Sarah Dunster is wife to one, mother to seven, and an author of fiction and poetry. Her poems have appeared on the online LDS poetry blog Wilderness Interface Zone as well as in Victorian Violet Press, Segullah Magazine, Dialogue: Journal of Mormon Thought, Psaltery and Lyre and Sunstone Magazine. She has published two novels with Cedar Fort under their Bonneville Books imprint: the award winning historical fiction novel Lightning Tree, and Mile 21, which is a contemporary fiction/romance novel. When she is not writing Sarah can often be found cleaning, cooking vegetarian or international meals, holding small people in her lap, driving kids to soccer and piano lessons, singing in local musical productions with her family or taking long walks after dark, especially in thunderstorms.
Welcome back to my blog, Sarah. Please tell us about Lightning Tree.
It’s a mystery-pioneer-history story, set in Utah in 1858 just after the Utah War ended. Maggie, my main character, is an orphan whose parents died on the pioneer trail, and she and her sister have been adopted/taken in by a family and they all now live in Provo. The book opens as she discovers something troubling that leads her to believe her foster family might be keeping some terrible secrets from her.
What genre is this novel and where did you get your inspiration for it?
Historical Fiction, Y/A. I just love history, and so to write about it means I get to do a whole lot of research for a good reason. But also I’m fascinated by Mormon Immigration stories. This girl is from Italy, and she was part of a French/Italian Christian sect that was persecuted for centuries by the Catholic Church. They were called Vaudois, or the Waldensians. Lorenzo Snow and Thomas B. Stenhouse converted several Vaudois families in 1854, and when those families started being persecuted by their neighbors, they immigrated to the United States and to Utah. They are very special people.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
Oh, I’d say I do a couple hours of research for every hour of writing. I know that sounds like a bit much, but I love research so much, why not? Why not get every detail right, you know? And I hope it creates a real feel for the time, the people, the town, the way life was back then. I have deep sympathy for readers who love to immerse themselves in another time. And I’ve always loved the books that provide me with an incentive to do some research of my own, like… did that really happen? Was that place real? Etc. So that’s what I wanted to write.
I think it’s interesting when authors add real life situations to their stories. Did you put real experiences in this book?
In a way, yes. The story at the beginning of the book, where Maggie discovers the surprise that leads to her doubting her foster family, is straight from my own family history. I have a relative who ran away at 15 years old because of what he found. And it’s a bit of a heart-wrenching family history story, but his story (like Maggie’s) turns out happy in the end.
Thanks, Sarah, for this great interview. I appreciate all the hard work that you have put into this book. I hope it touches many lives.