Tuesday, March 10, 2015

'A Summer in Peach Creek'

by aleks
One of the Seattle Japanese Garden docents,  multi-talented Michele Malo, just penned a novel, 'A Summer in Peach Creek', which you can find at Barnes & Noble or Amazon - in paperback or ebook form (or you can get a signed copy from Michele).

Michele's delightful book describes  a summer  that 17 yo Faith, a native of Seattle, spends in Peach Creek, West Virginia, on a family visit to her parents' ancestral homes. Set in 1932, the book transports a reader to bygone times when peoples' lives were still in sync with nature: all comes to a standstill when sun-kissed peaches are ripe and the entire village is busy harvesting, canning and making peach pies and cobblers ( (this cook noted that closely following the characters' kitchen activities one can get pretty good idea how to get similar results in her own kitchen).

Having once lived in the midwest I could almost hear the drawl in the book characters' voices, recognize the deliberate and resolute ways they speak to each other, and I loved how Michele recorded for posterity the once full language expressions, often clipped to a shorthand in a modern speech.

I read the book in almost one sitting, completely transported to a time and place of old fashioned family reunions, church socials and picnics, but also times of segregation and coal mining tragedies in Appalachia.  And yes, the plot has the first love, a murder and a few scandals, all happening  in the unbearable heat and humidity of Logan County summer.

Michele has book signing events in local bookstores and libraries - check her website for upcoming dates; she also said she may list her old-americana REAL recipes that are alluded to in the book there  too! The website URL:  michelemalo.com

SJG • 3/1/15 - Michele Malo at the First Viewing of SJG
(with Rev. Barrish, at the Shinto blessing ceremony)
Owing to the luck of sharing Seattle Japanese Garden docent duties with Michele, I was able to ask her a few questions and share her responses below. Enjoy!

aleks: What is the target audience of your book?

Michele: When writing A Summer in Peach Creek I just wanted to tell the story, but as the story evolved I realized that it could be read by all ages over 13.  It is a coming of ages story and also historical fiction.

a: Your book was inspired by your mother’s diaries.  How did you come across them and what gave you an idea to write a book?  Your mother indeed went for a family trip from Seattle back to Peach Creak in WV at some point, right?

M: I first visited Peach Creek in Logan County West Virginia to find my roots. In 2007.  My mother died shortly after my seventeenth birthday and she gave me two diaries of hers before her death.  I was also very close to her father, my grandpa, who told wonderful stories of growing up in Peach Creek.

a: The action of the book takes place mostly in in Logan county of WV; how did you come to learn about this place and describe it so vividly?

M: While I was visiting there I met the editor of the Logan Banner who had written a non fiction book on the story of Mamie Thurman who’s brutal murder took place in the Logan around the time my mother and her family were visiting relatives in Peach creek.  What struck me about my mom’s diary is that she made no mention of segregation, prohibition, mining wars or the Great Depression.  And not a word about murder.  It was all about cooking, sewing, picnics and family reunions.

a: How biographical or fictional your story is?  Not very? For instance did you invent the summer romance of the main character? 

M: When I returned home I realized that I had a novel in my head.  I imagined what would happen if the protagonist, Faith, came headlong into the murder and how she would react.  I made two more trips to West Virginia for research and the story took form.

The book is fiction but the place names are all real. Most of the scenes are imagined with the exception of the one with Uncle John, the hermit.  That came directly from my mom’s writing. The account of the murder comes from newspaper acticles from The Logan Banner, but the outcome is slightly different.  Remember, It’s fiction!  One character, Cecelia, is modeled after stories Mary Ann Wiley, one of our Guides at the Seattle Japanese Garden, generously shared with me about her growing up in Charleston, WV in the 1930’s.  Her father was an attorney for the United Mine workers of America and she did have a beloved Mexican donkey named Petey-O-Phidileous.  My one regret in writing the book is that Mary Ann never got to read the book.  She died before it was finished.

a:  What's next? One of our late docents, Jesse Hiaroka, used to jokingly tell me that he wanted to pen a murder mystery, taking place in our garden.  Are you planning to write more books, with maybe dead bodies under flowering azaleas?

M:  I have begun a sequel to A Summer in Peach Creek that begins in 1936.  Faith is back in Seattle at the University of Washington.  She joins a sorority and the Communist Party.  There will be new social justice issues to grapple with and perhaps a visit back to Logan County.

Because our beloved Japanese Garden was not yet conceived none of these books will take place there.  No bodies under the rhodies or caught in the stepping stones under the wisteria arbor but the Seattle Japanese community will have a prominent place in the sequel.  I am anxious to get going on research about the Japanese in Seattle in the 30’s and their sorrowful imprisonment during WWII.


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