It is not unusual for a minister to be writing about hell, but Charles E. Cox is describing a Civil War prisoner of war camp rather than the netherworld.
In his novel, "The Ravenwood Trade," Cox depicts Clonnerville Prison, which houses Confederate soldiers, as a place that "reeked of sweat, filth, human waste and hopelessness."
"Hell was Clonnerville Prison," Cox writes in his opening paragraph.
Cox calls the book, released in August 2013, a novel of faith lost and faith found.
With its success, the 79-year-old pastor at Hopewell United Methodist Church in Pine Mountain, Ga., gained enough faith in his fiction writing to begin writing a sequel, "The Millstone Case."
On June 7, Cox and his work were honored at the 50th Annual Georgia Author of the Year Awards. He was a semifinalist in the best first novel category won by Victoria Wilcox for her book "Inheritance."
Of 118 nominees in 11 categories, only 28 authors were honored.
Cox is among a select group of writers invited by the Georgia Writers Association, which sponsors the awards, to appear at a writing workshop and book signing Saturday at Kennesaw State University.
Cox said that Carol, his wife of 57 years, told him that when his name was called out at the awards ceremony, it was the first time she had seen him speechless. "I was totally shocked," he said. His novel tells the tale of Pat Ravenwood, a Confederate chaplain in the POW camp who grows to hate a sadistic Union guard. Following the war, Ravenwood trades in his Bible for a gun. Years later, as a deputy U.S. Marshal, Ravenwood hunts down the guard, who has become a killer.
"The message in the story is that forgiveness can be a cure for hatred," Cox said.
His great-grandfather George Troup Embry was a Confederate chaplain who was also a prisoner of war.
"That was my inspiration. It had to be a very trying time, one where it would be easy to lose faith," he said.
The book took him about three years to write.
"I would write at all times. If my back hurt, I would get out of bed in the middle of the night and go sit at the computer," he said.
He did much research for the nonfiction portions of the book.
"I tried to be accurate as far as battles and weapons," he said.
As far as the manhunt, that came naturally as his favorite writer is famous western novelist Louis L'Amour.
Cox, who lives in Midland, Ga, is a native of Eastman, Ga., and was raised in the tiny community of Gresston.
The grandson of a Methodist lay preacher, he is a graduate of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
He retired from the South Georgia Conference with more than 50 years in ministry. After that, he served on an interim basis for 19 months as pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Eastman.
He has just been appointed at Hopewell, where he replaces his granddaughter Sara Garrard, who has been appointed senior pastor of the historic Old West Church in Boston, Mass.
"For a grandfather to follow a granddaughter as senior pastor of a church is probably a first in Methodism," he said.
His daughter Cindy Cox Garrard is the minister of program at St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus.
Garrard was one of the proofreaders for his book, as were his wife and two local English teachers. There was a lot of rewriting.
"I was the comma vigilante," his wife said, laughing.
Cox said that when he retired he knew he wanted to write.
"Many ministers publish sermons, but I always had the desire to write a novel," he said.
He had written a story about growing up in a small community during World War II and its affect on the residents. "That was just for family," he said.
His wife said Cox had talked about doing a novel for some time.
The pastor said the telling of stories is something that should come naturally to a pastor.
Cox was pleased when one of the judges for the author of the year awards told him the reason she enjoyed his book so much was because the characters were flawed, that they seemed human.
Cox understands loss and hard times. Many of his family's prized possessions were lost in the great Albany, Ga., flood in 1994. There was 11 feet of water outside his home and six feet inside.
"I know what it is like to be bitter. I know what it is like to be disappointed. I tried to put that in my characters," Cox said.
The 258-page paperback book is published by Brentwood Christian Press. It may be purchased at Judy Bugs Books in downtown Columbus and at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center.
Cox is enjoying the writing. "I should have done this a long time ago," he said.