Dani's Niche

Family history. A novel idea.

My experience

The beginning:
My first attempt at writing was a poem about tadpoles. It was four lines, illustrated by my nine year old hand. Later I wrote a first person story entitled The Red Coat. My aunt loved it and said one day I’d be a writer. My English teachers must have thought differently. At fourteen I won a Christmas poetry contest. Over the years I wrote a few magazine articles, church newsletters and lots of missionary prayer letters.

After my dad passed away, a couple of boxes of old diaries, letters, photographs and handwritten notes ended up in our guest room. Thus began the project, in time, of sorting and organizing, scanning photos, editing and printing the life histories of all branches of the family, including my husband’s.

The dash:
Genealogy informed me of names and dates. There is so much to learn from those numbers and so many questions. Curious about what the dashes represented, I wondered how my ancestors looked and what their lives were like. What could I learn if they were to speak to me?

Equipped with a computer, “google” and ancestry sites, I became a detective of sorts. Hours turned to days and months and years. Dead ends frustrated and made me wonder if it was worth it, but the “finds” kept me wanting more. So I pressed on. Not only did I research family members but historical events and daily life during those eras.

My great uncle left a memoir, written when he was 82 years old, but there was very little about the family before they came from England to America in 1850. The tidbits were intriguing enough to make an interesting narrative for my siblings, so that is where I started.

A novel idea:
Uncle Frank wrote that his father had talked about sheep, that the family, being poor, had the children gather the wool caught on the thorny hedges.

With that bit of information I sat down and typed the words, “Small fingers plucked white tufts from the entwined hawthorn …” 73,000 words later I typed the last words of my first novel.

Author Andrew Klavan said, “I tell people who want to be writers, ‘Don’t do it unless you have to.’”

As I continued to research and write, the characters began to matter to me. One Christmas I tore open a nicely wrapped box of what I thought were towels and gasped with shock. My husband had bought me my own iMac. Later he bought the Scrivener writing program and told me I had to press on. He said, “Others need to read this story.”

I hope you will.