When I was writing The Darkness Under the Water, I knew I was writing as a relative newcomer to Vermont: I'd only lived here about 25 years when I began writing it, 30 years when it reached publication. Although my mother's family has long, complicated roots in New England, I'd always thought it was just a very weird coincidence that the house I first rented in Irasburg, Vermont, was built and lived in by a distant relative. I wrote from the point of view of someone who's adopted a place as home: wholeheartedly in love, but with distance that could never be mended. It was a good "place" of heart to write from, and it helped me to identify deeply with Molly Ballou, the novel's protagonist: Her heritage is about to slip from her grasp, and she doesn't know how she feels about that -- but events are moving her to the point of making a choice. Actually that's also a mirror of what happened to my dad, who arrived in America as an educated but deeply displaced German/Jewish/English immigrant a few years after the end of World War II. I identify with both of my parents, odd though that may sound.
As I researched and wrote The Secret Room, set in the fictional village of North Upton, I modeled the location on the real village of North Upton. Since I knew almost none of the residents, I could safely use my imagination to create the story and characters ... but my research also relied on books about the families who really did live there for generations, and whose members still "belong" in North Danville, whether they still live there, or not.
Gradually, I began to realize that the family names of the real village overlapped oddly with my mother's background. Moved by the coincidences, and also by some of the controversy over my first novel (who was I?), I began a genealogical journey. Just after I completed the manuscript of The Secret Room, I realized -- with earthquake-level shock -- that one of my ten-great grandfathers was a nine-great grandfather of Mary Langmaid Prior, a much-missed deceased friend whose affection and appreciation for her North Danville roots had pushed me toward my choice of the village to inspire the novel. Suddenly my life was part of my fiction. Omigosh!
Since then, I've discovered that my fairly isolated parents actually had cousins all over America, but may not have known it, or may have deliberately steered away from family. Both my mother and father have now passed on, so I'll never know for sure. But I'm now dedicated to knowing more, and I continue the family history research. This evening one of my brothers phoned -- about to exchange e-mails with a cousin of our dad, who lives within an easy drive of his home. For the first time.
So I'm a fan of all research tools that give us options to learn more, especially of our American history, which is so complex and many-layered. This week, Ancestry.com, one of the big databases for this kind of information, announced a new DNA project that will let participants find out concretely more of their biological connections to the world's people. I'm looking forward to taking the test some day. What else will I discover? I already know some of the Native American branches of my family tree, new knowledge that has me awestruck. I hope to reach my own African roots someday -- deep in the heart of our world. Knowledge can make our hearts ache. And rejoice.
In the writing room right now ...
In the writing room right now ... I am working on book #3 in the Winds of Freedom series, a teen adventure series set in the 1850s in North Danville, Vermont. My 1852 Vermont adventure THIS ARDENT FLAME is scheduled for June 2021 publication with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you updates and early order information as soon as I know! I'm also writing a memoir; revising a mystery; in the midst of a novel about a grandmother and her granddaughter; and always writing poems. Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?