Houses have a magical quality, especially if you grew up there. Or your parents or grandparents lived there. Always interested in genealogy, I’ve trekked around southeast Michigan looking up my parents’ and other ancestors’ homes in Stevensville, Sparta, Ionia, Kalamazoo, and Grand Rapids. My pulse increases as I hone in on my target. Nostalgia weaves its threads through me, pulling me tight. Once, I inadvertently stumbled across the church where my parents married. Now that was a treat!
My husband and I live in an old house in a small Wisconsin town, going on nineteen years now. We raised our kids here after moving from Milwaukee. The house was built in 1893. I love strolling the neighborhood, gazing at Victorians and early twentieth century homes—and wondering about the families who lived there over the decades.
If walls could talk . . . oh, the stories! At the historical society, we learned that our house was one of the first on the block. It housed railroad employees’ families back in the day. We have a list of multiple owners, giving rise to speculation of their stories. What were they like? Why did they move there? Why’d they move away?
Roots of Wood and Stone by Amanda Wen tells the story of one such historic home. Not just the house itself, but the thing that makes it a home: family. The sense of belonging, full of memories and nostalgia. Being accepted, no matter what. Being a part of someone’s Plan A.
This historic home holds the keys to their destiny . . . and their hearts
Abandoned at birth, her family roots a mystery, historical museum curator Sloane Kelley has dedicated her life to making sure others know theirs. When a donor drops off a dusty old satchel, she doesn’t expect much from the common artifact . . .until she finds real treasure inside: a nineteenth-century diary. Now she’s on the hunt to find out more.
Garrett Anderson just wanted to clean out his grandmother’s historic but tumbledown farmhouse before selling it to fund her medical care. With her advancing Alzheimer’s, he can’t afford to be sentimental about the family home. But his carefully ordered plan runs up against two formidable obstacles: Sloane, who’s fallen in love with both the diaries and the house, and his own heart, which is irresistibly drawn to Sloane.
A century and a half earlier, motherless Annabelle Collins embarks with her aunt and uncle on the adventure of a lifetime: settling the prairies of Sedgwick County, Kansas. The diaries she left behind paint a portrait of life, loss, and love–and a God who faithfully carries her through it all. Paging through the diaries together takes Sloane and Garrett on a journey they never could have planned, which will change them in ways they never imagined.
This warm, beautifully written split-time novel will resonate with readers looking for stories that reveal the beauty of God’s plan for our lives, and how our actions ripple for generations.
Sloane Kelley feels like she’s everybody’s Plan B—first her birth mother’s, then her adoptive parents’, then Garrett Anderson’s. Why is she never someone’s Plan A?
Perhaps she’s no better off than a stopped clock.
“. . . the clock was stopped, its endless ticking stilled, its hands frozen at five thirty-seven.
A thoughtful tradition, though she’d never paid it much attention before.
It provided a pause, a respite from the relentless march of minutes
to allow the bereaved to absorb that moment
where hearts shattered and life ceased to make sense.
The single instant that tore existence into before and after.”
— Annabelle Collins, Chapter 22
Though Sloane is a historian and curator of the Sedgwick County Museum of History, she doesn’t fit into anyone’s timeline.
She’s plagued by questions about her birth mother. For starters, why did her mother abandon her on a bus as a baby?
Though adopted, she never felt like she belonged. Anywhere. Not being adopted myself, I couldn’t relate to her specific plight, but definitely caught and vicariously experienced her angst. I know some adopted folks who would say this rings true for them.
Financial planner Garrett Anderson has also dealt with abandonment. His father ran off, leaving him and his sister. His mother died. Things flopped with an old girlfriend, too.
Garrett—living in Kansas City—and his sister Lauren have to figure out what to do with their grandmother and her house in rural Sedgwick County, not far from Wichita. Rosie, their grandma, has Alzheimer’s, and needs care. Selling her house should help fatten the medical fund.
Everyone is doing the best they can with their somewhat planned, orderly lives—until Garrett drops off a satchel at the historical museum, full of stuff he’d gathered from Rosie’s house. He rushes off, leaving Sloane to peruse.
