With activities canceled and many schools operating remotely, “All The Children Are Home” sounds like a parent summing up the past 12 months. Rather, it’s the title of a new novel by Patry Francis, author of “The Orphans at Race Point.”
In keeping with the constraints of the pandemic, Titcomb’s Bookshop in Sandwich is hosting a virtual release party with Ms. Francis for “All The Children Are Home,” on Tuesday, April 13, at 7 PM.
Published by Harper Collins, the book is set in 1959 and tells the story of 6-year-old Agnes, who is placed in the foster home of Louie and Dahlia Moscatelli. Agnes is later placed in the home of a more affluent family but runs away and returns to the Moscatellis.
A native of Brockton, Ms. Francis and her husband have lived in Centerville for more than 30 years. Her 2014 novel, “The Orphans At Race Point,” was set in Provincetown. “All The Children Are Home” is set in Massachusetts but not on the Cape; however, the Cape and the ocean play a role in the book.
“One of the main characters, Agnes, is Native American but doesn’t know anything about her heritage or her past,” Ms. Francis said, “but she feels a great connection to water that she can’t explain.” In one scene in the book, one of Agnes’s foster brothers goes to the Cape with a friend and comes home with pictures of the beach. Agnes is so entranced with the pictures that she goes in her brother’s room and steals one of the pictures of the waves. “She just needs it so badly,” Ms. Francis said. “The water and the beach, it’s just always there. It’s part of who I am and it just always works its way in.”
On her website, Ms. Francis describes an interest in writing that started in childhood, when she would “retreat to a tiny room with rose wallpaper…and write my own poems and stories.”
“I always dreamed of becoming a writer but I didn’t know anyone who was one,” she said. “I grew up in Brockton where you were supposed to be tough, you weren’t supposed to be sitting around writing poetry, so I was very secretive about it. I dreamed about it but I didn’t think it was a possibility.”
In an attempt to be practical, Ms. Francis explored other career options in college.
“I kept changing my major to everything but writing, I tried nursing, teaching, communications. I was trying to be practical but then I kept taking poetry courses and writing courses. I think when you have a dream that’s so forceful, you probably have to follow it because it’s not going to let you go,” she said.
In addition to “All The Children Are Home,” and “The Orphans At Race Point,” Ms. Francis is the author of the 2007 novel, “The Liar’s Diary.”
“The Orphans At Race Point” and her new novel both contain storylines about children who grow up without parental involvement, a theme Ms. Francis traces to some personal experiences. As a mother of four, she said it was striking to consider a child “set loose on the world with no one to love them or advocate for them or to just pay attention to them.
“I guess I’ve sort of been haunted by that theme of children alone in the world. You envision your own children in that situation and there’s so many children like that.”
Ms. Francis said her storylines and characters arrive both from real world experiences and from her imagination.
“I think that stories are everywhere,” she said. “We all have them within our own family or you hear them all the time, and I think once you start to write them you’re more attuned to picking them up. But I also like to make things up.”
In her new novel, Ms. Francis said, the main character is the mother: “Her story, her agoraphobia and how it developed, her early trauma, I totally made that up but it feels very real to me.” Likewise, the characters in “The Orphans At Race Point” “...are totally made up but they feel so real to me.” Like many writers, Ms. Francis said that her characters often take on lives of their own, leading her in the direction they need to go. “You are sort of haunted by the spirit of something or someone and you want to do them justice,” she said.
A disciplined writer, Ms. Francis sets aside several hours each morning to work on her craft. Starting out, she said, she loved to read books about writing. One suggestion that she read was to write three pages a day without stopping. “Just keep going even if it sounds silly, or you want to look up a word, or any other reason, just keep going—and if you can do that you can get through a novel. That’s what’s really worked for me. Writing the three pages takes maybe an hour and a half and then I kind of finetune it a little bit,” she said.
The pandemic hasn’t changed her writing patterns, Ms. Francis said, but it has affected what she thinks people need to read. “People don’t want you to sugarcoat life. Life is hard and this [the pandemic] has been difficult for everybody and extremely difficult for some people. I feel it’s important to write something that shows that life is difficult but that is still hopeful and also shows resilient individuals who can get through things and how they do it. I think that’s more important than ever. It’s remarkable the resilience of the human spirit. Even children in those situations, maybe not always, but most often, they find some sort of strength within themselves.”
Ms. Francis said that one of the most satisfying parts of the writing process is hearing back from readers of her novels. “I’m always amazed that someone takes the time. That the book meant enough to them that they would bother to reach out,” she said.
Because it was set in Provincetown, Ms. Francis said, she heard from a lot of Cape readers after publishing “The Orphans At Race Point.”
“It’s wonderful because you’re all alone with your characters for so long and then these readers come along and it’s like, ‘Oh, you know them, too?’ And they have opinions about the characters and ask why a certain person did a certain thing,” she said.
Ms. Francis said that while she shares drafts of her work with other writers, her husband, Ted, is her first reader. “I read everything out loud to him and I can tell by his response how he takes it, whether he’s bored or emotional,” she said.
Her advice to would-be writers is to read as much as they can. “I think you have to read a lot. That gets the rhythm, the patterns and the structures into your head. If you can imprint some quality work onto your brain you’re going to be a much better writer.”
Ms. Francis also stressed writing for the love of writing. “Try not to focus on publication. It’s all about you and the work. When I find myself getting too worried about the business side of things I imagine myself back in my little room in Brockton, surrounded with my rose wallpaper, back when I was just writing because I loved to do it,” she said.
In comparing her new novel to “The Orphans At Race Point,” Ms. Francis said the two books are different because “in ‘Orphans’ there was a murder and a twist and this new book is more of a family saga with a lot happening.” She said the two books are similar in that “in both novels I created characters that I wanted to spend time with. They are better than me and they lifted me up and taught me something. I really love them and I hope the readers will like them, too.”
Registration to attend the virtual release party for “All The Children Are Home,” on April 13 is through the Titcomb’s website.