Photos by Libby Rogers
Special thanks to Fernland Historical Park for facilitating our interview and photo shoot.
Curt Locklear never had a true flash of inspiration. The idea of writing a historical novel was more like a dim light bulb that came on, then increased in wattage. The bulb first flickered while the retired public school educator was looking at history books—something he did often. That day, his focus was on the Civil War maneuvers of the Third Texas Cavalry, a unit that drew some of its members from this part of Texas. “I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to write a story about them,” he says, “because that’s the best way for people to learn history.”
He began outlining his story, but soon realized it would take three books to cover the entire plot. Meanwhile, he tirelessly researched the Third Texas Cavalry, visiting every place he planned to mention. The first two books in the Asunder Trilogy, Asunder and Splintered, have earned an impressive five-star average from readers who have reviewed the books on Amazon.com. Splintered, the second book, is a semi-finalist for a Laramie Award, which honors the best western, pioneer, and Civil War fiction each year. The third book in the series will be released soon.
Cowboys and Indians
When Curt was a boy, he lived in Brady, “the heart of Texas,” the son of a librarian and a race horse trainer. “I have cleaned horse stalls, stretched barbed wire fences, herded cattle and sheep, and plucked chickens,” he says. For fun, he watched westerns on television and played cowboys and Indians with his friends. Even as a boy, he liked to write short stories, happily scribbling them with pencil and paper. Along the way, he became interested in history, especially the history of the Civil War.
After high school, he attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he majored in English and minored in history. He then taught English, history, and journalism for nine years; when he earned his master’s in education at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University), he became a school administrator. For the next 23 years, he was principal of elementary, middle, and high schools in the Austin area. As school districts grew, Curt used his musical talent to write and orchestrate original school songs for three new high schools and one middle school.
After retiring from public school education in 2009, Curt started writing. He also began conducting the research for his first novel, an endeavor that would take two years. (The second book required six months of research; the third book took about a year and a half.) His travels anticipated the action in his books, taking him to Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Washington, D.C. and New York. He walked battlefields with historians so the action in his books would be accurate. “I went to considerable effort to get those details correct,” he says.
For example, to research the second book of the trilogy, Curt visited Elkhorn Tavern. It burned after the Civil War, but was reconstructed in the same shape, with original chimneys and cellar steps. During the actual battle, women and children hid in the cellar. By visiting the tavern, Curt was able to accurately portray the scene.
During his travels, he researched seemingly tiny details that would give his books authenticity. “How did they speak?” he asks. “How did they handle different issues that came up? How did they take care of the wounded and their wounds in those days since they didn’t understand bacteria? How did they light their homes? What did they eat?”
Curt likes the writing process, and particularly enjoys creating memorable characters. As he began fleshing out his outline, however, something strange happened. Curt imbued his male characters (mostly soldiers) with strength, gallantry and valor. “But it wasn’t long before the women took over the book,” he says, laughing. “I have characters who show up and won’t go away. They have a mind of their own.”
Perhaps that’s why Curt’s books sell equally well among men and women. Readers of both genders have praised Curt for his realistic battle scenes, interwoven sub-plots and characters they care about. Because there are so many characters, Curt aids readers with reminders when characters are reintroduced. “I infuse something about their appearance or mannerisms or wound into the narrative to ground the character,” he says.
Curt has ancestors who fought on both sides of the conflict, so he chose to stay neutral, developing characters that hold both points of view. He also tried to respectfully portray the diverse people that the characters represent. “There are three very strong African-American characters. One is a slave; one is a free man; and one is an escaped slave. One woman is half Cherokee. I tried to paint a picture inclusive of all the beautiful people who live on this earth without any denigration of anyone—except the bad guys,” he says. “There are some really nasty bad guys.”
Only the historical characters—such as General Earl Van Dorn, General Samuel Curtis, and President Abraham Lincoln—are real. All other characters were crafted solely from Curt’s imagination, although he did name one of the female protagonists, Cyntha Ann Favor, after his grandmother.
