Inspiration can come from the most unusual places.
As I began to lay the foundation for my latest novel, Where Dandelions Bloom,
several factors were easy. I already knew I wanted to base the heroine on the
story of real-life Civil War hero and spy Sarah âEmmaâ Edmonds. Cassie Kendrick
was birthed from Emmaâs struggles . . . running from an abusive, alcoholic
father determined to marry her off to an even more abusive man. To escape a fate
that seemed worse than death, Cassie dons the uniform of a soldier and enlists
in the Union Army.
The hero, Gabriel Avery, was completely fictitious but inspired by Civil War
photographers like Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner, whose work completely
changed how war was reported to the public. Gabriel is running from the darkness
of his past by trying to find his worth in recognition.
I came up with the idea for young, precocious Jonah Pfifer when I stumbled
across some fascinating research. The youngest soldier in the American Civil War
was only nine years old! Most people assume children were only used as drummer
boys and buglers, but as the war dragged on, and casualties increased by
alarming numbers, recruitment offices became desperate. Children worked as
errand boys, musicians, and even scouts. These curious youngsters must have
livened up camp considerably.
Here is an excerpt from the scene where Cassie (disguised as Thomas Turner)
first meets Jonah.
âHow old are you, Jonah?â
âIâm ten.â He raised his chin as if daring her to refute him.
Cassie grunted. âHmm. I would have guessed thirteen or fourteen.â A wispy
expression of pleasure hovered over Jonahâs mouth. âWhatâs your job, soldier?â
âErrand boy.â He frowned. âI was wanting to be a powder monkey for the navy.
Trained for it and everything, but I couldnât get my sea legs.â He sighed
melodramatically. âI sure was looking forward to blowing stuff up.â
She suppressed the mirth bubbling for release. âSounds like an interesting job .
. . if you take away the queasy stomach.â
Jonah tossed a rock into the fire and smiled with satisfaction when it made the
logs shift, causing the wood to snap and whistle. âI like that sound. What makes
burning wood whistle like that?â
âHow did you manage to enlist? Being underage and all?â
Jonahâs face turned dark. âSchoolmaster Howe encouraged the recruitment officers
to give me a try. They take on drummer boys, so why not?â His little jaw
tightened. âIâm an orphan.â He turned to her with a scowl. âThat donât make me
lonely or sad or anything like that, you know.â
âOf course not.â
Straightening his spindly shoulders, Jonah scratched the straw-colored hair
crammed under his kepi. âNo, Howe thought he was getting rid of me, but what he
didnât know was that I hoped to join up. I wanted to join up.â Jonah glowered.
âI was thrilled to get away from that old man.â
âI take it you two didnât see eye to eye.â
âNo, sir.â Jonah shook his head. âHe hated me and I hated him.â
He shrugged. âDonât know. He called me a poor little orphan boy a lot, and that
made me fighting mad. Also called me the devilâs son from time to time.â Jonah
turned to Cassie with an incredulous glare. âNow how could I be an orphan and
the devilâs son at the same time?â
She somehow managed to keep a straight face. âDoesnât make much sense.â
ââXactly. He sure could get mad. Like the last day, he took a switch to me. I
asked him a question and called him âTeacher.â He didnât like that none. He
wanted us to call him Schoolmaster Howe.â Jonah snorted. âHe stopped in his
tracks and said, âMr. Phifer, can you be so kind as to call me by my respectful
name?â So I says, âOf course, Schoolmaster Howeâd-he-get-so-ugly-and-mean.ââ
When it came time to find the spiritual symbolism for the story, I drew a blank.
For weeks . . . nothing. After one particularly trying day, I slumped against my
chair and prayed. âGod, please teach me what you want me to know, what to say in
Frustrated, I walked outside and knelt in my front flower bed to pull weeds.
Thatâs what I do whenever Iâm stuck for an idea or overwhelmed.
Plunging my fingers into the dark earth, I pulled the stubborn weeds free,
giving room for the hydrangeas and hibiscus to grow and bloom. Sunlight warmed
my shoulders as I yanked.
I edged to the corner and stopped when I saw the carpet of dandelions peppering
the flower bed. I ran my fingers over the silky yellow petals. Bits of sunshine
against rock. Oh, how I hated the thought of plucking them.
