Mary Katherine Ransburg became so fascinated with first-person story telling from a woman’s point of view that characters began forming in her mind.
“Most re-enactments are geared to soldiering,” said Ransburg of a competition held when she had chaired the 1992 program at the Confederate Cemetery on Sullivan Avenue.
But this presentation was different.
“I felt like I was there,” she said. That’s when the character started talking to her. And that was the start of a new chapter in her life. That of an author.
“I always wanted to be a writer,” she confessed in a telephone interview from her Arizona home. “Being the youngest of eight children meant I was the oldest among the nieces and nephews. And when we had a family gathering, everyone said “Go with Aunt Mary and she’ll entertain you.” I would tell them stories.”
In high school at Utica, an assignment was to give a speech on what you want to do when you graduate.
“I had a long list,” she said, “and at the top was being a writer. The teacher told me that if I wanted to be a writer, I had to get some experience and I had to write about what I knew.”
She became sidetracked with a family. Her current marriage brought together a blending of families – two of his children and four of hers.
“When last one was on his feet, coming out of the Army, that’s when I had time to write,” said Arensberg. “They (the stories) had been coming to me for 42 years but I never had time to write them.”
The story that came out of her work at the Confederate Cemetery program is “Willa,” the story of a woman who inherits a farm on what is now the outskirts of Columbus and a few miles from Camp Chase. Willa, at age 28 and unmarried, inherits the family farm after her father’s death in 1859.
“A woman at that time had to have a lot of strength to run a farm by herself,” Arensberg said.
That theme is woven throughout the story that takes the reader through the Civil War from newspapers Willa avidly read, from letters from her baby brother who was in the Union Army in General William T. Sherman’s unit, and from sketches she received from an artist passing through Camp Chase whose work appeared in the newspapers she read.
The strength of Willa is just the start. Arensberg is working on a 10-book series about women of character. “Willa” is the first. Her second book “Woman of the Wind,” will be published by Xlibris in September.
That story is about a young woman whose family left Connecticut to move west, but lost their horses and wagon in a swollen Ohio River. The heroine continues the trek westward to Idaho but probably not as the family had hoped.
A third novel is set in the mountains of Arizona, Arensberg let on.
“I’m working on number eight, and I have folders with research and notes for numbers nine and 10,” she said.
She didn’t tip her hand much about her series, but did say the main character is a woman, and that each story is set in a different time period and in a different part of the country.
“All my heroines will have sense of duty and inner strength,” she said. “They have a sense there is a God in this world and you have to be accountable for your actions.”
Living alone in Arizona could mean she has a lot of time to write. Her husband George, a master engraver, works for a monument company on the Hilltop where they used to live. Her allegeries were so severe that she moved to a drier climate.
“We talk on the phone every weekend, probably longer that most couples talk when they are living in the same house,” she said.
Arensberg returns to Columbus about once a year, to visit friends and see a doctor. She’ll be visiting the Hilltop for a couple of weeks early in September.
She’s likely to retrace some of Willa’s footsteps of about 150 years earlier as she recalls some of the 100 or so e-mails she has received from her readers.
“They forget that Willa is fictional,” she said. “They tell me they have found a little of themselves in Willa.”
Arensberg has a strong character and believeable story line. For those who enjoy a good Civil War era story, this book can be a page turner.
“Willa” can be purchased through www.Xlibris.com for under $20.