Writing what I didn’t know – Mariah Stewart

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By Mariah Stewart

Everyone is familiar with the adage ‘write what you know’, and there were times over my decades-long publishing career, I adhered to that. But it was what I didn’t know that formed the basis for my new Hudson Sisters series and the first of three books, The Last Chance Matinee.

When my mother was in her forties, she received a letter from a woman named Alice, wife of Mom’s recently-deceased cousin Bill. Alice thanked my mother for the sympathy card she’d sent, and finished her note by saying, “You do know that Bill was your half-brother, right?”

Ah, no. She had not.

Before you could sing the opening bars of “Poppa Was a Rolling Stone”, my mother had Alice on the phone. The story Alice told my mother was almost too crazy to be true.


My grandfather was in vaudeville around 1906-1914, and during that time struck up a romantic relationship with a woman named Trudy. In 1910, Trudy gave birth to a son, the aforementioned cousin Bill. Three years later, Trudy had a daughter, but both she and the baby died – after which my grandfather gave Bill to his sister, Bess, and her husband, who were childless. A few years later, my grandfather met and married my grandmother, who was none the wiser of his past, at least to the best of our knowledge.

My mother later discovered there was yet another child – my mother’s half-sister – who’d declined any contact with my mother (much to our sorrow). We were never really sure who her mother might have been! Bess and her husband ultimately adopted Bill, who was never told that the man he called uncle was actually his father. After Bill passed away, and before her own death, Bess finally came clean to Alice, who shared the story with my mother, who shared it with me.

Of course, I was fascinated by the thought of two different families in two different states. I’ve been thinking for years that this foundation of love children and secret siblings would make a great story. Not knowing all the facts, I was free to fill in the blanks – and so I did. I’ve come to look upon this story as a sort of gift. The characters and the plot are totally mine, but the inspiration for the story came from my mother’s sharing her father’s hidden past.

So there you have it. My advice: Pay attention to those stories Uncle Harold tells over Christmas dinner, or Aunt Maud’s mumblings after she’s had a few too many glasses of New Year’s champagne. You never know what little gem – what little family secret – might get tossed your way and catch your fancy. What you decide to make of it is entirely up to you!

Mariah Stewart is the award-winning New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of numerous novels and several novellas and short stories. A native of Hightstown, New Jersey, she lives with her husband and two rambunctious rescue dogs amid the rolling hills of Chester County, Pennsylvania, where she savors country life and tends her gardens while she works on her next novel.


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