By SARAH CHAIN
Daily Record/Sunday News
Calvin James Gilbert Jr. fell in love with writing when he was in the fourth grade. His teacher would take an image from a magazine and instruct the class to write a story about what they saw in it. Gilbert — known as Jim to most — never looked back.
But it wasn’t until recently that Gilbert, 58, “really sat down to work on writing with the intention of getting something published.”
After suffering a herniated disk in 2010, Gilbert underwent spine surgery. His slow recovery provided plenty of time to write.
“It’s not the greatest thing to have happen to you,” he said. “But in this case it was rather serendipitous.”
What resulted is “A Deeper Sense of Loyalty,” a Civil War novel that follows a young man from the South who bucks family tradition and fights against the Confederacy.
The novel was published through Sunbury Press, based in Mechanicsburg, in November 2012.
“The main character, James Langdon, was the son of a cotton plantation owner in Georgia,” Gilbert said. “The problem was, he had a very deep aversion to slavery.”
Langdon’s religious convictions persuade him to resurrect his own version of the Underground Railroad, helping slaves to escape and moving them toward Canada in hopes of freedom. As the war carries on and his journeys become more dangerous, Langdon joins the Union army.
“He loved his father, had a great deal of respect for his father,” Gilbert said. “But he chose to follow what he learned at church, God’s rules rather than man’s rules.”
Jennifer Melendrez, an assistant editor at Sunbury Press assigned to the novel, said the book takes a personal look into the war.
“(Gilbert) created a character flawed in his own way,” Melendrez said. “He doesn’t have all the answers.”
It works as a coming-of-age novel as well, she said, as Langdon tries to decide for himself what’s right.
“It’s hitting on a lot of current-day issues in terms of raising your family, (and) choosing the cause versus staying at home and watching things from afar,” Melendrez said.
Born in Gettysburg, Gilbert now lives in Littlestown. His interest in history — similar to his interest in writing — dates back to childhood.
“History was one of my best and favorite subjects in school,” he said.
Gilbert plans to extend “A Deeper Sense of Loyalty” into a trilogy, with the second and third books following African-Americans’ journey from the passing of the 13th Amendment through the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s.
“If you study history, you will come to understand that just because in 1865 the slaves were freed, that didn’t mean that from that day forward, everything was fine,” Gilbert said. “It’s a forgotten part of history.”
Langdon will reappear in the second book, although his son will take over in the third novel. But Gilbert is realistic about the work in store to promote “A Deeper Sense of Loyalty.”
“In order for there to ever be a second book, we have to wait and see how the first book will do,” he said. He’s hoping Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary this summer will boost the novel’s popularity.
For now, he’s starting off with a book signing Friday at Sunbury Press. Gilbert and fellow Sunbury Press authors William Martin of Mechanicsburg and Robert Miller of Harrisburg will talk about and sign copies of their works.
If you go
What: Book signing
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1; author presentations begin 7:15 p.m.
Where: Sunbury Press, 50 W. Main St. Suite A, Mechanicsburg
Details: Gilbert and featured authors William Martin and Robert Miller will read from and sign copies of their works. For details, call 1-855-338-8359.
Name: Calvin James Gilbert Jr.
Lives in: Littlestown, Adams County
Family: Wife; two sons, James and Jeremy; daughter, Sarah
Occupation: Residential electrician
To purchase: “A Deeper Sense of Loyalty” is available through amazon.com, www.sunburypress.com and www.thebookdepository.com