My stories are not born solely through my own imagination but are rooted in truth to a certain degree. As with any good story, there has to be a muse in which to light the imagination and inspire, and it’s not hard to find them, for every family has its fair share of blessings and tragedies. My loved ones’ stories enhance my fictional ones, but, in truth, their real life adventures are far more amazing than any I could possibly conjure up.
My elderly friend, Gertrude Huskins, was the inspiration for Beneath a Thousand Apple Trees. Her life in the Appalachian Mountains was never easy, especially living in such an isolated and difficult place as this was many decades ago. Fighting to overcome poverty and faced with raising half a dozen siblings after the death of their mother when Gertrude was just a teenager, she did so with great determination and self-sacrifice. And her brothers and sisters lived long lives because of her. I’ve never heard Gertrude utter one complaint about any of it, though. She views her life as a happy one and a blessed one, while I see her as a testament to the unconquerable strength and resiliency of the mountain people.
My paternal grandmother, Kathryn Sandell, lived out the last year of her life in a sanitarium in Chicago, as she lost the battle to Tuberculosis at age thirty eight, leaving my father an eleven year old boy without a mother. She was my muse for the fictional Kathryn in The Art of Breathing, and though I could never come close to creating a character as courageous as she was, I have tried to make my grandmother proud. I have the faded letters she wrote to my father while institutionalized, and I’m amazed at the selfless love given to him with her encouraging words, while still keeping her warm and wonderful sense of humor alive to the end.
And, finally, I couldn’t help but be inspired by my maternal grandmother, Nell Tarilton, who came down to Miami, Florida in 1916, on Henry Flagler’s railroad to help build a city out of the salty mangroves on a virginal southern shore. Though her home was destroyed and she was nearly killed by the monstrous 1926 hurricane, she stubbornly refused to leave the storm-ravaged town. Instead, she became ever more determined to help rebuild Miami, and set it on its course to becoming the glittering cosmopolitan city it is today. Her courageous resolve was the foundation on which I built The Glory Land series.