Eldonna Edwards set her recent book “This I Know” in the fictional West Michigan town of Cherry Hill, which she said allows her to draw from the several cities she grew up in, including Grand Haven, New Era and Shelby, for the book’s setting.
Edwards’ book is a coming of age story that takes place in the 1960s, where Evangelicalism looms large over the community. It follows 11-year-old Grace Carter as she discovers her ability to see into people’s minds and speak to her dead brother. Grace’s gifts challenge those around her, particularly her preacher father.
Edwards will be in West Michigan for three book signings in May. She will give an author talk and book signing at Barnes & Noble in Muskegon on May 12 at 1 p.m., at Book Nook & Java in Montague on May 18 from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m., and at The Bookman in Grand Haven on May 19 at 1 p.m.
GR|MAG spoke with her about the book and how she drew on her own upbringing to create the world Grace Carter inhabits.
GR|MAG: I heard “This I Know” is set in West Michigan. Any particular city?
Eldonna Edwards: I set the novel in the fictional West Michigan town of Cherry Hill so I could interweave the various towns I’ve lived in (New Era, Shelby, Grand Haven) into one place.
I grew up with the sound of a train chugging through town, the six o’clock whistle of the local fruit cannery, a church on nearly every corner and spent most of my summers at Stony Lake.
GR|MAG: How prominent is the setting to the story?
EE: My young protagonist Grace Carter’s first job is picking cherries in one of the local orchards but it’s the backdrop of Cherry Lake that holds the most hope and the biggest secrets. From the community church baptism service to summer camp to a missing girl, water is a recurrent theme throughout the book.
GR|MAG: How did your upbringing figure into the story and the story’s setting?
EE: As one of seven children of an Evangelical pastor my upbringing definitely influenced the story. From small-town life to living with six siblings in a house with only one bathroom to hours upon hours spent in the church or at church-related functions, I wanted to immerse the reader in the life of a rural preacher’s kid. I’m not clairvoyant and my own dad was much warmer and kinder than Rev. Carter, but my background planted the seed from which this story grew.
GR|MAG: Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
EE: I’ve often wondered how a fundamentalist minister would respond to someone close to him who exhibits characteristics that challenge his ideology. Would he expand to encompass this special child or would fear and dogma drive a wedge between them? Writing “This I Know” was an opportunity for me to explore the boundaries of a black and white belief system. My goal was to juxtapose a pastor’s religious devotion and a father’s devotion to his family.
GR|MAG: Tell me a little bit about the main character and her journey?
EE: Grace Carter has inherited the gift of sight, something she calls “the knowing.” She’s highly sensitive to people’s thoughts, feelings, pasts, and futures. The knowing also allows her to communicate with her twin brother Isaac, who did not survive their birth. Grace’s father views her abilities as bordering on satanic.
Throughout the book Grace seeks to prove to her daddy that her unique gift is sacred and that she is worthy of his love. When her mama lapses into a deep depression, Grace must risk her father’s wrath in order to rescue her mother from the depths of sadness. “This I Know” is a story about family, about forgiveness, and about a young girl learning to embrace who she is rather than seeking approval from others.
GR|MAG: How long have you been writing fiction and how did you get started?
EE: I started writing fiction in the late ‘90s but set it aside to raise my son and focus on my two-decade career as a massage therapist. In 2014, I published a memoir, “Lost In Transplantation,” that followed my mission to donate a kidney to a stranger.
Writing the memoir gave me the confidence to come back to my fiction. I signed with an agent who sold “This I Know” as well as my next book, which releases in June 2019.
GR|MAG: You live in California now. Do you make it back to Michigan very often for visits?
EE: Not as often as I’d like. I retired from massage therapy but I still run the business so it’s difficult to get away. Fortunately family and friends are happy to visit me in California!
GR|MAG: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
EE: You can take the girl out of Michigan, but you can’t take Michigan out of the girl. I’m super-excited to be coming home to see old friends and new.
“This I Know” is also available at Barnes & Noble, Target stores and Amazon.
*Photos courtesy of Eldonna Edwards