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The Memory Keeper is the story of Tomás Romero, a native of the Acjachemen band, whom the Spanish renamed Juaneño. Born in 1820 in San Juan Capistrano, Tomás attends the mission school where, in addition to the catechism, he learns to read, write, and cipher—uncommon for the Indians in San Juan at the time. Because Tomás assists the padres, he becomes aware of the world outside the small religious community.
During his lifetime, he experiences the rule of Spain, Mexico, and finally, the United States. He survives drought, floods, plagues, the secularization of the mission property, and its return to the church. He also marries, raises two children, makes many friends, and provides assistance to the priests. He becomes co-owner of a mercantile. Although his story is rich with local history, it is, in the end, an engaging family saga with characters who come alive on the pages.
THE MEMORY KEEPER
By Larry K. & Lorna Collins
Writing Historical Novels
Writing historical novels is quite different from writing either fiction or nonfiction. My first book, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, co-authored by my husband, Larry K. Collins, was our memoir of building Universal Studios Japan. We lived in the Osaka area for thirty-one months, and decided to tell the story of our experiences of working with the Japanese as well as living as expats. Because we actually lived these experiences, we simply told a story we knew first-hand.
I have also written quite a few novels. They were also easy because I just made stuff up. I tried to stay true to the locations and tell stories based on my own and friends’ experiences, but these came from my imagination.
When we chose to write our historical novel, The Memory Keeper, based on the actual history of San Juan Capistrano between 1820 and 1890, we were faced with huge challenges. San Juan has a rich history since it is the home of one of the California missions. In addition, we decided to write the story from the point-of-view of a local Juaneño Indian. Descendants of this tribe still live in town and fiercely preserve their culture. In addition, locals—especially docents at the mission—guard the facts about the mission and the local town. One mistake, and we’d never have been allowed to live it down.
Fortunately, the official historian of the city is a close friend. When we began the book, we sent her the first three chapters and asked her to shoot holes in it. She made several suggestions but said we were on the right track and encouraged us to continue. The local Juaneño storyteller and teacher is also a friend. Early on, she came to the house and spent about four hours telling us about family life, traditions, and other minutia about her ancestors. The executive director for the mission is also a friend, and she became enthusiastic about the project. Our beta readers included docents and members of the local historical society. All of them vetted the finished manuscript.
Larry is a plotter, so he kept a running outline for the story on a spreadsheet. Each line covered between a year and several years. The first column established the time period. The second included all the events—local, national, and worldwide during the period. The next column outlined how our protagonist and his family would have been impacted by these events. The next few columns included each character and their ages at the times these events occurred.
Once we thoroughly understood the time and events, we could begin the actual writing. We spent over two-and-a-half years doing research. While a great deal has been written about the founding of the missions in the late 1700s and the restoration of the mission in the early 1900s, very little was written about the period of decline. We were able to uncover some little-known stories and weave them into the narrative.
In the end, we produced a book we are very proud of. Last year, we did a presentation for the docents—an intimidating prospect. We were able to share with them some of the lesser-known stories, a few of which they hadn’t heard.
We recently stumbled on another small story the docents don’t know, and I am now working with an artist on a children’s picture book. We are also working on a sequel to The Memory Keeper to be called Becoming the Jewel. Our interest in the city and the mission led to another book, Jewel of the Missions: San Juan Capistrano, illustrated by a local artist. It and The Memory Keeper are sold in the Mission Store as well as several other locations throughout town.
You can find out more about me at my website: www.lornalarry.com. Each book has its own page where you can learn more about the stories and view the video trailers for each one.
Lorna Collins and her husband, Larry K. Collins, co-wrote 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, their memoir of building the Universal Studios Japan theme park, two cozy mysteries, Murder…They Wrote and Murder in Paradise, and The Memory Keeper, a historical novel set in San Juan Capistrano.
Lorna collaborated on six sweet romance anthologies set in the fictional town of Aspen Grove, CO: Snowflake Secrets, Seasons of Love, The Art of Love, …And a Silver Sixpence in Her Shoe, An Aspen Grove Christmas, and, Directions of Love, winner of the 2011 EPIC eBook Award for anthology.
Her fantasy/mystery, Ghost Writer, set in Laguna Beach and Jewel of the Missions: San Juan Capistrano are her solo works.
In addition, Lorna is a professional editor.
Links to Lorna & Larry’s website, blog, books, etc.
See all of my books on my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Lorna-Collins/e/B002J86EJ2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_4?qid=1486168024&sr=8-4. They are available in print and ebook form. Some are also available as audiobooks.