Cyntha, despite her deep Christian faith, has been led to believe in Spiritualism “She, like one-fifth of the population of that time period, believed in Spiritualism, the great hoax of the day,” Curt says. “They thought mediums could speak to the dead. You can imagine why, with all the death and sorrow, and with women losing their husbands, sons, cousins, and brothers. Oftentimes, regiments formed in a town. If the regiment was thrown into the heat of the battle, they could lose 75 percent of the young male population.”
The books have sub-plots that expand and intertwine, featuring river pirates, quicksand and, Curt says, “just enough romance.” It is the battle action, however, that is most praised. “I went to a lot of trouble to get the battle action correct. I probably get more compliments on the battle action than anything else,” he says, “but I do have some readers who are really interested in the love triangle.” Some readers have even offered their advice about how it should resolve.
Curt also worked hard to create emotion in his books. He nourished his muse by reading acclaimed literature, and re-wrote evocative scenes carefully. “What do you do when a war lands in your front yard? What do you do when the people you love are torn from you? When I get to those parts that are truly emotional and beyond emotional, where your words can evoke such a reaction, I edit and refine and rewrite until it has just the tone I want it to have,” he says. “I feel good about that.”
Curt’s readers seem to appreciate his writing. One reviewer wrote, “Mr. Locklear takes advantage of the historical fact that Missouri’s population was divided in its loyalties between North and South, and weaves various plot lines through that volatile situation. My biggest regret was in reaching the end and realizing I’d have to wait for the final two volumes of the trilogy before finding out what happens!”
Asunder, the first book in the trilogy (published in 2016), focuses on the events surrounding the Battle of Wilson Creek, which was fought in Missouri in 1861, just a few weeks after the Battle of Bull Run. More men died in that battle—the first major battle west of the Mississippi River—than in the more-widely known Battle of Bull Run, Curt says. Splintered (published in 2017) features the Battle of Pea Ridge, which was fought in Arkansas. Many songs are mentioned in the books, and readers can download a complimentary MP3 album so they can listen to them.
Curt hopes the third book in the trilogy, which revolves around the Battle of Shiloh, will be released in May. For now, its title is a secret. Upon its release, the three books in the series will be marketed as a set, with special pricing.
Although Splintered ends with a cliffhanger, Curt promises that the third book won’t, and all plotlines will be resolved. He also hints there are many surprises in the third book. “Certain things the characters and the readers had no idea could happen are going to happen,” he says.
Curt spends a lot of time marketing his book, a necessary part of “indie publishing.” Without the backing of a major publishing company, he says, “a good portion of what any author has to do is get out there and hustle and market the book.” He therefore takes advantage of opportunities to present information to schools and historical societies. He taught himself to play banjo and guitar when he was 13 years old, and he usually brings his instruments with him. “I have a PowerPoint presentation with information about various aspects of the Civil War, and I typically play banjo and guitar,” he says. He has presented in several cities throughout Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. “I play banjo, tell corny jokes and write books. What could be better?”
One upcoming commitment is to travel in June from his home in The Woodlands to be a presenter at the Historical Novel Society’s North American Conference in Oxon, Maryland. There is also the hope of becoming a Laramie Award finalist. In addition, Curt enjoys spending time with his three children—all Texas teachers—and two grandchildren. And there is more writing ahead. Curt is considering a fourth book that will take readers toward the siege of Vicksburg and possibly beyond. He plans to reprise some characters and create more. He is unsure if the fourth book will be a part of his existing series or will begin a new one. What he is sure about is the impact he hopes his books will make.
“I have a goal to keep history alive. I believe some people are trying to hide history. History has a lot of warts, but that doesn’t mean we tear down monuments and rewrite history. It means we learn from it,” he says. “I don’t want my books to go away. I want people to enjoy them and put them on their bookshelves and read them a second time. I want them to be literary. I want people to say, ‘Dang, that’s a good book!’”
For more information, visit curtlocklearauthor.com.