About the time I returned to college to study creative writing, my aunt tidied up her attic. One treasure she unearthed – a box of letters my maternal grandparents exchanged during WW I. Jackpot! I needed a class project, and a pile of beautiful letters had fallen into my lap. Why not build a book loosely based on a slice of my grandparents’ lives?
But there was a problem, a giant one. I wasn’t equipped to write about WW I, anti-German American sentiments, the Spanish flu pandemic, and the importance of epistolary writing during war times? Lucky for me, I love research. I dug in, devouring dozens of books on these topics and others. Eudora Welty, Nancy Willard, Tim O’Brien, Grace Paley, John Gardner, and Stephen King’s words and advice influenced and improved my writing.
E.B. White’s words in Letters of E.B. White particularly resonated. He writes,”If you are at the moment struggling with a book, what you should ask yourself is, Do I really care about this particular set of characters, this thing I am doing? If you do, then nothing should deter you. If you are doubtful about it, then I’d turn to something else. I knew, in the case of Charlotte, that I cared deeply about the whole bunch of them.”
That’s how I felt while writing Skipping Stones. It was joyful, an opportunity to reconnect with my grandfather and meet my grandmother who had passed a couple months before my birth. I, too, care deeply for my characters. Over time, Arno and Hattie morphed into more than my grandparents, they became my hero and heroine.