So Excited to Reveal the Cover for Sunflower Sisters
It has been such an emotional experience writing Sunflower Sisters, the last book of my three about Caroline Ferriday’s family. It all started with Lilac Girls back in 2000 and even then I knew I wanted to write about Caroline’s Woolsey ancestors, her great grandmother Jane Eliza and her seven daughters and son. The Civil War provides an incredible backdrop for this book and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did bringing the story to life. It comes out March 30, 2021 and I’m on pins and needles, excited to finally be able to share it with you all!
The Animals of Lilac Girls, Lost Roses and Sunflower Sisters, the Best Part
A lovely silver lining to the COVID cloud has been the huge numbers of pet adoptions from shelters. This just underscores what so many of us already know, that animals are the best parts of our lives. So I thought I’d round up all the animals from my three novels (or at least the photographic inspiration for them) and put them all on one page. Saint Joan the Siamese cat and Pico (real dog who belonged to Caroline Ferriday’s great grandmother) are from novel number three, to come next spring, Sunflower Sisters. Hope you enjoy hanging out with these lovely pets as much as I have while writing about them. They’re sweethearts, all.
P.S. Do you have a favorite literary animal? Leave it in the comments…
A Fabulous List of Rockefeller Center-connected Books
My lovely friend Jordan Rowley works at Rockefeller Center and sent me this wonderful list she put together for their employees to help them through this stay at home period. The books on this list were either published by the people at Simon & Schuster, who have offices at RC, or involve Rockefeller Center as a subject or setting (Lilac Girls was included since Caroline Ferriday worked at the French Consulate at the French Building at Rockefeller Center) or are written by NBC employees. It’s a great list and Jordan tells me her pick for me is American Eden by Victoria Johnson and I’m going to call my independent bookstore today and order it. Hope you see something here you like!
Three Lessons to be Learned from the Women of Ravensbruck That Might Help Us Today
In difficult times I often think about the prisoners at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp for women. My ten years of research for my novel Lilac Girls, focused on Ravensbruck, and how, when faced with horrific incarceration by the Nazis and separation from their families, cut off from normal life and routines, so many fought back and defied the odds. As our frontline medical workers and first responders show wartime-like courage and solidarity in the face of this new war, it’s awe-inspiring and deeply moving to see them so selflessly give of themselves in the face of this pandemic and I wanted to share a few ways we can all rally around them and show a united front by learning from history.
#1. The Ravensbruck prisoners stuck together, regardless of nationality. Women from twenty different nationalities found themselves prisoners at Ravensbruck, Hitler’s only major concentration camp for women, and there were frequent squabbles between women from different countries. The French and Polish prisoners had their petty differences. When the Russian women arrived later in the war, they ruffled feathers with what some prisoners saw as overbearing behavior. But what success the women had fighting the Nazis came from their solidarity. The Scandinavian prisoners allowed to work in the camp’s front offices took Jewish and other vulnerable prisoners off lists and helped hide babies born at the camp. Polish women gave their smuggled-in medicines to help ailing Frenchwomen. The Russian women, who put themselves in charge of the camp electrical grid soon after arriving, saved lives by turning off the lights in the camp at key times, such as during nighttime raids to take prisoners to the gas chambers. This virus is a new type of enemy, deadly in a different way, but solidarity can be life-saving today, as well.
#2. The women were creative in their individual relationships. As soon as prisoners arrived at Ravensbruck, they recognized the need to organize into sub-groups known as camp families. They bartered, took turns caring for the sick in their “families,” and shared the food and medicines from the packages the Nazis allowed some of them to receive from home. They identified those without families, found them help, and even sent representatives to appeal to the Nazi camp staff for prisoner rights. Risking punishment and possible death, many prisoners assigned to the camp “booty piles” secreted cloth and sewing kits to mend and sew lifesaving garments to help their at-risk family members make it through winter. Family units were so successful, when the Nazi staff realized they were keeping people alive, disbanded the units by separating camp families, to achieve their quotas of planned deaths by starvation. The thousands of people sewing masks and making plastic face shields from 3-D printers are inspiring examples of such war-time resourcefulness today, and each day, stories emerge of new people coming up with creative solutions from the safety of their own family units.
#3. They banded together to help the weakest among them. Ravensbruck prisoners showed incredible selflessness toward the young and the sick among them. In order to protect the vulnerable, many, even knowing they would be sent to the punishment bunker or executed, volunteered to take the of ID numbers of the “rabbits,” women, many just teenagers, who had been experimented on by the Nazi doctors. They knew they could survive a week in the punishment bunker, but the young women who’d been newly operated on could not. Older prisoners who’d been at the camp longer showed younger prisoners the ways of the camp and taught those who didn’t know German the life-saving phrases, since all commands were given in the German language. Prisoners also devised ways to remove the tattooed prisoner numbers from the arms of those newly arrived from Auschwitz, and held religious services in their blocks to keep prisoner morale up, for depression was often as deadly as typhus. Empathy saved lives at Ravensbruck and can do so today as well.
Hopefully, looking back at how a group of women facing a scourge they couldn’t control can shed a bit of light on how we can all work through this new war. As Ravensbruck shows, if we work as one to have the backs of our supremely courageous front-line responders, and support our own individual units with grace and resourcefulness, we can face the unknown together, and emerge stronger than any enemy.
Need Some Reading/Viewing Suggestions for Our Time in Isolation?
If you feel like you’ve read and watched everything of interest to you these days, try a few of my “If you liked” suggestions. If you’d like to support your local bookstore, many are delivering or mailing books. Feel free to try my local bookstore, The Hickory Stick: https://www.hickorystickbookshop.com/
If you liked Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, read her unfinished novel Sanditon. (Gets extra points for a wonderful BBC miniseries of Sanditon you can binge watch after reading the book.)
If you liked The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, known as one of the all-time-best thrillers, (and a terrifying series) read The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Hard at work on a suspense novel, I’m reading TheTurn of the Screw now for inspiration and let’s just say I’m sleeping with the lights on most nights. So, beware, but if you like suspense, it’s so good and also a great limited series with Michelle Dockery and Chloe Sevigny AND Dan Stevens, Matthew Crowley from Downton Abbey.
If you liked Sense and Sensibility, another fabulous Jane Austen, try Jane’s Love &Friendship. When you’re done reading, you can lose yourself in the Amazon series starring Kate Beckinsale.
I hope those get you through a few days of seclusion. Just think how well-read and well-watched we’ll all be when this grave chapter in our lives is done and we can emerge.