As a child, I made frequent trips from my home in North Alabama to Middle Tennessee, my grandmother’s birthplace. Even then, I was struck by the beautiful rolling hills and abundance of antebellum homes in Maury County. It was almost as if you could see through the thin veil of time separating the 20th century from the turbulent later 19th century. Hand-hewn stone walls lined the narrow Highway 31 from Mt. Pleasant to Columbia. Grand two-story houses sat far from the road, their eaves and collanded porches shadowed by the branches of trees that had witnessed the passing of John Bell Hood’s 20 thousand strong Army of Tennessee.
That stretch of road inspired my lifelong love of history and even now, although there’s a new multi-lane highway bypassing the old 31, I often take the old road just to view the scenery.
When I began Eternal, the Middle Tennessee setting was my first (and only) choice. I hoped to bring a little of the magic I’d felt as a child looking at all those gracious antebellum homes to the house Wren’s family moves to in my story. Although Ransom’s Run is a purely fictitious house, I did base its appearance on historic homes I have visited.
For the outside, I chose the imposing Echol’s Hill mansion in the historic Twickenham district of Huntsville. I visited the house when my former sister-in-law lived there and fell in love with the widow’s walk, the attic, and majestic fanlight window where I imagined many scenes between Wren and Jeremiah.
The interior was based on Rippavilla Plantation, the most outstanding antebellum home in Maury County. Having been in Rippavilla several times as both a visitor and living history participant (playing Rippavilla mistress, Susan Cheairs on the anniversary of the Battle of Spring Hill), I was able to the bring to life the fragrance of old wood and furnishings, the feeling of being in a cavernous house, listening to inexplicable pops and sensing cold drafts – and perhaps visitors from other realms.
For the scene in the church, I chose St. John’s, where General Cleburne was first buried after the ill-fated Battle of Franklin. The antebellum church, with it’s crenellated bell tower, is steeped in history and lore that made an impression on me at an early age.
For all these reasons, I chose Middle Tennessee as the setting for Eternal. I hope my readers enjoy the area’s haunting and historic beauty as much as I always have.