Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Switching from Mysteries to Historical Fiction: A Guest Post by Glen Ebisch, and a Giveaway

Emerson and Thoreau! I studied their work in school, did you? When I think about Ralph Waldo Emerson and  Henry David Thoreau, I think about nature, about truth, about freedom.  I looked at one of my bookshelves and quickly spotted the Emerson and Thoreau books from my college days, next to each other.  I'm glad I still have these books.

"The sky is the daily bread of the eyes."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The world is but a canvas to our imagination."
~ Henry David Thoreau

The premise of the new historical novel, Dearest David, by author Glen Ebisch, published in 2018, is fascinating to me.  It's the story of a young woman, Abigail Taylor, who leaves her family farm outside of Concord, Massachusetts, to work as a servant in the home of lecturer Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, philosopher, poet, and leader of the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century.  Abigail also meets Henry David Thoreau, who was also an essayist, philosopher, poet, and leading transcendentalist.  Since I haven't read the book yet, more details are in the synopsis from the publisher, Solstice, below.

Seventeen-year-old Abigail only spends a few months during the year 1841 as a kitchen maid and part-time nanny to the Emerson children, but she experiences life in the Emerson household at the peak of both its intellectual and emotional intensity.  She falls in love with the free-spirited but emotionally ambivalent Henry David Thoreau and learns that she must share her fascination with him with both Emerson’s wife, the prophetic and frightening Lidian, and the children’s governess, Ms. Ford. She also meets the charismatic radical journalist, Margaret Fuller. And she learns to respect but also to recognize the limitations of Emerson himself. Eventually, Abigail is forced to leave her employment in the Emerson household, but only after realizing the magical nature of her time in this special place, where discussions about the principles of self-reliance, feminism, and abolitionism flourished.

In this exclusive guest post, New England mystery author Glen Ebisch talks about why he chose to write historical fiction about Emerson and Thoreau.  I think you'll find his pithy post intriguing!


Switching from Mysteries to Historical Fiction
 A Guest Post by Glen Ebisch, and a Giveaway

What motivates someone to switch from writing mysteries to deciding to write a work of historical fiction? In my case it came about because, as a philosopher in my day job, I became interested in the philosophical ideas of Bronson Alcott, the father of Louisa May. This led me to do research on that period in Concord, Massachusetts, which was an interesting one, with Emerson, Thoreau, and at times Hawthorne, living in the area and frequently socializing. It seemed to me to be an historical period just ripe for a story.

By whatever means these things happen, I came up with the idea of placing a young woman of humble means but with a good basic education in the Emerson household as a servant. I thought it would be valuable to have a young woman’s insight into what was largely a man’s world, while at the same time contrasting her with the very different figures of Lidian Emerson and Margaret Fuller. It also gave me the opportunity to discuss the early growth of the feminist movement, which was developing at that time in the Northeast.

In order to increase the emotional intensity of the story I had this young woman, named Abigail Taylor, fall in love with Henry David Thoreau. Her passion is partly for him as a man, and partly for him as a representative of an intellectual life that she finds exciting but beyond her reach. This is in many ways a coming of age novel, because Abigail learns from her relationship with Thoreau the extremes to which her passion can drive her, while from Emerson she learns the importance of self-reliance in a challenging world. As the end of the story suggests, these contrasting lessons lead her to live an exciting life after she leaves the Emerson household.

To go back to my first question as to why I deviated from mystery writing to try my hand at historical fiction, I think all writing in a sense is delving into the mystery of what motivates people. Not all mysteries, and, perhaps not the most interesting ones, involve a crime, but they all involve an examination of the human heart.


Thank you, Glen, for your wonderful guest post.  I'm so pleased to learn that Margaret Fuller is also a character in your book. (In 2013, I read and reviewed a brilliant biography about her, Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall.)   Thanks as well for graciously offering a copy of Dearest David as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment. 
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. 
  • If you've read work by or about Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, or another transcendentalist, mention that for an extra entry.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Tuesday, March 20 (the first day of spring). One winner will be selected randomly and contacted on Wednesday, March 21.  Good luck to my readers, and as always, thanks for reading!


  1. I enjoyed reading the guest post, and the book sounds interesting! I've never read this author.

  2. I read Walden long ago and some of Emerson’s Essays. This sounds like an interesting approach to historical fiction.

  3. Very interesting! I am drawn to thinking about life during this period in England, since I have been watching "Victoria" on PBS, and the relationship of "downstairs" with "upstairs" which is quite different in England and here in the States. There must of been similar love stories between classes too.

  4. Nice post, Suko.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. The book sounds so interesting. I find both Emerson and Thoreau such compelling thinkers. It is cool to incorporate them as characters in a piece of historical fiction.

  6. A shame the giveaway isn't open to those in the UK but I'm nevertheless happy to post it on my FB page.

    A great guest post and what sounds like a fascinating read. Thanks for the introduction to another two authors whose books I must check out.

  7. I like those two writers as well, they are highly quotable.
    The premise of this book sounds unique and Abigail sounds like an interesting character. Great guest post!

  8. This sounds wonderful!!! I am a fan of the Transcendentalists. I read Walden by Thoreau many years ago and have it on my list to reread one of these days. I read many of Emerson's poems and essays during my school days. I LOVE Louisa May Alcott so I've read about them in biographies of her as well. It intrigues me that so many brilliant people lived together in one small town. I'm a follower.

    1. Argh . . . I forgot my email address. laarlt78 (at) hotmail (dot) com


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