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Uncovering a 'Spy in Crinoline'

Local author pens story of Confederate spy Antonia Ford.

Antonia Ford lived a life full of danger, excitement, romance and adventure, spying for the Confederacy at a time when most women her age were packing their hope chests. Local author Karla Vernon brings Fords' spirited story to life in her first novel, "The Spy in Crinoline."

"I became fascinated with Antonia's story while helping my son research the Civil War in Fairfax County," said Vernon. "We visited the Fairfax Museum, which had a display about Antonia Ford. When I understood Antonia's character and realized no book had ever been written about her, I saw my chance to make her life come alive."

Vernon dove into researching the life and times of Ford, reading her letters and scouring census records for names of her contemporaries. Historical facts formed the basis of the book. "I wrote the story around the facts, embellishing and fabricating when necessary, when there weren't exact records of what happened," said Vernon.

"I wrote the novel in the first person so that I could have others understand what Antonia was feeling and experiencing," she said. "What did the towns look like as she was traveling through them? How did the Civil War affect her personally? At times, I felt like I was Antonia. I tried to make her forward-thinking and ahead of her time."

VERNON'S FASCINATION with the Civil War era dates back to junior high, when she read "Gone With the Wind." Family history also piqued her interest in the War Between the States, as two of her great-great-grandfathers fought for the North.

It took Vernon a year to research and write "The Spy in Crinoline," a name other authors had given to Ford. The book encompasses Ford's life through much of the Civil War, including her capture and deportation South as a spy. Already, Vernon has had interest in turning her novel into a movie and is currently working on a screenplay version. A sequel to her book also is in the works and will continue Ford's story until her death.

Readers can pick up a copy of "The Spy in Crinoline" at Amazon.com or the author's Web site at www.thespyincrinoline.com. Fairfax County libraries will have some copies available this summer.

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer who lives in Fairfax.