I first met Erin Lindsay McCabe at Saint Mary’s College of California. We were both in the MFA writing program; she was in the fiction group, and I was in creative nonfiction. Because we were in different disciplines, and she was in her second year when I came into the program, our paths didn’t cross very often.
All second year students must read from their work in front of their peers and the faculty and others who come to offer support and flowers. In many cases, it was the only time students in the different disciplines got to hear their classmates’ short stories, poems, or essays. As a first year student, I eagerly awaited the opportunity to see what the second years had to say for themselves. The evening programs generated a lot of excitement. Attendees rushed the refreshment table. The cheese and crackers disappeared quickly, but not as quickly as the wine.
At one of these events, I heard Erin read from her historical novel—then just in-progress—called I Shall Be Near to You. The story is told in first-person from the point of view of Rosetta Wakefield, a new bride whose husband Jeremiah leaves to fight on the side of the Union Army in the Civil War. Rosetta soon chops off her hair, tailors a pair of her husband’s trousers, and, disguised as a man, sets out to find him.
Erin read a five-minute excerpt from her book, and I clearly remember thinking, “This is the real deal.”
And now, it is the real deal. Erin’s novel has received great advance press, including a rave by none other than author Pat Conroy, who writes:
“A real gem…In the long, distinguished history of Civil War fiction, Erin Lindsay McCabe has presented us a book that might be for the ages. Her novel, I Shall Be Near to You, tells a passionate love story that moved me as much as I’ve been moved in years. Her heroine, Rosetta Wakefield, is as compelling a warrior as any that appears in Michael Shaara’s great novel about Gettysburg, The Killer Angels. Rosetta is a magnificent creation and lets us know that the people of the North had the same attachment to their land as any Southerner ever did. If you don’t like this book, you don’t like to read.” Whoa!
I hope that readers of this post will feel free to share it and let others know about the unforgettable story of a headstrong heroine during a tragic time in our country’s history. Rosetta is based on a real person, only one among many unsung women, who posed as men and fought alongside them. From Rosetta’s words and letters home, we learn first-hand about the life of a soldier: the sounds of battle and the eerie silences that follow; the fatigue and disorganization among the troops; the harsh realities of the dead and those left to die on the battlefield—and the enduring love and shared dreams that create an unbreakable bond between Rosetta and Jeremiah.
It’s a great read. Congratulations to Erin on the publication of her first novel!