The Backstory for Who’s Watching Maddie?
It seems every author experiences a private journey when writing a book. One suspense writer claims her ideas come to her in full-story form during a dream. How lucky. Others, like Delia Owens of Where the Crawdads Sing, spent ten years crafting her novel. Then there’s the maestro, Stephen King, who reportedly writes 2,000 words a day. Always. Every day. Churning out bestsellers year after year after year. Most writers I know are wannabe Stephen Kings—we dream of writing 2,000 best-selling words every day.
Some writers, affectionately known as pansters (writing-by-seat-of-their-pants), get their first sentence on the page and they’re off on a vagabond’s adventure with no idea where they’ll land. Then there are writers like me, who can’t type the first sentence until we know the last word of our book.
My books begin with an idea, then bloom, scene by scene, in my imagination until they become a full-blown story. That’s when I start my chapter-by-chapter synopsis. I tweak and fiddle, tweak some more until I’m satisfied with the beginning, the ending, and have a solid idea of how I’ll take my characters from A to Z.
The idea for my novel Who’s Watching Maddie?, set in Antigua, Guatemala, came in a slightly different format from my other two. This story began over twenty years ago, on a business trip my husband and I took in the mid-’90s, long before I considered writing my first novel. At the time, our family business was berries—blueberries, blackberries, raspberries. We had several farms and contracted with additional farms throughout the world to supply our customers with year-round berries.
On a business trip to Guatemala, we stayed in a magnificently restored hotel once considered the grandest convent in the Americas. If you read Blood Gold, you’ll recognize the Casa Santo Domingo Hotel in the first few chapters. On our first night in Antigua, we dined in a gorgeous outdoor restaurant surrounded by tropical gardens. As we were leaving, my husband and I spoke to a young American couple with a small baby. The couple shared they’d come to Guatemala to finalize his adoption.
The next day, our Guatemalan blackberry grower arranged for us to visit the beautiful Lake Atitlan region, a body of water in a massive volcanic crater in the southwestern highland area. Ringed by steep, verdant hills, it’s known for its Maya villages and striking mountain cones. While wandering through the Central Park in Panajachel, where vendors sell traditional textiles, a Maya woman, wearing the native dress of her village, approached asking if my husband and I would pay to be photographed with her, a common practice to earn a few extra dollars.
As we posed for the picture, I placed my hand very lightly across her back. She became extremely agitated, speaking so rapidly in Spanish I couldn’t follow her words. A friend traveling with us explained, under her wrap, she’d strapped her newborn baby to her back and didn’t want me to touch her child. Later, on the trip back to Antigua, my friend mentioned the Maya community had recently incurred a rash of unexplained missing children. We surmised this to be the reason for the woman’s strong reaction.
A couple of years later, I ran across a news article on a purported black-market baby ring operating in Guatemala and the government’s new Ortega Law that virtually shut down all foreign adoptions. I remembered the couple in the restaurant and the Maya woman in the park.
A year or so later, another newspaper article reported then–Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in Guatemala on State business, appealing to the government on behalf of the hundreds of American couples stuck in adoption limbo.
My interest piqued, and research revealed the courts temporarily halted hundreds of foreign adoptions, leaving devastated families in turmoil, and the children they wished to adopt stuck in overcrowded orphanages and foster homes. In what seemed a humanitarian decision, the courts allowed the adoptive parents visitations rights—short hotel stays with their soon-to-be-adopted kids, in the hopes of encouraging a familial bond until the parents could legally take the child home.
Some of those American and European couples remained in adoption left field for years, spending every holiday and family vacation in Guatemala. Soaring legal fees drove many into debt, but some stubbornly clung to their dream of bringing the child, who now called them mommy and daddy, home to America.
Years later, while writing my first novel, Changing Tides, this story wouldn’t leave me alone. Finally, I stopped long enough to scribble down all the reasons I feel in love with Guatemala, the beauty, its people, the Maya culture. Because deep in my heart, I had a burning desire to tell this story.
My novel, Who’s Watching Maddie?,is a work of fast-paced, suspense. It is pure fiction, but the Ortega Law is real, and the heartbreak of hundreds of families caught in its net is real. But most of all, the Guatemalan children who were affected by this stringent law are real.
Hope you enjoy the read!