Today Charlotte Whitney, author of the historical novel, Threads, is visiting Ascroft, eh? to introduce herself and her writing.
Welcome, Charlotte. Let’s get started, shall we?
What prompted you to write about this historical event?
Talking to my grandmother when I was a teenager piqued my interest in the Great Depression. My grandparents were farmers who had a huge garden, dairy cows, chickens, and pigs, yet they went hungry for a year. Farm prices had plummeted to nothing, so they were forced to sell everything to pay the taxes and mortgage in order not lose the farm, even most of their home-grown food. What a setting for a novel! When I wrote the book, I had no idea that the pandemic was around the corner. As it turned out there were so many parallels between then and today, it was uncanny. Many readers have told me that they escaped to an earlier time, connected with the characters, and ended up feeling so much better, knowing that this, too, will pass. I’m sure the feel-good ending of THREADS helped as well.
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
I tried to stick entirely with historical facts. While the book is set on a Midwestern family farm, there are still references to FDR, the New Deal, John Dillinger, distrust of banks, food shortages, and farm foreclosures. People had access to the radio and newspapers, so news was slower in arriving, but people had a thirst for current events. Also, I tried to keep everything authentic regarding circumstances around a farm, such as lack of electricity, running water, and telephones. We see Pa milking cows, and plowing with a workhorse, and Ma making bread and darning socks. The girls sewed their own clothes with a treadle machine, walked to the one-room country school, and were supposed to be seen, not heard. Spoiler alert: that didn’t always happen.
What research did you do for this book?
I interviewed family members who had lived through the Depression on Michigan farms. Also, I listened to countless online interviews and read many articles about the rural Midwest during that time. Sometimes someone would simply mention one thing and it would set me off on a tailspin, creating a subplot. This happened when one of my aunts mentioned my grandpa wouldn’t let the Gypsies’ horses drink out of his horse tank. “Why?” I asked her. She didn’t have a clue. I finally read about the general mistrust of the Gypsy bands that set up camp during the summer months in the Midwest. Because they kept to themselves and spoke the unfamiliar Roma language, many false rumors were spread, including those of stealing children and having diseased horses. In contrast, the Jewish peddler, Mr. Goldberg, was respected, actually adored by the Yoder girls. He made his living selling to the farmers, so interactions with him were warm and welcomed. He spoke with a thick Yiddish accent, but people understood him. His horse was named “Ferd,” the Yiddish word for horse.
Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel? Which is more difficult to write? Which do you prefer to write and why?
Oh, I love the invented characters. So many have their own peculiarities and personality quirks. There’s a reveal at the end about a minor character we grow to love, Mrs. Vandenberg. I won’t be a spoiler, but suffice it to say, my readers are clapping their hands with surprise and gratitude about her backstory.
In a historical novel you must vividly recreate a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?
I had a huge head start on this one, growing up on a small family farm much like the one in THREADS. There were five milk cows and a bull, plus chickens, pigs, barn cats, and a pet dog. I understood the layout of all the outbuildings including the chicken coop, milk house, granary, corncrib, silo, hayloft, and the indoor and outdoor barnyards. As a kid I had romped down the lanes, past the lilac bushes, past two natural ponds to the back forest. The only thing missing was the “crick.” Talking to relatives who grew up near the Rice Creek in rural Michigan filled that void.
There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other? And, if so, why?
THREADS is narrated by three sisters, and we hear their stories from their own voices. Most female readers have said they resonate with these girls, but I was surprised at the strong male response to the book. When I wrote the book, I envisioned my profile reader as being female, well-educated, seeking “book club fiction.” While that is still accurate, I now believe the more accurate term for THREADS is “historical fiction.” That more comprehensive term embraces the large male contingent which has loved the book. Frankly, what seems to be happening is that a female will read the book, and then pass it along to the men in her life. As an author I love that. It may not be an extra sale, but for me it means that the book is touching people’s hearts and souls. That is my greatest reward.
Thanks for answering my questions, Charlotte, and good luck with Threads.
Charlotte Whitney will be awarding a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click here to enter the contest.
For more chances to win visit the rest of the stops on Charlotte’s tour.
The novel is available online at Amazon.
About Charlotte Whitney: Charlotte grew up in Michigan and spent much of her career at the University of Michigan directing internship and living-learning programs. She started out writing non-fiction while at the University and switched to romance with I DREAM IN WHITE. A passion for history inspired her to write THREADS A Depression Era Tale chronicling the stories of three sisters on a farm during the throes of the Great Depression. She lives in Arizona, where she loves hiking, bicycling, swimming, and practicing yoga.