Tuesday 2 June 2009

Stuck with Jesse James, Part 2

In my last post, I talked about how I had to deal with Jesse James, a famous historical figure who I had to have in my novel but who I didn't want to dominate it. I managed to keep him and his brother Frank from stealing the limelight for the whole book by letting them steal the limelight for a couple of scenes.

That worked, but I have a new problem. The novel they were in is the first in an anticipated trilogy, and the more I map out the plot for the next two books the more realize just how entangled I am with the James brothers. The second book takes place in Missouri in the months right after the Civil War, and the third also occurs in Missouri, this time in the late 1860s, the very time Frank and Jesse James were turning themselves into the most famous outlaws in American history. Since one of my main characters already knows them, it's hard to ignore them, especially with the plot as I have it.

These guys are insidious! You can't have a novel set in post-war Missouri that doesn't deal with the James brothers. They affected the entire state. And what's more, they are fascinating characters. Both were hardened Confederate guerrillas who claimed they were fighting for the Lost Cause and had been driven to outlawry because of Yankee persecution. The fact was, they weren't persecuted after the war, but they did occasionally take revenge on former Union officers.

I've read a couple of the better biographies and a lot of primary source material and the more I learn about these two the more multifaceted they appear to be. The simple myth of them being American Robin Hoods is an enduring one, but the reality is even more fascinating.

I guess that's what makes a good story.

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