Debra's interview on Michelle Pillow's Pillowtalk Blog!
Q: What is the strangest source of writing inspiration you’ve ever had?
A: The strangest source of inspiration for me was the ghost of a Civil War soldier. Being a medium, I never know who I’m going to attract and when I attended a living history at Shiloh Battlefield in 2004, I wasn’t surprised when one of the spirits there followed me home. I was exhausted when I crawled into bed and, to get my attention, a spirit began pulling out my dresser drawers, one by one, and dropping them in the floor. When I asked him who he was, he gave me his whole name. Of course, I Googled him and was astounded to find so much information about his life.
Thomas Benton Smith was born February 24, 1838, in Tennessee. Benton was a brilliant young man with a flair for mechanical inventiveness. He even acquired a patent for one of his inventions. At sixteen, he was accepted at Western Military Institute in Nashville.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, twenty three year-old Smith and his older brother, John, enlisted in the Twentieth Tennessee Regiment. Benton rose quickly in the ranks and was elected colonel shortly after the Battle of Shiloh.
At the Battle of Stone’s River, he was seriously wounded by a shot through the chest and left arm. His brother, who served as the Regiment’s color bearer, was killed. On July 29, 1864, he became the youngest brigadier general in the Army of Tennessee, earning him the nickname The Boy General.
On December 16, 1864, Benton Smith was captured at the battle of Shy’s Hill. Smith and his men were marched through the Federal dead and wounded, who lay thick on the steep slopes of Nashville’s Overton hills. Eyewitnesses reported he exchanged words with Federal Colonel McMillen, who began verbally assailing Smith. Smith’s only reply was, “I am a disarmed prisoner.” At that remark, McMillen struck the twenty-six-year-old Smith over the head with his saber three times, each blow cutting through Smith’s slouch hat, the last driving him to the ground and fracturing his skull.
Smith, despite all odds, recovered enough to be sent to Federal prison at Fort Warren, Massachusetts, but his injuries proved more detrimental than they initially seemed. After his release in 1865, he began to succumb to frequent bouts of mania. Deemed dangerous to himself and others, he was placed in a Tennessee insane asylum.Thomas Benton Smith passed away from a heart condition on May 21, 1923, at the asylum. He was interred in the Confederate Circle in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.
His spirit remains with me today. His gallantry, courage, intelligence and just plain smartass behavior inspired me to write Gatekeeper.
The character of Thomas Benton Smith is based on many aspects of the real Smith’s life, although I took liberties to turn one of my real life heroes into a romantic hero.
Q: You come back from the dead as a spirit, what message are you trying to get across?
A: That gratitude is the answer to just about everything. When we are grateful, we open ourselves to gifts from the Universe. Gratitude also helps us to understand trying situations in our lives. An example from my life: If I hadn’t gone through absolute hell with an abusive X, I never would have met the people who are so important in my life right now. My friends, my current husband (who also inspires my romance heroes!), and my fabulous writing career are all results of a situation I thought I couldn’t live through at the time. But if I had to do it all over again to know the people and things I know now, I would. Therefore, even though it was a terrible time in my life, I’m grateful it happened and moved me to this wonderful, exciting stage in my life. I feel impervious to personal attacks now. I am a much stronger person than I was then and refuse to spend time dwelling on negative aspects and people.
Adopt and attitude of gratitude and it will make you a much more satisfied and happy person.
Q: You’re the heroine of your book, why do you fall in love with the hero?
A: Right now, I’m finishing up Watchkeeper, the third book in my Phantom Lovers series, all which feature a ghost as the hero. Watchkeeper is about the gentleman pirate, Stede Bonnet.
Because of my love for history, I enjoy basing my heroes on men who actually lived.
Stede Bonnet was born July 29, 1687, to a wealthy family in Barbados. He married Mary Allamby in 1709, and the couple had four children. Shortly after the birth and subsequent death of his daughter in 1716, he purchased a ship which he named Revenge, hired a crew and sailed off to become a pirate without a word to his wife.Shortly thereafter, he encountered Blackbeard. The two formed an uneasy alliance but after a falling out, Bonnet petitioned the governor of North Carolina for a pardon and a Lettre of Marque which would classify him as a privateer instead of a pirate.
When a hurricane prevented him from obtaining his Lettre of Marque, he reluctantly returned to a life of piracy.In the late summer of 1718, Colonel William Rhett led an expedition against pirates along the Carolina coast and captured Stede Bonnet at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Bonnet was held in Charleston but managed to escape disguised in a woman’s dress.
He was recaptured and despite impassioned entreaties for his life by the ladies of Charleston, he was hanged for piracy December 10, 1718, at White Point Gardens.
The heroine of Watchkeeper is a witch named Gwen and she fell in love with Stede for the same reasons I did while writing the story. Aside from the fact he was a devastatingly gorgeous, well educated pirate, he is a real gentleman. He wants to protect Gwen but admires her strength and determination enough to let Gwen be who she is. He listens when she talks and seems to intuitively know just what it takes to drive her wild in bed. He’s selfless and always, always puts her needs first. Their mutual respect and attraction will give them the happily ever after we all want in our lives.
Q: Who were you in a past life?
A: I am a firm believer in past lives and that knowing about them can help us overcome problems in this lifetime. I’ve done a few past life regressions and in one of the most amazing ones, I saw myself as a woman in Spain in 1546. I know very little about Spanish history but in the regression, I was a young woman named Isabella. I recounted that I lived in a place called the Alcazar and that I was a cousin to Philip II. I could actually feel the confines of the steel farthingale – a type of hoopskirt worn by women of the time, and I was very much in love with a priest with whom I was having an affair. I remember he wore a long white tunic with a scarlet cross emblazoned on the front.
After the regression, I, of course, researched Spain in 1546. Philip II was king. His castle was known as the Alcazar and a band of mercenaries who fought during the crusades, known as the Knights of St. Iago, wore white tunics with scarlet crosses. I also spoke fluent Spanish during the regression.
During that same regression, the hypnotherapist regressed me further and I recalled a life in Egypt where I was planning to kill my husband by putting a snake in his bed but I won’t go into that one other than to tell you I recognized my Egyptian husband as my now X-husband. Oh well…