Publication Date: October 1, 2014 Blank Slate Press
Formats: eBook, Trade Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
“I saw a woman hanged on my way to the Pittsburgh docks…”
Agnes Canon is tired of being a spectator in life, an invisible daughter among seven sisters, meat for the marriage market. The rivers of her Pennsylvania countryside flow west, and she yearns to flow with them, explore new lands, know the independence that is the usual sphere of men.
This is a story of a woman’s search for freedom, both social and intellectual, and her quest to understand what freedom means. She learns that freedom can be the scent and sound of unsettled prairies, the glimpse of a cougar, the call of a hawk. The struggle for freedom can test the chains of power, poverty, gender, or the legalized horror of slavery. And to her surprise, she discovers it can be found within a marriage, a relationship between a man and a woman who are equals in everything that matters.
It’s also the story of Jabez Robinson, a man who has traveled across the continent and seen the beauty of the country and the ghastliness of war, as he watches his nation barrel toward disaster. Faced with deep-seated social institutions and hard-headed intransigence, he finds himself helpless to intervene. Jabez’s story is an indictment of war in any century or country, and an admission that common sense and reasoned negotiation continue to fail us.
As Agnes and Jabez struggle to keep their community and their lives from crumbling about them, they must face the stark reality that whether it’s the freedom of an African from servitude, of the South from the North, or of a woman from the demands of social convention, the cost is measured in chaos and blood.
This eloquent work of historical fiction chronicles the building of a marriage against the background of a civilization growing – and dying – in the prelude to civil war.
Hello, Deborah! It is a pleasure chatting with you today and I would like to say that you have done an absolutely splendid job writing your story, Agnes Canon’s War. I finished reading it last week and I greatly admire your attention to the culture of the American nineteenth century. What first drew you to this period?
Thank you! I’m happy to be here and so glad you enjoyed ACW. I’ve had a fascination for the Civil War era ever since my visited Gettysburg when I was probably ten years old. So when a cousin compiled the basic facts about my great-great-grandparents, Agnes and Jabez Robinson, I was intrigued by their experiences during that war and wanted to know more about what they must have gone through.
I have to admit I haven’t read much about the Civil War era in the border state of Missouri. Why did you chose this setting for your story?
The main reason is that northwest Missouri is where my ancestors settled, and where their actual story played out. Agnes Canon’s War is based on fact, and I tried to keep the novel as true to the actual history as possible. The town of Lick Creek in the novel is actually the town of Oregon, Missouri, a delightful and very rural village north of St. Joseph, not far from the Missouri River. The bonus for me was that many people don’t know much about the Civil War west of the Mississippi, or how affected the people of Missouri were by fighting that disrupted their homes. It helps ACW stand out, I think, from most other novels about the Civil War.
What is one of the challenges Agnes faces while searching for the freedoms she longs for?
Margaret Fuller, America’s first feminist (she lived from 1810 to 1850) railed against all the challenges women in the nineteenth century faced. “Education,” she complains, “was not to prepare women for professions and public life but . . . that they may become better companions and mothers for men.” That kind of attitude was a huge stumbling block for any woman who hopes to determine her own future.
That’s a challenge we’re all familiar with. But I think one challenge that Agnes felt most keenly was the inability to travel alone. It simply wasn’t done for women to head off for the west the way Jabez did, to see and experience new places, unless she was accompanied by male relatives. That, to me, is a restriction that had to be suffocating for her.
Please tell your audience a little about Agnes and Jabez Robinson’s relationship in the beginning…
They were attracted, immediately, both of them. The encounter in Cincinnati was one of those jolts when you know there’s something there, something to fantasize about. Jabez, though he loved his first wife, had by then lost his passion for her, and Agnes’s strength and intelligence captivated him. I think in the early years, after his first wife’s death, they became friends. The idea that she would never marry had become a comfortable habit with Agnes; Jabez wasn’t sure he could convince her that independence and equality between a man and a woman can exist within a marriage. The depth of their friendship and love eventually overcame those impediments.
Besides the civil war what are some of the challenges happening during the nineteenth century? Like for example, education, how civilization is growing and so forth.
Ethnic upheavals may have been the most difficult challenge of those times. What to do with freed slaves, of course, was a gigantic challenge – many people, including Abraham Lincoln, hoped to relocate them to Africa or to Caribbean islands. But relations with Native Americans were also a challenge throughout the war. In 1862, thirty-eight Sioux warriors were hanged (on Lincoln’s orders), the largest mass execution in American history.
There were challenges in assimilating other groups, as well. The Irish were discriminated against, Catholics weren’t welcome in many neighborhoods or professions. California legally prohibited Chinese immigration while the railroads were recruiting Chinese workers. Rapid industrialization after the war only exacerbated the differences between the haves and the have-nots.
Please tell me a little about Agnes’s Father and his relationship with her.
Daniel Canon simply did not understand his daughter. For one thing, she wasn’t a boy. And he was devastated by the fact that there would be no sons for him, no one to carry his name and his bloodline. The most he could hope for was a grandson, and to his way of thinking, that’s the only thing daughters were good for. It became apparent that Agnes was his only hope, and she disappointed him. Submissiveness, piety, passivity – that’s what he wanted from her. And there was no way she was going to give him that.
