When I started thinking of my second Victoria Helen Stone book, I knew I wanted to write a family mystery, a story of secrets. I just didn’t know what the secret should be. I puzzled it over for a couple of weeks, and then I had a strange dream: I dreamed that my mother wasn’t my mother.
The dream felt so odd because my mom is the only parent I’ve ever known. My father left before I was born and I only met him once in my whole childhood. Lots of people don’t know their fathers. Lots of people don’t even know who their fathers are, because men can leave before fertilization even completes. But giving birth isn’t exactly a blink of an eye, so birth mother is generally a fairly secure title. I knew I had a great starting point.
That dream was the start of Half Past, but it wasn’t the inspiration. The inspiration comes from my own life. You see, my childhood was a seemingly endless series of halves. Half-siblings, half-families, half-pasts, and strange half-secrets, known by many and forgotten by more.
I grew up in a family of four daughters. I’m the youngest. A whole houseful of women! But I’m also an only child, in terms of psychology. My sisters were five to ten years older, so I grew up differently than they did. I also had a different father as I was the only child of my mom’s second marriage.
I had a half-brother too, but he lived on his father’s farm. I did not know him at all. I had other half-siblings as well, my father’s children with his next wife. I heard about them but did not know them. They did not know about me. Another half family and another and another.
During the school year I lived in a crowded house with sisters I loved who helped raise me, but during the summer they went to live with their father, and I lived with my grandparents. We were sent to the same small town three hours from home, but we did not see each other there, not even on my birthday. We had separate families in homes about ten country miles apart. There were no other children nearby. It was just me on acres of land until the summer ended and I went back to my crowded half-family in the city. It only recently occurred to me how odd this all was.
I didn’t know my father, but I knew my paternal grandparents. I’d visit them and my grandpa would take me around town and introduce me to his friends, but when he died, I went to his funeral and no one knew who I was. I’d somehow become a secret baby despite that both my parents were from this small town of 2000 people. You could never write that in a book. It makes no sense. Who would believe it?
So the feeling of absolutely loving your family but never quite fitting in…that part of Half Past is all me. My sisters are nothing like the sisters in the book. And my mom and I get along fabulously. There’s not one goody-two-shoes in this whole damn bunch of women! We all have a ton of fun when we get together, I promise.
But I was always different from everyone I loved, if only due to outside forces. I was the only sister with no father and no brother, the only sister with a different last name, the only sister somehow born a secret bastard even though her parents were married. My siblings had uncles and aunts and cousins I’d never met. They visited them at Christmas. But my father was an only child. Half of my Christmas was quiet.
My childhood felt like half of everything except love, but the good news is that meant I could fill in the other parts myself. Perhaps that’s the wellspring of my storytelling. I know it’s why I’m interested in others’ lives. I see secrets everywhere. I want to know the complexity beneath the surface. For me, an unassuming stranger is just someone whose story I haven’t heard yet. If I never get to hear it, I can definitely make one up. But I’ve learned that whatever story I tell probably won’t be as interesting as the truth.
As always, thanks for reading!
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