author interview with Sandra Merville Hart, civil war romance, historical romance, Inspirational romance, Sandra Merville Hart, Stranger on My Land, stranger on My Land book excerpts, Wednesday Writers
Today I’m welcoming debut author Sandra Merville Hart to Wednesday Writers. I also have the pleasure of knowing Sandra personally, and you won’t find a sweeter lady anywhere. I have a review of Sandra’s book, Stranger on My Land, posted on last week’s Wednesday Writers. I think readers will enjoy this gentle, inspirational romance.
Welcome, Sandra. Please tell the readers about the book that is being showcased today.
A Stranger on My Land is an inspirational Civil War romance. Carrie finds a wounded Union soldier, Adam, outside her family’s home on Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Her father fights for the Confederacy and her bitter aunt hates Yankees, but Adam’s grateful yet teasing manner soon spark feelings deeper than friendship.
I think the Civil War is a fascinating period in our country’s history. How did you come up with the concept for this book?
I read a variety of books by Civil War soldiers to research for another novel. When I discovered that several families on Lookout Mountain hid in caves while the soldiers occupied Chattanooga, the idea was born.
What an interesting concept for the setting. What are you working on now?
My next story will be another Civil War romance. This one will be set in Gettysburg, a place that has captured my imagination. I need further research before writing it. A beautiful seamstress and a war-weary soldier would never meet if not for the battle that raged outside her Gettysburg home.
Nice blurb. So do you write in more than one genre? If so, why?
I find that historical novels are my main interest. These are the stories that most often come to me. I love writing novels set during the Civil War.
I write the stories that come to me. Recently I wrote a contemporary novella about a young woman grieving the loss of her family. I had to write it.
And though I’ve never written a romantic suspense novel, a story took root in my imagination. I have to write it to get it out of my system.
Of all the genres, historical romance is my favorite.
I love it when an unexpected story gets a hold on us. Are you a panster or a plotter?
I guess I’ve become a “panster.” Though I have an idea how the story ends, I don’t know how the characters will get there when I start Chapter 1. That’s what is driving me crazy about writing romantic suspense. I have to write it to see what happens!
I’m always interested in other writers spaces. What does your writing space look like?
Oh, I’m hoping that a messy desk equates to a creative mind!
First, I have everything on my desk for my current project. I can’t file anything away until I’m done with it or I forget to take care of it, so there are stacks of folders for different writing projects. I also keep a book of synonyms handy to help me find just the right word.
On my wall I have five different printed calendar years that pertain to recent historical novels that I’ve written.
And for inspiration I hung a painting of Jesus pulling Peter out the water when he got out the boat to come to Him. It took courage and faith for Peter to get out the boat when Jesus said, “Come.” When he took his eyes off Jesus, he sank.
I can relate to that.
I so get the messy space concept, even though I’d love to have it all in order, it just doesn’t work that way for me. We’ve heard about your writing habit, can you tell us about your reading habits? How have your reading (and writing) tastes evolved over the years? Do you still read the same genre of books you did as a teenager?
I read a lot of mystery and suspense as a teenager. I still like these, but first I reach for the historical novel.
What’s the first book you ever remember reading as a child?
I started out reading biographies in the third grade. That’s where I developed a love for reading.
How often do you read non-fiction?
As a writer of historical fiction, I read a lot of non-fiction books. I use the library extensively in my research. I request books to be sent to my local library. One time I thought that there were three books waiting for me on hold. My husband went to the library to pick them up and came home with fifteen books! Yes, I read a lot of non-fiction.
Now for some personal questions. Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?
I write full time.
I love going to the movies. Do you? If so, what was the most recent movie you’ve seen?
I love going to the movies, too. Though we don’t go often, the last one I saw was Heaven is for Real. Awesome movie. I had read the book and felt they did a nice job of making the story into a movie. And the one I saw before that was God is not Dead. I enjoyed both of them.
We like to travel. What is the most historic place that you have visited?
To research a novel, my husband and I traveled to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Walking the trails, driving the streets, visiting the cemeteries and museums — it all impacted me.
On the third and final day of the battle, the Confederate Army charged across a valley toward the waiting Union Army. As I stood on that hillside, I tried to imagine the sights. It deeply affected me.
It’s been a pleasure having you here today. As you say goodbye, can you leave the readers with an encapsulation of your life’s philosophy?
