Recently a reader asked if the Mountain Women novels are real stories about my family.
The short answer to the reader’s question is no. The long answer is yes. A bit.
There is no character in the series who’s based on an actual person, but I think all the characters contain bits of people I’ve known and events I’ve been told about…a girl who ran away to get married, an old bachelor who roamed the west, a bride who took care of her husband’s parents and washed their laundry in a stream, teachers who had only a high school certificate, a man who commuted to a job by walking over the mountains each week and walking home at the week’s end.
I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone as bad as some of the disreputable characters in the stories. Their behaviors are imagined extensions of traits I’ve observed or have heard about.
Two events in the stories are based on real happenings: as a toddler, my mother was pulled from a burning barn by her brother who was only a few years older, and when she was married, she wrecked a Model T with two or three of her children in it. (Nobody was hurt, but she never drove again.)
The strongest female characters were inspired by women I’ve admired, starting with my mother and mother-in-law, then other women I was privileged to know when my husband and I moved into a West Virginia farming community. None of those women worked outside the home, but they all toiled in their kitchens and their gardens even after their families were grown and moved away. They believed in supporting their churches, schools, and communities. They lived by strict rules passed down for surviving, like raising two pigs each year, one for slaughter and the other to pay the taxes; and preserving more than was needed for the coming year because in another year the gardens might fail. Their husbands regularly helped their neighbors, and the women did too.
I am not May Rose. I never had more than one husband. I’ve never lived in a logging town or coal town but I’ve known loggers and miners. Before I was born, my grandfather was killed in a mine cave-in, a two-man, hand-dug coal mine. I’ve never run a boardinghouse or lived in one, but the boardinghouse in the stories has a layout similar to my other grandfather’s farmhouse. I’ve never known anyone who shot someone. I’ve ridden horseback, chased runaway pigs, raised big gardens, and participated in the slaughter and preserving of chickens and hogs. I’ve run up and down steep hillsides looking for a missing cow or calf. I’ve waded in cold mountain streams and been lost on confusing mountain roads.
Many have said the characters in the Mountain Women Series seem like friends and people they’ve known. I regard that as a great compliment, because if the characters seem real the writer has done her job.