[Introduction: There are three days left to go in Francis Hamit’s Kickstarter to fund publication of Starmen: A Novel. Donors of $1 or more get a copy of the ebook as a reward. The following post first appeared as one of his campaign updates and is reprinted with permission.]
By Francis Hamit: One of the privileges of writing fiction, even fact-based historical fiction is the right to make up improbable coincidences. You can slide with perfect confidence into Alternative History because Real Life has outdone you at every turn. Hence the phrase “you can’t make this stuff up”.
But you can try. And here I have. One of the characters in Starmen is borrowed from my novel The Shenandoah Spy — Sir Percy Wyndham, the Irish “wild goose” mercenary recruited to lead the 1st New Jersey Cavalry during the early part of the American Civil War. He developed a rivalry with 7th Virginia Cavalry leader Turner Ashby, derided him as a dirt farmer amateur only to have his entire unit trapped and captured soon thereafter by Ashby.
The same day Ashby was killed by friendly fire. Belle Boyd’s birthday as well. While I know the exterior circumstances I have little idea of how those people felt, reacted, or what they said to each other. One of the revelations of my Civil War Research is that the so-called Official Records were usually written months after the actual events by staff officers who were not there. What shreds of truth there are can be used to support an otherwise bald lie. Diaries as and letters are more reliable but even there some people lie.
And lie I also must to create creditable dialog about and between my characters. To that end Sir Percy Wyndham must stay in character as a flawed, egotistical and suicidally brave soldier willing to die in battle. With a strong moral center. In real life, once he knew that he was surrounded, he jumped down off his horse and indulged himself in a rather childish tantrum. Then he surrendered. He might have been willing to fight Ashby to the death (although that was not how they did things in Europe) but his men came first. They were able and willing to fight. He would not let them be slaughtered.
Wyndham goes through a number of transformations is an alternative timeline that depends a great deal on my layman’s understanding of quantum physics. In it he is critical to the ending I currently plan. At no time does he fall out of character or lose that strong moral center every professional soldier must have.