Lightning Tree by Sarah Dunster
Expected publication: April 10, 2012 by Bonneville Books, an imprint of Cedar Fort
After surviving the tragic deaths of her parents and her baby sister and a harrowing trek across the plains to Utah, it's no surprise that Maggie's nights are plagued by nightmares. But after years of harsh treatment by her foster family and memories that seem to hint at an unthinkable crime, Maggie is forced to strike out on her own to separate the facts from the lies.
Guest post by Sarah Dunster:
Fun facts about Lightning Tree and its background
What drove me to write Lightning Tree was, first and foremost, a deep interest in the history of the place I lived at the time: Provo, Utah. I drove through the main streets and looked at old buildings and wondered about them. There is a park in the middle of town with a collection of old log cabins with family names on them… I wanted to know so many things about those families and about the people who lived there. And I was also interested in the narratives of immigrants who joined the Mormon faith and then moved into a place where most everyone spoke English. What were the dynamics like for a “foreign” convert in a pioneer community?
As I researched for my story, I came across many entertaining anecdotes about Provo and its citizens. Maggie, my main character, is what was called Waldensian or Valdois. The Valdois were a French sect of Christianity separate from the Catholic Church, who adhered to old doctrines and a certain, older version of the Bible. For that reason they were persecuted throughout the centuries they lived in the Turin valleys in Italy. The Mormon pioneers related to them—a lot of the beliefs between Waldensians matching up well with Mormon beliefs, and of course, being driven from place to place, having to deal with persecutions from the government, etc.—and so they sent missionaries over there to see if anyone was interested in the message they had to offer. In the end, a handful of families converted and came over (together, in the same boats and pioneer companies) to settle in Utah. They formed their own little knot of a congregation in the middle of the LDS population. I felt that a story about a Waldensian girl who is isolated from this very strong sense of identity and culture, being, in a way, forced to become “Americanized” as a part of her acceptance of the new life living the gospel her parents accepted, would be an interesting narrative.
Another interesting thing about my story, and history, is that the anecdote that starts off my conflict—Maggie finding her mother’s name written on the Aldens’ mattress—actually happened in my own family history. One of my ancestors, who had immigrated to America with his parents, was orphaned and then adopted by a family who hid some of his past from him. And then one day, he found his family name written on a mattress the family used. He was fifteen—like my character—and actually, ran away from home. It’s an interesting struggle for me, too, dealing with the issues of loss and acceptance surrounding adoption, as I am an adoptive mother. And so I found the story a very interesting and sometimes, therapeutic one to write.
About the author:
Sarah Dunster is an award-winning poet and fiction writer. Her poems have been published in Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, Segullah Magazine, and Victorian Violet Press. Her short fiction piece, Back North, is featured in Segullah’s Fall 2011 issue. Her novel Lightning Tree will be released in spring of 2012 by Cedar Fort. Sarah has six children and one on the way and loves writing almost as much as she loves being a mom.