I have just finished New York Times best-selling author Sarah McCoy’s latest novel, “Marilla of Green Gables,” a delightful prequel to the classic 1908 children’s novel, “Anne of Green Gables.” It wholeheartedly lives up to its dust jacket billing as “[a] beautiful rendering of a beloved place.”
McCoy and her husband, Dr. Brian Waterman, an orthopedic sports surgeon for Wake Forest Sports and Wake Forest Baptist Health, moved to Winston-Salem from Chicago a couple of years ago, and now live on Brookberry Farm in a “modern farmhouse” that they christened Summer Hill House.
“I told my editor at HarperCollins that building a house felt a lot like writing one of my books,” says McCoy. “You dig, dig, dig into history, devise a design … lay the foundations … and build up.”
For a writer lauded for her skill in illuminating “the enduring pleasures of home,” McCoy fell in love with the process of designing and building her Brookberry Farm home.
“I’m part of that story,” she says. “My husband and I are [Summer Hill House’s] parents, and that feels right.”
It’s that creation of home and the sense of place it imbues that captured McCoy’s imagination from the start.
In an interview on The Author Stories Podcast with Hank Garner, McCoy shares the story of her first book, which she presented to her parents at the age of five.
“It was little more than a piece of everyday notebook paper folded in half, but inside was my dreamscape,” she says. “A story of a house in a beautiful land, with beautiful tulips, with beautiful people who live inside and don’t like the rain. The end.”
Thankfully, the young author’s simple tale of a beautiful house was not the end and was, in fact, only the beginning.
McCoy finished her first draft of “Marilla of Green Gables” while still in Chicago. It was when the couple moved to Winston-Salem that “[Marilla] became a book.” Here is where she revised and edited her prequel while the couple designed and built their new home.
Part of that writing process for McCoy was traveling to Prince Edward Island to immerse herself in the world of “Anne of Green Gables.” There, she wrote the last chapter and the prologue of the novel, met author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s family members, and walked the terrain of the island. “So yes,” she says, “much of my imagination was on Green Gables” during the construction of their home on Brookberry Farm.
“Luckily, I had a builder who listened closely and appreciated my literary vision,” she says. “Homebuilder Tate Rice helped turn my artful imaginings into bricks and mortar.”
In Winston-Salem, McCoy’s curiosity of place led the author to a discovery of Reynolda House — a local version of Green Gables, albeit on a grander scale.
“I asked Tate Rice about the [roof] tiles on Reynolda House — I was smitten with them,” McCoy says.
The author learned that the green glazed tiles were rare treasures of the Reynolds family legacy and no longer available. So while McCoy meticulously laid her “word bricks” in completing “Marilla of Green Gables,” Summer Hill House rose from the ground in a modest expression of life imitating art.
“When the light catches it, you see my roof is green, as are my shutters,” she says.
In fact, in a sea of Brookberry Farm’s neutral tones, McCoy’s green-mantled manse stands out amidst the rolling hills of former farmland.
“I’m no stranger to the farm life,” McCoy says. “I was raised by people of the land.”
Her memories of her maternal grandparents’ centuries-old farm in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, and stories of her paternal grandmother’s childhood on an Oklahoma farm have always helped fuel McCoy’s imagination and feed a rich inner life that is the bedrock of her writing.
“That’s the essence of [a] true home and what we’re all searching for in life: some place where we are accepted for all that we are — successes and failures. Some place where we are loved unconditionally.”
“Call me a hermit, a recluse, or a writing troll,” McCoy says with a smile. “I’m fine with that. Summer Hill is where I can be wholly, authentically myself.”
McCoy’s latest novel-in-the-making is set in the 1970s and takes place on the exclusive and secretive Caribbean island of Mustique. She’ll be heading that way in the New Year for research. For now, though, she’ll continue to lay her word bricks from the protective privacy of Summer Hill House on Brookberry Farm — her safe haven from the world and her own beloved place.