Home for the Holidays

[Originally posted on Tall Poppy Writers, 12/13/16]

It’s that time of year again. The trees are sparkling with lights, doorways are dressed in ribbons and wreaths, and on the radio Perry Como croons, “There’s no place like home for the holidays.”

As I write this, a snowstorm is brewing outside while I’m curled up in a big chair in the living room. I’m thinking about the word “home.” Literally speaking, a home is the place where people live their lives. Some people reflect upon the past and their childhood when they think of home. And for others, it is that intuitive sense of well-being and the feeling of being “at home.” For me, home also means family.

Looking back to last year, I think it was fitting that my novel Branching Out was released in December because it’s a story about importance of “home,” as well as family roots and how a person’s upbringing influences their life decisions.

Branching Out is the second book in the “Meyers Orchard” series, which began with Family Trees and a character named Shelby Meyers. Home is a safe haven for Shelby. She grew up under the care of her grandparents in a small northern Wisconsin town on Lake Superior, a place that was a blessing for her as a child, but is now a crutch that prevents her from moving on as a young adult. She meets an aspiring photographer named Ryan Chambers, an “out-of-towner” who’s grappling with his own sense of home and belonging. Over time, he inspires her to take a chance on a life that exists beyond the limits of her hometown.

“If your dream is to continue the life your family started for you here, then embrace it,” [Ryan] said gently. “But if it is to do something more, then don’t be afraid to pull up your roots and follow your own dreams. That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s why I’m here.” (Family Trees)

When I set out to write the sequel, Branching Out, I wanted to further explore the relationship between Shelby and her estranged mother, Jackie. It was a fascinating process as a writer, because I could really delve into what motivated Jackie to mistreat Shelby in the first novel. I realized that while her actions were unforgivable, her intentions had always been good. Jackie wanted Shelby to have something she couldn’t provide – a loving home. And when Jackie and Shelby return home during the holidays, with Shelby now married and living in Chicago, there is a shift between them.

“You’re never gone, Shelby. Your presence is everywhere in that house, as it should be,” [Jackie] said. “I’m comfortable there because, for the first time in a very long time, it feels like home to me as well.”

Shelby let that sink in for a moment, the idea of home. It was ironic that her mother was now the one who felt settled on the family property, while Shelby was the one who felt detached. (Branching Out)

In Branching Out, when life becomes too much for Shelby, she retreats back to that safe haven. In fiction, as in life, there are times when you try to return to a place from your past, but it’s never truly the same. Life evolves. I decided that Shelby needed return to the comfort of her childhood home to escape a crisis, only to realize that her feelings of being “at home” had changed. In that moment, she was able to reconcile her past with her future.

The ferry was making its way to the marina, where she could see a line of cars waiting for their turn to cross Chequamegon Bay to Madeline Island. Farther out on the lake, a cluster of half a dozen sailboats were catching the last of the day’s winds before twilight set in. Their sails were full and bright against the steel-blue Lake Superior waters. [Shelby] heard the call of a gull in the distance and children laughing as they raced barefoot through the grass behind her. 

She was home. (Branching Out)

Wishing you a happy holiday, from my home to yours.

– Kerstin