About The Inheritors
I promised a blog about the journey from writer to author, but need to interrupt with some news. The Inheritors is now in paperback! You’ll find it at Barnes & Noble and Amazon, but you can also order it at your local bookstore.
The book page (link below) will give you a brief account of what the book is about. This blog is the opening and the story of how it came to be.
Alicia Barron, the daughter of a mother whose history she doesn’t know and a Chilean father who died before she was born, was raised by her mother in the Hispanic neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. She believes herself a Latina but always a misfit, until she discovers, late in high school, that she is indeed “mestiza.” Her mother is white. After years of searching for a place, she returns to teach in the neighborhood elementary school and, as the story opens, to the funeral of her childhood best friend—killed along with her husband and son in a car accident.
So begins the story of The Inheritors, though the story originated in an image of a quaint, paneled Nineteenth Century style second floor lawyer’s office in Ann Arbor whose entrance was crammed between a corner bookstore and a sport store. The office is real; a writer-friend of mine worked for a lawyer’s publishing business there, and its rooms, in fact, were crowded with the most amazing collection of tiny lead soldiers –every room a different civilization, a different war. Some day that collection may find its way into a story—but not this one.
For reasons unknown, I pictured a young girl who finds herself there and discovers she’s inherited the mansion of an industrialist—in Chicago. Thus, the story shifted to Chicago, where it stayed, and to the abandoned mansion that is its center. Many such mansions live in my memory from the years I was a welfare worker on Chicago’s South Side—houses of the late Nineteenth/early Twentieth-Century rich inhabited by mid-century African-American poor. This sense of a city formed by waves of immigrants (seeing the African Americans as immigrants from the American South) pushing each other ever outward became the guiding thread of the story and shifted it, once again—this time to the West Side neighborhood close to “the Loop” (downtown Chicago) where newly arrived immigrants—Bohemian, Polish, Irish, Italian, Greek, Mexican—settled among the rail yards, factories, and slaughterhouses, pushing the previous wave of immigrants outward.
The neighborhood is now dominantly Hispanic, and so my out-of-place girl became Latina, carrying me, as stories do, out of my own knowledge base. I’m not Hispanic nor do I claim any special knowledge of that neighborhood, though I feel drawn to the people and their home-centered Catholic culture. I was a Catholic for ten years, and I am a Chicagoan. Research into the history of Chicago’s Hispanic immigrants, dating back to 1917, reinforced my own sense of the role of immigrants in shaping the city. All of these combined to give birth to the characters.
And so began Alicia—a woman now, but still alienated from her mother and the neighborhood—returning to the church of her childhood. My first writing coach said to me, “You write from place. Your characters arise from it.” This is certainly true of Alicia and her mother as well as Ricardo, her lover, and the Sandoval family. Their story emerged as I wrote, for I “plunge” into stories, as my writing group calls it, rather than plotting them. I go where my characters take me.
I can look back and find characters from my life emerging, but only after they have taken root in the story. In Alicia’s mother, Carla, for example, I recognized my own mother. Though her circumstances and life bore little resemblance to Carla’s, her determination and perseverance are the same. The central theme of the story remained, as it was in that first image, of a girl who finds herself crossing into a strange and therefore often alien culture. As other stories emerged in the course of writing and research, that theme deepened and became the city experience itself. A very American experience.
Did that issue arise from my own life? Probably. I see traces of my life—feeling a misfit in the academic culture, marrying into a Catholic culture, my husband’s marrying into an academic Protestant culture, the memory of my mother, a parson’s daughter who left the South Dakota prairie for a Chicago university (more on that in another blog). But what drives the writing is my fascination with the way such threads merge in the imagination to produce stories. And from those stories I always end with a deeper sense of my own nature.
For links to the book itself, in e-book or paper, see: The Inheritors, a novel by Judith Kirscht.