NEWTON — Newton resident Michael Ross has been writing for much of his life, but his latest project is very different from his previous work.
Ross wrote science fiction as a teenager and even sold some short stories to Random House, but then refocused his efforts into writing computer programs instead of fiction.
"I just kind of did it in the background and wrote software, instead, because people will pay you for that," Ross laughed. "Now that I have the luxury of being retired, I can write books and hopefully people will like them."
Ross' debut novel "The Clouds of War" will be released on May 14. The young adult novel will be the first in a series for young adults titled "Across the Great Divide."
"It's about an ordinary family in Lexington, Kentucky, and how they get drawn into the Civil War," Ross said.
"The Clouds of War" is loosely based on the life of Will Crump, one of the men who founded Ross' hometown of Lubbock, Texas. Ross knew Crump's granddaughter when he was a child and became interested in his life.
"I started looking into it and I thought, 'Wow, you can't make this stuff up,'" Ross said.
As a 15-year-old boy, Will saves John Morgan, the leader of a militia called the Lexington Rifles who would go on to become a Confederate general. Will joins the militia, giving an oath that requires him to make many sacrifices.
"To me, history isn't a list of dates and battles, it's the story of people," Ross said. "I actually went to the Shiloh battlefield and walked the steps my characters would have taken."
Ross also researched Morgan's papers at the University of North Carolina and other first-person accounts to make his novel as true to the time period as possible. "The Clouds of War" includes the story of Will's sisters Julia and Albinia, who are patterned after real people who spied for the North and participated in the Underground Railroad. Another main character is Luther, a slave who escapes to the North and goes to fight in the Union army.
"I like using original sources," Ross said. "I read (around) 50 different slave diaries."
Another factor that drew Ross into studying the Civil War is his view of the current political climate.
"I think the main thing that fascinates me is the similarity to today," Ross said. "We have a very divided nation."
The 1860s saw a president who did not win the popular vote, sanctuary cities that harbored runaway slaves and states that talked of seceding. Despite the turbulence of that era, many thought it would never come to a civil war.
"My thought is not only can we make better decisions now, it also could have been avoided then," Ross said.