Recently I told someone that I write stories about my ancestors. She immediately responded, “Oh, you write heritage fiction.” I liked that and decided to adopt it. Now you won’t find heritage fiction on any Google searches or Amazon categories, but it is a good description of what I write. Maybe someday, if I keep using it, HERITAGE FICTION will catch on. After all, the concept of heritage is family identity that was passed down to you from your ancestors, and that is a theme in all of my novels.
My first heritage novel, Under the Almond Trees, started with stories my grandmother told me about her Aunt Emily and her Grandmother Ellen. I still have an agate, pearl, and gold brooch that Ellen wore, and a picture of her wearing it. Artifacts and stories passed down through the generations become a legacy for the children to come. In this novel I also explored the perseverance these women showed in pursuing what they wanted from their lives and how inspiring they are to their descendants.
Ellen VanValkenburgh, the owner of the brooch, took over her husband’s paper mill when he was killed by a falling tree branch. It was 1862, and she was pregnant with their third child at the time. Chafing under her inability to vote on matters that affected her business, she became an active proponent for votes for women.
Emily Williams was the sister of Ellen’s daughter-in-law. Emily wanted to be an architect more than anything in the world. She went to school in Berkeley, but was denied a license because she was a woman. Not to be deterred, she built homes up and down the California coast in the early 1900s.
I included my grandmother, Eva VanValkenburgh in the novel. She chose a traditional route for women—a husband and family. When her husband refused to pay for their daughter’s college education, however, Eva opened her own photography business to pay for it.
These stories moved me as a child, and I wanted to tell them to everyone. Knowing about these fabulous women makes me proud of my family and encourages me to keep working toward my goals.
The Aloha Spirit was inspired by my husband’s grandmother. She was a woman who loved her family with every fiber of her being. If I showed up to her house with ten of my friends, she would invite us all in with a warm smile and invite us to stay for dinner. This was a woman, however, who had an early life marred by hardship. Her mother died when she was young, and her father left her with a Hawaiian family when he went to the mainland looking for work. She married a man who became alcoholic and abusive, and one of their children was blind.
Even so, the spirit of aloha she brought to her adult life is a legacy she left her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. My novel is a tribute to her perseverance.
My most recent novel, to be released the last week of June, is The River Remembers. This one is set further back in my family tree, in the mid nineteenth century. Again I find a strong woman determined to do what she feels is right for her. I also share the lives of a Dakota woman and a Black woman. They are not in my family, but still have a desire to preserve traditions for their daughters.
Samantha Lockwood went west to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, in 1832 to live with her brother. She was determined to choose her own husband rather than accept one chosen for her by her father. The man she married was a wrong choice, however, and he deserted her. Samantha managed to leave town looking for a better life for her and her daughter. In the nineteenth century, that took a great deal of courage.
Heritage is unique to each person. It includes more than the jewelry, photographs, and diaries I am lucky enough to have. It encompasses ethnic, national, and religious identity, but the most important parts of heritage are the character building pieces—the love for reading, a strong work ethic, musical or athletic aptitude—the pieces that tell you an ancestor was stubborn (persevered), honest (insensitive), compassionate (easily upset), or faithful (overlooks faults). I am happy to embrace whatever I learn about my heritage. When I write more novels about it, I will be sure to call them heritage fiction. #heritagefiction