It’s hard to boil down your life’s philosophy into a simple statement. I’m a Christian, saved by God’s grace and the sacrifice of Jesus. One of the things I love most about God is that He never leaves me alone. I never face any of life’s challenges on my own. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Psalm 139 where it talks about God’s constant presence in our lives. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-10 (NIV)
Here’s an excerpt from Sandra’s debut book:
A Stranger on My Land
by Sandra Merville Hart
Carrie and her little brother, Jay, find a wounded soldier on their land after a battle which later became known as “The Battle Above the Clouds.” Adam, a Union soldier, has been shot twice in the arm. Though Carrie is reluctant to take Adam to their cave where her family hides their livestock from both armies, she cannot turn her back on him. But her Aunt Lavinia, bitter over what Yankees have done to their land, urges Carrie to allow Adam to die. Carrie refuses, but cannot remove the bullets. Adam’s friendship with Jay softens her heart toward him. It’s not long until his gratitude and teasing manner spark a friendship between the young couple. Even though Carrie’s father fights for the Confederacy in far-off Virginia, her feelings for the handsome young soldier begin to blossom into love. When Adam’s condition worsens, Carrie knows a Union surgeon is needed to save his life. How can she accomplish this and keep her family’s hiding place a secret?
Lookout Mountain, Outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee,
Wednesday, November 25, 1863
As the sound of a hundred firing muskets echoed
across the valley, Carrie Bishop stepped out of the
darkness of the cave that had sheltered her family
for over two months. Peering left and right before replacing the
branches that obscured the mouth of the small cave, she felt grateful
for the wispy fog. It should help to mask her movements from any
watchful eyes in the valley. Leaving the safety of the shrubs and one
tall oak tree that further hid the entrance, she exhaled with relief to
find no sign of the soldiers on Lookout Mountain. A noisy battle
had taken place here yesterday.
Leaves rustled behind her. “Can I come out there with you, Carrie?”
Turning swiftly at her little brother’s loud whisper, she motioned
him back inside. “No, Jay. I told you to wait for me.”
“Aw, come on, Carrie. I don’t want to stay with Aunt Lavinia.”
Her nine-year-old brother raised his eyebrows imploringly.
Carrie sighed. They’d both been stuck inside too much lately,
and their bedridden aunt’s bitter complaining didn’t make returning
to the cave such a pleasant prospect. “Let me look around first.
I’ll be right back.”
Keeping her slim frame below the top of the bushes to hide from
any curious eyes in the valley or across it on Missionary Ridge, she
crept about twenty feet away from the cave, her eyes darting in every
direction without finding any sign of the blue-clad soldiers that had
so terrified her during their approach yesterday.
The Confederate Army had been on the mountain for a couple
of months, causing no end of trouble for her. When the family’s only
horse had disappeared, Carrie had vowed the soldiers wouldn’t get
the cows and chickens, too. They moved the livestock inside the cave
with them. They’d managed to keep all the animals safe so far.
Yesterday afternoon, it seemed that most of Lookout Mountain
had been crawling with soldiers, Confederates and Union alike. Jay
had wanted to sneak outside the relative safety of their temporary
home to see the battle, but Carrie couldn’t allow it. She lived in constant
fear that the hidden opening to their cave would be discovered
by soldiers from either side. After the Southern Army stole her horse,
it created a hardship for her family. She hadn’t felt good about them
since that day. As for the Northern Army, they were the reason her
papa had to leave home and fight for General Lee’s Confederate
Army in far-off Virginia. She had a stomach full of both armies, with
little tolerance left for either.
Aunt Lavinia’s bitterness exceeded her own, only she blamed Abe
Lincoln’s Union Army as the source of all her woes, including her
The big battle fought on the mountain yesterday had frightened
her more than anything else that happened since the beginning
of the war. Much of it seemed to come from the direction of the
Cravens’ house. Part of the fighting between the Confederate Army
and the Yankee soldiers took place not far from her family’s cabin,
empty now of all food and as many possessions as they could carry.
She’d heard stories of hungry soldiers taking food from families. Not
knowing how long the war would last, she had none to spare. If any
soldier found their hiding place, there would be no way to conceal
their food. And her family would starve without it.
She and Jay had spent most of yesterday near the mouth of the
cave, listening to cannon blasts and musket fire. They could peer
through the carefully placed branches that obscured the entrance
to the cave, but dense fog had covered the mountain. Since Carrie’s
home was about a third of the way up the mountain, most of yesterday’s
fighting took place above them. At times, the shouts had been
far too close for comfort, though the men had been too far away to
distinguish any words. That’s when Carrie prayed the hardest. She
asked God to hide them and keep them safe. So far He’d done that.
No one had found them.
Higher up the mountain, the battle had continued until late into
the night when the musket fire finally decreased. Until the shooting
died down, Aunt Lavinia had fretted aloud they’d all be killed. After
Aunt Lavinia quieted down in her bed across the room, Carrie had
fallen into a troubled sleep. Worry awakened her several times. The
battle hadn’t seemed too close but was their cabin still standing?
Property could easily be destroyed during intense fighting. Would
they have a home to return to once the armies left?
