Diane Chamberlain is the author of the new novel The Stolen Marriage, set during World War II. Her many other novels include Pretending to Dance and The Dance Begins. She worked as a psychotherapist before turning to writing full-time, and she lives in North Carolina.
Q: You note that the polio hospital that you describe in your novel really existed. How did you learn about it, and at what point did you decide it would make a good setting for a novel?
A: When I moved to North Carolina 12 years ago, I’d already written four novels set at the coast and was familiar with the coastal history, but I wanted to educate myself to what happened in other parts of the state.
When I learned about the Miracle of Hickory—the building of the polio hospital in 54 hours—I tucked the idea away until I thought of a story I could build around it.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your main character, Tess?
A: It does seem odd to have a young Catholic woman from Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood as a character in rural North Carolina, but I wanted my protagonist to be a fish out of water who would have to struggle to fit in. Tess certainly fits the bill.
Q: The novel takes place during World War II in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and—primarily—Hickory, North Carolina. What kind of research did you need to do to recreate those cities at that time period, and how did you research the medical aspects of the book?
A: Although I’m familiar with modern-day Baltimore, my research of Little Italy came from on-line first person accounts of people who’d lived there during that time.
For my research into 1944 Hickory, I started with newspapers of the day, which were enormously helpful in learning about day-to-day life as well as about the war, rationing, and the building of the hospital. I also toured Hickory with a historian who helped me see the town with war-era eyes.
As for the medical aspects of the story, I used a variety of sources for my research but the greatest information came from the book The Grit Behind the Miracle by Alice Sink. Ms. Sink interviewed people who had been there as patients and who could describe their treatment in great detail.
Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: Actually, the title was my editor’s idea. It works on several levels, but I can’t tell you how without giving some of the story away. :)
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on revisions for my next, as yet untitled, novel. It has a little bit of time travel in it—a big departure for me—but it’s still very much a Diane Chamberlain novel and I’m excited about it. I hope my readers will be as well!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Diane Chamberlain.