Little Birds. A novel by Sara Donati.


Little Birds is a historical novel to be published by Berkley/Penguin in 2023. It is set primarily in New Mexico Territory in 1857 and serves as a bridge novel, coming between the Wilderness series (1792-1824) and the Waverly Place series( 1883-1884).

Wilderness Series

The the Wilderness Novels  follow the evolution of a family founded by Elizabeth Middleton and Nathaniel Bonner, in the forests of northern New York State. The last novel is set in 1824.

Waverly Place Series

Set in 1883-1884, Waverly Place series  follows two granddaughters of major characters from the original series, both physicians living in Manhattan treating women and children at the New Amsterdam Charity Hospital.

I am currently writing the third novel in this series.

Little Birds Backstory

Carrie Ballentyne is a girl when her life is upended and she must leave Paradise, a small town in the great forests of northern New York State. It is the only home she  has ever known, but a tragedy makes it impossible to stay. With her mother – recently widowed – and her younger brother Nathan she moves to Manhattan.  Lily Bonner Ballentyne remarries, a well-to-do old family friend, and they settle down in a large house on Waverly Place. Carrie never learns to like the city, but she and her brother respect their step-father, Dr. Harrison Quinlan (if not their step-sister Margaret), and school is a welcome distraction.

 At fifteen Carrie enters into a midwifery apprenticeship with her cousin Amelie Savard. She attends nursing school as well, because her patients and their children need more than one kind of care.

When she has been employed by the New Amsterdam Charity Hospital for six years, the director brings her a letter from his brother-in-law, Samuel Markham of Santa Fe in New Mexico territory. Dr. Markham is looking for a nurse and midwife to join his practice. To the person who can meet his rather unusual requirements he offers a modest salary and room and board with his family. The requirements are unusual but they appeal to Carrie.

Dr. Markham requires someone who is not put off by living far from civilization, with few amenities. The landscape is harsh; the person who joins his practice will have to be comfortable traveling on horseback to see patients. The patients are poor, and most of them have no English. A willingness to learn Spanish is a non-negotiable requirement. The Navajo, Apache and Kiowa and other tribes sometimes attack wagon trains and settlements, so this midwife must be courageous, committed and able to handle weapons. At the same time, she will be living side by side with Indians of many tribes — primarily the Puebloan Nations –  and she must be ready to learn about their cultures without assumptions or prejudice.

With Nathan as a traveling companion, Carrie sets out for Santa Fe. The first part of the journey is by train. The rail system reaches only as far as St. Louis, and from there they board a packet on the Missouri River. Once they reach the Kansas Territory border they must join a wagon train.

Carrie will find Santa Fe to be full of unexpected contrasts. It is a town dominated by two forces: first, the Army, which is there to protect the citizens  (but not necessarily all citizens) from Indian raids and to keep the territory under American control.

In the course of the journey west and finding a place for herself in Santa Fe, Carrie finds she can no longer evade the repercussions of the events which made her mother leave Paradise for Manhattan. While she struggles with unresolved loss, she develops a relationship with Eli Ibarra, half Basque, half Pueblo Indian of the Jemez (Walatowa) Pueblo. Carrie has to learn what it means to be Indian in the west.

In Santa Fe Carrie deals with racial, religious and ethnic conflicts, with slavery and with women’s mental and physical health, and with the political chaos of a nation on the brink of Civil War.


An Excerpt from Little Birds

I thought you’d never ask.  Find it here.


My first novel, Homestead, is set primarily between WWI and WWII and takes place is western-most Austria in a small farming community. Homestead, published under my own name, won the PEN/Hemingway Award.

Homestead, a novel.

In addition to Homestead,  two novels published under my own name are Tied to the Tracks and The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square, both contemporary and set in the south.

I have written — and still am writing — two series of historical novels, currently totaling eight published novels:


There are two kinds of information here: First, information for readers who have discovered a new interest in American history of this period.  Examples of subjects you will find:

Note: this site is just being launched, so there’s very little actually here yet.

Second, you will find a lot of maps and information about the politics of the time.

What you won’t find here

I kept a busy weblog for more than ten years, and that’s the place to go if you are looking for information about writing fiction. There are  multiple discussions of technical and craft issues (point-of-view, narrative voice, how to write sex scenes — a perennial favorite, etc.) That’s also where you’ll find posts about my own storytelling process, how I have dealt with writer’s block (or failed to deal with it); my experiences with the business end of publishing and also a series of autobiographical essays.  If we know each other through some academic connection, there are some posts about linguistics on the weblog, as well as links to some academic publications, also on the weblog, which you’ll find here.  The weblog is very old and creaky but full of information.  To give you a better idea of what you’ll find over there, here’s a subset of posts on the craft of writing fiction:
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