Her own words:
I came to writing at a young age, driven to it in desperation one rainy day when I ran out of books; my main influences at the time being Dr. Seuss and parents who heartily subscribing to the puritan work ethic, my first effort was a poem about making my bed. I continued to tinker with poems and snippets through Winnie-the-Pooh and my brother's Hardy Boys books, but when I hit Salinger's Catcher in the Rye I knew that sooner or later I was going to have to try to write a book. It turned out to be later—after going to college and working as a chambermaid, a stewardess on a cruise ship, a tour guide in a Revolutionary War museum, and staff of one in an old-fashioned country doctor's office.
But one day that doctor decided to do a novel thing—he decided to take a day off, and he liked it so much he decided to do it once a week. That extra day off turned into my writing day—I sealed myself in the dining room with my typewriter; I told friends and family not to call; I didn't shop, clean, do laundry mow the lawn, or go to the beach. Another kind of writer might have entered that room immediately aspiring to the heights of one her writing idols—Harper Lee or Jane Austen in my case—but Lee and Austen had already taught me my first important lesson: I didn't yet know how to write. So I walked into that room thinking Hardy Boys instead.
I thought of that first book as an exercise in novel-writing, a way to teach myself about plot, pace, and structure—in other words, as an exercise in learning how to tell a story. It never occurred to me that very first book would actually sell, or that it would result in a series of contracts that kept me writing mystery novels for the next ten years of my life. But ten years later I found myself asking, wasn't there another kind of story I needed to tell?
I'm often asked where the switch from mystery to historical fiction came from; although there's the usual long answer to the question, the short answer is that it came out of the ground. My husband Tom and I live in Brewster, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, a place my ancestors had discovered for us about three hundred years before we rode into town. Every day we walk over ancient Indian paths and colonial roads past houses that were built when my ancestors first arrived; we can look out our window at an ocean that cost more than one ancestor his life; we've lived through storms that have left us without heat, light, water, and gasoline for as long as five days, plunging us, however briefly, into the kind of life those ancestors lived.
Living so physically and psychically close to the past inevitably led me to want to know more about it; I began to read every book on Cape Cod history I could find, and bit by bit the Cape's past began to make its way into my novels. That was a start, but it wasn't enough; from own family's history I knew there were stories out there that hadn't yet surfaced. I began to dig out old wills, deeds, diaries, town records, business accounts. I found that the same mix of large-hearted, small-minded, lustful, self-righteous humanity filled the past as filled the present, and when I found Lyddie Berry I knew I'd found the story I needed to tell. The Widow's War was that story. And out of an eighteenth century diary I discovered while writing The Widow's War I found Alice Cole, the indentured servant whose story gave birth to my next novel, Bound. I have no doubt that my next story is back there somewhere in the past, waiting for its chance to connect with the present. (From the author's website.)
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