I'd like to welcome Rhiann Wynn-Nolet to the blog today. She recently found her dream agent, Stephanie Lieberman at Janklow & Nesbit Associates. After reading about what inspired her book, I can understand why she was snatched out of the query trenches. Please give her a warm welcome.
First, thank you to Angie for inviting me to participate in Share Our Voices. I’d also like to thank her for being very friendly back when I was floundering in the querying/contest trenches. She had an agent already, so I was immensely flattered that she’d even chat with me.
When asked to speak about how culture and environment inspire my writing, I thought immediately of an instance where truth and my own fiction collided at that very intersection.
New England and I go way back. All the way to the 1630s, when my ancestors arrived from “Old” England. Four years ago I decided to write a book. I knew it would have some connection to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, during which my ancestor Mary Estey was hanged.
Here is a photo of the house where Mary’s sister, Rebecca Nurse lived. She was also hanged.
During my research, I learned that land-hungry English settlers spread out from Boston and Salem to southern Maine, then known as The Eastward. This caused conflict with the Abenaki. Bloodshed and tragic losses followed (for both sides). Traumatized Colonial refugees poured into Salem and the surrounding towns, telling horror stories. Who among the God-fearing Puritans had brought God’s wrath down upon them? Witches, of course.
I now live in southern Maine, where the novel is set.
Here’s a photo I took on a walk near my house. This rock is called Tyler’s Back because it formed the rear wall of Mr. Tyler’s home during the early 1700s. One of the Tylers’ neighbors, Mrs. Batson was killed by the Abenaki. Incidentally, a surprising number of the women and children who were captured by native tribes chose not to return to English Colonial life when they were given the chance.
I decided my MC would be descended from accused witch Margaret Jacobs, whose letters to the court and to her father during her imprisonment survived. They’re both inspirational and heartbreaking. The boy my MC falls for has both Abenaki heritage and an ancestor who was a prominent witch persecutor. Here’s the premise of UNQUIET SOULS—restless spirits may inhabit the bodies of the living, attempting to satisfy thwarted desires for love or vengeance.
To learn more about modern day Abenaki, my family and I went to a pow wow. We were admiring the crafts when the music started. It was a vocal performance with drum accompaniment. After the song ended, my husband said he didn’t understand why he’d gotten all teary, but the song had filled his heart with sadness and longing. I should mention that my husband’s surname was always assumed to be French (his father was born in Quebec).
I don’t know what the name of the song was, but it sounded much like this
Flash forward to a recent family wedding. I was seated by my father-in-law and we began talking genealogy. He told me his father had claimed to have Native American blood. Interesting. Once I got home I hit the internet. Lo and behold, Nolet is a shortened version of Wawanolet, a surname frequently found on reservations around Quebec, where most of the Abenaki ended up.
This is a passage from my book, written two years before the wedding.
As we rumbled over a patch of cobblestones revealed by balding asphalt, she said, “Sometimes I can’t help but think of all the people who’ve passed along these twisting roads before us. I feel their presence, those travelers throughout time. Imagine all the cars, and before them all the horses and wagons, and before them the native tribes. Underneath the pavement lies cobblestone, below that the dirt roads of the original colonial settlement, and buried deeper still are the trails made by moccasins. Each generation adds a new layer, obscuring the past and altering the road slightly—yet we follow the paths made by our predecessors, repeating their journeys without conscious thought.”