I can’t believe summer is really here, and we are heading into the Fourth of July holiday weekend! I have been trying to get the garden in shape, but it’s been slow-going this year. We do finally have some beans coming, along with broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, corn, sweet potatoes, and cucumbers. The strawberries were pretty sparse, but blueberries and raspberries are pretty plentiful right now.

Historical Fiction author Jessica James wins John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction
For those of you who are not on Facebook and so don’t know the good news, I recently found out that I have won a second John Esten Cooke Award for Southern Fiction–this time for the Civil War novel Above and Beyond. (I won it in 2011 for Noble Cause).

The award is presented annually to encourage writers of fiction to portray characters and events dealing with Southern history in a historically accurate fashion. I am in good company because other winners include New York Times bestselling authors Donald McCaig for Jacobs Ladder and Newt Gingrich for Grant Comes East.

I am really honored to receive this award, because I have read and studied John Esten Cooke and his exploits during the Civil War since back when I first started doing research for Shades of Gray.

Cooke was not only a Civil War soldier, but one of the most important literary figures of nineteenth-century Virginia. A prolific author of historical adventures and romances in the tradition of Sir Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper, Cooke’s work holds a significant place in Virginia’s literary history and in nineteenth-century American literary culture.

This is the house where Cooke lived, called The Briars
This past weekend, I traveled down to Virginia, and ended up in Cooke’s old stomping grounds. He was an aide to General JEB Stuart during the War Between the States, and was actually a cousin of JEB’s wife, Flora Cooke Stuart.

In addition to finding the house where he lived, I also visited the beautiful graveyard where he is buried. (I will be writing a future post on the Old Chapel Cemetery).

Cooke fought with the Richmond Howitzers at the First Battle of Bull Run. After the battle, he began to write to newspapers of the South as, “Our Virginia Correspondent.” In 1862, Cooke served as an unpaid volunteer for Major General Stuart, he was then formally commissioned as a lieutenant and officially joined Stuart’s staff.

Tombstone of author and Civil War author John Esten Cooke
Tombstones of Cooke and his family.
His tombstone reads:
“He served loyally and gallantly through the late war on the staff of Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. Pure in thought, amiable in disposition, he died as he lived in simple child like faith in the promises of God.”

In addition to his numerous novels, Cooke wrote popular biographies of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

I am so honored to receive this award. It’s a great kick-off to what I hope will be a great summer of writing. I hope you have a happy and safe Independence Day holiday!

Jessica James


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