She had to go and find out. Hopefully no one would notice her
while fighting continued across the valley.
A finger tapped on her shoulder. She jumped and stifled a scream.
“Jay! You scared me to death.”
“Sorry, Carrie.” Jay’s green eyes held an apology. “I thought you
heard me behind you.”
She put her hands on her hips. “Now, why would I hear you
behind me when I asked you to wait?”
Cannons blasted across the valley, reverberating in her ears. The
blasts added to the sound of hundreds of muskets.
Blond hair fell across Jay’s forehead as the heavy artillery claimed
his attention. “Those cannons are going off down toward the
Tennessee River. Looks like the Yankees are attacking Missionary
Ridge. I heard them cheering this morning up on the mountain
and down in the valley, too. I’ll bet that means the northerners won
Hundreds of blue-jacketed Union soldiers ran across Lookout
Valley toward the rifle pits at the base of Missionary Ridge, guarded
by the Confederate Army. “I reckon the fighting’s moved over there.
It’s been going on for hours.”
“I’ve been listening to it, too.” Jay stared across the valley as smoke
from the ridge showed the Confederates firing on Union soldiers
from the rifle pit. “You think that means the soldiers will be leaving
Carrie focused troubled eyes, so like her brother’s, on the battle,
wishing she could protect him from further bad news. “There’s no
telling the plans of these armies. There was a heap of fighting yesterday.
Looks like the northerners won. That probably means the
Yankees will be here a while longer.”
Confederate soldiers in gray or butternut leaped from the rifle
pits. As the Northern Army overran the rifle pit, the southerners
climbed the steep grade of Missionary Ridge to join up with other
Confederate soldiers. Once they began to arrive on top, the soldiers
on the ridge shot down toward the Union soldiers who had no place
to hide in the rifle pits. Mesmerized, Carrie and Jay watched as hundreds
of Union soldiers climbed the steep sides of Missionary Ridge
while Confederate soldiers shot at them. Carrie’s stomach twisted
in knots as one man dropped his rifle before tumbling backward.
Had she watched a man lose his life? Her heart plummeted at the possibility.
“Come on. While they’re busy across the valley, let’s see if our
cabin’s still standing.” She tucked a few wisps of blonde hair behind
her ears that had escaped from her customary style, a single braid
that almost reached her waist.
Leading the way up the path, she attempted to stay behind the brush
as much as possible, knowing movement on the mountain could attract
someone’s attention. Last night’s rain clung to some of the branches,
wetting her plain brown cloak as she brushed against the foliage. She
shivered in the cold breeze as they skirted around boulders.
It wasn’t long before signs of the recent deluge of soldiers passing
through became apparent. A few hundred yards beyond their property,
trampled underbrush and young trees bent over at the base showed the
hurry with which soldiers climbed the often steep grade. Part of the
battle must have been fought less than a mile from her home.
When they were within a hundred yards of the cabin, she heard
a faint cry.
“Did you hear something?” Unable to pinpoint the source, her
eyes darted from side to side.
“Nothing but a thousand musket shots—and those cannons rocking
the whole valley.” Jay’s eyes remained riveted on the fighting.
“Help! Help me, please.” A man’s raspy cry came from further up
“Someone’s hurt!” Jay scrambled up the slope toward the voice.
“Careful, Jay! It could be a Yankee.” With the sure-footed steps
of those accustomed to steep climbs, Carrie followed him closely.
“Hey, Mister! Could you say something again? We can’t find
you.” Jay didn’t seem at all frightened as he searched the leaf-covered
ground beneath the trees.
“I’m here. To your right.” The voice sounded closer.
The siblings followed the raspy voice and stopped at the side of a
seriously wounded soldier. Mud covered the young soldier’s bloodstained
coat. A knapsack and uncorked canteen lay at his side. A
rubber blanket covered half his tall frame.
“Do you have any water?” Brown hair fell across his forehead,
almost touching one blue eye.
Carrie knelt beside him grudgingly. “Jay, go fetch some water.”
His eyes filled with excitement, Jay picked up the empty canteen
and the cork lying beside it before running toward the well outside
She stared at the man’s guarded face, wondering if she could trust
him. “Which side do you fight for? I can’t tell what color your coat
is underneath all that mud.”
Intense blue eyes searched hers warily. “Would you help me if I
said I’m a Union soldier?”
She’d suspected as much. Jumping to her feet, she turned her back
on him. Southern cannons had never threatened her life the way
Northern shells had, chasing them into hiding.
“My wounds finally stopped bleeding, but I won’t last out here
in this cold too long. Last night’s rain gave me a good soaking.” His
voice, hoarse with thirst, pleaded with her.
