Being mentioned on “Jeopardy” was a lot of fun recently. My novel REBEL TRAIN was in the category War Stories and contestants had to guess which war the novels were about. (Answer in the form of a question: “What was the War Between the States?”)
It remains a mystery to me how my book got right in there with Ernest Hemingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS. I wasn’t watching the show … my wife and I were actually driving back from a book signing at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach to promote GREAT STORMS OF THE CHESAPEAKE and THE HOUSE THAT WENT DOWN WITH THE SHIP. Her phone rang a couple of times with excited friends and relatives saying they had just seen the book mentioned on “Jeopardy.” How cool is that!
Salon.com published a piece about the fact that “War Between the States” was accepted as an answer when Alex Trebek was looking for “Civil War.”
I’ve written 10 published books now, and each one of them is a little writing victory, considering that they were all written in the “corners” of what spare time I could find while keeping up with a busy family, working full time, and trying to keep an old house together. Family comes first, work pays the bills, we need a roof overhead. Where does that leave time for writing? Wherever you can find it, my friend!
REBEL TRAIN was written during a time that would seem particularly unfavorable to writing.
For more than 20 years I worked as a newspaper reporter and editor. For about half that career, my regular shift was from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. I loved my job and probably wrote hundreds of articles, but what I really wanted to do was write books.
My wife and I had a new baby, a wonderful little girl. Both of us worked, but instead of daycare I took care of our little girl starting around 7 a.m., then dropped her off at mom’s office on my way to work. The only time I had to write my novel was after work at roughly between midnight and one or two a.m. each night—basically until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Looking back, that was a really grueling time, and it was maybe even nuts to try to write a novel under the circumstances.
What’s even crazier is that I wrote REBEL TRAIN out by hand, in cursive, double spaced, on stacks of legal pads. All 80,000 words of it. There were two reasons for that, one being that this was the late ’90s I didn’t have a laptop computer. I certainly didn’t have my trust Scrivener program yet. The second reason for writing out the novel by hand was that after being on computers all night at work, I’d had enough of that. I welcomed the tactile feel of pen on paper. I sat down in a big chair under a good light, and wrote. Come to think of it, I didn’t even use an outline—not something I would recommend today!
Later on, I typed that stack of legal pads into my Mac desktop computer, revising as I did so.
The story is about a Confederate cavalry officer who is coerced into a secret mission to kidnap Abraham Lincoln on his way to make the Gettysburg Address. The Confederates hijack Lincoln’s train in Maryland and head for Southern territory. What they don’t count on is the determined train conductor giving chase. In fact, this novel is basically about a steam locomotive chase with very high stakes.
I did a lot of research into trains, even getting a lesson in driving an old steam locomotive. Many of the locations in the book are ones I remember as a kid, growing up not far from the B&O Railroad tracks. At night, from our farmhouse you could hear the distant rumble of the coal trains coming down from the mountains, then hear them whistle at the Patapsco River that they followed down to Baltimore.
The book was eventually published by Harbor House Books, and I went with the publisher to BEA in New York to help promote it. Sales have been modest, but when I hold that book in my hands, I know that’s all that counts.
The characters in REBEL TRAIN are determined and driven. Determination can take us far. Writers have to write. It’s what we do. It’s how we stay sane, even if it makes us seem a little crazy at times.
The mention of “Jeopardy” was great fun and renewed some interest in this Civil War novel, so for the next few days I’m offering it free on Amazon’s Kindle store. Get the book and climb aboard REBEL TRAIN.