We had the pleasure of Amy Harmon joining us in The Behind the Pages Goodreads group for a spoiler free Q & A. We asked her about Where the Lost Wander. “ epic and haunting love story set on the Oregon Trail, a family and their unlikely protector find their way through peril, uncertainty, and loss.“ I am excited to share some of it with you all today!
Brenda: Hi Amy! Let’s get started right away with the idea for the story. You have a personal connection to the story and the characters. Can you tell us about that?
Amy: My husband and I both enjoy genealogy, and the real John Lowry, the main male character in my story, is his ancestor. We didn’t know much about him beyond the fact that his mother was Pawnee Indian. There was some question about whether his father was Cheyenne, but we know that it was a white man (a man also named John Lowry) who married his Pawnee mother and raised him in Missouri until the young John Lowry headed out west to make a future for himself. According to family history, he was “pale” enough to pass as a white man and because he’d been raised by one, he was able to live in a white man’s world pretty successfully. Little is known beyond bare facts, but it gave me somewhere to start.
Brenda: From the prologue, we know something tragic happens to the family. Why did you decide to start telling the story with that?
Amy: My editor thought maybe I shouldn’t start the novel with that because it might scare some readers away. But I felt very strongly about it. I knew the reader would have to be forewarned, otherwise the violence and the shock would be too much when it did come. I also thought it created some tension throughout the story that otherwise would not have been there. Much of the action in this book is simply the slow travel in a wagon train, so starting with that scene infuses the book with danger that it otherwise would not have had.
Debra: Hi Amy! Thank you so much for joining us!!! I loved Where the Lost Wander and that it was inspired by your husband’s family. Can you tell us what it was like blending fact with fiction?
Amy: Melding fact and fiction–that just requires knowing enough about historical settings and people that you can make a character that could live and blend into the time. I find it fascinating and fun!
Lindsay: Hi Amy! Thanks for being here with us! I adored John and Naomi. Were their characters/personalities inspired by anyone?
Amy: John Lowry was inspired by my husband’s five X’s great grandfather, John Lowry. But his personality was formed from my own study, my own imaginings about a young man like John, with all of his challenges, would have formed and grown.
Naomi was tough in the way all the women in my family–particularly my mom–have been. Resourceful. Good. Smart. Determined. My mom’s maiden name was May, and it was her ancestors that were my family’s first pioneers.
DeAnn: Naomi was my favorite character in the book. What was your inspiration for her?
Amy: I think we look back on women in history as being somewhat subservient, and maybe they were in some ways–different ways that we are, for instance–but I also think they were incredibly strong and resourceful. Naomi May was named after my mother’s ancestry. My mother’s maiden name was May, and her family came across the plains and settled Utah in the late 1840s, early 1850s. Naomi made me think of my mom. Her brilliance, her beauty, her toughness, her commitment to family.
Marilyn: Do you have a vision of how life might proceed for the May and Lowry clan, in the future. The Civil War is coming and there will also be the development of the Buffalo Soldiers, who were used to “control” the Native Americans. You portrayed various groups so well and so fairly in this book, did you look to the future and see how things might go for the Mays/Lowry clan?
Amy: Tragically, it wasn’t until after the Civil War that things got truly terrible for many of the western tribes. I actually have another relative who fought with Custer–he was a French immigrant who joined the army as a way to support himself as a young man in a new country. He was sent home right before the Battle of Little Bighorn for “drunkenness” –perhaps the only time alcoholism has saved someone’s life. But I wonder about the demons that must have haunted him. It was a terrible time. No two ways about it. The native people wanted to retain their lives and their ways, nomadic and untethered. And it was not to be. I look back on it like so many do and just feel sadness and helplessness. It didn’t have to be the way that it was . . . the Native people were treated so unjustly. And yet I can’t see how the way of life they’d enjoyed for a thousand years could have continued. It was untenable. And that is the sadness that permeates all of Native American culture and history.
As far as the second part of your question, I simply looked at how things continued on for the real John Lowry. He made a life for himself in a small settlement and raised a family, who raised a family, and so on. Chief Washakie also managed to retain the lands of his father, and the Shoshoni lands still belong to the Shoshoni people. But as beautiful as those lands are, and as positive an example Chief Washakie was to all people, it is still sad. There is no happy ending because it WAS an ending, and it felt inevitable. It still feels inevitable. I’ve visited the Shoshoni lands in Wyoming, and their is a feeling in the air that I can’t even begin to put words to.
DeAnn: I loved “Where the Lost Wander” and I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters at the end. Have you thought about a sequel at all?
Amy: I don’t write thinking about sequels, actually. Sometimes one will come to me, but usually it is a story that branches off with a new character, for instance one of the May boys might get a story of his own at some point. Wyatt, Webb, or Will. Who knows? Or maybe they all will. I wish I had the time and stamina and mental strength to write all the stories that whisper to me.
Brenda: One of the things I love about reading is learning something from the characters and their actions and I did here with yours in the story. There were a couple of passages I highlighted that really stood out for me.
“Hope feels like the best air you’ve ever breathed after the worst fall you’ve ever taken. It hurts”
“The hardest thing about life is knowing what matters and what doesn’t If nothing matters then there is no point. If everything matters, there’s no purpose. The trick is to find firm ground between the two ways of being”
“Life is just a continual parting of the ways, some more painful than other”
My favourite “The moment you share your emotions with someone, those feeling are no longer yours” I learned something about myself with that.
Where do you feel this insight came from? Was it something from your experience or did your characters guide you with this insight?
Amy: One of the best things about writing, for me, is that truths reveal themselves. I discover what I know, what I believe to be true, when I am writing. These things come out, these words, and I find myself shaking my head and saying, “YES!” Yes, this is true. This is what I know to be true. Those are the little nuggets of wisdom that my characters find and that I find as well. My dad calls them “thoughts wrapped in light.” I think it’s a perfect description.
Lindsay: I’m curious to know if you plan out your novels ahead of time. Or do you simply let the characters and storyline take you wherever they go?
Amy: I plan them in part–meaning I know the history, I know the characters, I know the main struggle, the overriding difficulty, that will plague them.
I also know what it is each character desperately wants (or needs) so that their desire propels them (and me) forward. I don’t outline each chapter or know each twist and turn, but I don’t just start writing blindly either. I’ve usually assembled all my ingredients before I start “cooking.”
Brenda: What would you like your readers to get from your books? Is there anything you would like to share with us?
Amy: This time in history is actually looked at with a great amount of derision. We tend to judge people in groups, and depending on who is out of favor in society, their history gets derided or scorned. I think the thing that writing and studying history has revealed to me is that people are just people. Good, bad, selfish, saintly. Painting all history or all people in big strokes of blame or condemnation is unfair and it also robs us of the lessons of history. There is so much to learn and appreciate in historical fiction. It teaches us about ourselves. It helps us ask questions. It helps us forgive and forge ahead on better paths. I would hope that readers will not only be entertained and edified by my stories, but that they will learn about themselves too.
Debra: Are you working on another book currently?
Amy: I just finished a book called THE SONGBOOK OF BENNY LAMENT which will not be released until next year (2021). It’s set in 1960 in NYC in the music scene. I’m excited to reveal more about that one in coming months, but the book is written and currently with my publisher. And I am currently plotting and writing a fantasy (medieval, vikings) which is a spin off from The First Girl Child.
More the Q & A can be found here