Alternate History

In which I come up with an idea for a novel.

Here’s how to write an alternate history (or one way, anyway — no matter what you do, if it works for you, it’s right).

First, find one point of divergence. Then, follow logically from that point. Add characters, dialog, and a satisfying conclusion, and there you are. Easy!

Here’s what I’m proposing. Rather than Lincoln winning the Presidential Election in 1860, Stephen A. “The Little Giant” Douglas wins it (after all, Douglas had beaten Lincoln two years earlier in a race for the US Senate in Illinois). There’s our what-if point of departure.

So, the South doesn’t secede from the Union.

But, just as in our timeline, Douglas dies unexpectedly, at age 48, in 1861. He’s replaced by his vice president, Herschel Vespasian Johnson, former Governor of Georgia, slave owner and proponent of slavery. (Johnson had been on the ticket to provide balance with Douglas, a sorta-kinda anti-slavery northerner.) New-made President Johnson immediately moves to make slavery legal in all 33 states and the ten territories. This stirs up passion in the North with wild talk about seceding from the United States, with at last seventeen northern states forming a Confederacy, while eleven southern states, plus five border states, remain in the Union. Matters come to a head when the Confederacy shells Fort Winthrop in Boston Harbor and after that, the War Between the States is on.

There’s action, adventure, unexpected reverses, true love, brother fighting against brother … and around four hundred pages later a surprising and satisfying conclusion. The end.

Still to be worked out, whether the capitol of the Confederate States of America should be Boston, New York, or Philadelphia. Perhaps that’s a sub-plot. The capitol of the United States remains Washington, D.C. Whether the UK will side with the Union or the Confederacy might be another sub-plot, allowing me to set some scenes in London, England. If I were going to start the novel in media res (as is my wont) it might be with CSS Monitor getting underway from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in a desperate attempt to break the Union blockade. And that’s how I’d write this book. Around forty chapters. At a chapter a week, I could have it done by year’s end (if I didn’t have a couple of contracted novels ahead of it in the queue).

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