Wednesday, July 6, 2011

From Family Research a Historical Novel is Born

Novels come to us in many different forms as each of us follow our own paths to becoming a writer. For novelist Thomas Blubaugh the idea for his first novel came to him as he studied his family history, and this began his journey as an author.

Both of my grandfathers died before I was born. I know very little about either of them. I’ve felt the absence all of my life and the older I got, the bigger the void. When my mother died in 2005, I was left with only one relative on her side of the family that would know anything about my mother’s father—my maternal grandfather. This is when I started my research. 

I persuaded my aunt to let me interview her. We sat down at her kitchen table, her with a decreasing memory, me with a tablet and a tape recorder. For two hours I pulled every detail from her that she could remember. At the end of the interview I had a few facts; he was born in Georgia on the east side of the Black Sea; he was a Jewish Russian Cossack soldier; he defected from the Russian Army when something happened in his company that he knew he’d be blamed for because he was a Jew; he came to America through Boston in 1910; he met my grandmother in New York City where he was a street car conductor; he tutored Hebrew in exchange for learning English at New York University; he eventually became an insurance salesman; and he died of ALS a year before I was born in the same hospital where I was born. 

I also found out he had a brother named Israel, but I could not get names of his parents or any other information because he and my grandmother spoke nine languages between them and did not speak in English when they talked about the homeland or family. This was common of Jews coming from Russia for fear they’d be found out and be deported. I’m sure they didn’t realize they were robbing me of my heritage.

I thought about this information and, although I didn’t intend to write a novel, I started writing about my grandfather. Most of my life I’ve written nonfiction and about subjects I knew very well. Writing about my grandfather, however, was drastically different. I started researching heavily. I knew nothing about Georgia, where he was born, Russia where he was a Cossack soldier, the Cossacks, the Russian army, or Russian history. As I dug in, I found facts I had matched with things that were happening in Russia at that time and this spurred me to dig deeper. 

I found myself not just writing for me, but for my children and grandchildren. The story was beginning to take shape, and I found myself deeply entrenched in my grandfather’s life as I imagined it. I didn’t know anything about show and tell so it was all a narrative. 

I went online and found a Christian writer group at Yahoo. I sent part of my manuscript to one of the members, Michelle Buckman, who is a published writer. She responded back that she felt I was on to something and recommended I contact a local critique group. I did—they agreed. From that time forward, I met with them one night a week and shared 1250 words, which they analyzed. I started learning principles of fiction writing and continued digging away at research. 

Five years after I interviewed my aunt, Night of the Cossack was published by Bound by Faith Publishers. Had I realized so few people seem to know what a Cossack is, I might have titled it differently. Never the less, it is what it is.  It is now on as an ebook and paperback and on as an ebook. The reviews I’m receiving on are excellent. I have a Facebook page—Tom Blubaugh and a book page—Night of the Cossack. I also have a website and a blog

I wouldn’t exchange the experience of writing a fiction novel for anything in this world. I am, however, that writing the novel was significantly easier than building a platform and getting my name and my novel out to the world.
Night of the Cossack is a compelling adventure by Tom Blubaugh about a teenager who is forced to grow up quickly. The main character, Nathan Hertzfield faces many life or death situations during his saga.Join Nathan on his exhilarating journey through parts of Russia and Europe during the early 1900's. Don't miss the adventure and suspense in the riveting story, Night of the Cossack.

Tom Blubaugh, author of Night of the Cossack, is a freelance writer. He has written nonfiction most of his adult life. He resides with his wife Barbara in Southwest Missouri where he is currently writing fiction. Tom and Barbara have six children and fourteen grandchildren. In addition to writing, Tom loves macro photography. He on the Board of Directors at Jericho Commission, Inc. Tom believes that retirement is about continuing to fulfill God's purpose.

Tom Blubaugh, Author of Night of the Cossack--Read the first chapter.
Get a signed copy by ordering here. FREE shipping.
eboook for Kindle available at
ebook for Nook available at Barnes & Noble
Visit My Blog
Do you have any interesting family stories? What's your heritage? Feel free to leave any questions for Tom as well.


  1. Hey Tom, thanks for coming to the Inkwell and sharing your story. It sounds like a great adventure.

    My ancestors come from Nottingham, England. Don't know if they ever met the sheriff. I also had an ancestor who was a Captain in the Revolutionary War. After it was over the cash strapped American Congress offered land grants in lieu of back pay to soldiers, so he came west to the Ohio valley and started a home around where downtown Cincinnati is now. If only we'd held on to that valuable real estate longer...

