GEORGETOWN — A local woman's first novel, released today, follows the fictional lives of three sisters as they grapple with the past and the present in the decades following their mother's suicide.
Elizabeth de Veer, who grew up in Arlington, Virginia, and moved to Massachusetts close to 30 years ago, looked to her Greater Newburyport surroundings when writing her debut book, "The Ocean in Winter."
The story focuses on the Emery sisters, who grew up in Amesbury but went in different directions as they shifted into adulthood.
One sister now lives in Newburyport and at some point, she has a crisis and moves into a shack on Plum Island; another sister tries to break off and go to India, but ends up inheriting a house in Newbury; and the third sister resides in Manhattan, New York.
Speaking about her inspiration for writing this story, de Veer said she was traveling in Maryland with her husband when she started to think about haunted houses and ghosts.
She has always loved ghost stories, but "if I'm writing a book about it, I want it to be a story about how the ghosts reveal something about the people."
It wouldn't be about the lives or origins of the ghosts in a home, but rather "how individual characters are haunted by something."
She was also interested in writing about "something so traumatic that it would stay with people."
While the book focuses on the lives of the three sisters, it also looks at their mother as a main character, exploring how depression led to her death by suicide.
"For whatever reasons that are not quite drawn out in detail in the book, she just couldn't quite escape her demons," de Veer said.
Each sister finds herself at a crossroads and to move forward, she needs to deal with what's in her past, de Veer explained.
"One of the sisters is, in a very deep way, not only not dealing with the problems of her past, she's not dealing with the problems from her present," the author said. "She is so deeply in denial that she has cut herself off from the family and they are looking for her."
The author also found inspiration through the house hunting process that she went through with her husband when they found their Georgetown home roughly 13 years ago.
Particularly with the historic homes that are found in New England, de Veer always wondered who previously lived in them.
"The houses are connected to the stories of the people," de Veer said, noting that she hopes readers in the Greater Newburyport area will recognize the local backdrop of the book and connect with it in some way.
She holds a master's degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and has been admitted to writing residencies at Jentel Artist Residency, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
De Veer participates in several writing groups, including the Newburyport Writers' Group, Grub Street Writers’ Collective of Boston, Sisters in Crime New England, and the New Hampshire Writers’ Project.
She is hosting several upcoming events, including a reading and signing at Georgetown Peabody Library on July 19 at 6 p.m.
The 336-page book, published by Blackstone Publishing, is available for purchase from a number of sites, including Jabberwocky Bookshop in Newburyport.
For more information, visit www.elizabethdeveer.com.