Author William "Buzz" McCollough has plumbed the family lore and a collection of Civil War-era letters to write his first novel.
"Through the Canebrake," inspired by the words and deeds of the author's great-great-grandparents, will soon be released by iUniverse, Inc., an online, on-demand publisher.
McCollough, a Brainerd native who lives in Seattle, has called the historical novel "a compelling chronicle of adventure, page-turning action and inspiring love."
The novel tells the story -- part fact, part fiction -- of Will and Laura Gibbon, from Laura's tragic childhood on the Kentucky frontier of the 1840s to her meeting and marrying Will on the eve of the Civil War.
This is the front and back covers of "Through the Canebrake," by William "Buzz" McCollough.
The bulk of the action occurs during the war years, as the couple is swept into the conflict's turmoil, Will as a battlefield surgeon with the 15th Iowa Volunteers and Laura as his nurse, companion and protector.
"Laura's determination and indomitable spirit guide her through one perilous challenge after another," the author said, including the daring rescue of her husband from Confederate hands.
Laura reaches the captive by hacking through the canebrake of a Louisiana swamp, the act that inspired the book's title, McCollough said in an interview this week.
The couple's shared adventures take them to the battlefields of Shiloh, Vicksburg and Corinth, some of the bloodiest of the war, and the march to the sea with Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman.
But the novel ends on a happy note, as the couple finds contentment in small-town Iowa in the postwar years.
McCollough said the foundations for his novel were discovered years ago in a collection of letters written by his great-great-grandmother to her husband shortly after their marriage.
The letters -- about 10 in all -- were passed down from generation to generation, given to him by his father, William, the longtime owner of The Brainerd Dispatch. Brother Terry is now the newspaper's publisher.
One of the letters, with its graceful script, serves as the motif for the cover of "Through the Canebrake," along with facial shots of the novel's main characters.
McCollough, once a biology and geography teacher at Washington High School in Brainerd, even used the letters on occasion in his classroom lesson plan, he said.
After savoring the letters for years, McCollough decided to turn his great-great-grandmother's words into a novel about two years ago. He flushed out the story with family interviews, visits to Civil War battlefields and his imagination.
"It's been a real big achievement for me," said the author, who moved to Seattle in 1990 where he works as a cytotechnologist. For the uninitiated that means he spends his days at a powerful microscope, studying cells associated with cancer.
A first-time author, McCollough turned to an online publisher to get the book into print. The company -- Barnes & Noble, Inc., owns 49 percent of it -- offers publishing services for a small fee and a share of sales.
A form of self-publishing, this approach opens the way for first-time or undiscovered authors to get into print for a small fee. McCollough paid $100 for the services.
The company in turn prints copies as they are ordered, thanks to high-speed, low-cost technology, through the iUniverse Web site (iuniverse.com) or traditional book wholesalers and retailers.
In the meantime, McCollough is hoping to sell the film rights to the novel, he said, while he completes a second work of fiction -- based on another family story about pioneering in Montana.
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