Sandra Byrd is the author of more than fifty published books, including the historical novels To Die For, Mist of Midnight, and her last book, Lady of a Thousand Treasures. She has received many awards, nominations, and accolades for her work, including the Historical Novel Society’s Editor’s Choice Award, two Christy Award nominations, Library Journal Best Book selections, and inclusion on Booklist’s Top Ten Inspirational Books of the Year list.
In this interview, Sandra shares some of her insights into her new historical romance novel, Herilooms.
FF: What was your inspiration for Heirlooms?
I love the intersection of one generation impacting the next—positively or negatively, knowingly and not. I wanted to bring a broader understanding of the intrinsic worth of every person. I wanted to explore the secrets we keep, the love we pass down, and bring home in our money-driven world that the heirlooms we inherit from a well-lived life are the most valuable of all.
FF: Why did you choose to explore Korean American culture in this book?
My affection and respect for Korean Americans and their culture sparked when I taught in a Korean American Hagwon, an after-school prep school of sorts. I taught English, essay, and preparation for the SAT. I grew in affection and admiration for my boss, students, and their families as I knew them better and learned more about their culture. I not only came to love their delicious food, courteous manners, beautiful language, sense of humor, devotion to achievement, and customs, but the sacrifices made for the children also made a huge impression.
FF: You use the Korean phrase for “taste of her hands.” Can you unpack that phrase for us? How does that play a role in the story?
Son-mat is the Korean concept that every woman—especially mothers—flavors a dish with her own hands, the spices adhering to her hands, leading everything she touches to have a distinct, unique flavor. Can women retain the best of the traditions handed to them, especially from mothers and grandmothers, whether in the traditional understanding—cooking—or branch out to include professional, personal, and faith life? In Heirlooms, each of the four women must learn how to both keep the traditions that are meaningful and shape her own life.
FF: What role does faith play in this novel?
That God plays the long game, and if we can help ourselves stop focusing on the short game, as most of us do, and trust that he really will bring good for everything in one way or another, life will seem less fragile. That it’s okay to be angry with him. That it’s okay to falter in your faith. That faith is best seeded and germinated in honest soil. That he faithfully answers prayers, even though it may not always be in our lifetime.
FF: As an author, what did you particularly enjoy about writing Heirlooms?
Oh, just everything! I loved exploring women’s lives through the more traditional arts such as gardening and cooking, child raising, but also through progressive and self-driven career choices. The choices we make in life overlap and zigzag across others’ lives and generations, like a beautiful spirograph, creating a design unique and beautifully our own.
I had two wonderful grandmothers, and now I am a grandmother myself. So I’m intentional about the heirlooms I’ll leave for my granddaughter and the other grands who will follow her.
I also loved plotting so that readers would discover characters and situations from one era before the characters in the other. As a reader, I love knowing things before the characters do, as long as there are no reveals!
FF: What was the most challenging part of this writing project?
Managing the tremendous amount of research—including dozens of interviews and perhaps nearly one hundred other sources of information—involved in bringing so many times and cultures to life in an appropriate, sensitive way. Carefully weaving story threads so as not to reveal too soon.
FF: What do you hope your readers will take away from reading Heirlooms? How might it inspire or encourage their faith?
One character asks, “What are you doing today that fulfills the hopes and prayers of someone yesterday?” Each of us might consider that, and if the answer isn’t readily at hand, adjust our lives a wee bit.
Genres: Romance, Historical
Release Date: July 5, 2022
Answering a woman’s desperate call for help, young Navy widow Helen Devries opens her Whidbey Island home as a refuge to Choi Eunhee. As they bond over common losses and a delicate, potentially devastating secret, their friendship spans the remainder of their lives.
After losing her mother, Cassidy Quinn spent her childhood summers with her gran, Helen, at her farmhouse. Nourished by her grandmother’s love and encouragement, Cassidy discovers a passion that she hopes will bloom into a career. But after Helen passes, Cassidy learns that her home and garden have fallen into serious disrepair. Worse, a looming tax debt threatens her inheritance. Facing the loss of her legacy and in need of allies and ideas, Cassidy reaches out to Nick, her former love, despite the complicated emotions brought by having him back in her life.
Cassidy inherits not only the family home but a task, spoken with her grandmother’s final breaths: ask Grace Kim—Eunhee’s granddaughter—to help sort through the contents of the locked hope chest in the attic. As she and Grace dig into the past, they unearth their grandmothers’ long-held secret and more. Each startling revelation reshapes their understanding of their grandmothers and ultimately inspires the courage to take risks and make changes to own their lives.
Set in both modern-day and midcentury Whidbey Island, Washington, this dual-narrative story of four women—grandmothers and granddaughters—intertwines across generations to explore the secrets we keep, the love we pass down, and the heirlooms we inherit from a well-lived life.
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