|Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Jarrett Studios|
Q. Why did you write Wildwood Creek?
A. I think we all have mysteries that linger in our family histories or in our hometowns. Those tales are told at family gatherings, in the corners of local cafés, and around cook fires at Scout campouts. It’s impossible not to wonder, when hearing the retellings of things that have been passed down by word-of-mouth for generations, how much is true. What real events inspired this story? Was it only spun in the mind of some cowpoke looking to entertain along the trail or were there real people involved? Who were they? What happened to them? Would it ever be possible to investigate and discover the truth?
It’s captivating to consider the possibility of finding a personal connection to history—a hidden treasure in a family trunk, an old journal at an estate sale, a letter that has somehow traveled through time. Wildwood Creek is a tale about a thoroughly modern girl drawn into discovering the story, and clearing the name, of a woman who lived and died long before. Despite the century and a half that separates Allie Kirkland and Bonnie Rose, there are striking similarities between them, both physically and in terms of their struggles with life, faith, and trust. Though the trappings of civilization change as centuries pass, the human heart does not.
Wildwood Creek is in some ways a story about two different time periods, but it’s also a story about the things that are timeless, and those are the things that matter most.
Q. How did you develop the initial story idea?
A. The story is a combination of folk legend, historical fact, and wild flight of fancy. I like to think of it as part historical, part contemporary, part romance, part adventure, and part drama. I have always been a lover of history, and having grown up in the era of sweeping western movies, I’m especially fond of the history of the American frontier. It’s impossible not to wonder, from the safer vantage point of a modern life, if I could have endured what those pioneer women endured. If I were in the shoes of my ancestors, would I have the mettle to survive?
That sense of wondering is part of Wildwood Creek. A 150-year-old mystery lies hidden beneath Moses Lake in the story. Though the locals have long shared tall tales and legends of Wildwood, a town in which the citizenry suddenly vanished near the beginning of the Civil War, no one knows what really happened. But as Allie accepts a position among the cast of a docudrama set to reenact the last days of Wildwood, a summer drought (yes, we had one of those in real life as I was writing the book) is closing in and the secrets of Wildwood are about to rise to the surface.
Q. Did you encounter any interesting challenges while writing or researching this book?
A. There were two special challenges in writing Wildwood Creek. The first was definitely the research. Because there is an ongoing modern story interlaced with an ongoing historical story, both contemporary and historical research were required. Putting the novel together necessitated everything from learning about how frontier reenactment docudramas—like the PBS Frontier House series—might be filmed and staffed, to learning what the actual frontier life of the young Irish schoolteacher, Bonnie Rose, might have been like during the Civil War era in Texas. A fair bit of study on available means of transportation, clothing, cooking methods, and Texas politics of the time period was also necessary. I’m not complaining, mind you. I found more fascinating facts about skirmishes, Civil War espionage, riverboats, Irish immigrants, and general frontier life than I could possibly use. So often while I was writing of Allie’s life on the reenactment set, or Bonnie’s life in the town of Wildwood, I lost myself in their lives. The best stories are the ones that completely transport you to another place, another time, another life.
The second challenge in writing Wildwood Creek involved the actual threading together of Allie’s and Bonnie’s stories. Their journeys—the historical and the contemporary—physically mirror one another, so that both characters journey to Wildwood, and finally arrive there at the same point in the story. Both are lulled by its beauty initially, both are caught in its dangers eventually. Syncing the two stories was a challenge.
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Q. What is the underlying theme/message of the book? Is this what you set out to write?
A. I hope readers take away the message that God’s plans are so much larger than we can imagine, and because of this, it’s important to be open-minded and open hearted about the people who surround us. God does some of His most important work through the people He brings into our lives and into our communities. As community members, we are our brothers’ keepers. We are all meant to bear responsibility for one another. In the town of Wildwood, an unspeakable evil has been allowed to fester, and it eventually becomes the downfall of all involved. When we shrink from the responsibility of confronting what we know is wrong, evil is allowed to strengthen and prevail. In the town of Wildwood, that evil manifests in unthinkable results.
Q. What is the take-away message you want readers to receive after reading your book?
A. Well, to begin with, that our journeys, struggles, and challenges are never without purpose. God places stones in our paths to teach us many things. From our obstacles, we learn to be watchful, to be resourceful, to be strong, to fall down and rise up again. There’s no shame in suffering. The only real shame is in suffering and failing to grow stronger from the experience.There is also a theme of redemption and forgiveness in the story. Both Allie and Bonnie carry the grief and shame of painful pasts. The inability to let go of the past, to trust God with the future, has left both women unable to move forward, unable to feel worthy of love and a future. In Wildwood, God pushes both of them to break free of their self-made prisons and find the
strength they never knew they possessed.
Q. Almost every author puts a little of themselves into their stories—what did you put of yourself into this one?
A. There’s a bit of me in the setting, of course. I love Texas. I love its history of an independent past. I love that many small towns still claim an ethnic affiliation to various countries in Europe. I also love the fact that Texans are famous for their bold hearts, brash personalities, and tall tales. Storytellers abound here, and the legend of Wildwood is the sort of story you might hear being passed around. There is also, undoubtedly, a bit of my own hidden dream in Allie’s opportunity to join the historical reenactment—to go back in time. The idea fascinates me. I think I’d love to do it, but the reality probably is that after a few days without air conditioning, a microwave, and hot showers, I’d be ready to go home again.
As always, some members of the Wingate family might claim to recognize themselves among the citizens of Wildwood. I would offer the disclaimer that any resemblances are completely unintentional, but that would be a bald-faced lie. When you come from a family of great storytellers and colorful characters, there’s nothing to do but make use of what you’ve got.
For more information about Wildwood Creek you can read our review HERE.
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