Lee Smith's new book, On Agate Hill (Algonquin), is her first historical novel, and it is wonderful. I've started it already. Listen to her hour-long WUNC interview from September 20.
She says that growing up in the mountains of southwest Virginia, she didn't spend much time thinking about the Civil War. That all changed ten years ago when she and her husband Hal Crowther bought a grand old house in Hillsborough that was built in 1870, with a Civil War cemetery out back. Just down the street is the town's historical museum as well as the Burwell School historic site, where she came upon the diary of Anna Burwell. And the rest is fiction.
All of us who know her grieved with her when her son Josh Seay died in 2003. In the interview, and in an essay for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she talks about how hard it was to climb out of that grief far enough to write this book, which is dedicated to Josh.
UPDATE 09/24: Smith's essay also appears in today's News & Observer.