The real-life mystery of two sisters who vanished almost a century ago is the inspiration for the new novel, “Bottomland.”
Author and Iowa native Michelle Hoover is writer-in-residence at Brandeis University near Boston and she’s descended from four generations of Iowa farmers.
“‘Bottomland’ is the story of two young sisters that disappear from a German-American family farm in 1920 rural Iowa,” Hoover says. “It’s based very loosely on a family legend of two of my great aunts who supposedly disappeared.” Hoover, who grew up in Ames, says she was never able to piece together what happened to the girls, but was so captivated by the story that she created the work of fiction.
The spark for the book first came a few years ago when she was looking at family photos with her aunt. “She showed me a picture of my grandmother, who I never met, and in that picture is all her siblings,” Hoover says. “She pointed to two girls that are sitting right next to a very stern-looking father figure. She said: ‘These are your two great aunts. They disappeared.’ I was almost 40 at the time and thought, ‘Why haven’t I heard this story?'”
Hoover’s book tour is bringing her to four Iowa cities over the next few weeks, and those who attend will get more than the standard reading, Q-and-A and book-signing. Hoover says she strives to awaken aspiring writers in the audience. “I oftentimes will actually hand out the photograph that started the book,” Hoover says. “I think it gets people’s imaginations going. I talk about what I made up off of that and the process of creating fiction off a real event and the freedoms that you have to do so.”
This is Hoover’s second novel. “The Quickening,” also set in Iowa, came out in 2010. Hoover is appearing in Dubuque on Sunday, in Des Moines on April 22nd, Ames on April 24th and Iowa City on April 25th.
Audio: Matt Kelley interview with Michelle Hoover. 8:00