She turned to face him. In spite of the scruffy appearance of a few
days’ growth of whiskers, he appeared to be a gentleman. His brown
hair touched his shoulders, so his beard wasn’t all that needed cutting.
Neither of these detracted from his looks. With only a blanket
as protection from the elements, the handsome young man probably
wouldn’t survive another night in this cold November weather.
He reached his left hand toward her imploringly. “Would you
walk away and let me die because I fight for the North?”
Shame filled her. Thrusting away the terrifying memories of the
August day when Union soldiers shot cannons into Chattanooga
while the townspeople prayed at church for the Confederacy, she
kneeled beside him. Mama would never have walked away from a
person in need, no matter what they’d done. “You’ve been shot?”
He nodded. “My upper arm burns like fire.” At the sound of running
footsteps, he touched his rifle.
She placed her hand over his. “It’s just my little brother, Jay.”
He kept his gaze riveted toward the sound until Jay bounded
“I found another canteen like this one about a month ago.” Jay
pulled the cork out and gave the canteen to Carrie.
Her gaze strayed to the prone soldier. “Can you sit up?”
Determination lit his eyes. “If you get me started.”
She slid her arm under his shoulders and gently eased him to a sitting
position. She brought the canteen to his lips. He drained it dry.
Carrie watched the soldier’s gaze shift to Missionary Ridge and
turned curiously. Intense fighting took place on top of the ridge.
The sound of a thousand muskets mingled with cannon blasts that
reverberated through the valley. Carrie shivered at the sights and
sounds of a war her father had never wanted. She looked back at the
wounded soldier and found no signs of triumphant gloating.
The man put the cork on the canteen and slung the strap over his
left shoulder. “I’m much obliged to both of you. My name’s Adam
Hendricks, U. S. Army, Ninety-ninth Ohio regiment.” He grimaced
in pain as his wounded arm shifted. “I prayed all day for God to
save me.” He winked at Jay. “I wasn’t sure He could hear me over
Jay’s jaw dropped as he stared at the soldier. “Mister, God can hear
the smallest whisper. Why, you don’t even have to pray out loud for
Him to know what you’re saying. Ain’t that right, Carrie?”
“That’s right, Jay.” She ruffled his blond hair, thankful for the
reminder. Knowing what she had to do, her gaze returned to the soldier.
“Mr. Hendricks, my name is Carrie Bishop. This is my brother,
Jay. We can take you to shelter, but we won’t be able to carry you. It’s
about half a mile away.”
“If I can lean on you, I’ll walk as far as I’m able.” With his good
hand, he tried to push himself up but failed.
Carrie and Jay exchanged a look when they realized it would be
a rough walk back to the cave for all of them. Carrie moved to the
soldier’s injured side. Putting her arm around his waist, she couldn’t
prevent jarring his arm. He bit his lip but didn’t complain. With Jay
supporting his left side, they lifted him to his feet. He was almost a
foot taller than Carrie, but very thin.
“I’m much obliged.” His legs shook for a moment, and he closed
his eyes. “Jay, if you say one of those silent prayers for me, I think I
can make it. And please call me Adam.”
“I will, Adam.”
Leaning on the siblings, he took a step. “You must be praying, Jay.”
“I am, but you gotta remember to thank Him for answering.”
He took another step. “Thank you, Lord.” His right arm hung
uselessly at his side.
“Pardon me.” Carrie halted as his arm hit her back. “If you put
your arm around my shoulder, it’d be easier to walk.” Her face flamed,
realizing her words might sound flirtatious.
Color flooded his pale face. “Sounds like a good idea, but I can’t
control my arm. It won’t listen to me right now. Would you mind?”
He seemed as embarrassed as she felt. It somehow made her
feel better. “Not at all.” She gently picked up his arm to rest on her shoulder.
Even though his lips clamped shut, a gasp escaped him.
“I’m sorry. Can you manage?” It occurred to her the bullet might
have broken a bone.
He smiled at her. “Don’t you worry about it. I’ve been through
worse than this and lived.”
At the spellbound look on Jay’s face, Adam’s teasing grin seemed to
come with great effort as he winced in pain. “Well, maybe I’m stretching
the truth a bit on that one, Jay.” His step faltered. “Looks like I’m
going to need to concentrate on my walking for a few minutes.”
Sandra’s inspirational Civil War novella, A Stranger on My Land, released on August 21, 2014.
The book is available on Amazon
Sandra Merville Hart loves to find unusual facts in her historical research to use in her stories. She and her husband enjoy traveling to many of the sites in her books to explore the history. She serves as Assistant Editor for DevoKids.com where she contributes articles about history and holidays. She has written for several publications and websites including The Secret Place, Harpstring, Splickety Magazine, Pockets Magazine, Common Ground, Afictionado, and ChristianDevotions.us.