EVELYN EVOLVING, the novel I wrote about my mother’s life released in May 2019, and it has flirted with the #1 bestseller list on Amazon several times in two categories ever since.
It was a #1 new release overall for two weeks when it first came out!
This book was three years in the writing and two years in the marketing, and it finally found a home with a small publisher, Next Chapter Publishing. I’ve always wanted to share my mother’s story of survival from significant life challenges, and even though I tried to start a book about her many times, it wasn’t until after she died that I was able to get it written.
The story is part biography, part historical novel, and very different from the genre novels I’ve written before.
“Evelyn Evolving is a heartfelt story of one woman’s journey through some of life’s most difficult trials, a coming-of-age that readers won’t soon forget. Maryann Miller captures the spirit of a woman who refuses to be defeated with great tenderness and, what’s more, enduring hope.” — Kristy Woodson Harvey, bestselling author of Slightly South of Simple
“Ms. Miller’s well-written novel will stay with you long after you read the last page. Brava. Five stars all the way.” Polly Iyer author of Backlash, a novel of suspense.
“A poignant story that demonstrates, through real experiences, how much our choices matter, both to ourselves and our families, especially our children.” Amazon Review
“What an outstanding novel. Thank you so much for sharing this with me. Wow!” Note From A Reader
CHAPTER ONE – EVELYN – June 1923
Evelyn Gundrum sat in the shade of the leaves adorning the branches of the sweeping elm, digging in the sandy dirt with a tarnished silver spoon Miz Beatrice had given her to play with. She also had a blue plastic bowl. It was cracked, but still held dirt if she balanced it carefully. When she was allowed to go outside, Evelyn liked to play in the sand near the front porch, methodically filling the bowl, dumping it out, then filling it again. Her sister, two years older, thought that was silly. Viola preferred to stay on the porch with her dolls, closer to Miz Beatrice, who sat on the porch swing, slowly pushing it back and forth with one toe on the faded wood planking.
Only five years old, Evelyn didn’t remember why they were living with Miz Beatrice, or why they didn’t call her mother. Evelyn couldn’t remember for sure how long they had been here, either. She had vague recollections of living somewhere else before, but she got confused easily, and Viola had to explain why they were supposed to call this lady Miz Beatrice. Wasn’t she their mother? “No,” Viola had said. “Our mother brought us here months ago. Beatrice is a friend.”
“Why did Mother give us to Miz Beatrice?”
“I already told you.”
“Tell me again.”
Viola sighed. “Okay. But this is the last time. Promise you won’t ask again.”
“What if I forget?”
“Then you forget. I’m tired of telling you. After Daddy left, Mother went to Detroit with a man named, John.”
“Why did Daddy leave?”
“I don’t know. Now hush so I can tell you the rest. Mother said she was going to come and take us to Detroit, too, but something happened and she couldn’t. So, she took us here and wants us to live with Miz Beatrice.”
Evelyn wasn’t even sure where “here” was, but she did remember that Viola told her before that Detroit was far, far away. Now and then, her mind worried over the reason that their mother had not taken them to that place called Detroit. Mothers didn’t leave babies. That’s what Miz Beatrice had said when showing them the kittens under the porch last summer. That day, Miz Beatrice had been putting some food under there for the mama cat.
They weren’t supposed to feed that cat, even though Evelyn would sneak her a piece of bacon when Miz Beatrice wasn’t looking, but the cat was supposed to catch the mice that often got into the bags of flour in the pantry. If that was so, Evelyn wondered aloud why Miz Beatrice was feeding the cat. Miz Beatrice said, “She needs food here so she’ll stay close until the kittens are older.”
“Because they’re too little to take care of themselves,” Miz Beatrice said. “This mama cat will stay here for several weeks to feed and protect the kittens.”
“But she didn’t,” Viola said. “She pushed that one away yesterday. It died.”
“It was the runt.” Miz Beatrice sighed and rose slowly to her feet. “It wasn’t going to live.”
The kittens were gone now. And so was the mother cat. Miz Beatrice had no good explanation about why they were gone. Maybe the mama cat had taken them off to the woods behind the house. They’d get another cat to take care of the mice.
Evelyn still didn’t understand about that kitten that had died. Why the mama cat pushed it away. She didn’t know what Miz Beatrice meant about the kitten being a runt. Only that there was something wrong with it. Was there something wrong with her, too? And Viola? Is that why their mother had left them here?
Evelyn tried not to think about that, and Viola had been firm about no more questions. So, Evelyn thought about nice things. Lots of time to play. Smiles from Miz Beatice. A comfortable bed at night. And good food to eat.
Today was going to be a special day. That’s what Miz Beatrice had said at breakfast this morning. A surprise guest was coming, and now Evelyn’s tummy was full of eggs and toast, and she was wearing her favorite sundress, yellow sprinkled with white daisies. When they came outside, Miz Beatrice told her to be careful not to get the dress dirty, so Evelyn pushed the skirt between her knees as she squatted to dig in the dirt. The sun streamed through the branches of the tree, making light and dark dance on the sand with every wisp of a breeze. Birds sat on high branches, adding their song to the dance, and every now and then a bit of conversation between Miz Beatrice and Viola floated her way.
“Please tell me who’s coming?”
“No, child. You must be surprised like your sister.”
The questions Viola asked stirred more excitement, and Evelyn’s stomach fluttered with anticipation. Then the voices faded, and Evelyn heard only the song of the birds as she played.
Moments later, a cloud passed over the sun and Evelyn shivered in the sudden chill. Miz Beatrice had been right about it being too early in the summer for a sundress. Maybe she should go change.
Evelyn stood and started toward the house, noticing that Miz Beatrice was slumped on the porch swing asleep. Lately she’d taken to sleeping frequently during the day, which Evelyn thought was very odd. Only babies took naps. Right?
Miz Beatrice didn’t eat much at dinner or supper anymore either, and Viola had said the other day that maybe they were running out of food. For some reason, Viola always worried that they would run out of food. But Evelyn had a feeling something wasn’t right inside Miz Beatrice. Once, she had walked past the open bathroom door and saw Miss Beatrice hunched over the sink. She was coughing hard, holding a rumpled handkerchief over her mouth, and Evelyn had seen bold splatters of red on the white fabric before Miz Beatrice noticed her and pushed the door closed with her hip. While Evelyn knew that the splatters were probably from blood – she’d cut herself often enough to recognize the spots – she didn’t know what the blood might mean. Yet she did know that it was probably not right that it was on the handkerchief. The fact that it was, had shot a bolt of fear so deep that Evelyn couldn’t say a word about it, not even to her sister.
But if Miz Beatrice was sick, Viola should know, so she could help figure what to do if the lady died and left them all alone.
Evelyn glanced at her sister, who was next to Miz Beatrice on the swing. Maybe she could tell her now. It looked like Miz Beatrice was good and asleep. She started to walk toward the porch steps but turned when she heard the sound of a motor. A big gray car rumbled to a stop in front of the house, and a tall woman wearing a navy-blue dress with white ruffles at the top, white gloves and a hat with a wide, curved brim got out. When the woman walked toward the house, the dress flared around her legs, lifted at the hem by a slight breeze. It was not any of the ladies who visited Miz Beatrice before, and curiosity distracted Evelyn from her worries.
Suddenly, Viola jumped up, raced down the four steps to the front walk and launched herself at the woman. “Mother!”
The lady disengaged herself from Viola’s wild embrace and just stood for a moment, looking first at Viola, then up the walk toward Evelyn.