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During my school years, history, with its dates to be memorized and dusty books, didn’t interest me. (Neither did math, for that matter). English was my favorite subject.

Family history was an important topic in my father’s family, though, and I absorbed much of it almost by osmosis. My grandmother made sure that I and my cousins knew what happened to our ancestors, at least, what she had knowledge of. I learned about our Cherokee ancestors, and about Dr. Pierre Chastain, a French Huguenot who fled religious persecution, arriving in Virginia aboard the Mary and Ann in July, 1700. But beyond that, I had little interest in what happened before.

Until, that is, I had children of my own. The thread of continuity became important to me, and I began to care about the people who came before, what their lives were like, and what they did. And not only my own ancestors, but the ancestors of others.

A friend of Scottish descent often spoke of the fact that his Scottish ancestor was a slave on a plantation near Savannah, Georgia. I was skeptical. And since I also had Scottish ancestors, I began researching Scottish history. And found out he was right…Scots had been enslaved at various times and in various circumstances (Have you ever heard of the Redlegs of Barbados? Read this article.)

“Why do so few people know about this?” I wondered. The answer came immediately. Lots of people are like me–they have no interest in history, and although this information is available in history books, they don’t care to read them. And I thought someone should write a novel, should fictionalize the historic record. If it were entertaining, folks might read it and learn what happened.

I deepened my research and chose a major event in the mid-1700s, The ’45, or, The Jacobite Rebellion, when Bonnie Prince Charlie raised a Highland army to fight for him, to help him reclaim his father’s throne, as the setting of the story. In the aftermath of the last battle of the rebellion, the Battle of Culloden, at least a thousand Highlanders were transported to the American colonies and to the Caribbean, some sold as indentured servants, some as slaves.

And I told the story of that time in the person of Ailean MacLachlainn in High on a Mountain, and I did my utmost to ensure historical accuracy as well as making the story entertaining.

I’ve continued delving into history, following Ailean’s descendants, trying to tell the story of some of the people who went before us.

What about you? Does history interest you?


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I did most of my growing up in Dalton, Georgia. At the time, I thought we were flatlanders. After all, when we visited Ellijay (which was once a Cherokee town named Elatseyi), where relatives lived, we drove across Fort Mountain and were surrounded by peaks and ridges while we were there. I thought our relatives were mountaineers, and that we were not.

After I grew up, I lived in many places, among them Washington state, California, Okinawa, and Florida. And I didn’t visit my home town for many years.

Imagine my surprise when I went back there attend a family reunion and discovered that there is very little about Dalton that’s flat. Everything is either up or down. Even the street where I used to live has a long, precipitous approach which made cars grind their gears getting up it. While Dalton is not as mountainous as Ellijay, it is definitely not flatlands.

But the thing that surprised me most was my reaction. We drove through Atlanta and headed north, the blue ridges of the mountains began rising on the horizon…and I got a lump in my throat at the sight. I realized then how much I’d missed them and how much they meant to me. Those beautiful blue peaks and ridges are bound up in how my view of the world developed. They are dear to my heart. And since I’ve been writing historical fiction, researching what happened to my Cherokee ancestors who lived in those mountains, who “owned” those mountains, the ties are more wrenching.

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Last year when my husband and I attended the Pierre Chastain Family Association reunion in Helen, Georgia, we drove back through the mountains to Ellijay, because it was apple season, and I’ve always loved apples from the growers there. And as we drove the winding road through beautiful scenery, I wondered how the Cherokees felt who were dragged from their homes and marched to Oklahoma, leaving their mountain homes behind.

So now, when I see the mountains, not only are my own experiences attached to them, but also what I imagine of how my ancestors must have felt. (You might wonder about that statement, since I’m from Georgia, not Oklahoma…my great-great-great grandparents, with their two toddler sons, returned to the mountains after the march to Oklahoma.)

What about you? Do you live in your hometown or somewhere else? And do you have “mountains” that mean a lot to you?

…about The Sands of Santa Rosa.

I’m about half-way through what I hope will be the final edit of The Sands of Santa Rosa. And I decided to do something I’ve not done before: give folks a glimmer into how one of my stories came to be. (That’s assuming, of course, that anyone has any interest in knowing.)

Last year when I attended the Pierre Chastain Family Association Reunion in Dalton, Georgia (my hometown), several of my Chastain relatives I met there asked why none of my books featured a Chastain character. I decided that the main character of my next novel would be a Chastain.
And in October, with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico being a main topic of conversation here on the Gulf Coast, a cousin’s husband off-handedly said I should write a novel about an oil spill.
Ok, I thought. I’ll do that.
NaNoWriMo was looming, and I already had a character (Tilmon Lamont “Cotton” Chastain) and a setting/situation (oil spill in the Gulf). Now I needed a title.
Folks around here have told me they like reading the stories that are set in our local area, and On Berryhill Road is my best seller at festivals and book signings. So, I wanted a title that would anchor the story here. Since Santa Rosa Island is our barrier island fronting the Gulf, I thought it would be nice to use “Santa Rosa” as part of the title, and since the beach sands are impacted by things like oil spills, the title became The Sands of Santa Rosa.
All cut and dried and ready to go, right? Um, not so fast.
As usually happens when I write, what happens in my stories surprises me more than my readers. And this story was no exception.
I had a character, I had a setting/situation, and I had a title that I THOUGHT I knew the meaning of. But I was wrong.
As I wrote a scene where I followed Cotton Chastain onto the Santa Rosa Island beach at Navarre, suddenly, out of nowhere, a little girl popped up and said to him, “What you doing, mister?”
The little girl’s name? Sara Sands.