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Archive for Monday, August 14, 2006

KU alumna crafts first novel with themes of Civil War, frontier

August 14, 2006

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Lora Reiter isn't a fan of historical fiction.

"It is not a genre I read," she says.

That's what makes Reiter's first novel so surprising: It's based in 19th-century rural Kansas, and it revolves around themes of Civil War and hard-nosed frontier living.

"I fell in love with these characters," Reiter says, "and the genre grew on me."

Reiter's novel, which came out earlier this year, is "One Was Annie." She'll discuss her book at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt., as part of Civil War on the Western Frontier events.

The novel tells the story of a 15-year-old girl who marries a troubled Civil War veteran. When the veteran dies in a horseback riding accident, the woman is left to raise their children.

Reiter is a retired 35-year professor at Ottawa University. She has bachelor's and doctoral degrees from Kansas University and continues to live in Ottawa.

She based the novel's main characters, in part, on her great-grandparents, who lived in Tennessee. Her great-grandfather was an alcoholic, played a role in the execution of his brother-in-law and died young.

Reiter, 67, has baskets and a quilt made by her great-grandmother and photographs of the couple. To further add to the novel's realism, she spent years researching Civil War battles, wagon trains and life on the prairie.

Author Lora Reiter reads from her novel, "One Was Annie."

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"It's solidly grounded," she says, "but it is certainly a work of fiction."

Reiter grew up near Beloit, and "One Was Annie" is set in north-central Kansas. Her previous published works were collections of essays and poems.

"It's an adult novel," she says. "It really has been reaching a broader audience than I thought it would. I have readers of both sexes and all ages responding very favorably to it. I think the novel has joy in it, but it's a somber novel. These people had very difficult lives, an unhappy marriage and it was a feat to simply stay alive."

Reiter says she's given more than 50 presentations on the book since it came out this spring. Many of those at the talks want to know how to write a similar book about their own families.

"Families should keep the best possible records and details," she says. "There are saints and sinners in every family. Their stories are very interesting. You never know when someone can come in and write a story about it."

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