Over the River and through the Woods: Choosing a Setting for THREADS by Charlotte Whitney – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions.Charlotte Whitney will be awarding a $50 Amazon or Barnes and Noble GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Over the River and Through the Woods

Choosing a Setting for THREADS: A Depression-Era Tale

Set in farm country in in south-central Michigan, during the throes of the Great Depression, THREADS presents a mystery that is unraveled by three sisters: ages seven, eleven, and seventeen. Those who have read the book know that the setting is almost another character. On the surface it’s simply a white clapboard farmhouse, a weathered barn and outbuildings, an immense garden, fields, woods, and creek. But to the girls, it’s a place to frolic while looking for pollywogs in the springtime, to discover arrowheads from previous dwellers, the Pottawatomi Indians, and to make up games to deal with the day-long tedium of picking strawberries or hoeing onions amidst mosquitoes and other blood-hungry insects. It’s also the place where young Nellie, when exploring for pirate treasure, digs up the tiny blue-black hand of a dead baby.

Most of the scenes are played out on the farm. Ma gives bean sandwiches to train riders who eat them out at out the windmill, where they also can get a drink of water. A drunken food thief is apprehended outside of the sloping cellar door that opens to the coal bin. Panic ensues when a fire is discovered in the aging barn. Whether it’s eavesdropping on horse thieves from the henhouse, discovering a rattlesnake down at the “crick,” or outwitting a cruel child molester at the end of second meadow, the setting plays an integral role.

My inspiration for the book was my grandparents’ farm near Marshall, Michigan, a small slice of the rural Midwest during the 1930’s. When I wrote the scenes (the plot is entirely fictional) I always had my grandparents’ farm in mind. In fact, a distant relative emailed after seeing the book’s cover and remarked how similar it was to that farm. This was no accident. I worked closely with the cover artist to achieve that semblance. If you look closely at the cover you’ll see the windmill set between the house and barn, exactly the same as my grandparents’ farm. Also, you’ll notice the dark clouds, depicting a sense of foreboding, a menacing evil floating over the back meadow and woods.

Making the setting my grandparents’ farm, also inspired me to imbue the characters of Ma and Pa with a sense of integrity, honesty, and generosity, characteristics of my own grandparents. Many years ago, I asked my grandma about the Depression. She didn’t want to talk about it, but she did say this, “We were very, very lucky because we only went hungry for a year.” This from farmers who grew their own food, had dairy cows, pigs, and chickens. But remember prices for farm goods had plummeted and there was immense pressure to pay taxes and the mortgage to avoid foreclosure. Many did lose their farms and many farmers went to bed hungry.

An early reader of THREADS indicated that the book wasn’t plausible because Ma gave bean sandwiches to train riders who came to the door asking for a bite to eat, even when they didn’t have enough food for themselves. But that’s exactly what my grandmother did! If my grandma didn’t have a crock of beans, then she gave out sugar sandwiches, made out of bread, butter, and sugar, even if that meant my grandparents, themselves, went to bed without supper.

While writing THREADS, I had no idea that a pandemic was right around the corner. However, I’m hearing from readers about the many parallels with the Great Depression. The loss of lives and livelihoods. The desire to “get back to normal.” Simply not knowing how long it will last. The need to connect with others. The sense of community among neighbors.

I hope in some small way, this book will help ease the way for readers to get through these uncertain times and still provide some hours of escape and entertainment.

It’s a boring, hardscrabble life for three sisters growing up on a Michigan farm during the throes of the Great Depression. But when young Nellie, digging for pirate treasure, discovers the tiny hand of a dead baby, rumors begin to fly. Narrated by Nellie and her two older sisters, the story follows the girls as they encounter a patchwork of threatening circumstances and decide to solve the mystery.

Enjoy an Excerpt

When I woke up this morning the first thing I thought of was that baby. What a dark, scary place for a baby to be buried. So alone, away from everyone. Where were its parents? Babies need to be held and cuddled and kept warm. Even dead babies need to be buried in the churchyard with purty flowers, not off in the cold, dark backwoods.

I keep thinking ’bout the Preston’s baby girl, such a sweet baby. I held her once when Mrs. Preston was sitting beside me on the davenport. The baby kept sleeping, then blew a little bubble and later I could feel her little fart that warn’t stinky at all. All the time she jist kept sleeping. When she finally woke up and fussed, Mrs. Preston picked her up and jiggled her and talked baby talk to her so she quit fussing. That’s how babies are posta be treated.

But thinking ’bout the Prestons made me sad, too. They lost their farm and had to move away to Mrs. Preston’s parents’ place in Indiana. Ma said we might never see them again. Ma and Mrs. Preston both cried when we said goodbye. Pa and Mr. Preston shook hands and Pa bit his lip. I’d only seen him do that once before, at my grandpa’s funeral.

About the Author: Charlotte Whitney grew up in Michigan and spent much of her career at the University of Michigan directing internship and living-learning programs. She started out writing non-fiction while at the University and switched to romance with I DREAM IN WHITE. A passion for history inspired her to write THREADS A Depression Era Tale chronicling the stories of three sisters on a farm during the throes of the Great Depression. She lives in Arizona, where she loves hiking, bicycling, swimming, and practicing yoga.

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  1. Thanks for hosting!

  2. Thank you for sharing your guest post and book details, I have enjoyed reading about you and your work and am looking forward to reading your story

  3. James Robert says

    Another great book to discover. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

    • You’re so very welcome. When I wrote THREADS i expected female only readers, but I have been overwhelmed by the number of men who enjoy it, starting with my husband, who read every edited version.

  4. Gwendolyn Jordan says

    I like the cover

    • Hi Gwendolyn,
      I worked with the cover artist to depict my grandparents’ farm, the setting I chose for the book. If you look closely you can see the windmill between the house and barn–exactly like my grandparents. The dark clouds represent some of the sinister elements in the book. Everything is not rosy as the story unfolds.

  5. Audrey Stewart says

    Charlotte Whitney is a new author to me, but I look forward to reading this. I always love meeting new authors. Thanks to this blog for the introduction.

  6. Thank you for hosting. It’s fun to hear from readers. I try to reply to all.

  7. Sounds like a great read.

    • Charlotte Whitney says

      Hi Rita,
      I hope you enjoy it. It pleases me when readers say that it’s a good story but they also learned a lot about the times as well.

  8. Threads sounds captivating, unforgettable and above all profound and meaningful. The era and story is memorable.

  9. Victoria Alexander says

    Sounds like a good book!

  10. Great excerpt and giveaway. 🙂

  11. Marisela Zuniga says

    This sounds like a really good book to read

  12. Hi Cali,
    Good luck on the giveaway. I recently won a signed book and I NEVER win lotteries.

  13. This sounds like a really great book. Nice cover!

  14. Hi Debbie,
    I hope you enjoy it. The cover was designed to represent my grandparents’ farm, the setting for THREADS.

  15. Marshall MI drew me in immediately–I’ve visited the area. How wonderful to draw on your experience, memories of such a place. Thank you for sharing.

  16. I haven’t read the book, but it really does sound like there are many parallels to what we are going thru with the Pandemic. Sounds like a great book

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