Thank you to Rebecca and Martha for inviting me to take part in the American Historical Novel Holiday Open House. In honor of the holidays, I’m raffling two signed copies of RELIANCE, ILLINOIS. To enter the contest, simply answer the following question below in the comments:
What is one of your fondest memories of the house (or apartment) you grew up in?
Why is this on my mind? Perhaps because I’m days away from traveling back to my childhood home in Grass Valley, CA. My folks still live in the house they built - a modest, comfortable place - more than forty years ago and every return is layered with memories.
In contrast, Miss Rose’s house in my second novel, RELIANCE, ILLINOIS is neither modest nor comfortable to Madelyn Branch, a thirteen-year-old girl sent to live and work there.
Its exterior is based off an octagon house I toured in Watertown, Wisconsin, which was built by John Richards in 1854. The inside is a composite of several other period houses designed by Orson Fowler, who in the 19th century was a self-proclaimed expert in a number disciplines, including family planning, architecture, and phrenology (the study of one's characteristics through the bumps on one's head). Fowler -- for reasons he wrote about in convoluted detail -- considered the octagon an ideal shape for maximizing health and well-being. While the design never gained the lasting popularity he predicted, there remain quite a few excellent examples nationwide that are still standing and open for visits. If you happen to live in the SF Bay Area, check out the McElroy Octagon House at 2645 Gough Street.
I gave Miss Rose an octagon house because she needed a home as grand in stature as she believes herself to be, a house that reflected the eccentricities of the era. I needed a house that would intimidate and intrigue the townspeople of Reliance. Finally, I needed a structure around which to build a my story, and to which I could return in my imagination each day I sat down to write.