Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Guest Author Stan Jensen

Synopsis of Ethan’s Peach Tree

Set during Sherman's Atlanta campaign, Ethan's Peach Tree is a 'what if' of history that covers a twenty-four hour period during this critical time of the war.  In an offensive intended to break the will of the war-weary North and Lincoln's political power, General Joseph E. Johnston has eluded Sherman and is marching his forces north to join with Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.  General Nathan Chambers and his brigade must hold Orchard Creek Crossroads.  Superb characterization brings to life General Nathan Chambers, the men he commands, the family he loves, and a host of others who all connect in a page-turning story of love and conflict that leads to an ending poignant and unforgettable.  For those whose passion is the Civil War, Ethan's Peach Tree is a must read.

Author Information

Stan D. Jensen received his bachelor's degree in history and his master's degree in education and business from the University of Northern Iowa.  He's managed a finance office, spent a decade in thoroughbred racing as a jockey's agent and as an owner of race horses, and took an early retirement from Chicago Transit Authority to devote all his time to writing.  His short stories have been published in the magazine The Backstretch.  A life-long student of the Civil War, Ethan's Peach Tree is his first novel.  Mr. Jensen lives in Clinton, Iowa, and continues to write. 

Visit http://moodsandobsessions.blogspot.com/ for more of Mr. Jensen's writing.  "A Soldier's Story," a post made on 10/27/13, will be of particular interest for those who enjoy reading about the Civil War. 

Questions and Answers

What writers do you especially admire?  Why?

John Steinbeck for his imagery.
William Faulkner for his ability to create time and place.
Gabriel Marquez for his insights into the human heart.
Carson McCullers for her characterization.
Truman Capote for writing with a rhythm so fine his prose reads like poetry.
Harper Lee for writing with her conscience.
William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens for their epic themes
Virginia Woolf for her beautiful sentences.  I should add here that I don't particularly like
         any of Woolf's stories; none ever struck a chord in me.  But back to why I mention her:
         she wrote such beautiful sentences.

What caused you to want to write Ethan’s Peach Tree?

I wanted to write a book that depicted the horror of war and slavery, that depicted what kind of men put on uniforms to do battle for what they believed in.  I wanted readers to be able to smell the gunsmoke, see ranks of infantry firing musket volleys, hear the thunder of the big guns, to feel fear, pain, suffering, and to feel that which war always brings, the feeling of loss.  And with that said, one of my youtube videos will further help explain my need to write about the Civil War: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Hddda8oxh8

What for you is the most difficult aspect of writing historical fiction?

The research.  That I've been a student of the Civil War since I was a teenager helped, but the librarians and Park Rangers at Gettysburg and Wilson's Creek were a great assistance in filling in details.

How did you come to write such excellent sensory detail?

Give the reader detail to focus on, imagery that engages all the senses, and the reader's imagination will ignite and illuminate the writer's entire scene.  "Such excellent sensory detail" doesn't take genius, it isn't even a matter of talent, but it is a matter of dedication, the willingness on the part of the writer to spend the time needed to be creative and write a story not just readable, but a story brought to life and into sharp focus by detailed imagery.  Time, then, is vital to the creative process that allows me to write this imagery, to write the "sensory detail" that fires the reader's imagination.

So, now we know I'm a dedicated writer, willing to put time into a story, but, just like any other writer, my writing also reflects the way I think, my patterns of thought.  I've always thought in detail, always noticed little things, and that has had a profound effect on the style in which I write.  I don't intend to sound arrogant, but beautiful sentences can be found in Ethan's Peach Tree not just because I've taken the necessary time, but also because when I look at the world, I look for detail.  There are two sentences early in the book, when Nathan is in his tent before dawn, and I love these sentences because I took a quiet moment and made it memorable simply because I took the time to find the right words to express the details of the scene I'd so vividly imagined:

"The flame of the candle suddenly leaped to make the shadows in the tent jump.  Nathan smelled hot wax, and on the shoulder straps of his frock coat the silver stars of a general gleamed."

A writer must give the reader something to touch, to see, to smell, to taste, to hear.  The writer's reward for doing so will be a reader who'll follow his trail of words to the far reaches of his imagination.

How long did it take you to write Ethan's Peach Tree?

To write the one hundred forty pages took nearly four years.

What advice would you give an aspiring historical novelist?

The same advice I'd give any aspiring writer: if all you have at the end of hours of writing is that which summons the unwanted image of poison ivy, just keep writing.  It takes practice to make a rose out of words.


