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Shelton grad sets book in 1920s New York

Laura Bradshaw and Isaac Campbell come from affluent families.

Their fathers, once business partners, are now rivals, enemies. A feud between their families sets the tone of Rachel Fordham's book, "The Letter Tree," a historical-fiction romance her publicist describes as a cross between "You've Got Mail" and "Romeo and Juliet."

"She's been sheltered, sort of locked in her tower, per se," Fordham told The Port Townsend Leader of her heroine, Laura Bradshaw. "He's the opposite. He's had a lot of freedom but he wanders. He is sort of lost because he's had no real responsibility. What they have in common is a mysterious pen pal that has been a steady and a constant over the years."

Fordham, a 2002 Shelton High School graduate (daughter of Steve and Debbie Beck), sets her sixth novel in 1924 in Buffalo, New York.

"My husband went to dental school there and we just had a great time there so when I decided to pick a location, I wanted one that fits my story, but that I can picture as well. I will always be rooting for Buffalo," she said.

Her earlier novels take place in the late 1800s but her publisher, HarperCollins, suggested she try a different time.

"Part of it was the challenge to write about a new era. This was the time of the Great Gatsby and of the really affluent post-World War I generation."

Prohibition was in effect so drinking took place in speakeasies. Odd fads noted in the media of the day included pursuits like flagpole sitting.

"It's fun to grab pieces of other times. We do social media challenges now but they were doing fun social challenges too. And in my research I wanted to discover that there was a lot more beyond the Great Gatsby," Fordham said.

She can only wish that her schedule would allow for a writing routine, with foster and biological children ranging in ages from 2 to 18.

"We have a really busy household. I try to set aside time and write my rough draft as quickly as I can. That's what I need time for. And ideally, I hope I can reach a point where I can write for these many hours each day but that hasn't been possible."

As soon as her oldest children gave her a chance to catch her breath, Fordham said she felt as though she needed a creative outlet.

"My husband said, 'you read so much, why don't you become a writer?' And so I did."

To become that writer, Fordham said she attended the school of reading.

"When I was trying to learn how to write, I made myself a stack of all my favorite novels, 'Jane Eyre' and 'Little Women,' from some of the classics to more contemporary novels. And then I asked myself, what made them special?

"They were really good at showing emotion, the passage of time. They all did a good job on the romantic side, touching on love language but they were not all the same."

Once she knew this novel would be about families at war, she began researching stories with that theme.

"A feud was something I hadn't written and the one that jumped out to me, a trigger moment for me, was the Adidas/Puma feud. Those brothers divided and became these rival companies. And so I looked into what that did to their families and decided that would be a fun place to start a story."

Fordham said she finds inspiration everywhere she looks.

"Sometimes it's as simple as walking through downtown Port Townsend and saying, 'I wonder what happened here? I wonder what happened a hundred years ago?"

"The Letter Tree" will be available in bookstores Oct. 31. Fordham said an audiobook has been recorded and ebooks will be available.

"Publishing is an adventure," she said of her new, two-book deal with HarperCollins.


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