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The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday

David Corbett isn’t just a generous WU contributor, he’s the award-winning author of the writing guide The Art of Character (“A writer’s bible” – Elizabeth Brundage) and six novels. His short fiction has been selected twice for Best American Mystery Stories, and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Narrative, Bright Ideas, and Writer’s Digest, where he is a contributing editor.

His latest, releasing 8/18, is The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday.

The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday, is just terrific. The correspondence between Doc and his cousin sings with truth and passion, and the greater story of the letters’ provenance provides thrills enough for several novels. Highly recommended.”
—John Lescroart, New York Times best-selling author of Poison and Fatal

Read on to learn more about The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday.

Q1: What’s the premise of your new book? 

DC: Romantic love cannot redeem you. The cold-hearted honesty needed to truly change our lives seldom arises from romance. But it is intrinsically linked to love.

Q2: What would you like people to know about the story itself?

DC: The novel progresses along two separate plot lines.

The first is contained in letters Doc Holliday wrote to his cousin, Mattie, who destroyed the actual letters almost a century ago. It’s therefore not really clear that they were love letters, and the family has steadfastly maintained that Doc’s and Mattie’s connection was wholly Platonic. This adamancy, however, may be rooted in a protective concern for Mattie’s reputation. She became a nun, entering the Sisters of Mercy in October, 1883, and was so revered for her saintliness she became the inspiration for the character Melanie in Gone With the Wind. (Margaret Mitchell was a member of the extended Holliday clan.)

But what self-respecting writer of fiction would settle for anything less than a full-fledged, undying, even desperate romance between the two? (I rest my case.)

In the book, I recreate a select handful of these letters, laying out the imagined progression of Doc’s and Mattie’s long-distance romance, which echoes events in the present-day story line.

That second plot concerns the re-appearance of the supposedly destroyed letters. Although questions of their legitimacy arise, the real story concerns not any objective value but the subjective, emotional value they possess in the lives of several people who have their own distinct reasons for possessing them. And in each instance, the issue of love (and its loss) figures prominently. 

Q3: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them? 

DC: Doc has to overcome Mattie’s resistance to their being together, based in her Catholic faith. (Catholicism forbids marriage between first cousins.) Mattie has to overcome the various devils in Doc’s nature, which make the allure of the West more enticing than a return to faith and family in Georgia. And Doc has to overcome those devils himself, in particular the dark fatalism that arose from the defeat of the South in the Civil War, his mother’s death shortly thereafter from tuberculosis, his own diagnosis of the disease, his judgmental father’s various betrayals, and a number of other misfortunes, some self-manufactured.

In the present-day storyline, my protagonist, Lisa Balamaro, is an arts lawyer who has a secret crush on her most intriguing client, Tuck Mercer. Tuck was a rodeo rider as a young man, suffered a crippling accident showing off for a girl, and then developed his artistic talent to become The Man Who Forged the West. His forgeries of Remington, Bierstadt, Farny, Blakelock, and others came to be cherished especially among members of the Chinese nouveau riche, the so-called Bling Dynasty. Having been caught, convicted, and released from prison after eight years of incarceration, he now acts as an expert in Western painting and artifacts for the same museums, galleries, and foundations he used to bamboozle. In this newfound role, he comes across the supposedly destroyed correspondence between Doc and Mattie.

Given the unlikelihood the letters can ever be fully authenticated—the Holliday clan, for one, will never admit they are genuine, and no known handwriting samples exist for comparison—Tuck retains Lisa to sell the letters on the black market for the sake of their purported owner, Rayella Vargas, the descendent of a slave woman who remained loyal to the Holliday family even after Emancipation.

But the buyer Tuck finds, an enigmatic judge from the Tombstone area, has his own ideas concerning the worth of the letters, and to whom they rightly belong.

Saying more risks giving away too much of the plot. But Lisa has to deal with her secret attraction to Tuck and the consequences of honoring his request, which involves not just deceit but violence. Tuck has to come to her defense without giving away a secret he is hiding. Rayella has to overcome her lack of confidence in Lisa and find her own way to protect her interests, and the enigmatic judge must fight everyone else.

Q4: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?

DC: The two-track plot, with not just different timeframes but different modes—epistolary in the one case, straightforward drama the other—was something I’d never tried before, and I quickly realized that they needed to echo each other to preserve narrative unity.

But the biggest challenge was to embody the voice of an American icon writing the most intimate thoughts imaginable without violating the greater public’s general conception of who he was.

Q5: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book? 

DC: The most gratifying moment so far was when a reader asked, “Where on earth did you find these letters?” To which I replied, “I wrote them.”

Learn more on David’s website, and by checking out the Amazon preview at the top of this post.

And stay tuned: David’s latest book on the craft of fiction, The Compass of Character, has been purchased by Writer’s Digest. Its current projected pub date is October, 2019.


Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between aspiring novelists Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton in January, 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~40 regular contributors–including bestselling authors and industry leaders–and frequent guests. You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter, or join our thriving Facebook community.

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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.