Historical Nonfiction Author

Gather, write, rewrite

The cover of Roy Flannagan's "Whipping"
The cover of Roy Flannagan’s “Whipping”

Writing this book or a writing a newspaper article is the result of a three-step process: gathering, writing and rewriting. I loop back and forth from one step to the other as long as time allows. So even though my deadline to submit the manuscript for The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia is a month away, I want to keep working on the story by looking closer at the career of Roy Flannagan.

Flannagan plays a part in the story, as a reporter who visited Fauquier County to cover Thompson’s death and as an aide to former Gov. Harry F. Byrd. He also was a successful novelist. Two of his novels, set in small-town Virginia in the early years of the 20th century, seemed like they might contain material that would give depth to my story. Flannagan wrote one of them, The Whipping, in 1930, two years before Thompson’s death. It couldn’t reflect his thoughts about Fauquier or the Thompson case, but it had a provocative cover, with a beautiful young woman cowering before a group of hooded Ku Klux Klan figures. Would the novel focus on race relations in rural Virginia, a key part of my story?

Flannagan wrote the second novel, County Court, in 1937 so that one seemed more promising. It was about the trial of a woman accused of murdering her husband. I wondered if it contained a disguised description of the things he saw and the people he met in Warrenton. The librarians at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library helped me obtain copies of both books on inter-library loans. I skim-read them, but only County Court had material that seemed relevant. I enjoyed Flannagan’s description of the courthouse and courthouse area in his fictional town of Juliaville. It reminded me of Warrenton, and I will quote from it in my story. And so the process continues: gathering, writing and rewriting.

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