How My Spy Maddie Bradford Came To Be Born

Her timing was perfect. She gazed at me from a 19th Century hand-tinted ambrotype— cool-eyed, aloof and solemn with a tiny mark on her forehead in the shape of a comet or a falling star–a teenage girl lost in time. She’d been resting for who knows how long in a dusty case in the back of a used bookshop. I like to think she was waiting for me.
I’m a tale spinner- a novelist and a researcher. I’m hooked on all things Civil War, and have been ever since I was a little kid prowling around battlefields, never wanting to leave, and somehow knowing that the war that began one hundred and fifty years ago would always be important to me.

I’m especially interested in the spies who worked undercover, different kinds of soldiers who provided intelligence and helped the effort for both the Union and Confederate sides. So when I found the photo, I was in the middle of outlining a book about a fifteen-year old spy I called Madeline Eve Bradford, a lonely, homebound misfit with an amazing memory. Maddie landed smack in the middle of Civil War DC and found her true calling as a Union agent working for Detective Allan Pinkerton. 
Even better, I learned that Pinkerton was the first in US history to hire women, not just as clerks, but as detectives. He used his teenage son as a dispatch carrier and had several women of unknown ages working for him when he started his detective agency in Chicago, even before he became the top spy in DC, so I took the liberty of having him hire Maddie. And I gave her a voice.

Writing in the first person is my favorite way to tell a story. As an actor, when I play a role, I think a lot about the characters. Not just what they look like, but how they sound, the way they move, what gives them the shivers, how they love, or shine, and what choices they make.
While Maddie, Jake, Nellie, Mike, Aunt Salome, Isaac and Summoner Bradford —some of the other people you’ve met in Alias Dragonfly— are fictional characters, they are based on stories of some of the spies Pinkerton used. But in Alias Dragonfly, they do not change the course of history. Nope. Don’t want to do that. Instead my bunch move though real events in real time, in a very real world; interacting with people who actually existed during the Civil War.
I’ll list the real players here so if you want to know more about them, have a look at the list of books I recommend.
Who Was Really Who
(Researching the lives of spies can be really challenging. They obscured their identities, created blinds appeared and disappeared like wisps of smoke.)
Allan Pinkerton:  Chicago detective, and the head of General George McClellan’s secret service. (You can read all about “Little Mac.”)
Timothy Webster: Maddie’s trainer, Detective Pinkerton’s top spy. His story is big, scary, and ultimately very sad. You’ll learn more about Timothy in the next book in the series, Alias Sparrow Hawk.
Kate Warn: The head of Pinkerton’s female detectives. I’ve done a whole lot of work on the mystery of Kate. Check out my website for more details of how I uncovered her true identity.
“Hattie Lawton,” was probably an alias. I think she was based on a very fearless young  spy in Pinkerton’s autobiographical account of his time in the war.
Mrs. Smith and Agnes Crawford: I found these women in an 1860 DC census living with Kate Warn. A biography of Pinkerton said Kate ran a training center for spies at the beginning of the war.
Rose Greenhow, and “Little Rose.” Mama Rose was a society matron in DC. She was able to worm secrets out of the politicians and Union officers she hung around with, and pass intelligence straight through enemy lines to the Confederates. She was a big deal. “Little Rose’ was, well, a passionate kid who hated Yankees for what they did to her mom. Can you blame her?

Rose writes that she had a female Pinkerton detective in her house before she was taken to the Old Capitol Prison. So, I got Maddie inside.  Her saga continues. Like the young men and women working behind the lines in our own time, tested by war and loss, she will be forever altered, as will I.

I’ll be blogging weekly. Many exciting things in the wind for Maddie!