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Fact vs. Fiction in Secrets of Harmony Grove


Otherwise, you'll learn some important plot points that might spoil the story for you.

Have you read Secrets of Harmony Grove yet?

If not, read it first and then be sure to come back here for this info.
If so, then feel free to proceed now.

Following is a list of the fact vs. fiction in this book:

FICTION. The setting for this story centers around Harmony Grove, which is located in Lancaster County, PA. In the story, the grove's design is based on a similar grove in Germany which uses as its focus the epic poem Metamorphoses by Ovid. These two groves are purely fictional and do not exist except in the imagination.

FACT. The poem they are based on, Metamorphoses by Ovid, is real. Many thanks to A. S. Kline, who graciously allowed me to use his English translation of Metamorphoses for my story.

To learn more about how I created the grove, beginning to end, watch for my article, "How to Grow a Grove—Without Getting Dirt under Your Fingernails" at NovelJourney.com.

FACT. Though the characters in this story are fictional, the things that happened to them during the Holocaust are based on real events that happened to others. To honor the truth of that era, I tried to "fictionalize" those parts of my story as little as possible.

When I first begin to write a novel and I have a general idea of its plot or subject matter, I will do some preliminary research to get a better idea of the big picture. Starting with my wonderful local library, I will gather books and DVDs on the main topics and immerse myself in them.

As I was doing this for my study of the Holocaust, I randomly popped the DVD Night and Fog into the machine first, before I had read or watched anything else. What I saw stunned me to my very core. I don't care how much I thought I knew about the Holocaust, it took this film to open my eyes to the reality of it all. Thank goodness my mother-in-law was visiting at the time and was willing to watch it with me; otherwise, I may have turned it off from sheer revulsion. Instead, together we took in the astonishing images of the emaciated prisoners, the dead bodies being shoveled into graves by giant tractors, the astonishing casualness with which so many millions of people were dispatched.

Overall, educating myself about the Holocaust was among the most difficult—but significant—research I have ever done. I think the documentary Night and Fog, which shows actual footage of the atrocities at the concentration camps, should be required viewing for every person on this planet over the age of 16. In my opinion, it is far too easy to think of the events of the Holocaust in vague, less specific terms, as I guess I always had. But these atrocities must never, ever be glossed over or forgotten. Certainly, my eyes have been opened, and I am still reeling from the shock of it all.

When writing the book, I tried to convey the heartbreak and loss and pain of that time without writing in a way that would be too gruesome for my genre. Considering the reality of things, this was a difficult line to walk much of the time. For example, in an early version of Daphne's story, I described in greater detail how her sister and mother would have died, but much of that writing ended up on the "cutting room floor" as it was so horrifying that it broke the flow of the story. Though I wanted to include that information in the book, as a novelist I can never sacrifice story for the sake of research, no matter how much I want to. I will, however, provide that information here.

Though Buchenwald had no gas chamber, many of its prisoners were killed in its Execution Room, where they were garroted behind the ear by meat hooks and hung along the walls until dead. (According to the Buchenwald guidebook, about 1,100 people were killed this way.) Next, the bodies would be sent upstairs via a hand-operated elevator to be burned in the ovens. Sometimes when workers were in a hurry, they wouldn't wait until those who were hanging had died but would instead take them down from the hooks prematurely and send them upstairs. There, they would then be loaded into the ovens, alive, and burned to death. Visit www.scrapbookpages.com for photos and more information.

FACT. Though the grove is fictional, the description of its "German Gate" is based on one of the gates at Buchenwald, as shown in the photo here.

FACT. In my research about the war, I was surprised to learn that there had been groups of trained Nazi resistance fighters known as the Werwolves. Because their name fit in so well with my story, I couldn't help but include them. Visit here to learn more about the Werwolves and their activities during the war.

FACT. I happened upon the cassowary quite by accident in my research about emus. When I read that the cassowary is the "deadliest bird in the world" I knew I would have to find a way to work one into my story as well. With both emus and cassowaries being members of the Ratite family and susceptible to avian coccidiosis, I knew this could throw some red herrings into the mystery in a fun way.

Researching further, I was especially fascinated by the sound they make, which you can hear by clicking here or by going to the San Diego Zoo website and clicking on the Sound Byte for the Dwarf Cassowary.

The Animal Life Resource website Cassowaries: Casuaridae - Behavior And Reproduction says of the cassowary: "Though normally shy, when cornered or threatened, the cassowary will lash out, charging their victim, kicking and slashing with their razor-sharp claws. In 1999 there were 144 documented cassowary attacks on humans in Australia, six causing serious injury. There were also cassowary attacks on dogs, horses, and one cow. The last reported death from a cassowary attack occurred in 1926 when a sixteen-year-old boy was killed by a single kick to the neck after hitting the bird with a stick."

FICTION. To my knowledge, a cassowary has never been used for blood sport.

FACT. However, as I explored the world of animal fighting, I did run across one fascinating (not to mention horrifying) tidbit which I managed to work into my story as well. In July 2009, a canary and finch-fighting ring made the news in Shelton, CT, when police followed up on a tip of illegal animal fighting. There, they arrested 18 members of the ring and seized 150 of the birds. (See the full article here.)

As a fiction author, I figured that if people are actually using canaries and finches for blood sport, it wouldn't be that big of a leap to imagine them choosing to do the same with a cassowary, which is of course a far more dangerous animal.

FACT. I had great fun learning all about hidden rooms, and I found a number of nifty books, articles, and websites on the topic. The entrance to the room in the basement of Harmony Grove Bed & Breakfast was based on an actual "trick" staircase, which is described and shown at this site.

FICTION. There is no "Harmony Grove Bed & Breakfast" except in the pages of this story.

FACT. However, if you're planning a visit to Lancaster County, I can highly recommend the following real B&Bs:
The Apple Bin Inn in Willow Street, PA ($99 - $239/night)
The Hurst House Bed and Breakfast in Ephrata, PA ($130 - $170/night)
Both are lovely establishments with warm hosts and a variety of accommodations. If you go, be sure to tell them Mindy sent you!