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).
|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.|
|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
Leonie 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. Leonie 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 Leonie 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,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 Leonie.
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, Leonie 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.
Leonie 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, Leonie 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, half Basque, half of the Pueblo. Leonie has to learn what it means to be Indian in the west.
In Santa Fe Leonie 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.
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:
ABOUT THIS WEBSITE
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:
- the railroad system as it was first established and moved west
- the Puebloan Nations
- the fate of those Mexican citizens who became Americans after the
- the great importance and complexity of the chili pepper plant in southwest culture.
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
- On writing fiction: rules of thumb (an overview)
- The unbearable lightness of the blank page
- Essential traits for writers
- Story or plot: Finding your way
- The Trifecta of storytelling: The whole pie