Mary Surratt would not go away. My writing group and readers of earlier drafts kept advising me to delete her. All agreed that a co-conspirator in the assassination of Lincoln had no place in a novel about women trying to save the planet from environmental disaster. She insisted on staying.
The novel, While Earth Still Speaks, originated with my wondering if there was a cause so important to my grandchildren’s future that I’d be willing to give my life. I had, after all, lived more than three score years. All that I read about deforestation and humans taking over animal habitats and global warming led me to choose the environment. My protagonist would be willing to risk her life to save Earth.
During the past year the degree of Americans’ commitment to a cause has become less hypothetical. A February survey by the American Enterprise Institute “found that nearly three in 10 Americans, including 39% of Republicans, agreed that ‘if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions’” https://www.npr.org/2021/02/11/966498544/a-scary-survey-finding-4-in-10-republicans-say-political-violence-may-be-necessa. More recent news offers no hope that this level of commitment has diminished.
The Mary Surratt who invaded my imagination supported the Confederacy and slavery. Her Washington rooming house was a place where she, her son John, and John Wilkes Booth could strategize. They believed they had a moral obligation to kill the president.
She made her way into my book as a reminder that not all causes merit such commitment.