Is it better to know the truth?
That’s the question at the heart of Loudoun author Ann Marie Stewart’s second novel, “Out of the Water.” The new book, slated for release, Oct. 19 focuses on adoption and family secrets across generations.
Anchored by a cast of strong and complex women, Stewart’s ambitious novel moves from World War I Europe to 1980s Seattle with multiple interwoven stories along the way. “Out of the Water” tells the stories of five mothers with five secrets—interconnected by the common thread of adoptions over several generations.
Stewart says the seed for the novel came from adoption stories in her own extended family, expanded with lots of research and creative storytelling.
“I knew I wanted to do something about adoption and seeking out a biological parent. What I didn’t know was how many other stories were going to become entwined,” Stewart said. “It takes a very strong woman to think of your child and have to give it up. … I think a lot of the women in this book made the right choice under really hard circumstances.”
In 1980s Seattle, Claire Ellis searches for her biological mother with support from her adoptive mother Erin. Meanwhile, Claire’s grandmother Genevieve has a secret of her own, entwined with the tumultuous life of Irish immigrant Siobhan Kildea. And Anna Hanson, a music teacher in a small western Washington logging town, hides a traumatic secret from her devoted husband.
Much of the novel is set in the Pacific Northwest and Mountain West. Stewart, a Seattle-area native who has lived in Loudoun for more than two decades, brings the region’s vibrant scenery to life. The novel follows Siobhan, a pregnant, unmarried teenager in 1919, on her journey from Boston to the West Coast, when a twist of fate brings her to Deer Lodge, Montana, a real-life town dominated for decades by fortress-like Montana State Prison. After marrying a local farmer, the resilient Siobhan perseveres through trauma, sustained by classic works of literature sent to her by a beloved friend. In Deer Lodge, Siobhan’s world intersects with Genevieve, a former World War I nurse married to the town doctor and mourning her inability to have a biological child.
In the 1980s, Genevieve’s granddaughter Claire struggles with her own need to find her biological mother, supported along the way by her adoptive mother Erin in an era when adoptions were often secretive and information difficult to access.
“Erin has her own strength because she can allow her daughter to explore this,” Stewart said, adding that she intentionally avoided a contemporary setting because of the easy flow of information in the age of DNA testing and online family searches.
“I firmly believe in open adoption, and I believe there’s no way to have a closed adoption any longer, which is one of the reasons I had to set [the novel] when I did,” Stewart said. “I had to have a physical way for Claire to go look for her mother.”
Stewart, a Waterford-based private music teacher, is known locally for helping young choral students find their voices, but writing has been a passion since her teens. She grew up in Kenmore, Washington near Seattle and taught music in public schools in the Pacific Northwest before meeting her husband Will, a Fairfax County native, and moving east. Stewart taught in public schools in Fairfax County before moving to Loudoun in the late ’90s. The Stewarts raised their two adult daughters on a small sheep farm near Waterford where Stewart runs her music school.
“I’ve always been a storyteller,” she said.
For her first novel, Stewart returned to a short story she had written during graduate school. That story became “Stars in the Grass,” which tells the story of a year in the life of a family who has lost a child from the point of view of 10-year-old Abby. Stewart says the novel explores the “healing and the questioning” that come with the loss of a child, including from Abby’s minister father who experiences a loss of faith and struggles to return to the pulpit. Published in 2017, “Stars in the Grass” won a Christy Award for excellence in Christian fiction.
And while she’s since published two novels, Stewart’s first writing project is still a work in progress four decades later. While still in college, Stewart began researching her mother’s fascinating family history. Stewart’s maternal grandparents were members of Russia’s little-known German Mennonite community who fled to the U.S. during the Stalin regime in 1929. As a college student, Stewart spent months interviewing her grandparents and documenting their stories. Now those stories are the basis of her next work, which she’s currently wrapping up under the working title “Remnant.” Stewart said that while that book has been brewing for decades, it took 21st century tools to allow her to bring it home, pulling together family interviews together with historical research.
But this fall, the focus is on the launch of “Out of the Water,” on curious Claire and plucky Siobhan and the fascinating and unexpected ties that bind them.
Ann Marie Stewart’s “Out of the Water” is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with a release date of Oct. 19. For more information about the author, go to annmariestewart.com.