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Three Mile Bay author draws on her roots for ‘Plum Tree’

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This article appears in this month’s NNY Living magazine.


NNY Living Associate Editor

THREE MILE BAY — A poor German girl falls in love with a wealthy Jewish boy just in time for their relationship to be outlawed in the midst of World War II and Adolf Hitler’s regime. The complicated love story is set in a picturesque German village surrounded by glorious hillsides and outlined by cobblestone walkways.

It’s the setting for a Hollywood blockbuster movie. But it’s not on the silver screen. Not yet.

The forbidden-love story is told through the pages of “The Plum Tree,” a period fiction piece by Three Mile Bay author Ellen Marie Wiseman.

The story of Christine Bolz, a young German girl who witnesses the atrocities and aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust firsthand, is one that was many years in the making for the author.

“I wrote the first draft of the story on a plain old legal pad in three days,” Mrs. Wiseman said in her first interview for the book. “I had no formal training, had never taken a writing course, but I knew the story I wanted to tell.”

“The Plum Tree” and Christine Bolz’s life is loosely based on childhood tales told by Mrs. Wiseman’s mother, a German-born woman who lived through World War II and moved to the United States nearly a decade after the war ended.

“I wanted to tell my mother’s story, but I also wanted people to understand what the war was like for real people living through it and what people who weren’t Nazis, who weren’t Jews, saw and what they went through,” Mrs. Wiseman said. “Of course, I realized that if I wanted to sell the book, I had to have a twist. That’s where the love story came in.”

The setting of the book reflects the “fairytale village,” as Mrs. Wiseman describes it, that her mother grew up in and that Mrs. Wiseman visited several times throughout her childhood, and the book holds some resemblance to her family’s lives in Germany.

“The things that happened to Christine’s father in the book really happened to my grandfather,” she said “He was drafted and he fought in the war. My mother and her family went months never hearing from him or knowing where he was, if he was even alive.”

The book is being published by Kensington Publishing Corp., New York City, and will be available Dec. 24.

So how does a resident of a tiny hamlet in Jefferson County, with no formal writing experience, get a book published by a national publisher?

“It was a lot of work — it took me two years and 72 rejections from agents before Michael Carr, my agent now, requested the first three chapters I’d written,” Mrs. Wiseman said. “Quickly after, he requested the rest of the book, and two days later asked me to meet him in Burlington (Vt.) for lunch. Talk about nervous. We drove up there and had a two hour lunch and talked about what the book could be.”

Early last year, within three weeks after signing on with her agent, Mrs. Wiseman’s book was sold to Kensington. Then came months of edits and revisions, cutting down word count and focusing the storyline.

Throughout her journey as a soon-to-be-published author she had many supporters, from her mother, Sigrid Utess, and her husband, William E. Wiseman, to new friend and mentor William Kowalski. Mr. Kowalski is the author of “Eddie’s Bastard,” “Somewhere South of Here” and “The Good Neighbor.” He is also a new fiction reviewer for the Globe and Mail, the Canadian newspaper based in Toronto.

“When I was writing the first draft of the book, I didn’t know if it was any good. I had sent a message to William and he offered to read the first 10 pages,” Mrs. Wiseman said. “From there we kind of built a friendship and he mentored me. He taught me about structure and voice and, probably most importantly, to always return to the plot, always return to the right foot.”

Mr. Kowalski said that from the start he saw Mrs. Wiseman’s potential.

“When I first read Ellen’s draft, my first thought was that there was something very strong there,” Mr. Kowalski said. “I don’t think she believed me when I told her that it would be published someday.”

Mr. Kowalski also noted in an email that it takes a special writer to become a tried and true author.

“Many people can write well, but can’t tell a good story,” he said. “Ellen had a great story from the beginning. I knew the rest would fall into place, because she was dedicated and courageous.”

Mrs. Wiseman is also one of the founding authors of a blog called Book Pregnant — — a collective of authors who are working through the stages of becoming published later this year and into 2013.

“It’s the ‘what to expect when you’re expecting a book,’” she said, referring to the well-known pregnancy book. “There’s no training school to become an author, so we kind of commiserate with what we’re going through and we help each other through the process.”

Now that Mrs. Wiseman’s first book is on the fast track, with a publication date set, she is hard at work on a second book also being published by Kensington.

“I have a two-book deal, with an option for a third, so I’m currently putting ideas together for the second book,” she said. “It won’t be another history novel, so I’m trying to come up with some storylines that really interest me.”

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