Lance Lee Noel attended the University of Missouri, where he excelled both in the classroom and on the field as a member of the Tiger football team. He later went on to achieve a Masters Degree from the University of Missouri in St. Louis.
A Missouri native, he draws on his lifelong passion for history to make the details of Civil War era come alive. After touring American battle sites for more than fifteen years, he traveled to Lone Jack in 2006. When he heard the story of the battle, he knew this tale had the power to inspire a new generation of young adults.
Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. What inspired you to incorporate the Battle of Lone Jack in to a fiction novel rather than nonfiction?
Thank you for your interest in the book. I really appreciate it! Growing up in Missouri I was a little surprised and disappointed that The Battle of Lone Jack was an event I wasn’t familiar with as a kid. As a result, I hoped to get young people more interested in the battle because it is an amazing story once you get all the details. I’m a huge fan of nonfiction, but felt that nonfiction wouldn’t work for teen readers. To me presenting the battle in a fictional story would keep young readers’ attention.
Of all the places you visited what made Long Jack Special and why do you think it has the power to inspire younger audiences?
It was a combination of things. First off, the battle was gruesome and bloody. The two sides fought across a street about as wide as your living room. Once the battle was over members of both sides (Confederates and Union prisoners) buried the dead together in long trenches. Lastly, the individual stories of the participants really brought the whole event home for me. These were people like you and I who simply thought they were doing what was right and many of them lost their lives. The Battle of Lone Jack is just one chapter in the American Civil War and so many battles present the same elements and bring out the same emotions. I also ultimately wanted to bring attention to the Lone Jack Civil War Cemetery, Battlefield & Museum. Proceeds from the book go to preserving this historical site.
Do you think it would also appeal to Non-American youths? If yes or no, why?
I’ve actually had a few readers from other countries reach out to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. I think it appealed to them, and would appeal to non-American readers in general, because the story is really something anyone can relate to…heroes you cheer on, villains/antagonists you hope lose out in the end, and an interesting climax that ties the whole thing together and leaves the reader with a sense of completeness and satisfaction. Also the aspects of the battle presented in the book cross over cultures and countries. There is a lot to learn from and relate to in wars no matter where or when they take place in history.
Have you always had a desire to write?
Yes I have. I attended the University of Missouri and my freshman year I had this crazy freak of a writing professor. He ended up being one of the best teachers I had and he really helped deepen my passion for writing.
What is the best thing about being a history enthusaist? The worst?
That’s a great question! The best thing is there is always more to uncover and see. A person could spend every day of their life in the US alone visiting a place of historical interest or significance and learn and see something new every day. And that’s just US history. Imagine if you went overseas.
The worst thing is sometimes events like The Battle of Lone Jack get forgotten over time, or places aren’t considered important enough to some and they are torn down or bulldozed over.
What kind of research did you do for The Ghosts of Lone Jack?
I did a lot of reading on the battle. I found several great articles about the battle that were very helpful. I also visited the site numerous times and questioned several experts on the battle.
Why did you choose to write for a young adult audience versus adult?
I really wanted to help get young people interested in reading and interested in history. Also the main characters are kids and nobody can relate to kids like other kids.
What was the hardest scene for you to write? Why?
The hardest scenes for me were actually the action sequences when the characters run into the ghosts. You have to keep track of everything each character is doing. You have to be able to present their actions and, more importantly, their emotions in a believable way and not lose pace or intensity. And it can’t come off as too tedious either.
How long did it take you to finish The Ghosts of Lone Jack?
I wrote the book in three months, but the editing and re-writing takes a long time. So in all it took about 8 months from start to the finished product.
How did you develop the idea for debut novel?
The idea came to me when my brother, who is also into history, and I visited The Lone Jack Battlefield and Cemetery. My brother lives about twelve miles from Lone Jack. We were both really captivated by the story and the ‘vibe’ of the place. I actually thought of the story on the trip back from Lone Jack that day.
In The Ghosts of Lone Jack, the ghosts take on a grotesque fleshy appearance. What made you decide to give them zombie-like qualities?
Having the ghosts transform was a way for the main characters to interact with them on a more physical level. I wanted the characters to be able to fight back and making the ghosts beings the main characters could touch and see gave them a fighter’s chance of winning.
Why did you choose Lucinda Cave as the first ghost to make an appearance to Jared?
Lucinda was a mother and the only woman who died in the battle. Jared had lost his mother and in a warped sort of way she symbolizes the loss he has had in his life. I felt that was significant and made her the perfect choice as the first ghost to appear in the book.
You have ghosts of Union and Rebel soldiers, Indians, townspeople and horses mixed with town bullies and average kid pressures. Why toss escape convicts in to the equation?
Also a great question…for a couple of reasons actually. To me the convicts remind the reader that there is evil in our side of the world too; and I wanted to have characters that confronted the ghosts that actually made you want to cheer for the ghosts.
Your fictional paranormal "experts" weren't more knowledgeable about ghosts as some of the other characters. Why choose inexperienced ghost hunters to come save the day?
Again for a couple of reasons. One was simply a humorous factor. I thought it would be funny to have experts who actually didn’t have much of a clue as to what they were doing. Secondly, I personally like heroes and characters that are flawed or kind of screw-ups but ultimately help save the day in the end. The ghost hunters are actually my favorite characters because they aren’t very successful in their pursuits but in the end they win.
How much of the book is based on real life?
I tried to present important aspects of the battle as they actually happened without making it too much detail. As far as the main characters are concerned they were all based off of people I know or grew up with. I also grew up in a small country Missouri town and I wanted to capture that culture and social interaction in how I presented Lone Jack.
Was the publication of your debut novel anything you hoped it to be?
It has been just an awesome experience. People have been so receptive and supporting. I’ve really appreciated all of it!!
What can readers look forward to in Book Two?
The characters develop and grow, but as you could probably predict they continue to get themselves unwillingly into scrapes with supernatural places and spirits. They head to Phoenix for a summer baseball tournament but end up getting side-tracked. They head out on a mission to find The Treasure of the Lost Dutchman, which is a treasure that some actually believe exists in the mountains around Apache Junction, AZ.
How many novels do you plan to write in this series?
I ideally would like to write four or five. Allow the characters to grow and mature, and allow them to face the real-world problems young people face, but also continue to face down creatures from beyond the grave.
What advice do you have for other writers?
It’s as important to be a good story teller as it is to be a good writer. Both are equally important.