In the stillness before dawn, Nathan was shocked awake by pain.  He’d moved his right arm enough to aggravate his two-month old wound.  At the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, part of the shoulder muscle had been scooped away by a solid shot from a Confederate cannon.  He lay clenching his jaw so hard his teeth throbbed, the smell from the bloody bandage reeking in his nostrils.  Then he lost patience.  In one quick move he sat, swung his legs out of bed, and stood up.  When he wasn’t jolted by even more pain, he felt victorious.

A gray light edged the slit of the closed tent flaps.  Nathan fumbled briefly with a match, then lit the candle on his campaign desk. The first thing he saw by the flickering flame was the bottle of laudanum.  The opiate spoke to him in a chanting voice, promising dreams.

“No!” Nathan said.

This wasn’t easy, for under the opiate’s spell he always dreamed of the farm in Clinton County, Iowa, of his parents and brother, of a girl named Tess Lewis.  These dreams were a relief to his soul, his heart, and reminded him that life was more than bugle calls, long marches, bloody battlefields.  But in the hospital these last few weeks, he had weaned himself off the laudanum, kept this single bottle to prove that he was in control, and had learned that if he concentrated on the Breguet pocket watch that had kept time for three generations of his family, he could summon memories of home that distracted him from the present, enabled him to manage the pain of his wound without drugs.

The flame of the candle suddenly leaped to make shadows in the tent jump.  Nathan smelled hot wax, and on the shoulder straps of his frock coat the silver stars of a general gleamed.

Standing in front of a pan of water and a small mirror that hung from the tent’s center pole, Nathan took razor in hand to shave himself, grateful for the fact that he was left-handed.  Nathan was well-built, strong from farm work he’d done as a boy.  He kept his black hair cut short and his mustache trimmed and waxed to dagger points.  His handsome face had a strong, calm look and was squared by a jaw that came to a blunt, dimpled chin.  His eyes were a sharp, brilliant blue and were always measuring a man, judging his worth.  Many found the steady gaze of Nathan’s eyes unsettling, difficult to meet.  And yet, on the battlefield, when blazing with what seemed an inner blue light, Nathan’s eyes could put strength into men, help them find their courage, move them to fight for flag and country.

Fife and drum sounded reveille, and Nathan could hear the camp stir outside his tent.  Stiff and sore, managing his shoulder, he dressed slowly: clean shirt, collar, vest, dark blue trousers with suspenders, and a black tie he kept knotted so he could slip it on.  It was a contest with only one good arm, but as he pulled on polished boots that fit him well above the knee, he had the feeling of being revitalized.  He loosened up, began to move quicker and easier.  Once into his high-collared officer’s coat, he tied his gold-tasseled sash around his waist, then over it belted on his sword and .44 caliber Colt Dragoon revolver.  The brass and silver mounted sword was a gift from the Iowa Bar after he resigned as district court judge to accept his commission in the army.  The blade was etched with the inscription: Draw me not without reason – Sheath me not without honor.

As the gray wave came to within three hundred fifty yards of the Union line, McHenry ordered the use of spherical case and long range canister.  Not long after, every man in the Union line brought his Springfield to his shoulder and a sheet of flame three regiments wide lit up the smoke-covered battlefield with a flash of light.  From then on, the order was "Fire at will!" and the line sounded with the heavy rattle of continuous musketry.

The Confederates swept onward, line after line of determined, skilled veterans, keeping good order as they came through the blizzard of shell and minie balls.  Rebel flags that fell were snatched from the ground, from the clutches of dead and wounded color bearers, to flutter high again.  Officers gestured wildly, pointing the way to the Union line with swords, shouting with trumpet voices, "For your wives and sweethearts!  For home!  Forward!"

Canister tore wide holes in the Rebel ranks.  Men were sent spinning, tumbling, cartwheeling across the ground.  Men were on their hands and knees coughing blood.  Men were ripped apart, their heads, arms, torsos, legs, flying through the air.  Horses ran riderless, stirrups and reins flopping.  Wounded and dying men screamed and pleaded for help.  With flags tilting forward above the smoke, the heavy battle lines came on, not faltering, the Rebels raising their yell, their voices shrill, strong, defiant as they quick-stepped toward the blazing muzzles of the Union line.  Less than one hundred yards away, the Rebel officers shouted the command "Halt!  Front! 


Confederate muskets flamed.  The volley hit the Union line.  There was the sound of minie balls thudding hard into flesh, the crack of minie balls hitting bone, the ping and clatter of minie balls striking metal and wood.  There were cries and grunts from men dropping to the ground wounded.  Only silence from men dropping dead.  The smoke was heavier now, and the Union soldiers kept tearing cartridges, loading, firing, trying to stop the gray infantry they couldn't see but knew followed the red battle flags floating above the smoke.