It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn't imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides.
But everything changes when a baby is found dead...and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer.
She didn't commit the crime, but clearing her name isn't so easy when her innocence is not quite as simple, either. She knows things, and that's dangerous. Invited into her neighbors' homes during their most intimate and vulnerable times, she can't help what she sees and hears. A woman sometimes says things in the birthing bed, when life and death seem suspended within the same moment. Gracy has always tucked those revelations away, even the confessions that have cast shadows on her heart.
With her friends taking sides and a trial looming, Gracy must decide whether it's worth risking everything to prove her innocence. And she knows that her years of discretion may simply demand too high a price now...especially since she's been keeping more than a few dark secrets of her own.
With Sandra Dallas's incomparable gift for creating a sense of time and place and characters that capture your heart, The Last Midwife tells the story of family, community, and the secrets that can destroy and unite them.
Hi Sandra! Thanks so much for joining us today! Where did you find the inspiration for The Last Midwife?
My editor suggested I write abut a midwife, but the idea for the story itself came from a poem by Colorado poet Belle Turnbull--"In These Rude Airs" from her book The Tenmile Range. It's about an old midwife called the Sagehen. My character, Gracy, is known as the Sagehen, too, but she is much different from Belle's midwife. Belle was an elderly woman when I met her in 1963, after I moved to Breckenridge, Colo., as a bride. She lived there in a log cabin, with her roommate, Helen Rich, a novelist. Belle was a gentle creature, but her poetry was as tough and as hard-edged as the mountain people who lived along the Tenmile range. They had a love-hate relationship with the mountains and a tenacity that was as strong as a timberline pine.
What kind of research did you do to bring Gracy's world to life?
I read everything I could find on midwifery in the 19th and early 20th century, concentrating on the stories rather than the technical aspect of giving birth. But the real research was the work I've done over a 50-year period on the people who lived in the mountain towns during the gold- and silver-rush days, then stayed on after the mines closed. I knew many of them when I lived in Breckenridge. They had their own mannerisms and ways of speaking and a fierce loyalty to the land. They're gone now.
Did you find anything during your research that surprised you?
Two things: Midwives felt they had a special calling. They were overworked and underpaid, but they did their work because they believed it was a gift. And I was surprised at the animosity of doctors, who believed midwives were dirty, superstitious women who ought to be banned from practice.
What were the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing this novel?
Finishing it, of course.
What are you working on now?
I'm writing something set during World War I, but I don't want to say more, because will be embarrassing if it doesn't work.
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About the Author:
Award-winning author SANDRA DALLAS was dubbed “a quintessential American voice” by Jane Smiley, in Vogue Magazine. Sandra’s novels with their themes of loyalty, friendship, and human dignity have been translated into a dozen foreign languages and have been optioned for films.
A journalism graduate of the University of Denver, Sandra began her writing career as a reporter with Business Week. A staff member for twenty-five years (and the magazine’s first female bureau chief,) she covered the Rocky Mountain region, writing about everything from penny-stock scandals to hard-rock mining, western energy development to contemporary polygamy. Many of her experiences have been incorporated into her novels.
While a reporter, she began writing the first of ten nonfiction books. They include Sacred Paint, which won the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Western Heritage Wrangler Award, and The Quilt That Walked to Golden, recipient of the Independent Publishers Assn. Benjamin Franklin Award.
Turning to fiction in 1990, Sandra has published eight novels, including Prayers For Sale. Sandra is the recipient of the Women Writing the West Willa Award for New Mercies, and two-time winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award, for The Chili Queen and Tallgrass. In addition, she was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award, the Mountain and Plains Booksellers Assn. Award, and a four-time finalist for the Women Writing the West Willa Award.
The mother of two daughters—Dana is an attorney in New Orleans and Povy is a photographer in Golden, Colorado—Sandra lives in Denver with her husband, Bob.