In a new fictional book, long time Johns Creek resident and author Diana Savastano shares a story with readers that begins in the spring of 1867 at a makeshift graveyard in Mississippi where a work crew begins the somber task of unearthing the remains of Civil War soldiers. The story itself, however, was inspired by the author's real-life discovery of a Civil War grave marker of an unknown soldier at an antique shop in Florida in 1991.
Found in the skeletal hand of one unidentified soldier is a US belt buckle. Believed to be a Union soldier, he is laid to rest in a federal cemetery and honored with a Memorial Star Marker mounted on a pole at his gravesite.
THE MARKER disappears from the cemetery in 1952 and remains hidden for over 64 years. When found, it becomes a conduit between its current owner and the ghost of the Unknown Soldier, who pleads that his story be told. The result of this supernatural encounter reveals a history of envy, hate, and murder. These revelations bring everyone connected to THE MARKER into great peril.
In reality, Savastano was inspired to write this story based on finding the marker at an antique shop in the early 1990s. In this Q&A, she shares how this discovery motivated her to write the story found in her newly released novel, The Marker, and her personal journey as a writer.
How did this story start for you in finding the marker?
Diana: I found the marker at an antique shop in Florida in 1991 while on a writing assignment. The antique dealer showed me a memorial star, which he referred to as a grave marker. He claimed that his young son took it from a Natchez cemetery in 1952. At that time, I didn't believe his story. I believed that the piece was a reproduction. And although he had a "Not for Sale" sticker on it, he offered to sell it to me for $35.00. When I held the marker, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that a soldier was pleading with me to write his story. Needless to say, I was compelled to purchase it with the intent to research its origin. If the piece turned out to be original, I would return it to the Veteran's Association in Mississippi. At that time, I had no idea if it was a Union or Confederate grave marker. However, I soon learned that it was Union and contacted the Natchez National Cemetery (NNC). The NNC director confirmed the piece to be authentic. With this information, my writer's imagination went into high gear. But here's the twist: my soldier wasn't Union; he served under the Confederate flag as a doctor dedicated to saving lives. And that's when the story took shape.
What are your plans to return the marker itself to a final resting place?
Diana: It has always been my intention to return the marker when I completed the book project. From the beginning, I had a strong connection to the marker. I still do. As long as it was in my possession, I felt connected to the character(s) that flowed so freely from my imagination. While it's still a "grave marker," with a reverent connection to an Unknown Soldier, it's also the catalyst that brought to fruition a story with many twists and turns. This is why I held it for so long. Now, with the completion of the book, I've contacted the director of the NNC. The VA in Mississippi has designated the marker for placement in a display case with a write-up from me describing how it came to be in my possession. I traveled to Natchez in early December to bring this historical piece home to its final resting place.
As a writer, did you feel that the characters 'revealed' themselves to you as the story took shape?
Diana: The interesting thing about writing The Marker is that the characters took on their own personalities and often headed in one direction and then, without me realizing it, they'd veer off the path and head off in another direction. I was captivated by the story, and as it unfolded the characters held me hostage to the theme. They each had minds of their own; or so it seemed. If I went one way, they tugged another way. I wrote the words; they interjected the emotions.
How long did it take you to write this story?
Diana: I have been working on The Marker, on and off (mostly off), for over 25 years. As a working writer, most of those years were spent in 12-14 hour days building a career and a publishing company. However, The Marker took a backseat. I accepted that because I felt it was not the right time. Perhaps the best way to describe it is that I've had the longest book pregnancy ever. Longer that it took Margaret Mitchell to write Gone with the Wind. But, by the time I gave birth, it was thrilling! Timing is everything. And now, the marker will find its way home…to it's final resting place. And no, a very big part of me doesn't want to let go. I'm emotionally tied to it and the character of Dr. Bradley Taylor, murdered by someone who left him to die as an Unknown Soldier.
The Marker is available for sale on the author's website and Amazon.com.
Author Bio: Diana Savastano is a former columnist, food writer, magazine editor, and publisher. She is the author of On the Breath of Angels; Winds of Pood, Under the Puddle; Winds of Pood: In the Blizzard; The Upside Down Inside Out Life of Maureen Kiernan; The Princess Who Loved to Swim; and The Marker, a murder mystery sprinkled with romance and paranormal activities. In addition to writing books, she is working with veteran entertainment advisors penning multiple script projects to bring her book characters to life on screen. She lives in Johns Creek, Georgia.
Additional information about this author can been reviewed at www.dianasavastano.com.