First, I want to acknowledge some deliberate geographical distortions and anachronisms in The Violet Crow that could upset a few people who are familiar with South Jersey—but won’t matter much to anyone else. There is a town called Haddonfield and it is remarkably similar to Gardenfield. It has a school like the one I’ve called Gardenfield Friends with a meeting house in easy walking distance. I attended that school from kindergarten through sixth grade, including Meeting for Worship every Wednesday morning from third grade on.
“Why didn’t you just call it Haddonfield?” my friend Jim Lyons once asked.
The answer is that I needed to take some liberties to make my story work. The tunnel and the biotech complex are a couple of examples. Also, there are some features of the region that don’t exist anymore, but I couldn’t let go of them: the racetrack and Tano’s Deli come to mind. So I called the town Gardenfield—just to remind hometown readers that I am taking license to alter reality throughout The Violet Crow.
I haven’t lived in South Jersey in decades, but the region’s unique character shaped my outlook and I still follow the sports teams and the local news, albeit at a distance. I regret some of my antics as a teenager, so I tried to portray the Gardenfield police as positively as possible—a belated “sorry about that” and “thank you.”
While I’m apologizing, I might as well get this off my chest—Rhonda’s South Jersey accent. Elmore Leonard’s seventh rule of writing is to use regional dialect sparingly. I probably should have followed his advice. However, I broke all his other commandments, so it seemed a shame to leave out number seven. I love hearing all of the regional accents of the U.S. and trying to identify where the speakers come from. I get especially excited when I hear the distinctive, clipped “o” sound from the mid-Atlantic states. Here on the West Coast, when I tell people where I grew up, they often reply, “Oh, you’re from Joisey.” And I say, “No, that’s a Brooklyn accent; in South Jersey we say “aw,” not “oi.” Mea culpa.
Attending Haddonfield Friends had a lasting impact on me—and also on many of my classmates. We still meet for occasional reunions of our sixth-grade class, lo, these many years later. The ritual of silent worship strikes a deep, resonant chord.
We also had the example of headmaster Reed Landis. As I began thinking about The Violet Crow, I recalled an incident in fourth or fifth grade when one of our teachers told us that Master Reed was out sick for a while due to a recurrence of malaria, which he’d contracted as a conscientious objector during World War II. None of my classmates remembered that but, thanks to Reed’s cousin, Sarah Johnson, I was able to locate him in Arizona and speak with him on the phone. He talked freely about his experiences as a CO, which, in the book, I assigned to Master Quentin and described as accurately as possible—with the exception of placing those events in the Vietnam War era rather than during World War II.
Unfortunately, Master Reed passed away a few years after I spoke with him. I’m honored to be able to tell his story in The Violet Crow. At a time when what he experienced would be widely viewed as torture, it’s remarkable how conscientious Reed Landis and his fellow Quaker COs were in their approach to non-violent protest.
You would probably not be reading The Violet Crow without the vision and intelligence of Adam Bellow and David Bernstein, who founded Liberty Island and rescued my work from oblivion. When they posed the old question from A Tale of Two Cities, “I hope you care to be recalled to life,” I said, “What! Are you kidding me?” They’ve earned my eternal gratitude.
Friends and advisers who also helped by reading, commenting, and improving the story include Hallie Gay Walden-Bagley, Charlie Barnett, Gary Carr, Don Chew, Dan Grossman, Ian Lamberton, Don Lippincott, Pat McCarthy, Don McQuinn, Jay Merwin, Manette Moses, Jan Murphy, Francoise Perriot, Thomas Perry, Giuliana Sheldon, Elena Vega, and Janice Willett.