On a historic Fredericksburg street, Holly Oak stands in quiet elegance. The cannonball wedged between stone and timber is a silent reminder of what the house endured in the War Between the States; and a dot on the timeline of the women who lived there then and live there still.
When Marielle Bishop, an Arizona native, marries into the Holly Oak family she soon hears rumors that the ghost of Susannah Page, a Yankee spy, haunts Holly Oak’s halls, longing for pardon. But Holly Oak’s 83-year-old matriarch, Adelaide, tells Marielle that it is not her great-grandmother that is the ghost, but the house itself that is caught in a limbo of regret, like a needle on a scratched record, unable to reinvent itself as a place of refuge.
As Marielle struggles to fit into her new role as wife and stepmother, far from the desert she loves, she must reconcile her belief that it is people – not houses – that hang onto the past, with the strange aura of sorrow she feels inside Holly Oak’s walls and within the rustling of the trees that surround it.
The Civil War comprises four years of intense human drama and human drama is always the backdrop of a compelling story. I chose to set this book in Fredericksburg because of the particular events that occurred there, including its occupation and the insanely horrific battle in December 1862. We often talk about what houses would say if the walls could talk, and In A Sound Among the Trees, one of the main characters imagines that the house she lives in, which was her great-grandmother’s house during the Civil War, is aware of its past, that it aches over what happened inside it. Houses are supposed to be places of safety and refuge. This house was unable to be what it was designed to be. And in that respect, the house is its own ghost, at least to my main character and everyone she comes into contact with. What I hope to convey to readers is that the house is not the one unable to accept the past for what it was, it is the people inside it, namely my main character. She, though alive haunts the house, insomuch that she is tethered to the past.
Everyone in this house needs to be reminded, or perhaps told for the first time, that your past is not just what happened TO you, it is also what you responded to. You made choices, you made adjustments, you survived. And sometimes you do not see the whole picture until many years later. You were meant to see the whole picture. It is part of the picture of your changed life.