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‘Lies: Based on True Stories,’ a tale set in Civil War times

Courtney Smith
Courtney Smith

Local author Courtney Smith’s debut novel, Lies: Based on True Stories, a story set in Greenbrier County during the Civil War, has been published by Quarrier Press of Charleston and is available for purchase both locally and online.

The entertaining book is historical fiction, but it includes information and anecdotes about real people, places, and events. In 1863, the Elmhurst house along the Greenbrier River in Caldwell was ransacked and the outbuildings were burned. Readers are invited to examine the testimony of six surviving witnesses to this incident to discover the truth among the lies.

A Cinderella story, Lies: Based on True Stories centers on the fictitious 21-year-old Caroline Anderson whose husband is missing in action and presumed dead. Caroline struggles not only to overcome the hardships of life during war, but also to contend with her demanding and self-centered family members, including her hypochondriac mother in-law, two frivolous and gossipy sisters in-law, sullen teenage stepson, and quirky nine-year-old stepdaughter. The situation turns from difficult to dire when Union soldiers take the family captive and threaten to destroy their home.

Area residents may remember that this story began as a play 13 years ago.  Smith produced “The Incident” in 2003 at Carnegie Hall and in 2004 at the Elmhurst house. She wrote the play as a fundraiser for Carnegie Hall and a fun project for her then nine year-old daughter who was involved with theater through Greenbrier Valley Theatre. “I am extremely grateful to the talented actors Danny Boone, Bob Fisk, Donna LaValle, Mitch Scott, Andrew Vass, and my daughter who brought the characters to life,” Smith explained.  She changed the title for the book to Lies because in Appalachia, storytellers are called “liars.”

After deciding to adapt the play into a novel, Smith spent nearly seven years researching, writing, and re-writing.

Some of her research was completed at the Greenbrier County Historical Society’s library in the North House. Archivist Jim Talbert was especially helpful to her with information about Rev. John McElhenney and Dr. William Simpkins, who both figure as characters in the story. Most of Smith’s research was directed toward setting the scene. The novel contains interesting information about how people lived during the Civil War, focusing on women – from fashion and beauty concerns, to recipes, to home décor and cleaning tips, to sexual harassment.  Additionally, readers will learn about military spies and medical treatments of the period.

Smith also devoted considerable time to tone and word choice in order to appropriately reflect the different voices of her six storytellers. They include a young woman raised in the “hollers,” a former slave, a Union sergeant, and a Harvard-trained surgeon. She received excellent feedback from Lori Evans and Elyse Gerrard.

Books are available to purchase in person at the North House on Washington Street in downtown Lewisburg, as well as through the publisher and Amazon.com. For more information, please visit www.liesthenovel.com.

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