Ancestors who live on in our fiction

In 1999, I hired a”professional” editor (Tom Case of White Horse Press), who advised me to delete a minor character, the nephew of protagonist Paul Henry Eisen. I deleted Henry.

Fifteen years later I happened across an old photo of my grandfather as a young man:


 Emily Henry (center), you’re going right back into my novel. But it’s not the same. Grandpa, I want to walk into the Tall Corn tavern in Waverly, play a hand of Schopfskopf (you’ll have to teach me the card game first) and share a pitcher of beer with you. You never owned a telephone even though you died in 1975, or I’d have called to ask, “Do you have Prince Albert in a tin?” (Of course you did; that was all you smoked in that pipe) “Well, you’d better let him out!” Bwa ha ha!

You’re immortalized now in a landscape Tim did in pastels, that pipe clenched in your jaws, silhouetted against a flaming sunset.


Grandpa, you were the cutest little old man ever. We loved you to bits.

I want to meet this man in the photo, this familiar stranger, who I knew only as a bald little man in OshKosh pinstribe bib overalls and crooked hands, which were deformed by rheumatoid arthritis, supposedly a consequence of Scarlet Fever, during which  he allegedly insisted on crawling to the milk born to make sure nobody screwed up the job. My dad (competent at all things, from infancy) at age ten took over most of the farmwork thanks to his father’s debilitated hands (and whatever else Grandpa suffered). Why didn’t I inherit those teeth strong enough to bite a dent into a ten-penny nail? Not a cavity in all his life, but Grandma had to get dentures.

Only one son, one great-grandson carries Emily Henry’s genes (but plenty of granddaughters do). Our son Miles inherited those European cheekbones.

HUG YOUR GRANDPA (and Grandma!) while you can.

My mom’s side: 10325682_10206238540502976_8821217646690271490_n[1]

Mom’s mother’s side:
Joseph Aaron Usher Sr. emigrated from Ireland in 1800 with brother Aaron. Two brothers married two sisters, Ruby and Sarah, Algonquins.


Photo via Nancy Panoch (author of Accountable). Nancy and I are direct descendants of Joseph and Ruby. In the 1920s, two Usher sisters married two Demro brothers (whose grandfather emigrated from Prussia).

My husband’s father ( WWII):


Miles_business_card_Aug 2012 Our son



About carolkean

novelist, reviewer, editor, book critic for Liberty Island and Perihelion Science Fiction; native prairie/guerilla gardener; champion of liberty, indie authors & underdogs; one of the top two reviewers in Editors &Preditors Poll 2015; Amazon Vine, NetGalley Top Reviewer
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5 Responses to Ancestors who live on in our fiction

  1. Carol Ervin says:

    Great resemblance. I always wonder about the transmission of personality characteristics. For instance, would knowing your son help you know your grandfather? Too bad we can’t reach our ancestors. Of course there’s always the possibility that some might not be good to know. 🙂


    • carolkean says:

      Knowing my son is unlikely to help anyone “know” his WWII era grandfathers or even his Baby Boomer father – not in any discernible or obvious way that I can see. Miles was the first of many generations (maternal and paternal) to be raised in town, not on a farm, and mostly in the 21st Century. Oh, the times they are a changin’ – but with chimeras and epigenetics, future generations may repeat some of the ancestral traits. Right, Elena?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beth Camp says:

    Carol, these photos are heart-rending and so evocative of the past. Maybe you could pull out those early drafts and copy and paste! Get Henry back in the story. I often use photos right in my text to ground my writing. Maybe that will help. But what’s most important is affirming what means the most to you in telling your epic stories. Cut to the bone, and maybe the rest is food for blogs, those circles of meaning that will entice readers back to your essential story. For example, I’m remembering how difficult the father character is to understand in the opening of one of your books. But reading this — he took over at age 10 — adds another layer. I wish you were not haunted by these characters-to-be and instead were celebrating what you have accomplished. Keep writing. Keep dreaming.


  3. carolkean says:

    Thanks Beth! Your fiction is definitely so authentic, it’s as if you had the real life people, not just photos of people who lived way back when, to inspire your portrayals. If our souls live on in heaven, I expect to see Mac and all his clan up there. 🙂 Who knows: maybe great historical fiction writers like you are “channeling” and describing people who really lived – and here you thought you were just making them up. 🙂 Hmm. I’ll have to work that into my next book review. When’s that Pacific Northwest sequel coming…??


  4. EE Giorgi says:

    So cool to see the faces of your wonderful characters, Carol!


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