The story behind the story of a Latvian Exile
“A Home for an Exile’s Heart” is now available on Kindle Vella. I’m not sad that my novel has not been published by a traditional publishing company, although that would be great. I didn’t want to spend a year or more approaching agents only to have them reject me. That’s what happened to a talented writer friend who already has four traditionally published books under his belt. I have none.
Of course, just because no agent wanted to represent my friend’s book doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be interested in mine. He and I write in different genres. His is a mystery set in a WW2 POW camp. Easily categorized. Mine? Not so much. Yes, it’s a historical romance but much more. Is it also women’s fiction. I guess, but that limits the audience. Is it up-market fiction? I’ve read the definition more than once but I’m still not sure what the term means. Maybe it’s mainstream fiction. Figuring out the genre is probably not what agents want to do. They want to be able to pigeonhole a book quickly so store owners know where to shelve them.
My novel may always stay on Vella unless some traditional publisher stumbles across it, serendipitously, and wants to buy the rights to publish it.
The reason I’m sad is that I miss my characters.
Anyone who has read a book and felt sad because they miss characters they’ve grown fond of will understand. I’ve been there and felt that. But when you write a novel the characters live in your head in a way that they don’t when you only read about them. My characters are vivid in my mind; I know them intimately in more detail than is written in my book. I know them better than I ever knew my friends or family members. Latvians are a close-lipped bunch, especially those of my parents’ generation. It’s too painful for exiles to talk about their stolen homeland. Nevertheless, I’ve pieced together enough information from their experiences and those of friends and other relatives, as well as my own memories, to create as accurate a picture as possible of what they went through.
Līvija Galiņa is based in part on my mother’s cousin. Both women were widowed Latvian refugees who came to the United States with their mother and one child. Both found love here; unlike my relative, Līvija falls in love with an American. Both families lived communally in a big house on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Many Latvian families, including mine, did so as well.
Cameron Quinn is Līvija’s love interest. They meet on the snowy day after Thanksgiving, 1952, when a car skids on ice, jumps the curb and nearly hits Līvija as she’s walking home from work. Cameron pushes her out of the way, saving her life. He’s a daredevil, a dashing former fighter pilot, a passionate suitor, and a kind, tender would-be father to Līvija’s little girl. There was never anyone like Cameron in my life. I could have used someone like him in my life. Still could. Cameron’s a composite of male characteristics I know from experience. I read up on what it takes to be a fighter pilot and watched endless videos of flying and aerobatics. They can be addictive.
Of my three main characters, I am most like Līvija’s seven-year-old daughter, Dzintra. I, too, was born stateless in Germany. As with her one of my uncles and his family found refuge in Australia. We both went to Latvian school, in addition to a regular American school. Neither of us saw any reason to learn the Latvian language. Who needs to speak Latvian in America? But my father insisted, so I learned. Cameron gently encourages Dzintra to keep learning by telling her about his own boyish reluctance to learn French, his mother’s native language. As an adult, he was glad he’d learned to speak French and Dzintra would be glad to have learned to speak her native tongue. I’m glad I did.
Woven into the story of these three characters are the stories of Līvija’s housemates–obstacles on her road to happiness. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law are two such considerations. Edgars Siliņš, a single father, who needs a mother for his six-year-old son, would like to win Līvija’s affection for himself. The housemates include an older, stiff-necked, childless, busybody Latvian couple who were inspired by people I once knew. Līvija’s entire Latvian community believes it would be a cultural betrayal if she marries anyone but a fellow Latvian.
In one way or another, everyone has been traumatized by the war, by the loss of family members killed in the war, or by Soviet murders and deportation. Every exile wants to preserve their Latvian culture and keep their small community from dying out. Will Līvija choose her heart or her community and culture?
About Vella: Books are serialized on the platform. It’s not a subscription service. Readers buy “tokens” in order to read chapters. The first two hundred tokens are free. You don’t need a Kindle in order to read my novel. Any mobile device your laptop or even your desktop will do. I just tried it myself with someone else’s book and it works just fine. Nothing to figure out. The link to Vella is at the top of Amazon’s home page on the right. Just click on the link and claim your free tokens. Hopefully, you’ll love the story and want to read all of it.