I smiled remembering my grandmother and her distaste for the resilient flower.
She had wrinkled her nose at the buttery heads poking up in her flower bed.
âUgh! Dandelions.â She always mentioned them as if tasting something sour.
âDonât you like dandelions, Grandma?â
She shook her head. âNo, honey. They are ornery little things.â
She frowned as she plucked the offensive blossom from the dirt. âBecause thereâs
no taming them. Those white fuzzies scatter all over, sprouting weeds everywhere
That very trait is what makes this little flowerâsome would say weedâso
unstoppable. You can mow them down, but they come back over and over again. They
grow and bloom in the harshest of conditions. The taproot that allows them to
burrow in green meadows also allows them to flourish in concrete and brick.
But where Grandma saw a weed, I saw wishes. Beauty. Fluffy magic.
I straightened, blinking.
There against the corner of the brick-edged walk was a dandelion blooming in
I smiled and looked up at the sky. âThank you, Jesus.â
I thought about the lies, the pain Cassie, Gabe, and Jonah had endured and how
God showed them the power of forgiveness and the promise of new beginnings, no
matter how terrible their pasts might be.
Hope springs eternal, despite turmoil, darkness, or difficulties. Seeing the
beauty in our circumstances depends on our perspective.
Cassie Kendrick is on the run. Her abusive father arranged her marriage to a
despicable man, but sheâs discovered an escape. Disguised as a man, Cassie
enlists in the Union army, taking the name Thomas Turner. On the battlefields of
the Civil War, keeping her identity a secret is only the beginning of her
problems, especially after she meets Gabriel Avery, a handsome young photographer.
Anxious to make his mark on the world and to erase the darkness and guilt
lurking from his past, Gabriel works with renowned photographer Matthew Brady to
capture images from the front lines of the war. As Gabriel forges friendships
with many of the men he encounters, he wonders what the courageous,
unpredictable Thomas Turner is hiding.
Battling betrayal, their own personal demons, and a country torn apart by war,
can Cassie and Gabriel learn to forgive themselves and trust their futures to
the God who births hope and healing in the darkest places?
Historical [Tyndale House Publishers, On Sale: July 1, 2019, Trade Size /
e-Book, ISBN: 9781496428356 / eISBN: 9781496428370]
is an author, speaker, and passionate lover of
stories. She loves to travel to churches, ladiesâ retreats, and prisons to share
how God led her into freedom after spending years living shackled as a
people-pleasing preacherâs kid.
From the time she was young and watched Gone with the Wind with her
mother for the first time, the Civil War has intrigued her. That fascination
grew into all aspects of American history and the brave people and stories who
make up its vibrant past.
She says, âHistory is crammed full of larger-than-life characters. Doc Holliday,
Annie Oakley, Helen Keller, Daniel Boone, George Washington, Amelia Earhart, and
Frederick Douglass are just a few examples of flawed, wounded humans who battled
their demons with determination and left an indelible mark on the pages of
history. I suppose thatâs why people are so fascinating. No matter the era, we
all battle the same wounds. Abandonment, abusive fathers, overprotective
mothers, loss, grief, rejection, addiction, crippling anxiety, loneliness, or
the yearning for unconditional love, to name a few. We all battle the same junk
and have to decide whether to fight or cave. Run or stand. Cry or smile. Thatâs
what great characters do. They are a reflection of our struggles, our own
wounds. Our own need. And, when written well, they remind us whom we need to
turn to for healing.â
Tara has written articles for Plain Truth magazine and has been a
featured guest on Voice of Truth Radio and Enduring Word Radio. Tara is a member
of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Todd, live in
Arkansas, and the Lord has blessed them with five children: Bethany, Callie, and
Nate, as well as Taylor Lynn and Morgan Lane, who are with Jesus.
Visit her website at www.TaraJohnsonStories.com and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (@TaraMinistry).
Win a copy of WHERE DANDELIONS BLOOM, tell us about YOUR inspirations!
10 comments posted.
Thanks for the awesome insights, Candy! And for the wonderful comments from all of you!
(Tara Johnson 11:45am July 2)
Something about the title appealed to me, so I was really interested in how it was selected. I love the idea of strength and beauty associated with the dandelion.
(Anna Speed 1:16pm July 6)