What motivates Jabez to travel across the continent during the ghastliness of war and what are some of the social conditions he encounters?
Jabez was a wanderer, an adventurer – as Eliza (his first wife) said, a rogue. He was restless, wanted to see the world, experience the wild, test himself against hardship and test his medical skills against the vast variety of diseases and accidents. He would have encountered primitive living conditions, greed and discrimination and avarice among the gold seekers, but also the excitement of a growing and expanding country in its “teen” years – the sense that anything was possible. When he was drawn into the war against Mexico in the southwest he would have encountered cultures that would seem almost exotic to him – a variety of different native cultures and the centuries-old Spanish and Catholic mission cultures of southern California.
Was there a particular scene in your story difficult to write?
Several. One that I had trouble with, though, was the scene where the men from Lick Creek visited Missouri’s Senator David Rice Atchison. Atchison wanted them to join him in claiming Kansas for the southern interests. The scene was difficult because I wanted it to be realistic, so I used actual phrases that Atchison used in speeches, but I needed the dialog and interactions to be natural, not stiff. It was hard avoid turning some of the historical characters into caricatures.
Which character are you partial to and why?
I love Agnes. She’s smart and funny and sassy, and didn’t let tragedy destroy her. But I have a special afinity for a couple of the minor characters, particularly Dick and Rose McDonald, the African American couple who are quietly capable and determined. And I adore little James with his black arrowhead.
Will you be writing other stories that take place during this era?
I’m working on one that takes place in the 1864 to 1868 time period, mostly in Montana during its wild territory days. And I’m noodling around with the idea of a sequel to Agnes Canon’s War: Agnes’s life in the gilded years of the 1870s and 1880s.
Thank you, Deborah!
Thank you, so much, for hosting me.
Deborah Lincoln grew up in the small town of Celina, among the cornfields of western Ohio. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Michigan. She and her husband have three grown sons and live on the Oregon coast.
Of her passion for historical fiction, she says: “I’m fascinated by the way events—wars and cataclysms and upheavals, of course, but the everyday changes that wash over everyday lives—bring a poignancy to a person’s efforts to survive and prosper. I hate the idea that brave and intelligent people have been forgotten, that the hardships they underwent have dropped below the surface like a stone in a lake, with not a ripple left behind to mark the spot.”
Agnes Canon’s War is the story of her great great-grandparents, two remarkable people whose lives illustrate the joys and trials that marked America’s tumultuous nineteenth century.
Praise for Agnes Canon’s War
“Impressively researched, it captures the brutality of the war in the West and the complicated, divided loyalties of the people who are caught up in it. Agnes Canon’s War will have readers anticipating the romance and dreading the battles in equal amounts.” -Steve Wiegenstein, author of Slant of Light and This Old World
“The characters are likeable, intelligent, humorous, spunky and passionate people whose zest for adventure is met and then some! Superb historical fiction this reviewer highly recommends.” – Historical Novel Society
“Agnes Canon’s War is brilliantly researched and written. Deborah Lincoln has successfully described the occurrences of the Civil War era in the border state of Missouri and the resultant emotions upon the inhabitants of the area. Many neighbors were bitterly opposed to one another, and severe heartache touched everyone. Lincoln’s writing places the reader in the midst of that turmoil. Her research is accurate and lends to a skillfully-designed background for Agnes Canon’s story. An example is her reference to Westport Landing. It is a little-known fact (even to most Missourians) that this original port on the Missouri River, located in the vicinity of today’s Grand and Main Streets, resulted in present-day Kansas City. This heartfelt book will likely impress even the most seasoned historians.” -William R. Reynolds, Jr. author of Andrew Pickens: South Carolina Patriot in the Revolutionary War and The Cherokee Struggle to Maintain Identity in the 17th and 18th Centuries
“Years ago in fiction workshop, this manuscript leaped out at me with the most memorable opening line I’d seen in forever: “I saw a woman hanged on my way to the Pittsburgh docks.”
On revisiting this story several years after my first beta-read of the whole novel, I was struck by how many details and scenes I remember. Historical fiction is not for the lazy writer. The tremendous amount of research that skilled writers weave into the narrative are simply amazing.
I’m afraid I’ll be guilty of plot spoilers if I mention some of my favorite scenes or the tragic events that really happened. I will say Jabez has a first wife, and Agnes befriends her to her dying day. That first wife has a fascination for what today would sound like New Age mysticism. Any reader who hates reading about war should keep going, because all sorts of intriguing historical issues and beliefs come to light in Agnes Canon’s world.
The prose is polished, the story spellbinding, the authenticity both inspiring and heartbreaking. Five stars!” -Carol Kean Blog, Book Reviews, Cosmic Rants
Buy the Book
Agnes Canon’s War Blog Tour Schedule
Tuesday, December 9 Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes
Wednesday, December 10 Review at Too Fond
Monday, December 15 Review at Luxury Reading
Thursday, December 18 Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks