People often ask me where the inspiration for Shades of Gray came from. Those familiar with where I live assume that I write about the Civil War because I reside in Gettysburg.
Truth is, it was a house in a Civil War town in Virginia that really inspired me to take the time to research and write an emotional story of love and war.
I don’t really talk about this experience much. Number one, it’s hard to explain. Number two, it’s kind of embarrassing and probably sounds a little corny. But it really happened and it really served as the impetus for Shades of Gray.
What occurred took place at Chatham Manor, which served as a hospital after the Battle of Fredericksburg. I stumbled across the site on a trip to Fredericksburg in the early 90s, and being an “old house” enthusiast, decided to take a look.
Upon entering the house, I paid the attendant who sat inside the door, and then began to look around. As soon as I entered a small room to the right of the main hallway, I began shaking and became overwhelmed with such a feeling of grief that I had to grab hold of the doorway. I can only describe it as a physical weight of intense — really indescribable — despair hitting me from out of the blue. I suddenly had tears running down my face and I had no idea why.
Now, a normal person would probably be frightened, or want to know what could possibly be causing this. Me? I worried about how I was going to get out of the house I had just entered two minutes earlier without embarrassing myself by running past the attendant with tears running down my face.
When I heard the voices of more visitors arriving, I seized the opportunity. I ran out the door, got in my car and drove away… still shaking.
My Chatham experience probably lasted all of five minutes — but it has never left me. I knew that experience happened for a reason. I began to read everything I could about the Lacy House, and, the more I read, the more interested I became in the human side of the chaos of the War Between the States. I became driven to write something that would harness those emotions and let other people feel them the way I felt them that day.
I am hopeful that I succeeded. As one reviewer wrote, “The anger and fear depicted in Shades of Gray is at times almost palatable; the intense sorrow, frustration, and ultimately love, seem to transcend the pages to settle in the very marrow of the reader’s bones.”
And it all began in Fredericksburg…
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