Sue Pearson Answers Some Questions

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sue Pearson is an award winning Journalist who has released a novel based on the Nancy Hart Militia, a group of women who took up arms to defend their home in the possibility of an attack by the Union during the Civil War.  

She will be in the store tomorrow (1/ 25/ 2014) at 2pm.  Her book, "The Nancies," sells for $10.00 and is currently being carried by the store. 

Q: Where did you first encounter the story of LaGrange?

Sue: My sister, Margie, who lived in Atlanta, went to LaGrange on business. She knew our father's family came from LaGrange and she stopped in at the Troup County Archives there to do some genealogy research. That's when County Historian Clark Johnson told her that some of our relatives were members of a unique all-female militia during the Civil War. She wasn't sure which relatives or what the significance of this group might be, but since I was the journalist in the family, she turned the documentation over to me to look more deeply into this story. On the airplane returning to California from a visit with Margie in Atlanta, I poured over the documents she had given me. Suddenly, the story was revealed: my two great aunts were officers in a home guard formed to defend the homes and families of LaGrange should there be an enemy invasion. There were 46 women in the Nancy Hart Militia and they did indeed face the enemy in the last days of the war. It wasn't until several years later while doing more research at the Troup County Archives that we found a militia roster with the name of my great grandmother.  Addie Bull was just 14 years old when the war began but she signed up to be one of the militia women. 

Q: How long did you research this this topic before the novel spilled out?

Sue: I had known for many years that I wanted to try my hand at a novel. I just hadn't gotten the seed for a great story. But on that airplane somewhere between Atlanta and Sacramento I knew I had the greatest story of my many long years as a journalist. I couldn't wait to get online and begin the research. I spent a solid two years learning everything I could about the Nancies, as they called themselves. I traveled to LaGrange several times and met with historian Clark Johnson who was incredibly generous with his time. He unearthed every document in the precious archives that detailed the activities of the Nancies and revealed rich details about the women who formed this fighting unit. I studied the history of LaGrange, the Civil War and my own family history in Georgia. I traveled to Virginia to track an important battle many LaGrange men fought in during the Peninsula campaign including my great uncle. I studied Civil War battles in history books and in documents and displays at the Atlanta History Center. When I first started writing the novel my head was so filled with history it was hard not to put every detail I had learned into the story. So two years later with my first draft, I got some excellent but not easy to hear advice: less detailed history, more character, plot and story nuance. So I did a lot of wrenching editing. But then I fleshed out dramatic scenes and wove a thread of plot through them. In the end the novel is much more character driven. I wanted these women to come alive for the reader. They were incredibly brave but disappeared into their traditional roles as wives and mothers after the war ended. I thought it was time for them to come back and take a bow.

Q: Did you change any of the little bits of the history for the requirements of story?  Or were there any pieces of history that plot/character development required you to gloss over?

Sue: I stayed true to the factual details of the Civil War in describing real events and introducing real people. But when it served the story I placed some of my family members in situations that were purely of my imagination. For example, there was truly a warship Alabama and much controversy and intrigue about efforts to get the ship out of England and on its way to Confederate service in the war. My aunt Delia and her father were probably not involved in this international incident but it played well in the story to have them be part of the intrigue. In the beginning of my writing, the issue of slavery was like the elephant in the room. The Nancy Hart Militia had not formed to address the politics or the human rights issue of that time. They only wanted to save their homes and families if the fighting came close. I didn't know what to write about the slavery issue but I knew I couldn't ignore it. Those LaGrange relatives of mine owned slaves and ran plantations. I think I was able to portray the gritty realities of slavery, at the same time staying true to the real focus of this story which was the Nancy Hart Militia.

Q: Was there anything you encountered in your exploration of the subject that you could not include but wished you had?

Sue: Oh, how I wished I could have jammed the book full of all that fascinating history I learned! But alas, it would have slowed the reader down and likely caused death by boredom. 

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