By March 15, 2024 No Comments

Fort Worth author Amanda Churchill tops our list of spring reads

By Mary Rogers

Many good books are coming out in the next few weeks, but “The Turtle House” by Fort Worth writer Amanda Churchill dropped in February, so it’s on booksellers’ shelves now.

You might want to pick up a copy and meet the author, too. Amanda will be at that cozy little bookshop Monkey and Dog Books at 6 p.m., March 18, 3608 W. 7th St., and she will sign your copy.

This is the story of a grandmother and grown granddaughter who must share a bedroom. Grandmother’s house burned. Granddaughter has left her job as an architect in Austin and doesn’t want to talk about it or the man who keeps calling.

Over late-night conversations, these two women reveal secrets, desires and even heart-deep longings that must be satisfied.

This story is fiction to be sure, but Amanda, who holds a master’s in creative writing from the University of North Texas, plucked much of this tale from her own life and from that of her grandmother’s. Amanda says her grandmother was a war bride who landed in small-town Texas after World War II with a baby and an American husband. She was determined to build a new life while holding tight to her Japanese roots.

Just as “The Turtle House” characters share a bedroom, so did Amanda and her grandmother for a time. Amanda remembered her grandmother as “a typical Japanese grandmother.”

“She spoke with a Japanese accent. She cooked Japanese food. She was stern, but she was funny, too. She liked me because I was great in school.”

Since childhood, Amanda has wanted to “write and be an artist,” she said. She became a graphic designer satisfying that artist part of her brain, and she mastered the short story selling her work to several literary magazines. But she still couldn’t call herself a novelist.

Amanda was pregnant with her second child when her grandmother became very ill. Grandmother fought on, but in the end, cancer took her.

“I missed her so much,” Amanda said. “I sort of depended on her stories to get me through. I’d wake up at 5 a.m., and I would write at the kitchen bar until the baby woke up.”

Amanda wrote everything in longhand, afraid the click of computer keys might be enough to disturb the child.

She thought she was working on a short story. But when she reached a point that should have been the end, this tale just wasn’t over.

“I had half a novel,” she said. That’s when she added the granddaughter’s story.

What came next was a blur. She went to a writer’s conference or two. She found an agent. And then, just like that, two publishing houses were bidding on “The Turtle House.”

I expect we will hear lots more from this writer. Her second novel is set against the backdrop of the Dust Bowl and it’s already in the editing process.

My Nightstand: I’m always on the lookout for a good read. This time, I’m considering “Can’t We Be Friends: A Novel of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe” by Eliza Knight and Denny S. Bryce. These two famous women were friends. Ella was famous and Marilyn’s star was rising when they met in 1952. Marilyn was fishing for a singing coach, but Ella said she wasn’t a teacher. Still, somehow, they bonded and stayed friends until Marilyn’s death.

I’m also thinking about: “The Great Divide” by Cristina Henríquez. I’ve read that this bit of historical fiction focuses on the everyday folk who made a big dream come true. Against the backdrop of the building of the Panama Canal, the author draws three-dimensional characters who work to accomplish a stunning and single-minded pursuit. The cast includes scientists, fishmongers, sailors and a 16-year-old stowaway from Barbados, to name only a few.

Reach Mary Rogers at maryrrogers@msn.com