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Tule Author Q&A: Eliana West researched the FBI!

Eliana West stopped by the Tule blog to discuss the third book in her Heart of Colton series, The Way Beyond!

 

Where did you get the inspiration for The Way Beyond?

I knew the minute I wrote about Jacob and Mae in The Way Forward that I was going to have to tell their story. What I didn’t know was that they were going to throw me such a huge curve ball! I also wanted to continue to tell the story of Colton, and how a community comes together to help each other.

 

How do you relate to Mae, your heroine, and how do you hope readers will relate to her?

Mae is the person I wish I had been when I was younger. She has confidence and is so brave. She’s not afraid to embrace the changes that life throws at her. Mae may come across as a bold and independent woman, but she is loving and has so much strength. I think in that way Mae and I are the same, we are fiercely protective of the people we care about and love.

 

How do you relate to Jacob?

Beneath all of his gruffness, Jacob is a very compassionate person. He cares deeply about the people around him, which is the way I am. Once I declare you are family, that’s it, you’re someone I’m going to check in on, and you will get a care package from me every once in a while. Care packages are my love language – LOL! Jacob is a bit more complicated, he’s stubborn and shows his love by pushing people away.

 

How is Mae different from her family, Callie, and Taylor? How is she the same?

Mae is the most tenacious person in her family. She has very strong principles, and she is also passionate about the people and things she cares about. Those are excellent qualities for a job in politics, but those qualities can also get her into trouble. 

 

What kind of research did you need to do for this story?

I am incredibly grateful to two friends who are FBI agents for answering my questions and providing helpful information. It was really interesting to dig into the world of undercover work and read about FBI agents who have worked on cases involving white supremacist groups. My husband and I have been members of The Southern Poverty Law Center for many years and I read their newsletter and Hatewatch updates regularly. I was fortunate enough to meet Morris Dees, the founder of the SPLC, and hear him speak about the work the SPLC has done tracking hate groups. Just like all the books in the Heart of Colton series, I drew on my family history. For The Way Beyond, I could go back and read old letters from my grandfather from when he was mayor of West, Mississippi. It was a great way to learn about the challenges of running a small town.

 

About the Author

Eliana West writes multi-cultural romance with diverse characters. When not writing, Eliana can be found exploring the many wineries in Oregon and Washington with her husband in their vintage Volkswagen Westfalia named Bianca.

She is the founder of Writers for Diversity a community for writers interested in creating diverse characters and worlds.

THE WAY HOME: Release day blog post featuring Eliana West

I have always found history interesting; it was always my favorite subject in school when I was growing up. When I’m learning about the past, I always find myself asking. What if?

That was how the Heart of Colton series was born. I based my little town of Colton on my hometown of West, Mississippi. A town so small if you blink when you drive down the 51, you’ll miss it. Just like West, my fictional town of Colton is in the Mississippi Delta. 

Downtown West, Mississippi

My grandpa always had big dreams for the small town that my family has claimed as a home for over six generations. In the Heart of Colton series, I get to imagine what if some of his dreams come true. Grandpa would talk all the time about how he believed young people would come back to West and help revitalize the community, and that’s exactly what happens in my series.

My sister has a sweet letter from our grandpa where he talks about West getting street signs for the first time. 

He wrote the letter in 1981, and I often wonder what he’d think about the challenges a community like West faces today. Grandpa had a servant’s heart, and he fought hard for every small improvement in the town he loved so much. 

“I was surprise when I went out on the street to see new street sign this is the 1st time we’ve has street names although I do not have a house # but my street is Branch St.”

“I voted in the town board of aldermans meeting to erect street signs our little town is improoving a little we have a few resolution that’s not yet passed that will give some action in generating revenue for development.”

I’ve transcribed these portions of the letter exactly how grandpa wrote them misspellings and without punctuation. I did this to honor grandpa, whose grandfather was an enslaved person. Grandpa taught himself to read and write. He has such beautiful penmanship and took a great deal of pride in each vote he made as an alderman to improve his town.  

The West Public library was my grandpa’s passion project. For a small town like West that has never had over 500 residents, having a library is a service that the town treasures. 

Although West is very special to me, it is not unique. Across America, there are small towns on the verge of becoming lost to memory. Infrastructure is an enormous challenge to these small communities. Upgrading water, electricity and internet are just a few of the obstacles small towns face. 

What happens to a small town when a new generation returns to restore a community that has been neglected for far too long? That question is one inspiration for my Heart of Colton series.

In the Way Forward, Dax Ellis returns to his hometown because he wants to do his part to help the community he took for granted so long ago. He’s surprised to discover he shares the same vision for the town with librarian Callie Colton. These are exactly the people I think my grandfather would have loved to see a return to a community like West.  

Here is an excerpt from another letter from grandpa.

“also working with neighborhood Projects, you people, some Politics, Senior Citizens and Town Hall development. For the last four years I’ve served on the board of Alderman in our little town of less that 500 population Something few people would be believed could have happen in a Southern Town.”


In my new release, The Way Home, I thought about the important role trades play in revitalization efforts. A small town like Colton needs carpenters, electricians, and plumbers to help restore the community. There are just a handful of trade schools left around the United States that focus on teaching restoration techniques and historic skills like brickmaking. I wanted to reimagine a program like this for Colton. One. That builds a sound foundation that can help the town for many years to come. 

I am very grateful that with each book in the Heart of Colton series I get to make my grandfather’s wildest dreams come true and share them with all of you. 

 

Eliana West writes multi-cultural romance with diverse characters. When not writing, Eliana can be found exploring the many wineries in Oregon and Washington with her husband in their vintage Volkswagen Westfalia named Bianca.

She is the founder of Writers for Diversity a community for writers interested in creating diverse characters and worlds.