One of the joys of the writing life is in the lasting friendships formed with other writers. Judy Christie is as good as they come. This interview was originally for Judy’s column in the Shreveport Times. I thought you might like to pull of a chair and sit on the porch with us a while, too. — Lisa
Judy Christie: Lisa, like you, I’m drawn to strong, resilient characters. In my Wreath Willis novels, I explored the life of a teenager who lives alone in a junkyard. The idea came when I drove by an abandoned junkyard in rural Louisiana several years ago. What if someone lived there? Could they go undetected? What if it was a strong, smart girl who needed help but couldn’t ask for it?
So, Lisa, I’m always fascinated by how other writers’ novels come to be. How did you discover the idea for Before We Were Yours?
Lisa Wingate: For me, every piece of fiction begins with a spark. From there, the story travels on the winds of research and imagination. Before We Were Yours had the most unexpected kind of beginning.
I was up late one night working on materials for a different story and had the TV on in the background. A rerun of the Investigation Discovery: Dangerous Women cycled through at about two in the morning. I looked up and saw images of an old mansion. The front room was filled with bassinettes and babies. I tuned in and immediately became fascinated by the bizarre, tragic, and startling history of Georgia Tann and her Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. I couldn’t help but dig into the story. That was the spark that ignited Before We Were Yours.
From the 1920s to 1950, Georgia Tann brokered the adoptions-for-profit of thousands of Tennessee children. At the height of her power, Georgia and her Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society were untouchable. She operated in socially privileged circles, owned a lavish mansion, threw extravagant parties and tooled around Memphis in a chauffeured limousine.
Publicly, she was lauded as the “mother of modern adoption.” Politicians, wealthy families, and Hollywood celebrities such Joan Crawford, June Allyson and husband Dick Powell, and New York governor Herbert Lehman adopted through her. Eleanor Roosevelt sought Georgia’s counsel on matters of child welfare.
Behind Georgia’s fame hid a dark truth. Many of the children she offered were not unwanted waifs or orphans––they were the loved and wanted sons and daughters of single mothers and poor families. In order to satisfy Georgia’s “inventory” needs, countless children in Tennessee were stolen from their birth parents––sometimes plucked from hospital maternity wards, welfare aid clinics, ramshackle front porches, and country roads while walking home from school––only to be hidden away in orphan houses around Memphis and brokered in a complex scheme of adoptions-for-profit. They were advertised in newspapers as “Yours for the Asking” and “Perfect Christmas Presents” and eventually sent to adoptive homes all over the country.
After researching the story, I couldn’t stop wondering about the thousands of children who had been brokered by Georgia Tann. What became of them? Where are they now?
Before We Were Yours was born from the process of wondering about the children who passed through Georgia Tann’s orphan houses. It’s a story of family, of sibling bonds, of one little girl’s fight to retain her identity. Her experiences are based on those of survivors. More than anything, I wanted to tell the stories of the children, the stories told in the smallest voices or, in many cases, never told at all.
(All historical images are courtesy of Preservation and Special Collections Department, University Libraries, University of Memphis and may not be reproduced or posted elsewhere without permission)
I hope you’re intrigued by this peek into the world of Before We Were Yours. I’ll feature more clips from my chat with Judy in the coming weeks. — Lisa
To learn more about Before We Were Yours, read an excerpt, or to order the book CLICK HERE
Author Judy Christie has had 17 books published, including 10 novels, and her fiction has received praise from such publications as Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Romantic Times. “Wreath, A Girl,” the first novel in Judy’s coming-of-age series, has been optioned for film/TV. For more information, see www.judychristie.com or connect with her on her author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JudyChristieAuthor/.