Turning Fact into Fiction

October 1, 2010 | By More

River Valley author and historian, Nancy Dane, is on a mission. Dane’s cause is the Civil War and its horrific, but largely unknown, impact on area residents. Her method spins these grim facts of war into gripping stories told by fictional yet authentic characters, both Confederate and Union.

A natural born story-teller, Dane’s books have planted Johnson County firmly on the literary map. Nominated for the prestigious Michael Shaara Award for the best Civil War novel of 2010 for her second book, A Difference of Opinion, one literary critic compared Dane’s four volume Tattered Glory series to the “Gone with the Wind” of Arkansas, said Dane, with a happy twinkle. “The Lord has blessed me, she added.

Dane’s success is a lot more than hope and prayers, however. She works hard at her craft, and spent more than ten years doing detailed research before she published her first book, Tattered Glory, a non-fiction account of the Civil War in Johnson County. This was followed up by her fictional Tattered Glory series, now used as part of the Arkansas state Social Studies curriculum.

Book one is Where the Road Begins, a fictional account of the first two years of Civil War from the Confederate perspective. Book Two is A Difference of Opinion, a Union sympathizer’s tale set in the same timeframe. Newly released book three, A Long Way to Go, resumes the story of Confederate soldier, Elijah Loring and his bride, Cindy, from 1863 to the bitter end of the War. A yet to be released forth book will take up where A Difference of Opinion left off to follow the final struggles of Union sympathizer, Nelda Horton, and her family.

Why the Civil War? Dane said she knew she wanted to write historical fiction and it seemed the perfect timeframe to begin a series.

“The old adage ‘write what you know’ is very wise council. I knew Arkansas and then set out to learn what happened here in the war. It was more than a ten-year search, however, well worth the effort.”

During the process of research, Dane got some surprises of her own. “I didn’t know until after I started doing research for Tattered Glory that all four of my Great Grandfathers fought in the Confederate Army.” However, as Dane didn’t know any of their personal stories except for one Grandfather’s, she did not include their stories in her books.

“A lot of people don’t realize that although we didn’t have a major Civil War battle in Johnson County, the people living here still suffered horrendous hardships,” said Dane. “The real untold story is what happened to these civilians. People were starving and marauding bushwhackers and soldiers on both sides took what little the people had and ruined their hopes for the future by destroying their crops, killing their livestock and burning them out. It was a dark page in our history.”

For plot line, real history dictates a lot,” said Dane, and her extensive research has paid big dividends. “For characters… some bits and pieces come from real people I’ve known, of course. However, as I put them into the story they develop a persona of their own. Silly though it may sound, they become real to me. (I hate killing them off, but sometimes it’s necessary.) A few times I’ve tried to force a scene to go a certain way. If the character doesn’t like it, he/she balks like a stubborn mule.”

Besides writing and research skills, Dane knows the hard work of a “typical farm wife” from the Ozark hills. With four grown children and 12 grandchildren, Dane said she was perfectly happy raising children and farm animals; canning, sewing, tending a large garden, feeding cattle and doing all the things associated with farm life in northern Johnson County. Dane and her husband retired from raising cattle and moved to Dover after the children were grown but still maintain the farmstead near Ozone.

“I didn’t consider becoming a writer until after my children were grown and I was faced with the empty nest. I prayed about what to do next and felt led to try my hand at writing.” Since Dane felt she needed more education, she started college with her youngest child at University of Ozarks, where she got her “voice” and honed her research and writing technique.

Dane also praised her husband of 42 years, Louis, as her best editor. “Louis is my ‘compadre’ in writing. Sometimes, he will read something I’ve written for a male character and say “that’s not right,” then give me the man’s perspective. Louis keeps me true to the male point of view.”

Another strong influence on Dane’s career was her Lamar high school English teacher, Linda Richardson. Several years ago, Dane spotted Richardson at a grocery store and struck up a conversation.

“Mrs. Richardson asked what I was doing now that the children were raised and I answered that I was just being a farmwife. Mrs. Richardson told me I was one of the best writing students she had in her 35-plus year teaching career and suggested that I should take up writing. I took that as a sign.”

“Writing is a gift I will always be thankful for,” said Dane. “It doesn’t always come easy; some days it’s all blood and sweat. But, oh how I love the days it simply flows! Most days it is somewhere between.”

After publication of her final book in the Tattered Glory series, Dane will keep the setting of future books in Arkansas, but intends to bring the storyline forward in time. The next series will probably deal with the coal mine/timber boom era, she said.

Along with writing one book per year, Dane travels extensively for book signings events and is a frequent guest speaker on Civil War history. One photo shows her, after one of her lectures, with a few members of one of the Arkansas camps of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Dane also spent Memorial Day weekend signing autographs and greeting lines of fans at the Prairie Grove Battlefield in northwest Arkansas.

Dane’s first three novels, by Tate Publishing of Oklahoma, are carried in bookstores nationwide and also available at the Johnson County Library. Her web- site is www.nancydane.com She welcomes questions and comments.

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