Laird Hunt Recommends...

“When I’m deep in the woods of a novel and know I’ve lost my way, which has happened more times than I would care to admit, I look to the light of primary sources to see me back on track. When, for instance, I was some hundred pages into the battle-blasted landscape of my Civil War novel, Neverhome (Little, Brown, 2014), and could no longer figure how to move my character forward, I went for a walk in the stacks of the University of Denver’s library and found crumbling volumes of unvarnished Civil War diaries and letters, some that had not been checked out in fifty years. In one of these, Frank Ross McGregor’s Dearest Susie, A Civil War Infantryman’s Letters to His Sweetheart, I discovered not just the dose of weary tenderness my fierce protagonist was lacking, but also more than one of those brilliant, authentic details of feeling that my twenty-first century mind simply couldn’t manufacture. What did three hundred miles mean to a homesick young soldier in the 1860s? What was it like to march all day in heavy wool? When I was working on my most recent novel, my aunt sent me the court transcript of a woman named Ann Foster, who was tried for witchcraft in the mid-1600s because one of my ancestors had accused her. What undoes Foster, the transcript reveals, is not the stern judges facing her, but learning that her own daughter has testified against her: ‘But your daughter here hath confessed some things that you did not tell us of....’ That direct sense of the fraught intricacies of familial relations provided the key I needed to unlock the deeper meanings of my own story. These transcripts are a key to the past I know I’ll look for again.”
—Laird Hunt, author of In the House in the Dark of the Woods (Little, Brown, 2018)