27 January 2017

Alligator Creek by Lottie Guttry Book Spotlight and Q&A!

FICTION/HISTORICAL |ISBN: 978-1-61254-241-6 HC $18.95 |

Author Lottie Guttry brings to life what Americans faced during the Civil War, exploring the effects of war, a family’s story, and 19th Century lifestyles in Alligator Creek. Guttry combines the stories of her own ancestors, Sarah and Alex Browning, and years of research to enlighten readers about what life was like during that period of civil unrest when brother fought against brother.
“This compelling novel is the product of impressive research. It illuminates the everyday lives of Civil War soldiers as well as the families who were left at home. The plot unfolds with great realism. Guttry shows that wartime did not always produce clean narratives and happy endings. Instead, it was messy and unpredictable,” said Sean McMahon, Florida Gateway College professor of history.
Based on a true family story and documented history, Alligator Creek presents strong characters, who survived the unique and difficult period of the American Civil War. Sarah and Alex Browning lived in Lake City, Florida, during the 1860’s, and Alex’s recorded military service includes many of the most famous battles between the Generals Grant and Lee.
During her research for the book, Guttry discovered that the struggles and realities of war are timeless. She realized that even with modern advancements in weaponry and war strategy, the personal challenges faced by military and their spouses have not really changed much since that pivotal time.
“It is tragic and yet fascinating to learn that those who fought in the Civil War and the family members left behind share striking similarities in experiences, even though the time periods are more than 100 years apart,” said Guttry. “During the Civil War, soldiers faced post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), yet there was no formal name for it. The similarities also reached into extreme war conditions, guilt, loneliness, and families torn apart. Many soldiers who return home from the battlefield face personal battles to find comfort in their normal lives. Additionally, Guttry writes about the struggles of families left behind, making their way without their spouses and with the unending fear that their men may never return.
According to Guttry, the many adversities to overcome by those in the Civil War, and those who had family members in the war were a great inspiration to sharing her family’s story in conjunction with her research. “My dearest dream is that the readers will love my characters and find inspiration in their courage, faith, and hope during one of American’s most challenging times to thrive, fight a war, and raise a family” said Guttry.
Lottie Lipscomb Guttry grew up in the small town of Kilgore, Texas, the site of the famous East Texas Oil Field. She attended Sweet Briar College in Virginia and received a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Texas at Austin, a Master of Arts from Stephen F. Austin College in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a doctorate from Texas A&M University at Commerce. She served as instructor of literature and composition at Kilgore College. She also taught advanced composition, literature, and advanced grammar at the University of Texas at Tyler. She owned and directed Sylvan Learning Center in Longview. During her studies at Stephen F. Austin State University, a professor assigned her class to find and write a family legend. A cousin introduced Lottie to Sarah and Alexander Browning and their story—the basis for her historical novel Alligator Creek. Other publications include a musical, Boom, based on the history of the East Texas Oil Field; a play for children, The Enchanted Swan; a critical article published in the Walt Whitman Review; two devotionals published in The Upper Room; and numerous feature articles for The Longview News and Journal.

Lottie and her husband John, a retired dentist, live in Longview, Texas, near Kilgore, where they both grew up. She participates in the music program at her church, serves as a hospital volunteer, plays duplicate bridge, and travels. She has three grown children and seven grandchildren.

What inspired you to write this book?
I learned of a compelling family story about my ancestors, Sarah and Alexander Browning, who lived in Florida during the Civil War. I thought about this story for several years, especially Sarah’s inspiring strength and bravery. In 2004 I finally sat down at my computer and began to expand the story into the historical fiction novel, Alligator Creek.
How much research went into writing Alligator Creek?
I read numerous books before I even started writing. As I wrote, I constantly searched the Internet for information. Without research, a twenty-first century author could not write authentically about people who lived in the nineteenth century. Not only did I study battle plans and historical events in the Civil War Period, I discovered what they ate, what their houses looked like, what they wore, what their opinions were, what their customs were, what words they used then that we no longer use now, what words we do use now that they did not use then. I enjoy research, so it was a pleasant task. I found some wonderful out-of-print books at the UT Austin library.
What do you hope that readers walk away with by reading your book?
My dearest hope is that the readers will love my characters and find inspiration in their courage, faith, and hope during one of American’s most challenging times to thrive, fight a war, and raise a family.
What is the significance of the title Alligator Creek?
A creek plays a critical role in the original family story, and the word alligator suggests an element of danger and a connection with Florida. Also, Lake City, the town where Sarah and Alexander Browning lived, was originally called Alligator. The name was changed to Lake City only a few years before the Brownings moved there. I named the creek that runs through their farm Alligator Creek, which is also the name of their farm.
How much of this book is factual history, your personal family history, and why was it important to you to research this time period for the book?
I could write the family story in two or three pages. The story needed to be expanded and detailed to make the characters and the time period come to life. Through research I immersed myself in the period, so I could create dialogue for people who lived without technology, without electricity, and without automobiles. I came upon an interesting cross section of the actual family story and historical research when I discovered online scanned documents of Alexander Browning’s letters to the Florida Board of Pensions. I quoted frequently from those letters.
In the book, Alex Browning comes away from the war with post-traumatic stress disorder. Was PTSD a major issue during the Civil War?
The original family story relates that Alex did not come home after the war and never explained why. PTSD would be a logical reason and believable as a result of his horrendous experiences. When I’d almost finished the book, I discovered Eric T. Dean ‘s book. Shook Over Hell: Post Traumatic Stress, Vietnam and the Civil War, written in 1997. Dean studied cases of PTSD from the Vietnam War and records of former Civil War soldiers in several hospitals. In the nineteenth century it was called “soldier’s heart” or “irritated heart.” I am not sure how prevalent PTSD was in the Civil War, but logic tells us that if soldiers from Vietnam, World Wars 1 and 2 suffered from “shell-shock” or PTSD as a result of war experiences, that it would have occurred just as frequently during and after the brutal Civil War.
In the book, Sarah Browning deals with the stresses of having a husband at war. What can wives who have husbands overseas take away from Sarah’s experiences?
Sarah kept her days structured and busy, caring for her children and finding ways to make money— canning, sewing, and teaching. She also accepted help from family members and trained her children to help with chores. Each morning she read scriptures and poetry. She released her anxieties by writing letters and journals. Most of all, she depended on her strong Christian faith for courage and comfort.
Race relations and slavery obviously dominated the American political landscape in the nineteenth century, as is evidenced in the book. How are race relations today different from that time period? What should readers know?
Although many in the South insisted that the Civil War was an act of Yankee aggression, it was a war about slavery. Slave owners considered their slaves to be property. Many refused to see African Americans as human beings after the war. The reconstruction with its lynching’s and beatings kept black freedmen in terror of white people. During my lifetime I have observed growth of a more accepting attitude in society toward minorities. I am hopeful that the future will bring further improvement in race relations.
What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing Alligator Creek?
I think plotting and character development were my biggest challenges. The bigger-than-life events in the family story obviously required bigger-than life-characters. Making unbelievable events appear reasonable required a lot of thought and rewriting.
What can the reader learn from reading Alligator Creek?
Readers will learn what it was like to be a soldier or a mother during the 1860’s and many details of the time period. Alligator Creek’s heroine examines the prejudices and restrictive attitudes of her society and has the ability to see both sides of the controversy. I hope my readers may examine prejudices in our society through eyes of compassion.

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