WHY I Wrought THE RED PATH – Indian Brigades in the Civil War
A frequently asked question: “Mr. Walker, you now have 5 YA historical novels, 6 large adult historical novels, and 2 alternate historical novels published, but you are best known for your 13-book Instinct Series and your Edge Series of suspense novels. So why have you turned to writing historical novels late in your career?”
It has all to do with an author’s insides, I suppose, that and what size canvas and tools he/she wishes for the moment to lift and put to use. The writer must challenge himself/herself no matter the genre the author chooses to work in, and I see the choice of genre as important as any other choice a writer makes.
I see color or colorless setting as a tool, character-building like thin or thick lines, character as another brush in the toolbox. Dialogue as an instrument of voice, pacing, and revelation. I see all the choices an author makes as similar—if not identical—to the choices and tools that an artist lifts from his array of instruments to render a lifelike or hugely expressive painting. Art and writing have a strong kinship.
Why choose to write the historical novel if you’re known for the medical examiner as heroine vs. the serial killer psychological suspense novel? This is a question posed to me often both at the conference bar and on social media. As a result, I have given thought to an answer. The short, ready-made answer is the same as the one offered up by the proverbial mountain climber: “Because it is there.” In other words, I do it because it challenges me. It requires another set of tools, instruments of ‘torture’ so to speak, and a different, perhaps larger canvas. Not that writing a suspense thriller is without challenges of its own, only that the level of research and thus commitment of time, blood, sweat, and pain to my backside will go up and up incrementally.
Devoting everything to an historical moment is perhaps more challenging for this author, and in beating back a challenge, a certain personal reward is at the end of that chase for the answers to questions your characters face inside their world.
However, researching and writing historical novels is nothing new to me in the first place. I began my career in the firm belief that YA historical novels would provide my place in the world of writing. I wrote two YAs which were published early, but I found it economically unfeasible to make a living at pursuing this genre. Before I made that starting discovery, I had penned several more by which time my YA publisher had gone out of business. I was orphaned as they say in the business.
So I turned to genres that were doing far better commercially—horror and mystery of the adult variety, and I quickly learned I not only had a fascination for the macabre all along, but that I had a talent for it. Forty novels later with NYC publishers, I came to two conclusions thanks to what I call the Kindle Printing Press Age. One was to publish my next works as Kindle ebooks, and two was to revisit historical fiction.
I had been moaning to close friends and relatives that I was losing my passion for writing. Specifically writing the same genre with Instinct and Edge titles both ongoing, along with a horror series, and so when people I trust told me I should go back—decide why I began writing in the first place—and then determine what I wanted to do, I began to seriously ponder such questions.
Of course, staring me in the face—actually staring from my bottom desk file drawer—historical novel manuscripts that had never seen the light of publication. YA historical manuscripts that had not been completed, along with several adult historical novels. One was Children of Salem, another was ANNIE’S WAR, the other THE RED PATH. Frankly, all these manuscripts were works I had done in the 80s and they were always at the back of my mind begging for me to revisit them some day.
I had first tackled the City for Ransom trilogy for HarperCollins, and I had a wonderful time with the character of Alastair Ransom. Imagine the pageantry of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as backdrop to a police procedural sans forensics. After doing this series for HarperCollins, I realized what was lacking in my Children of Salem, which was also in that bottom file drawer. I have never been more passionate to see a book come to fruition than Children of Salem (as we are all in a sense children of Salem). I published the novel as a kindle ebook and Createspace title a few years ago.
With the success –success as measured by the author’s sense of achievement—I then tackled the complex Annie’s War. After the success of getting that YA done to the best of my ability, I moved to tackle the far greater challenge of seventeen-year-old Annie Brown’s story – a three volume adult historical novel featuring the daughter of John Brown with the backdrop of her romance being her father’s attack on a US Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Gunfight at the OK Corral before there was an OK Corral and the stakes being the abolition of slavery or not.
The Canoneers – Ben Cross & The Guns of Ticonderoga, which is now a kindle ebook and a wonderful wrought audiobook followed, and with my sense of pleasure in reviving this great story based on fact, I returned to Animiki & The Keepers of the Fire, a YA American Indian novel, followed quickly by Ragnar & The Battlestormer, a Viking YA novel.
In between the YA titles above, I truly wanted to do something with The Red Path, an adult historical novel that I had long attempted to write as a nonfiction history title. I had had many stops and starts with this research, and my purpose was to create a story that would honor the Five Civilized Tribes—whose participation in the American Civil War has never truly been dramatized to any level matching the story of Black soldiers in the Civil War. I wanted to do a “Glory” styled story for the Native Americans who gave their lives to both North and South. The sub-title is Indian Brigades in the Civil War. As with Salem Witchcraft, I felt the real story has never been given its due, and I have been struggling to get it right for decades, and now it is a kindle ebook.
I hope now the answer is clear to the original question posed—a writer writes from passion. Just as an artist who lifts the canvass to work with ask as question one: Do I want to commit to a large or a small canvass? A horror novel needs doing, a mystery is crying out to be painted, a young adult historical begs for its time, no…the loudest blank slate screaming to be heard now is The Red Path. In other words, no book before its time.
Here is a list of my historical titles:
Young Adult Historical Novels:
Daniel Webster Jackson & the Wrong Way Railroad
Gideon Tell & the Siege of Vicksburg
The Canoneers – Ben Cross & The Guns of Ticonderoga
Animiki & The Keepers of the Fire
Ragnar & The Battlestormer
Adult Historical Novels:
THE RANSOM MYSTERIES featuring 19th century detective Alastair Ransom
City for Ransom
Shadows in the White City
City of the Absent
Children of Salem – Love Amid the Witch Trials
Annie’s War – Love Amid the Ruins
The Red Path – Indian Brigades in the Civil War
Alternate Historical Novels:
Titanic 2012 – Curse of RMS Titanic
Bismarck 2013 – Hitler’s Curse