When she sees the diary entry dated 1860, she is hooked. Who is this nine-year-old Annabelle Collins? How is she connected to the house? Sloane is determined to find out.
In the 1870s, Annabelle Collins refused to be left behind. She left Ohio to head west and teach on the frontier. She married Jack and had children. Amidst the daily joys are the pain and sorrows of a difficult life, all recorded in the diary.
As Garrett and Lauren go through Rosie’s house, they keep finding treasures tied to Annabelle’s life, and share them with Sloane.
The two siblings have acute personality differences, and disagree on the best way to proceed with their grandma’s care. Yet plenty of teasing abounds, particularly about Lauren’s cooking without gluten, eggs, or sugar. In fact, all the secondary characters are great “supporting actors.”
Garret and Sloane’s friendship gradually builds with lively banter and sarcasm as she tries to learn more about the diary’s owner and the house.
Author Amanda Wen weaves through two eras—the 1870s and the present—artfully pulling them together. An element of faith pervades without preachiness or heavy-handedness.
If you love the way history impacts the present, how older generations influence younger ones, you’ll enjoy this dive into split-time fiction.
Additionally, I felt for Garrett and Lauren as they cared for Grandma Rosie. Family caring for family. While the younger generation yearns for home and connection, Rosie faces her last years, depending on them for her own connection—while needing more than they can provide.
Having been through the turmoil of decision-making and care for a grandma with Alzheimer’s, my mom, and more recently my dad, I found this struggle relatable. It encompasses the pain of caring for elders who aren’t what they used to be, yet need us to help them feel like they still matter and belong.
Truthfully, a few times I found myself in a quandary. Was there too much coincidence? Too much predictability? And perhaps we should learn details about Garrett’s former girlfriend sooner than later, so we know what’s at stake for him. But all in all, Sloane’s, Garrett’s, and Annabelle’s stories dovetail neatly to deliver a vital message. Nobody’s a Plan B in God’s eyes. Worth and belonging go beyond earthly means. Beyond a house of wood and stone.
Join me for some Q & A with Amanda Wen.
Questions about Roots of Wood and Stone
What inspired you to write a split-time story for your very first novel?
Amanda: Roots of Wood and Stone is my first published novel, but it’s actually my fourth written one! I have two contemporary romance manuscripts that will probably never see the light of day, plus a third one that was good enough to win a few contests and land me my wonderful agent, Tamela Hancock Murray, but didn’t sell to publishers.
As fun as contemporary romance was, though, I never really felt at home in that genre. History and historical fiction has always appealed to me, too, but the idea of writing an entire story set in the past was, quite frankly, very daunting, and something I never attempted. At this time in my writing journey I’d never heard of split-time fiction, but all that changed when a session at ACFW introduced me to Freedom’s Ring (the award-winning debut novel by Heidi Chiavaroli; go drop everything and read that one if you haven’t!).
I devoured that book, totally fascinated by the way the contemporary and historical stories wove together, and then realized that my top two favorite TV shows of all time (Cold Case and This Is Us) utilized that same multiple-timeline format. I was hooked, decided to try writing my own, and finally found the genre that felt like home.
Where do your story ideas usually originate from—character, plot, setting, theme, or a combination? Which of those was the impetus for Roots of Wood and Stone as well as others you’ve written or may have brewing?
Amanda: Usually my stories start with “what if” questions. “What if a plan-ahead control freak fell in love with someone totally impulsive?” “What if two friends who’ve worked together for years suddenly found themselves wanting more?” Other times, it’s a “how” question. “How in the world could someone’s faith survive something like the Holocaust?” “How could someone keep going even when they’ve lost nearly everything?” So sometimes it’s theme, sometimes it’s plot, and sometimes it’s the characters themselves.
