I write novels based on stories my grandmother told me of our female ancestors. Family is a strong theme in my books. In order to appeal to a wide range of people, however, novels need to have multiple themes that are possibly secondary to the overall idea. For example, family novels often also deal with coming of age or a crisis such as death or divorce. Read on to see if you can discover the secondary theme in my books.
UNDER THE ALMOND TREES features my grandmother Eva, her grandmother Ellen, and my great aunt Emily. They were pioneers for women’s rights in California even though they never would have called it that. All three fought for what they wanted with a dogged determination that continues to inspire me. Eva started her own photography business to put her daughter through college when her husband refused to pay for it. When Ellen’s husband died, she ran his business while pregnant with their third child. Later she sued the county of Santa Cruz for the vote, but she was several decades too early. Emily thwarted her father by using an inheritance from him to pay for architect school. As a woman, she was denied a license (even though Julia Morgan got one about the same time). She started her own business and built homes that still stand along the California coast.
THE ALOHA SPIRIT was inspired by my husband’s grandmother. From this amazing woman I learned how to welcome everyone into my home, whether they were expected guests or not. Everyone should be treated like ohana (family). Growing up in Honolulu, Grandma’s mother died, her father left her, and she married an abusive alcoholic. How then did she become a loving, respected matriarch? This novel explores Grandma’s quest for the spirit of aloha.
THE RIVER REMEMBERS (She Writes Press, June 2023) is my latest novel. It centers on three actual women who lived near Fort Snelling, Minnesota, in 1835. Samantha, the white settler, is my ancestor. She stubbornly insists on choosing her own husband, and is reluctant to admit it may be the wrong choice. I am not related to Day Sets, the Dakota chief’s daughter, who supports her father’s vision for the tribe’s future until it becomes unworkable. I am also not related to Harriet Robinson, the slave who married Dred Scott at the fort. She is determined that her children be born free, and sets herself on a course to make that happen. All three women must chart a course through chaotic times that preserves their traditions.
Clearly family is the theme. Because stories of these women were handed down to me, I am conscious of my responsibility to pass them on. All the women in my stories consider the future and think about what life will be like for their children. In writing these novels, I do the same for my children and grandchildren. So not only are my novels about family, they are about creating and preserving legacy.
Linda Ulleseit is the award-winning author of The Aloha Spirit and Under the Almond Trees. Her next historical novel, The River Remembers, will be published in 2023. To interact with her and other historical fiction authors and readers, join PLW’s Facebook group SHINE.
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Linda Ulleseit writes award-winning heritage fiction set in the United States. She is a member of Historical Novel Society, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and Women Writing the West as well as a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. Get in touch with her on Instagram (lulleseit) and Facebook (Linda Ulleseit or SHINE with Paper Lantern Writers).