How Family History Became a Historical Novel
I excitedly looked through the National Archive files about my grandfather, a Civil War Veteran. The staff person assured me most people searching for family information don’t have such a treasure trove of documents, letters, depositions and official correspondence. I was in search of information about my mysterious grandfather. I wanted to know if the family rumor was true.
I discovered it was true! The documents in the files confirmed it.
Although I had wanted to explore my family genealogy, for several years I was focused on my career and other professional projects. As I approached my seventieth birthday, I began to reflect more on the goals and aspirations I had not yet pursued. At the top of my “bucket list” was writing my family story. I had uncovered some juicy tidbits and confirmed the family secret but there were still some missing pieces.
Research in Seven States
I traveled through seven states…New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming, Texas and Indiana to visit the significant locations of my grandparents’ lives. I visited museums, libraries, cemeteries and county clerk’s offices. I searched online. In my journey, I absorbed the image and feel of the landscape in these places. I imagined the challenges of homesteading on the plains in the late nineteenth century. But I didn’t discover any information to close the gaps of my story. (See the story of this search for family secrets in my free e-book offered on this site.)
I decided if I was going to write the story, I would need to creatively close the gaps. Historical fiction seemed to be the genre that best fit. I chose to set it in the specific historical time and place of the events I knew in my grandparent’s lives. The story in Sarah’s Secret is set in two different time periods, 1878-1892 and 1911-1918 in the Great Plains states.
New Challenge: Writing Fiction
My earlier professional published writing was non-fiction. I had never written fiction before. I took workshops and read several books to learn the craft of writing fiction. I also needed to take a “deep dive” into the historical context, the setting, lifestyles and challenges faced by homesteaders during that time period. The facts, I had uncovered, or the known truth of my grandparent’s lives became the framework of the story and I created the dialogue, motivations and filled in the gaps in the story as fiction. After many drafts influenced by feedback from early readers and my editor, I was excited to announce Sarah’s Secret, A Western Tale of Betrayal and Forgiveness as my first novel. I hope you will read and enjoy the story.