Author Dottie McComas chose the romance genre for her first novel, which quite literally has love unfolding among the cherry blossoms in the nation’s Capitol one fateful spring in 1973.
“This is my first book,” McComas said. “People have asked me if I plan to write another book, but I do not have one in mind right now.”
With the title “He Guards with Honor,” the book tells the story of a young honor guardsman from Pennsylvania who falls in love with Wendy, a college sophomore from Tennessee.
McComas described the novel as “a wonderful love story and a historically accurate depiction of Washington, D.C., and the Old Guard of Fort Myer, Va.”
The book is set around the time period of 1973 and includes several references to Johnson City, Elizabethton and Carter County.
McComas lived with the idea for her book for a long time before she decided to make it a reality.
“Friends have told me that they would like to write a book, and I think that a lot of people have a story inside them they would like to tell,” she said. “This story was inside me. It is based on true events. I have always enjoyed putting my thoughts on paper, mostly in poems, but this was my first attempt at writing a book.”
During the writing process, McComas said, “The book basically poured out of me as I sat at the computer. I wrote on weekends mostly when I had uninterrupted quiet time.”
The couple featured in her romance novel are Wendy and Dan.
It is Dan, as the soldier depicted on the book’s cover, who also provides the inspiration for the novel’s title. Dan and his real-life counterpart served as a member of the Old Guard.
“He was chosen to be a member of that elite group of soldiers in Washington, D.C.,” McComas explained. “They are the soldiers who perform ceremonial duties in the nation’s Capitol. They provide escort to the President, guard the Tomb of the Unknowns, protect Washington, D.C. and perform burial ceremonies in Arlington National Cemetery.”
McComas said members of the Old Guard are chosen for membership according to strict standards that include physical fitness and stature, high scores on mental, as well as performance tests, and good character.
The story of Dan and Wendy, the main characters in the book, is based on a real time from the author’s life.
“I met Dan when I was 19 and a student at East Tennessee State University,” McComas said. “I was a member of the ROTC sponsor corps drill team. We went to Washington in 1973 to compete in a drill competition as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.”
During that trip, the couple met, exchanged addresses and wrote to each other for a year while he served in the Army. Their correspondence continued for a few months after he completed his duty.
“My book is based on our experiences,” McComas said. “I still had the letters he wrote to me, pictures we made of each other and the memories of our time together — the perfect ingredients for a romance novel.”
Writing the book also facilitated a reunion of sorts for McComas and her inspiration for the character of Dan.
“Writing a book was a good excuse to look up his phone number and call him after 40 years to ask his permission to write a book about him,” she said.
She called him in January of last year to seek his permission for her plan to write about him.
“I can’t imagine what he thought when I told him I wanted to write a romance novel about the two of us, but he was, as always, a perfect gentleman and said it was OK with him,” McComas said. “He even agreed to help me by providing more information about his duties in the Guard. I think the book tells a sweet story of young love, but it also provides a first-hand account of a soldier with the unique job of attending five or more funerals a day during the Vietnam War era.”
To get ready for writing her book, she enrolled in a non-credit course on writing a publishable book at University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
“I began writing at the end of January, and completed the draft of the book in May, on Memorial Day, which I thought was fitting since the book was about a soldier,” she said.
McComas sent the draft to “Dan” for his approval.
“He called me to say that he really liked it,” she said.
She then wrote to Inspiring Voices through the publishing group’s website.
“I found out about the publishing company in Guidepost magazine,” she said. “It is a service of Guideposts, and there was a contest for writers to which I submitted my manuscript.”
She didn’t win the contest, but she continued to seek more information about the publishing company.
“A very nice lady from Inspiring Voices called me on the phone the next day,” McComas said.
She bought a publishing package and was guided through the steps of publishing her book by knowledgeable and pleasant people in that company.
“Sometimes it was by phone call, and other times by email,” she said. “My book had to pass a content review before being considered for publishing because Guideposts has standards they require from any book they publish. After that, I continued on through editing and the other processes until the completed book was mailed to me at the end of November.”
The front cover for the book was painted by Sara Wieland, who is an art teacher at the school in Knox County where McComas is also employed.
“I asked her to paint a soldier who was a member of a firing party, dressed in dress blues and standing with his rifle in Arlington Cemetery,” McComas said. “I gave her a photograph of a firing party and several photos of the real ‘Dan.’”
The only thing McComas didn’t have was a photo of Dan wearing his dress blues.
“She did a wonderful job,” McComas said. “The picture is very colorful, detailed and looks very much like Dan.”
A first-grade teacher in the Knox County school system, McComas began her teaching career at Harold McCormick Elementary School in Elizabethton.
“I taught there for five years until the birth of my first daughter in 1979,” she said. “After moving to Knoxville, with my husband and two children in 1983, I returned to teaching when my youngest daughter was in first grade.”
She has now taught in Knoxville for the past 26 years.
“My husband, Tim McComas, was living in Elizabethton when I met him, but was born in Wyoming, and has lived several places,” she said. She added that he lived for several years in Greeneville, where he graduated from South Greene High School.
“Tim encouraged me to write the book, and even though this book is about a past boyfriend, he is the one I married, and he is proud that I have published a book,” McComas said.
McComas is the daughter of Joe Wood, a retired school teacher, and the late Dorothy Wood, who died about five years ago.
Her brother, Joey, and sister, Bobbie Sue Wood, still live in Elizabethton. Her sisters, Patty Miller and Ann Marie West, live in Kingsport and Jonesborough, respectively.
McComas recently bought a house in Elizabethton and hopes to retire there in a few years.
“As the character, Wendy, in my book is described, I am very fond of my hometown,” McComas said. “I look forward to living there again. In my book, several places in and around Elizabethton are mentioned. The book is historically accurate, and some people may remember some of the events and places I describe.”
“He Guards with Honor” can be found on Amazon Kindle and Google Books, and it can be ordered through www.inspiringvoices.com, or directly through the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
McComas will hold a book signing in the conference room of the Elizabethton Star, 300 Sycamore St., from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 17. Her book sells for $16.38, which includes tax. It is available as an e-book for $3.99.