The Inspiration Behind the Series Letters From War by Scott Rezer.
Have you ever thought about what it would be like to meet one of your ancestors? A great-great grandmother, perhaps, or a distant uncle on your mother’s side twice removed. Perhaps, someone famous—or maybe someone not so famous? We all have colorful characters hanging in our family tree, people we would dearly love to meet given the opportunity. For more than forty years, my family and I have researched our genealogy, trying to add flesh and bone to the stories we all grew up hearing. It has yielded some startling results, sometimes things we never dreamed we would learn, and some things perhaps best left undiscovered. We have learned so much about many individuals in our family tree, but we still yearn to discover so much more—things you simply cannot find in dusty old courthouse records or tattered Bibles or gravestones. Genealogy is a fluid, ever-changing pursuit of the elusive, exciting one moment, disappointing and frustrating the next. The thrill of it is never knowing when another big discovery lies just around the corner.
One of the most intriguing people we have researched is my third great-grandparents, Taylor Rezer, a Union soldier, and his wife, Sarah Umstead. I had always been a Civil War enthusiast, so their story always drew me to them. In 2013, I wrote Love Abideth Still, the first in my Letters from War series, a novel born from a magazine article I wrote a few years before to honor the memory of my great-grandfather and his service in the Civil War. Only after writing the article, did I decide to turn it into a full-length novel about him and his wife. At the time, we knew only bland details about them—names, dates, places—but something compelled me to dig deeper and tell their story. Knowing Taylor had served as a soldier in the Union Army during the war and died as a paroled prisoner peaked my curiosity most of all. I wanted answers to so many questions, so I decided what better way to find those answers and bring my ancestors to life once more, than to write about them.
I was a little hesitant at first about this project as I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. After all, the emotional attachment of a novel based on one’s ancestors can render a story far more interesting to a writer than to a reader. It seemed a simple enough story to write. I was wrong. Little did I know how much it would affect me before I finished. It not only broadened my appreciation of Taylor and Sarah’s lives, but the sacrifice made by all those who lived during the war—not just the sacrifice of the soldiers, but also those who remained behind back home.
Since writing Taylor and Sarah’s story, I finished a second novel based on the lives of another Civil War ancestor who, until I began writing, was also little more than a name. The last several years, though, have yielded a wealth of exciting information that reveal—and continue to reveal—a wonderful story I had to share. Love Remembreth Not follows the life of a young man, my second great-grandfather Henry Heimsoath, a Confederate soldier who entered into the Orphan House of antebellum Charleston at the age of six and became a veteran of a terrible war by the age of twenty-three. He lost everything he held dear—family, friends, his home—only to discover love in the most unlikely of places when he met his much younger wife, Geneva Overman, a servant girl at the home of a kindly doctor who took Henry in after the war to care for him.
I had always hoped to write two stories, one from a Union soldier’s perspective, and one from a Confederate view. Little did I know when I began this series’ that five years later I would write a third novel (due out later this summer), Love Endureth Much, about yet another ancestor who served with the Union army. This latest story about my third-great-grandparents, William Tucker and Mary Cornwall, centers on a young man who forsook his Quaker beliefs to enlist in the war to support his family and win back his estranged wife when misfortune befalls them. Little does he suspect the tragedy that awaits him when he returns home, or that he will find love once more with a woman he once scorned to marry another—but only if he can set aside the guilt that haunts him.
If I thought writing the first novel had affected me deeply, imagine how much plunging into the lives of three sets of ancestors, even as fictionalized accounts, would change my view of their lives, and my own. Writing is a reward all its own; writing about people who are your own flesh and blood is something altogether different. It is a reward far beyond description.
In writing this Civil War series, I hope to keep alive the memory of my ancestors, not just for my family, and myself, but also for all those who choose to share in reading about them. Their lives were not special; in fact, they were common people among the many who lived during those troubled times. I am a firm believer that our past helps define who we are in the present. Families pass on more than just inherited genes. They leave legacies for us to share and to emulate.
For me, writing these three novels honoring the memories of my ancestors has been a forty-two year odyssey that began one summer as a genealogy project with my grandmother to relieve the boredom of a thirteen year old. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it would produce, all these years later, three novels I am proud to have penned—an experience that humbles me every day.
So, what’s next? Let’s see—another ancestor, and another historical novel. This time, 1800 Germany: Napoleon is redrawing the map of Europe and a disgraced woman of noble birth discovers love in the kindness of a poor haberdasher at a time when she thinks all else is lost. This should prove quite the experience.
Coming Summer of 2018 Love Endureth Much
About the Author
Scott R. Rezer was born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania in 1963. He met his wife and best friend while serving in the U.S. Air Force. They have two grown children and live in the Southwest. He is an indie published author of six historical fiction novels ranging from the Civil War to the Crusades to ancient Biblical history. Two of his books have garnered Editor’s Choice selections by the Historical Novel Society (The Leper King and Shadow of the Mountain).
He credits his grandmother for his writing interest. She was a local historian and writer. He could never ask her a simple question without hearing her say with a wink, “Go look it up.” In so doing, she managed to instill in him a love of history and a wonderful sense of discovery that have stuck with him ever since.
The Leper King Book (Book One: The Magdalen Cycle)
Editor’s Choice Selection—Historical Novel Society Reviews (February 2015)
Long-Listed—HNS Indie Award 2015
Shadow of the Mountain (Book One: The Children of Ararat)
Editor’s Choice Selection— Historical Novel Society Reviews (August 2015)
Long-Listed—HNS Indie Award 2016