  2. Hi Tom, and I am looking forward to having you visit Diana and me at Overcoming Through Time! Two of my manuscripts were inspired by family research. Lisa, my ancestors also received land grants in Ohio for their Revolutionary war service! Gallia is the area most of them went to. Thanks for sharing this, Tom!

  3. Tom, welcome to the Inkwell! This is a fascinating post. Your grandfather's past sounds so interesting. I'm sure he'd be so proud of the way you honored him.

    I love genealogy. I've discovered so many great tidbits about my ancestors and my husband's ancestors. Well, all except for his Italian mother's roots. For some odd reason they're untraceable. But his English father's side is from...Nottingham!

    Lisa! I don't remember if it's the Isoms or the Johnsons, but maybe you and my hubby are distant cousins.

  4. Tom, the thing I really like about this story is that you did the hard work required to become a writer. Lots of people have great story ideas and think that alone should be enough and won't dedicate themselves to learning how to write a novel.

    My question for you is, will you keep writing? Do you have more story ideas? And are they based on your family or this time period?

  5. Lisa, I'm glad you know about your ancestors. We're all three generations or less from being born someplace other than in America. One of the things I talk to students in the schools where I speak is get in touch with your heritage while relatives are still livings. Thanks for stopping by.

    Carrie, I'm looking forward to it as well. Are those two manuscripts published? Researching family and location is very enjoyable. It's interesting what one uncovers. Thanks for stopping by.

    Suzie, Thanks. Even though most of the story is fictional, he's now are part of me and my family. There's a sense of mystery in the research. You never find out everything about everyone. Thanks for stopping by.

    Dina, Thank you. I did work hard. Took me five years. I wanted the back story to be accurate. Will I keep writing? I'm planning on it. I have the outline for a sequel and just purchased Snowflake to help me develop it. I'm taking the summer off because I missed last summer writing. I say I'm taking it off,but in reality I'm learning to market this novel. What a job! I can't tell what it's based on without giving a way part of the current story. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Thanks for the interesting post, Tom. I am interested in genealogy--what a treasure for our children, but also, what an inspiration for those of us who write historical fiction! I'm related to some American patriots whose stories are well known, but I'm also fascinated by my Huguenots ancestors and those who did all they could to get by, serving God, farming and trying to make life better for their children.

  7. Family history is always interesting. You just never know what you'll dig up.

    My dad does a lot of genealogy research. The best thing he's found yet (or maybe the worst) is a distant cousin in the mid-1800s who was living with a woman he wasn't married to. When the man's adult son confronted him about it, he shot his son dead. He was later hanged.

    Lots of carryings on back then. O.o

    Thanks for the interesting post, Tom.

  8. Welcome to the Inkwell Tom! I love the idea of real family history behind a novel-and yours sounds very interesting!

    Congratulations on Night of the Cossack.

    One of my family stories was my great grandmother who was disowned for marrying below her station. Sadly, she regretted it later as well. She was a Forbes. I guess that ended my cashing in on the family money, eh?

  9. Hey Tom, welcome to the Inkwell. Your book sounds fascinating. My step-father's family was from the Ukraine and I remember whenever he was feeling really good, he'd get down and do the famous Cossack kick. He wasn't very good, though and usually fell after his first attempt. Of course that got the rest of us trying to out do him. It took me years to figure out I had to kick while in the air and now on the landing. LOL

    My biological heritage is from Finland and Scotland.

    Thanks for introducing us to Tom, Dina.

  10. Wow! I appreciate all of the comments. You're getting me 'pumped up' about all the kids I'm going to be talking to in middle and high schools this fall/winter.

    Susanne, you have some interesting ancestors. I believe every life would make a good fiction read. There's such an need for good, clean fiction for children and YA's. One thing for sure, your ancestors worked hard since they were farmers.

    DeAnna, what a story that would make. I'm glad it wasn't kept a secret.

    Debra, thanks for the congrats. Makes you wonder where all that money went. My father's family was one of the richest in Wichita, KS, but the 'Great Depression" robbed them of it. My maternal grandmother brought a brother over from Israel. I never got to meet him. He became a multi-millionaire in the scrap metal business. None of this money made it to me or my family. Yikes! History is so interesting--to think I didn't like it in school. I think it was they way it was taught and, of course, we didn't hear any personal stories.

    Anita, I've never tried to do the Cossack dance. I've seen it done on TV. I'd probably break my neck. At least you had the nerve to try it.

    Blessings to you all.


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