This Writer’s Challenge: Finding Humanity in a Violent Setting
Working on Honor Among Outcasts, Book 2 in my DarkHorse Trilogy (to be published in 2017) has been challenging emotionally and creatively. The atmosphere in Honor is far different from the first book in the trilogy, The Lies That Bind. Whereas the backdrop for Lies was a staid, rigid (read: caste, slave) antebellum South society, and the accompanying tension a product of the characters’ subterfuges, Civil War Missouri, where Book 2 takes place, was quite another matter.
Missouri’s western counties during the war were near absolute chaos. The brutal war in Missouri pit neighbor against neighbor, community against community, with both sides robbing, burning homes and crops, and slaughtering husbands and sons indiscriminately — even on their own sides. Guerrillas and Union soldiers even took scalps — that’s how horrific the war was.
(To learn more about it, I recommend James W. Erwin’s Guerrilla Hunters in Civil War Missouri.)
A Far Darker Place
There is a fine line between a drama and a thriller, and I try to keep a balance of both in all my writing. Unlike in Lies, where the tension is atmospheric, the tension in Honor Among Outcasts is very much event- and plot-driven. My job is to see that the story’s characters develop their own motivations, not merely to portray them as victims trying to escape the mayhem of war. I, therefore, have no choice but to incorporate violence into the story’s historical milieu.
At times, I have to take a break because the violence and situations are so unsettling.
Nearly all of the main characters in Lies are reprised in Honor Among Outcasts. You’ll again meet Durk, Big Josh, Antoinette, Isaac, Devereau, and Wounded Wolf. Readers will be pleased to know that even young Ellen, whom readers adore, has a role to play in the coming dramatic events. Given the environment and events depicted in Book 2, the emotional state of many of the characters has devolved to, shall we say, a far darker place. Far darker.
I hope I don’t shake up fans of The Lies That Bind too much!
April 28: Reading at Subterranean Books in St. Louis' U. City Loop
June 23: Reading at Left Bank Books in St. Louis’ Central West End
Sept. 25: Garden District Book Shop, New Orleans
Oct. 29: St. Louis Central Library's 2016 Author Shout Out!
Buy/order The Lies That Bind.