In the writing world, I am what is known as a “pantser”. Most historical authors start with a neat little outline of the plot, character charts, and folders bulging with research. Not me. As soon as I know my two main characters and where the story begins, I jump in and start writing. I go where the story takes me, following whatever path presents itself, and discovering the plot along the way. In other words, I write by the seat of my pants!
Most writer’s will admit that when the words are flowing there is often a feeling of other worldliness, as if you are merely a conduit through which the story flows. Sometimes it’s more than just words; sometimes it’s characters that arrive unexpectedly. Usually when this happens it’s someone I know. My grandfather showed up in my first book and my sister-in-law in my third. Bru, my husband has walked onto the page in the guise of two different heroes. I told him he must be my ultimate romantic fantasy! There have been a few characters, however, that started out as walk on characters and over several books took on life of their own. Matthew McNesby is one of those.
McNesby is a rather useful character who has a habit of popping into my books unannounced. From Murphy’s Rainbow, where he first appeared for a single chapter, I knew McNesby was the head of Union espionage during the Civil War. I’m not sure why, though it was probably because it was such an unlikely back story for the slightly past middle-aged banker the heroine knew him to be. That’s where he stayed for twenty years.
When I started writing the Jinx and the Pinkerton, I knew my hero Luke was in Independence, Missouri to investigate something. Because the story was set before the Civil War, and about ten years earlier than Murphy’s Rainbow, it seemed natural to pull McNesby out, dust him off and put him in as Luke’s boss. I’m not quite sure when Luke became a Pinkerton detective, but it seemed plausible when I found that Alan Pinkerton had started his agency in 1850. I also discovered that Pinkerton set up what eventually became the Secret Service and the CIA during the Civil War. It wasn’t much of a stretch for McNesby and Pinkerton to be associates before the war who traded resources and men back and forth. It worked well for the book, and I put McNesby away again when I was finished.
It turns out you can’t keep a good man, or character, down. Toward the end of the book Winter Hawk McNesby once again waltzed onto the page. I hadn’t realized until then that my hero Jace Sommers was also a Pinkerton agent. It made sense, though. He was at Fort Laramie in 1868 investigating a theft ring that almost certainly involved one or more of the highest-ranking officers. It made sense to use outside investigators, especially when it became apparent there was a whole team of agents at the fort.
What I didn’t know until a few weeks ago was the identity of the man who really was in charge of Union espionage during the war. None other than Alan Pinkerton! In fact about the only difference between Alan Pinkerton and the fictitious Matthew McNesby is that one was a Scottish immigrant and the other was Irish. I do so love it when history cooperates with the story I’ve written!
Read excerpts from Carolyn Lampman's books at her website at carolynlampman.org
Coming next in The Pinkerton Trilogy! Stay tuned for the release announcement.
Winter Hawk by Carolyn Lampman
Genre: Historical Western Romance
Heat Level: 3
Language Level: 2
Violence Level: 2
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