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I first met Rebecca Demarino at the 2011 Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference where she and I had both semi-finaled in the ACFW Genesis conference. Since that time, I’ve had the privilege of spending
time with her at several different venues.
A military daughter and wife, as well as an airline hostess, Rebecca has traveled extensively and called many places home. She now lives in White Salmon, Washington with her husband, Tom. This month Revell released her first book, A Place in His Heart, which is a historical romance based on the life of her ninth great-grandfather Barnabas Horton, who emigrated to America in 1639.
I interviewed Rebecca this week as part of a blog tour highlighting the release of this new book. I found the book fascinating and when I passed it on to my church librarian, she said she couldn’t wait for the sequel. So today I introduce to you, Rebecca Demarino.
Pat: I admire people who write historical fiction based on a family story like A Place in His Heart. Was it passed down verbally from one generation to the next? Were there any written documents? How did you know where to start digging?
Rebecca: There were little tidbits my mother heard from her mother. We knew we had a great-grandfather many generations back who had come over from England on a ship called The Swallow. In the late 1990’s my brother was working on the Horton genealogy and we were surprised to find a book titled, The Horton’s In America, published in 1929 by Adaline Horton White, which was a corrected version of the book published in 1876, by George F. Horton. Both versions contain many elements of family lore handed down through generation.
There are very few actual documents of Barnabas in New England prior to 1654. There is a document that exists in Hartford, CT, listing his purchase of a lot in Massachusetts, and there is something that exists listing his trade as a baker. It is documented that he was a deputy of the New Haven court and a magistrate in the 1650’s. He is credited with having built the first timber-framed home on eastern Long Island. And I have a copy of his will.
My digging started with my mom at the Southold Historical Society in 1999!
Pat: The story has a diary feel to it. I’m sure some readers will feel like they are reading a classical novel. Did you choose this format for a reason?
Rebecca: Not really. It was my first novel, and I wrote it very much “seat-of-the-pants”. I had some very good advice: just write and get the story out. So that’s what I did! I have loved to read from a very early age, and I’m sure that influenced my writing.
Pat: I was intrigued by the language used and many times while reading the novel had to remind myself that this was a book written in our century and not in the distant past. How did you achieve the language that seems so period accurate?
Rebecca: There is a fine balance, I’m sure, to lending just the right feel to the language – and it might be slightly different for each reader! There was a definite cadence to Old English and I did try to capture that in sentence structure to a degree. Reading Shakespeare or the 1599 Geneva Bible helps in picking out an expression or phrase characteristic of the times.
But it’s easy to overdo, so having a good editor like I have at Revell definitely is a blessing!
Pat: Mary Langton is a sympathetic character from the beginning of the story even though she adamantly refuses to marry the man her father chose for her. She says she is marrying for love, but Barnabas’ point of view suggests she is a convenient replacement for his dead wife. In your research did you find many women married for convenience rather than for love? Or men, for that matter.
Rebecca: In my research I discovered that Barnabas had married Mary within months of the death of his first wife. His sons were five and three at the time. At that time so many women died at a young age due to the high mortality rate of childbirth that it left many men with young children to care for. It was not uncommon at all for men to remarry quickly to provide a mother to their children. I don’t think that necessarily means these men did not mourn the loss of their wives.
On the other hand, arranged marriages for young women were common, too. Seems there might have been quite a few loveless marriages! But I think the basic need to love and be loved existed then as now.
Pat: Though Mary feels unloved, Barnabas certainly seems to dote on her throughout the story. I believed he cared more than he showed. What purpose did you have for delaying the truth about their relationship until late in the book?
Rebecca: I think he did care more for her than he could admit even to himself. He seemed to fear that if he admitted his feelings, it somehow betrayed his love for his first wife. Basically Barnabas is an honorable and decent man who loves God above all else. I don’t think he could be mean to Mary on purpose, but in reality we all say things we regret, we all have done something we wish we could undo, especially when we are hurting.
Pat: This story centers around the blue slate. Did you find the blue slate for Barnabas and did it read as you portray it in the book? Has the blue slate been found for Ann? Do you plan to search for it?
Rebecca: Yes, the blue slate for Barnabas exists and is in the Old Southold Cemetery. It was re-lettered in the 1800’s and is still legible! The epitaph in my novel is the epitaph from his real grave. Family lore says he brought it with him from England, and indeed there is a blue slate quarry just outside of Mowsley, so he most likely either brought it with him or had it imported at a later date. It is also said he wrote the epitaph himself.
Though I traveled to England just prior to my visit to Southold with my mother, I haven’t been to Mowsley except by Google Earth! I do know that the blue slate was commonly used for head stones during the 17th century, and I look forward to visiting Mowsley and the old cemetery someday soon!
Pat: This is a three-book series. When can we expect the next installment? What new adventures await us?
Rebecca: Book two of The Southold Chronicles is due out in June of 2015. In it we find Joseph and Benjamin all grown up and the leadership in Southold experiencing growth and change. Winnie’s cousin, Heather Flower, is kidnapped by the fierce Narragansett tribe to the north. When her ransom is paid by Lion Gardiner, and she is rescued by a Dutchman, she comes to stay in Southold to recover – and pulls a few heartstrings along the way.
Pat: What do you hope your readers will take away from reading A Place in His Heart?
Rebecca: I hope my readers find pure entertainment! I hope they enjoy the love story, with all of its ups and downs, of Mary and Barnabas. I hope they get lost in a time period that was so far different than ours, and yet so filled with the same emotions – heartache and joy, a sense of belonging and adventure. The takeaway I had in writing this story is that God is with us – He will hold our hand – in all of our journeys, if we ask Him!