by Julie, waiting for winter in Somerville
I’ve met Mary Lee Ashford at several conferences over the years, and have so enjoyed getting to know her. A lovely person, and wonderful writer. I’m so happy to welcome her the blog!
Who Are You?
Have you seen the PBS show, FINDING YOUR ROOTS? I confess, I’m completely hooked on it! Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., it explores the ancestry of celebrity guests. The stories are often surprising, sometimes upsetting, and always interesting. Often, they don’t match up with what has been passed down by family members through the years. At times, they reveal talking about the past was taboo. As a writer, I find the show endlessly fascinating. The family histories spark ideas. The places, the journeys, the people. Their stories speak to the storyteller in me. Their stories cause me to look at the characters in my stories and ask, “Who are you?”
Though we each take different approaches to character development, all of us who write consider the backgrounds of our story people in one way or another. When I first started writing, I used lengthy character sheets, with everything from the obvious details of name, age, and physical descriptions to an inventory of likes/dislikes, favorite foods, and, of course, pets. My info sheet also often included parents, siblings, and family history as well. And that has definitely come into play in many of my books. However, what I’ve found is that the more important question is, what do the characters think about the past and what they know or don’t know. How does the background of their parents or grandparents impact their world view?
Sugar Calloway in my Sugar & Spice series was affected by her parent’s divorce and by her mother’s need to keep moving. Sugar longs for roots. Her father, a writer, died before sharing any of his history. Dixie Spicer, her business partner, has family roots that are deep. The Spicer family has lived in the St. Ignatius community for generations. Both of those backgrounds play into their actions and reactions.
In the most recent installment in the series, QUICHE OF DEATH (out in July 2020) Sugar learns more about genealogy methods, familial DNA and about the impact of surprise discoveries. Working with the Abbott family on their cookbook, she learns a lot about their background. But Sugar, much like celebrities on the television show, has only small pieces of her own history.
I recently did one of those DNA tests and discovered, according to the results that I’m 84% British. Who knew, right? Well, I did know that I had some UK in my background – my maiden name was Salsbury after all – but I didn’t know how much. I’ve had fun on some of the genealogy sites making connections and filling in missing branches on my family tree. I knew we were related to Daniel Boone on my mother’s side and to candy maker Russell Stover. I did not know about the John Milton connection, so that was a fun discovery.
Now, I don’t think I necessarily inherited my love of adventure or my love of chocolate from those relatives, but I do wonder about the choices made by the people who came before me. I wonder about the why. Why did they choose the paths they did? And how did that impact life decisions made by my parents and grandparents? Like Sugar, in my books, I have some of the pieces of my history and I wish I knew more.
What do you think? Have you done any research into your family’s history? And what kind of impact do you think family history has on our lives?
Readers, Mary Lee is going to give away a copy of either Game of Scones or Risky Biscuits to one commenter on the blog!
Mary Lee Ashford is a lifelong bibliophile, an avid reader, and supporter of public libraries. In addition to writing the Sugar & Spice mystery series, she also writes as half of the writing team of Sparkle Abbey. She is the founding president of Sisters in Crime-Iowa and a former board member of Mystery Writers of America Midwest. She teaches a university level class on creativity and loves encouraging other writers as well as connecting with readers.
Game of Scones – Sugar & Spice Mysteries Book 1
Risky Biscuits – Sugar & Spice Mysteries Book 2
Quiche of Death – Sugar & Spice Mysteries Book 3 – Coming July 2020
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