For Roots of Wood and Stone, the germ of inspiration came from an ancestor of mine, William Fletcher Stevens, who moved to Sedgwick County, Kansas from Kentucky in 1870 along with his wife and children. However, shortly after their arrival, William’s wife, Sarah, and infant son, George, both passed away. In fact, William would go on to bury one more wife and several more children during his struggle to eke out a living on his new homestead, and he endured several more hardships including grasshopper invasions, blizzards, and drought.
Yet by all accounts his faith survived—and even thrived—and so did his family. I was inspired by William’s story when I first heard it, and when I started dabbling with the idea of historical fiction/split-time, it seemed perfect to pay homage to him and his perseverance in the face of unimaginable obstacles.
What is your personal connection to the setting and to the plight of the characters?
Amanda: In addition to the story of William Stevens, Roots of Wood and Stone is inspired by an old farmhouse which still stands a few miles from where I live. For a couple decades in the early 20th century, this farmhouse was the home of my great-great-grandfather, Francis Thomas Little, who came to the United States from Ireland in 1861.
My mom is a genealogist who has traced our family history for nearly 50 years, so I grew up well aware of the stories of those who’d come before, and every time we drove past that big white farmhouse, Mom would remind me that that was Grandpa Little’s house. I always thought it’d be cool to buy that house, fix it up, and live in it, but given the practicalities of adulthood and the reality that I am not in any way, shape, or form the type of person who loves to remodel houses, I decided to do the next best thing: create characters who might be able to do it.
That’s where Sloane and Garrett came in. In addition, the back stories of Francis Little and William Stevens combined to create the back story of my past-timeline hero, Jack Brennan. (These two ancestors are linked by more than fiction: William Stevens’s daughter, Mattie, married Francis Little).
My past-timeline heroine, Annabelle, is inspired by an ancestor on my father’s side of the family whose mother died young and whose father left her to be raised by an aunt and uncle. Although that sort of thing was commonplace in those days, the idea of being abandoned by a parent—even for noble purposes—launched one of those “how” questions. How would a child respond to being suddenly parentless? What impacts would carry through to adulthood? These questions and situations are what wove together to shape Roots of Wood and Stone.
How well did you know your main three characters—Sloane, Garrett, and Annabelle—at the beginning of the novel, or did you primarily get to know them as you wrote? Are any of them based on people you know or have read about?
Amanda: Because they’re inspired by real-life ancestors of mine, I knew Annabelle and Jack fairly well, but Garrett and Sloane are purely fictional creations. Garrett, a forward-thinking financial planner, and Sloane, a preservation-driven historian, were perfect foils for each other as they butted heads over Garrett’s historic family farmhouse.
But beyond their names and occupations, I knew practically nothing at all about them when I started writing them. In fact, around chapter 5, I felt like I was spinning my wheels, so I threw a Hail Mary, and decided to give us some common ground: I made them both music enthusiasts (Sloane a jazz singer and Garrett a hobbyist pianist). I didn’t quite know what they’d do with that, but Garrett and Sloane took that instruction from me and ran with it. That’s how I bonded with both of them…and how they bonded with each other.
Did the plot stick to a pre-determined plan or did it evolve as you wrote?
Amanda: I had a vague idea of what the plot would involve, but it definitely took on a life of its own as I wrote! (Most of this answer is in the later questions about my writing process; that’s why this one is so short).
What are the challenges of writing a novel with two storylines in different decades? Will you tackle it again?
Amanda: Writing in multiple timelines is indeed a challenge! I heard it once described as having to write two books, but only getting paid for one, and that’s truer than I’d like to admit. All the work that goes into any story (character arcs, plot threads, conflict, theme) has to go into each timeline I write, and both stories have to be equally compelling in order to avoid the reader skimming or ignoring one timeline in favor of another. In addition, both timelines need to weave together in an organic way; if one can be lifted out without affecting the story of the other, then one of those timelines isn’t necessary.
Looking at this list is rather daunting, and gives me pause about tackling all that work again, but I love the genre so much that I’ll be writing two more split-time novels for Kregel to complete my three-book Sedgwick County Chronicles series (of which Roots of Wood and Stone is book 1).
