Today’s post by one of our lovely readers, Tori Whitaker | @ToriLWhitaker
We’re thrilled to hand this space over to Tori Whitaker today in the first of our “Love. Story.” series. We first met Tori last August at a writer’s workshop at the Decatur Book Festival. She is bright, well read, thoughtful, and a true lover of story. In the last year she has become not just a member of this community but a friend as well. Please welcome her today. And if you would like contribute to our series, read this post and contact us here.
How Back Bay by William Martin Changed My Life
My daddy asked me when I was nine where we should go on family vacation. I said what every small town Indiana girl would say. Disneyland? Nope. Camping? No way. The beach? Nah-uh. I picked the 1607 settlement of Jamestown, Virginia.
Okay, so my dream destination was a tad unusual for my age. Maybe it was spurred by Mrs. Stevens who taught American history that year. Or, maybe it came because I was born to a family of five living generations—in a way, I grew up with people from history eating around the breakfast table. Perhaps, it was nostalgia in recalling my first museum visit; when I was four, I’d stood with Poppy and Memaw before a Model T, a real car from the “olden days.” Regardless, I craved history the way athletes love sports.
This love prompted me years later to pick up William Martin’s 1979 debut novel, Back Bay. Oh, I’d read plenty of historical fiction. I’d gone through a historical romance phase before that. This was different.
The chapters of Martin’s family saga alternated between the days of Paul Revere and Boston’s era of corporate greed and corruption. A buried silver tea service connected the two periods. By the time I discovered Martin, he had published a slew of past-and-present novels, but in Back Bay, I’d found my literary passion: books with contemporary storylines juxtaposed against tales of ages past…books offering a glance-across-the-shoulder perspective.
Had I not read Martin’s book, I might not have sought out newer novels that spanned time periods. Works like those by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, Sarah Jio, and Sarah McCoy. I might not have lost myself in Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train, nor puzzled over Anne Fortier’s mystery set centuries apart in Italy. I might never have bitten my nails over the fate of a painting looted by Nazis—thanks to best-selling author, Jojo Moyes—nor soaked up tales of Salem witches by Katherine Howe. I might have missed pondering the horrors of slavery through Tara Conklin’s eyes, or of 1930s discrimination via Julie Kibler’s voice. And I might have skipped crying over scenes crafted by Jenna Blum and Tatiana De Rosnay.
Without reading Back Bay, I might never have realized that here was the kind of fiction I yearned to write.
How fortuitous of me to show up early for a book fest awhile back. The session preceding William Martin’s was crammed full, forcing me to wait in the lobby (and to greet the master of dual narrative novels, alone, upon his arrival). He shared wisdom as I scrawled notes in my pocket-sized spiral pad with jittery fingers.
“Is it hard for you,” I asked, newbie that I was, “to align the stories of characters in two time periods so seamlessly?”
“It makes me pull out my hair,” he said with a laugh. Thinking of my own book in progress, I warmed in knowing I was on the right track.