February 28: Publication Day!

When, last summer, the Wild Rose Press told me Daughters of Riga would be released on February 28, 2024, the date seemed impossibly distant. Until I remembered how long it had been since this writing journey began: I completed the first draft of the novel in 2010.

Of course, I didn’t realize this was a first draft. In my ignorance as a beginning writer, I thought I was finished. I was proud of myself for writing my first full-length manuscript. My writing group said nice things about the chapters I’d shared and encouraged me to send the novel to an editor for a final polish.

I sent my draft to acclaimed author, teacher and editor Laura Kalpakian. I had attended her memoir writing course and appreciated her direct and perceptive communication style. For a thin-skinned neophyte, that style turned out to be too direct. The manuscript returned to me festooned in red ink: “cliché!” “passive voice!” and sometimes just “???” But Laura also posed the essential question I was not equipped at that point to answer: whose story is it?

Intimidated, I put the manuscript aside and decided to try something simpler than generation-spanning, multiple POV historical fiction. I have always loved reading mysteries, so why not write one? Three Sarah McKinney mysteries later, I pulled out my as-yet-unnamed World War II novel and started again. In the intervening six years, I had honed my skills, attended classes and conferences, and studied the ins and outs of publishing. Through critical reading of others’ work, I learned how to spot the weaknesses in my own writing.

Whose story is it?

Born in England after the war, I grew up in its shadow. I remember bomb sites and rationing, and the gradual revelation of the unfathomable horror of the Holocaust. As I plunged back into historical research in 2017, I thought about my friend Edith Zwartendijk. Edith was twelve years old when her father became the Netherlands’ consul in Kaunas, Lithuania.

“Those were terrible times,” Edith told me. I realized then I needed to tell the story through the lens of the generation a little older than mine who grew to adulthood after the war—Edith’s generation, the daughters of Riga.

Daughters of Riga is a work of fiction. It’s not Edith’s story or her father’s. But I hope it honors all the untold stories of that generation of young people scarred by loss and displacement, who had to remake their lives in a postwar world.

The End of the Road?

Of course, publication is not the end of the road for Daughters of Riga, but the beginning of a new journey. I’m looking forward to speaking about the novel at the Winthrop Library on March 21, and at Village Books in Fairhaven on April 5. I have a book club event in May in the Methow Valley, and I’m eager to line up more. (Contact me to schedule me to speak to your group.) Thank you to everyone who pre-ordered a copy. I hope you’ll leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble or whatever book-related social media you subscribe to. Word-of-mouth is still the best way to get readers, so do tell your fiction-loving friends about the book. Request it at your local public library.

In the more than fifteen years since I started writing Daughters of Riga, I have amassed a debt of gratitude to many people: the members, past and present, of my critique group, the local writing community, ever-supportive family members, and especially to Laura Kalpakian. I hope I’ve successfully answered your question, Laura.

What is your story? I’d love to hear it.

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