Have you had a relative with Alzheimers?
Garrett’s grandmother, Rosie Spencer, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease (which sows the seeds of conflict over the house: Garrett knows the best thing for his grandmother is to sell the house and use the proceeds to fund a move to a memory care facility, whereas his sister Lauren wants to keep their grandmother in the house as long as possible, and Sloane wants to preserve the historic property).
I don’t have experience with Alzheimer’s in my own family, but my best friend and critique partner/writing mentor does, and she was enormously helpful in helping me create the character of Rosie with authenticity and sensitivity. I’m very grateful for her input.
Questions about writing:
What books have been most influential for you as a writer? Was there a book that sparked or confirmed your desire to be a novelist?
Amanda: Probably the most influential book for me is Stephen King’s On Writing, mostly because reading it made me realize that I was indeed a real writer. I’d been dabbling at the time, toying around with short stories and the first of the aforementioned desk-drawer manuscripts, but I thought of writing as more of a fun hobby/potentially dangerous distraction from my “real” career as a musician rather than something I should seriously pursue.
But reading King’s description of how driven he was to write stories, how writing was as essential to him as breathing, made me realize, WAIT a minute, this isn’t just some hobby. I’m actually a writer.
Are you an outliner or a pantser? Share a little about your novel writing process, and the length of time it takes to complete a book.
Amanda: I’m definitely a pantser, but I need at least a rough mental outline of who the characters are and/or what they’ll face before I can write anything. I’ve heard the term “headlights writer,” referring to how when you’re driving in the dark, you can only see as far as your headlights will illuminate, but as you keep moving forward, you can always see as far ahead as you need to.
That’s a very accurate description of how I write. While I can’t see several chapters ahead, I usually have a basic idea of what the next few scenes will hold and a fairly good idea of what the very next scene will hold. That said, the characters have definitely been known to surprise me!
As far as the logistics of writing, I’ve got three kids and a day job I dearly love (I’m a staff accompanist for a local high school, and I’m also a freelance cellist), so writing fits in around those things. But since I work part-time and my kids are in school, I can generally count on at least 2-3 hours of writing time per day, which is about all my brain can handle before it needs me to go interact with real humans.
Because of all this, I’m a much slower writer than I’d like to be; it takes me about a year to write a book. But I’ve learned the hard way not to try and rush the creative process!
Since Roots of Wood and Stone is part of the Sedgwick County Chronicles, you are obviously planning on more novels in this vein. Will Sloane and Garrett be in them? Please share something about a future project or the direction you want to go.
Amanda: Book 2 in the series, The Songs That Could Have Been, will release from Kregel on June 21 (and is available for pre-order now from all your favorite bookmongers)!
Garrett and Sloane are indeed in this one, although this time they’re in a supporting role. Taking the lead in the contemporary story are Garrett’s sister Lauren and her first love, Carter Douglas (who gets a very brief mention in Roots of Wood and Stone, but he’s in there!). The past timeline takes us to the 1950s and features none other than Garrett and Sloane’s inimitable grandma, Rosie.
There’ll also be a third book in the series, which currently exists in the form of some research notes and a few half-sketched scenes, but I can share that you’ll see Garrett and Sloane in this one, too (and maybe even Jack and Annabelle!).
As for future projects, I’m kicking around ideas for a slightly more suspenseful split-time series centered around local unsolved mysteries. As my agent likes to say, stay tuned!
As a new novelist, share a bit about your publishing journey. Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Amanda: As I stated before, I landed my agent with a contemporary romance manuscript that didn’t sell. However, as soon as I submitted that one (or perhaps even before), I was working on my next project. Several writers had advised me to not just wait, but to actively work on something else while my first project was on submission, and I am here to emphatically echo that advice.
Number one, it provides a healthier way to keep your mind occupied instead of constantly refreshing your email inbox (not that I’ve done this, ahem). And number two, it gives you something else to submit if and when it’s time to let your first project go. Sometimes, as in my case, that new manuscript is the one that becomes your debut.
