How I Got An Idea

Carnage & Consequences: Stories from the Gen Con Writer's Symposium AuthorsThere are two things I’ve discovered people do when I tell them I’m a published author. They either tell me their great idea for a best-selling novel or they ask where I get my ideas. After encountering this over and over I asked more experienced authors about it.  They assured me that’s common and I’d best get used to it. So for those who have ideas I urge them to write that novel! For those who wonder how published ideas form, here’s how I got inspiration for my latest short story.

Starting next Wednesday, 4 Aug 2011, GenCon 2011 opens. With that is the release of Carnage & Consequences an anthology of short stories by GenCon authors. I was thrilled to be invited to submit a story for consideration. I’ve been attending GenCon for three years to hone my writing skills in their writer’s symposium. It’s the best advice for the most affordable price around even if you don’t write sci-fi or fantasy.  I was beyond thrilled when the story was accepted! The story is “The Rider” a ghost story set on the French Broad river in the Appalachian mountains of Upper East Tennessee.

Both sides of my family can trace roots back in those mountains to land grants for service in the Revolutionary War. I grew up in those hills hearing family stories handed down for generations. When casting around for inspiration for a ghost story, my mind fell upon the tale of my 4th great-grandfather James Rolen. His death seemed one that would leave a restless lost spirit behind. From the family lore I spun a tale that hopefully tingles your spine and pulls on your heartstrings at the same time.

My 3rd Great Grandfather Joab Rolen son of the real James Rolen

My 3rd Great Grandfather Joab Rolen son of the real James Rolen

What was family lore and what was story? First off, there have never been any reports I know of about a rider coming from the French Broad to take boys into the river to drown. There have been no tales of the ghost of James Rolen but there was the family lore of his death.

The story handed down through the family and recorded in the family Bible starts when James Rolen married Sallie Smith from South Carolina. He took her home to the family farm owned by “old man William.” They have a son born 07 Feb 1808 but Sallie wasn’t happy. She missed her family. James wanted to stay on the land because he was next in line to inherit. The marriage spilt. Sallie took little Joab to South Carolina with her.

Years pass, then by letter Sallie informs James she’s married a Mr. Gould. They intend to move out west. James agrees not to prosecute Sallie for bigamy if she’ll turn Joab over to him. Arrangements were to meet in Cosby, Tennessee during the early Spring of 1813. They met at the McMahan Inn, a familiar stop for those traveling west. There Joab was given to the father he didn’t remember. Sallie and Mr. Gould rode off for a new life in the west.

According to Elizabeth Anna McMahan the wife of Archibald McMahan the inn owner, James stayed a few days getting to know his son. During this time there were hard rains swelling the French Broad river. Time came that James felt he had to return to the east side of the mountain to assist in planting on the farm. Eliza Ann fretted with the two crossing the swollen river and pleaded for James to wait. He wouldn’t but a deal was made. He would leave Joab with the McMahans until his return after planting. Eliza Ann promised to take care of Joab as if he were one of her own. 

My 3rd Great Grandmother Anna McMahan Rolen wife of Joab Rolen

My 3rd Great Grandmother Anna McMahan Rolen wife of Joab Rolen

Her fears proved true. James and his fancy black stallion were caught in the river currents and swept away forever, drowned. Men from the community tried to save them to no avail. The McMahans weren’t sure of just where James had come from over the mountain or where Sallie was going out west.  They had an orphaned boy on their hands. Good to her word Eliza Ann raised Joab as she did her children. She wrote down what she knew of James and Sallie keeping alive the memory of the father who wanted his son.

Joab married one of the McMahan’s daughters Anna.  He became best friends her brother David.  The two often entered into land deals together and became the largest land holders in Sevier County, Tennessee at the time.  From this they became rich men, check out the gold buttons and diamond ring David paid extra to have painted on his photo included in the slide show above.

Joab and Anna had 10 children.  One was named James in memory of Joab’s lost father.  I’m descended from their son George Washington Rolen through my mother. He was sheriff of Sevier County Tennessee for many years.  All their children were successes in many ways State Senators, businessmen, teachers, Post Masters, and preachers.  Their stories are fodder for more posts and short stories at another time.

As a hobby genealogist I crave documentation.  I’ve documented Anna and Joab’s marriage.  His close relationship with her parents from their wills.  His close relationship with David from the land transactions where they bought and sold land as partners.  In David’s will Joab is highly regarded.  However, when it comes to documentation James remains a mystery.

Sallie and her Mr. V. Gould settled in Indiana which was the west then.  They had 7 children.  I’ve not researched that lineage beyond that point.

David Crockett McMahan brother of Anna & best friend of Joab Rolen

David Crockett McMahan brother of Anna & best friend of Joab Rolen

I have tried hard to find James, my 4th great-grandfather. On the other side of the mountain from Cosby is North Carolina.  However, the route to the McMahan Inn fed people from Virginia and South Carolina through the mountains to the west.  Searching so far has given me some tantalizing leads to William Roland, possibly the “old man William” that James talked about to Eliza Ann and Arch McMahan? 

So many questions are left unanswered.  Was William a Rolen or from James’s maternal line?  Was William his father or grandfather or possibly an Uncle?  Where was this farm over the mountain that produced such a successful man whose fine clothes, saddle, and horse were noted by the Cosby residents that saw him? I’m afraid we don’t know.  I continue my search to link that William Roland a Revolutionary soldier with a North Carolina land grant to a James Rolen born in the 1780s and married a Sallie Smith from South Carolina. 

The man of mystery and his sad death inspired the ghost of my story “The Rider.”  The people in the story are from my Appalachian roots, a feisty crone who knows more than she appears to at first glance, a boy living in a mountain cabin as the world changes from World War I.  The divide between the lives of the mountain folk and those of the city dwellers.  All ideas rooted in reality but spun into a tale. 

 That’s where I got this idea.  There’s no predicting from where the next idea will come.

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