nonfiction world. I thought, “This stuff is real–it’s what matters the most.”
Then I was pregnant with my first daughter, and I was sick on bed rest most of the time. My husband started bringing me stacks of books from the library–whatever he thought looked interesting–and I read about a book a day. Some of it was nonfiction, but it was all across the board again, and I rediscovered the joys of fiction.
Now I’ve repented of my nonfiction snobbery. With two little kids, teaching a class at the university, and my own writing, I don’t have a lot of time for extra reading, but Sunday afternoons are dedicated quiet time, and I spend them reading–always fiction. It leaves me refreshed and ready to jump back into life. I also volunteer at my daughter’s school library, so I get to relive the thrill of discovering great books through the kids there.
I understand better now why fiction matters. Nonfiction is still great. It teaches us facts as we currently understand them. But good fiction teaches us truth. It takes the vastness of the human experience and encapsulates a portion of it into something we can digest. It offers a temporary escape from our own problems and teaches us things about ourselves and other people that can help us face things better when we shut the book and wander back into our own life.
We have a cover for No Peace with the Dawn (November 2016)! I really appreciate the work Michelle May Ledezma at Cedar Fort did on getting Reed’s U.S. Marine Corps uniform right. Marines don’t fight in their stylish blue dress uniforms, and in the Great War, they ended up having to wear Army uniforms in a lot of cases. Jeff will probably share more about this on his blog, but the Marines really got a raw deal from the U.S. Army when they went over to France, yet World War I–and the Battle of Belleau Wood in particular–ended up being pivotal in Marine Corps history and identity. It was a ridiculously nasty fight, but the Marines pushed the Germans back and stopped their march to Paris, possibly saving the city and the Allies’ war effort. Semper fi indeed!
Were there actually any Utahns at Belleau Wood during World War I? I’ve read a book that claims there were, but I’m not sure about the evidence for that. Maybe more research will turn up the answer, though if anyone knows–or had a family member who was there–I’d love to hear about it.