Hope Maxwell Synder
“I’m a lover, not a fighter,” goes the Skeeter Davis golden oldie, which touts a woman’s “soft and tender” side. Lucy Sanna is an excellent example of what having a foot in both camps can do for a person.
Sanna, whose writing career spans three decades and has been featured on national television and radio and in the pages of Playboy Magazine, has just seen the publication of her first novel, THE CHERRY HARVEST, by HarperCollins.
Nobody handed Sanna her success. A co-founder of the Gold Rush Writer’s Workshop, she is a writer’s writer through and through, constantly working (she’s written everything from poetry to short stories to self-help books translated into multiple languages), continually honing her skills while building on past accomplishments, always endeavoring to make the next dream come true, and mentoring other writers along the way.
While her winning smile and warm embrace attest to that tender, sensual side, there’s an admirable toughness at Lucy Sanna’s core. The writing life can be a series of near knockout punches. Sanna knows not only how to keep getting up, round after round, but the fancy foot work that makes it all look so easy.
This month you'll see the publication of your first novel. Tell us about THE CHERRY HARVEST.
It’s 1944. While the battles of WWII are raging overseas, the tension of war is felt across America. Rural America, in particular, feels a tight economic pinch. Men have gone to war, migrant workers have found steady jobs in factories, and there is no one to harvest the crops.
On a picturesque cherry orchard in Door County, Wisconsin, farm life is desperate. When Charlotte Christiansen learns that German prisoners of war are to be housed in a nearby camp, she persuades the county board to allow a group of them to live on the family orchard, to tend the trees and pick the cherries.
The presence of the POWs acts as a simmering backdrop to other pressures visited upon the Christiansen family. While Charlotte and her husband Thomas struggle to pay bills and put food on the table, their beloved son Ben is away fighting the Nazis. Preoccupied by money troubles, they fail to notice daughter Kate becoming a woman, consumed by her budding relationship with the wealthy son of a Senator. When Thomas befriends Karl, one of the POWS, and brings him home to tutor Kate, the gesture seems innocent enough, until Charlotte finds herself unexpectedly attracted to Karl.
I understand that THE CHERRY HARVEST had its beginnings in Vermont.
The idea of the book came to me when I received a note from a friend: “Did you know there were POWs in Door County during WWII?” No, I didn’t know, but I immediately saw potential conflict, which is the basis for any good story.
I was living in the San Francisco area at the time, packing for a month-long winter stay at Vermont Studio Center to work on another project. But while in Vermont, while I watched the minks run in the snow along the river, THE CHERRY HARVEST percolated in my mind. Charlotte brings POWs to the family orchard while her son is fighting Nazis in Europe. That’s how it started. Once I finished the other project, THE CHERRY HARVEST was two years in the making.
I had no idea POWs were detained in Wisconsin.
Not only in Wisconsin, but in just about every state across the country, including New England states. By the end of the war, in fact, the US Army housed more than 400,000 POWs, mostly German, but also Italian, Russian, and Japanese. They were initially housed in military camps—Camp McCoy in Wisconsin being one of the first—but as their numbers grew, and as many of them were deemed safe enough to pay their own keep, they were housed in schools, on fairgrounds, and—as in THE CHERRY HARVEST—in migrant worker camps. The Army was concerned about the general populous learning of the POW camps. So they made sure that branch camps were in rural areas, away from public scrutiny, and they asked the media to suppress the news. After the war, after the prisoners had been sent back to their native countries, military records regarding the prisoners were destroyed.
How did you research this little-known area?
To learn the truth, I went to the source. My daughter and I traveled to Door County and interviewed people who had grown up on cherry orchards while the prisoners were there. I also befriended a librarian who oversees a room full of historical materials on Door County, and I interviewed people at Camp McCoy. Once my manuscript was finished, the curators at the Door County Historical Museum did a thorough fact check.
One fact I purposely changed: The POWs picked cherries in Door County in 1945; but I wanted the tension of war, so I brought them a year early, in 1944.
You're not a newcomer to the writing world.
I’ve worked most of my life as a science writer, ghost writing journal articles and executive speeches, among other things. I love research. My two self-help books were based on nationwide surveys. The first, a how-to-romance-the-woman book, started as a lark to give a certain fellow a few pointers. Then my publisher asked me to write the how-to-romance-the-man book. That was more of a challenge, but I worked with a couples’ therapist in putting together the men’s survey and then again in interpreting the results.
My first love, however, has always been the novel. I’ve enjoyed writing poetry and short stories along the way, but now I feel I’ve broken through to my dream world.
Tell us about those dreams.
When I was eight years old, I knew I wanted to write stories, and I’ve never put the pencil down. In my mind or on paper, I’ve been writing, journaling, doodling words, surreptitiously jotting down notes about people and feelings and scenes that might one day make it into a story. When I feel anger or hurt or joy or whatever, I try to remember to focus on the physical sensations I’m feeling as well as the emotional ones. I can use it all—the good, the bad, and the ugly—grist for the mill.
I’m not very “goal oriented” but I’m “dream oriented” if that makes any sense. Rather than doing things in scheduled steps, I dance around it and eventually get to a good place from which to throw out a line and build a bridge to the end of the rainbow.
I always knew I could do it, write stores, and luckily for me, my family and friends are some of my biggest fans, cheering me on. I started a long time ago, but I never stopped believing.
My sister Mary recently asked me what it feels like to reach my dream. For me, this is just the beginning. The dream has only gotten bigger.
I understand you’re working on a new novel that is set in New Hampshire.
Coincidentally, the origins of my next historical novel started through a Vermont connection as well. I was invited to participate at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf in Sicily last September. There, under the guidance of Jay Parini, my workshop leader, I turned away from the project I had brought with me and began searching for a new one. By the time I returned home, I had it.
I don’t want to say too much about the next novel because I’ve just begun, but yes, it’s set in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Again, it’s an historical novel that takes place in the WWII era. Because my mother is from Portsmouth, our family visited Portsmouth and the surrounding New England area often. I feel as if that’s my second home.
I will be going to Portsmouth in the fall to dig into the history of the town. I expect to make some appearances with THE CHERRY HARVEST while there, but I haven’t yet put together my schedule. In the meantime, you will be able to hear me on the Literary New England Radio Show in mid-July.
This interview appears in the July issue of The North Star Monthly. Check out their site: