There’s an author of historical fiction I admire. Most of his works are set during the 18th century, a time period in US history I find pivotal, alluring, and chock full of excellent story possibilities. The author is James Alexander Thom.
I recently read his book Long Knife, which is the story of George Rogers Clark (brother to the more famous William Clark) and his truly outstanding exploits against the British during the Revolutionary War, on the western frontier.
Here’s a passage from the book I read one day while I waited for my clothes to dry at the laundromat:
George stood in the starlight and looked at this little group of dark forms scattered about on the ocean of smooth pale plain. Six hours of squirming through the forests this morning, he thought; six more racing along in that blazing sun, and now six more marching through the night. Eighteen hours on foot at this pace, and not one solitary straggler! He tipped up his flask and took a long pull of brandy, his eyes on the stars, the cool wind drying the sweat on his neck. He lowered the flask, continued to look up at the sky, thought of the eclipse that had so frightened the men a week ago on the Falls–a week it’s been! he thought–and yet they had come on with him, overcoming the many fears they must be having, and still, even as he drove them on and on into this strange unfriendly country, they kept up, and kept up in good spirits. He listened to their sleep-breathing now, sighed, and looked at the high constellations and the stardust of the Milky Way. I thank Thee for bringing me men like these….
He was awakened to the sound of his flask dropping to the ground, and realized that he had fallen asleep on his feet in the middle of a prayer. Shaking his head and smiling, he stretched out on the grass, put his hat over his face, and, with a sensation like lying on a raft in a whirlpool, spun slowly off to oblivion.***
They had been on the trail for two hours the next morning when the sun rose behind them, lighting the high cumulus clouds piled above the horizon ahead. It was a glorious morning. Small birds flickered among the grasses and wildflowers, hunting, and as the sun climbed and burned off the dew that drenched the marchers’ leggings, countless butterflies tumbled and drifted everywhere. Each step George took sent gray-green grasshoppers with black-banded legs scattering ahead through the grass, like the drops one splashes ahead when wading in shallow water.
This passage sings for me. It fills me with a breathless joy and the immediacy of being there. It brought me to tears. In the laundromat. There are many reason why I write, but this passage (and hundreds like it from Thom and other writers) is one of those reason. It’s the kind of writing I long to produce and what I’ll keep striving for, God willing, for years to come.
Thom’s website: http://www.jamesalexanderthom.com/
*For all that I love Thom’s writing, his books are general market fiction. Some of them contain historical elements that some readers of Inspirational fiction would find too graphic, violent, or harsh. I’m just sayin.
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