Saturday, April 23, 2016

A NEW BOOK Laura L. Valenti

Two weeks ago, The Heart of the Spring Everlasting came out in print. This is the fourth in my series of Bennett Spring historical novels and my sixth novel so I find it all pretty exciting. The first of the Bennett Sprint novels is set in 1924, the year Bennett Spring State Park was established. It was also Missouri's first state park so that makes it even more special. That first book entitled, The Heart of the Spring, centered around an 18 year old Bennett Spring resident named Becky Darling and her family. I also share bits and pieces of the park's true history, including real people who were present when the park began. And although we may not know a lot about them, one can still imagine a great deal about an individual simply by knowing the times and their particular situation. For instance, Josephine "Josie" Bennett-Smith was running the Brice Inn, a small hotel located near the site of the present day Bennett Spring Park Store. In my first book, Becky is enjoying her first job, working for Miz Josie. While I didn't know Josie Bennett, history does tell us she was a divorced woman, running a business in a tiny rural community in 1924. That took more than a little grit back then. Add to that the fact that I've met very few hotel folks who weren't real 'people types', the kind of person who really cares about others. Combine those characteristics together and you've got a sassy lady who loves the people in her town and can hold her own in any kind of situation. And that is how you create an engaging, feisty historical character.

The next book in the series, The Heart of the Spring Lives On, picks up the narrative 11 years later, centering on Becky's little brother, Ben. Historically speaking, this book also shares the story of the Civilian Conservation Corps, also known as the CCC, and the years they devoted to building features we still enjoy at Bennett, like the Dining Lodge and the triple-arched bridge. Because I needed to bring a female character into the story while telling of the all-male CCC, I had to get creative but once again, the history was already there. During the Civil War, which took place just 70 years before the CCC, there were 250 documented cases of women who disguised themselves as men and joined their husbands and brothers to fight for both the North and the South. Generally, they were not discovered unless they were wounded and taken to a field hospital. I decided if a young lady had a really good reason to sneak into the CCC, she could arrive at Bennett Spring as part of their CCC unit, masquerading as a man. That is exactly how Jessica comes to the area where she meets different members of the Darling family, including Ben.

The Heart of the Spring Comes Home continues the Bennett Spring story in 1946 just as World War II had ended and follows Esther, Becky and Ben's youngest sister who was born in 1924, the same year the park was founded. This part of the story also highlights the history of the Bennett Spring Church of God, the only building left from the town of Brice, Missouri, which in 1924 occupied the area now known as Bennett Spring State Park. It is also the only church located in the middle of a state park. The church has its own interesting history begun in part by the Bennett family who insisted the church would be able to stay, when they made the contract with the state to sell the land in the first place. Before all is said and done, Esther, a former Navy nurse and her family end up fighting to keep their church from being taken over by the state at the end of the war. At the same time, Esther must find her own path back to life at Bennett after her experiences in a foreign war.

And now, The Heart of the Spring Everlasting continues the saga of the Darling and Shine families. In 1967, Tabby Shine, Becky's youngest daughter, runs away to Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco's famous district of flower children and the Hippie lifestyle and finds it is not all that she expected. She returns home to Bennett Spring, just as her family takes in a Cuban refugee and a childhood family friend returns from Viet Nam in a wheelchair. Tabby quickly finds herself caught up with a new friend in the building of the Catholic Sportsman's Chapel at Bennett Spring as she also struggles to find her very own place in a world that is changing fast. 

After nearly 40 years of living at Bennett Spring, it has been a great joy to share this special place through a series of novels, designed to impart not only the history but also the beauty and charm of such an exquisite picturesque location. If you have never had the pleasure of visiting Bennett Spring yourself, I hope you'll take the time to do so soon. You will not be disappointed.

Blessings,  LV

Laura L. Valenti, author
The Heart of the Spring,
The Heart of the Spring Lives On,
The Heart of the Spring Comes Home, and
The Heart of the Spring Everlasting
Between the Star and the Cross: The Choice and
Between the Star and the Cross: The Election
Ozark Meth: A Journey of Destruction and Deliverance with co-author Dick Dixon

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