Also, a bit of advice that gets thrown around quite a bit but is 100% essential: Trust God. Trust his timing, trust his methods, just trust him. The way he will orchestrate things is beyond anything even the most creative and imaginative writer can fathom. In my case, the publishing journey started with being named a finalist in the ACFW First Impressions contest.
I immediately became friends with the other finalists (and am still close with them to this day). One of them, Rachel Scott McDaniel, introduced me to another writing friend, Janyre Tromp. Janyre and I became fast friends, mostly on Twitter, and it wasn’t until several weeks into our friendship that I figured out she was an acquisitions editor for Kregel (at which point I quickly scrolled back through all our exchanges to make sure I hadn’t said anything dumb). I’d talked with her a little about my WIP, and by the time ACFW 2018 arrived, along with the pitch session I’d requested with Janyre, she’d already read and fallen in love with my manuscript.
I don’t mean to imply that my friendship with Janyre is why my book got published, because it still had many, many hurdles to clear before I got that contract. But that friendship is part of how God orchestrated publication for me, and I am grateful for all of it!
One other cool tidbit: Like my real-life ancestor, Francis Little, my past-timeline hero Jack Brennan hails from Ireland; specifically, County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. At the time I got my contract offer, my parents were actually visiting my ancestral hometown, so I had the unique and incredible privilege of calling my parents IN IRELAND to tell them that my book inspired by our Irish ancestor was finally and at long last getting published. That was definitely a God moment, and one that was worth waiting for.
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy split time historical fiction set in rural or small towns, spotlighting how the past impacts the present, you might enjoy my novel, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. Set in Holland, Michigan, this novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. It highlights The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum. I’m currently gathering a launch team. Read more and watch the book trailer here.
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Amanda Wen Bio
Amanda Wen’s debut novel, Roots of Wood and Stone, released to both reader and critical acclaim, including a Christy Award nomination for First Novel. She also placed first in multiple contests, including the 2017 Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest, the 2017 Phoenix Rattler Contest, and the 2016 ACFW First Impressions Contest, among others. In addition to her writing, Amanda is an accomplished professional cellist and pianist who frequently performs with orchestras, chamber groups, and her church’s worship team, as well as serving as a choral accompanist. A lifelong denizen of the flatlands, Amanda currently lives in Kansas with her patient, loving, and hilarious husband, their three adorable Wenlets, and a snuggly Siamese cat. Visit her on her website.
Join me next time for a visit with Linda Wood Rondeau.
Meanwhile, have you read Roots of Wood and Stone? Or . . . do you have a special connection to a house you once lived in? Answer in the comments below.
Thanks for hosting me, Laura, and for sharing the story about your house! I love love love old houses (although I don’t live in one; my house was built exactly 100 years later than yours was!) and the stories of the people within them. And your book sounds wonderful! Can’t wait to see it out in the world!
Thank you, Amanda! I appreciate your kind words. Regarding old houses, as charming and nostalgic as they are, there’s a tradeoff. Ours is a work-in-progress, even after 19 years! Thank you again for your participation on my blog.
We read this for my book discussion group a few months ago! Everyone enjoyed it
and are looking for more books from Amanda.
I loved the faith message, and the house.
There were a few fortunate coincidences, but we were all willing to suspend any disbelief
-coincidences do happen!
-and writers need to use literary license on occasion to advance a good story.
Thank you, ladies, for a great interview!
Glad to hear your book group read and enjoyed this! So true about coincidences and literary license. 🙂
Ah, this book had me at the back cover blurb! There’s just something about old houses and diaries. Yes, I know my kids will go crazy when it’s time for me to move from this house. I know I should sort through things now for them so they don’t have to. I’m betting they’ll order a giant dumpster for the front yard. :-# But there’s just something about the nostalgia. I totally relate to Sloane–and that’s just from the blurb. I haven’t even picked up the book yet. But I will!
I hope you do pick up the book! And I understand about the potential dumpster in the yard. That’s why I’m trying to sort through everything in my own house before my kids get to it!