At the Water's Edge


During my preteen years (ages 10-13) I lived in Helsinki and spent time in the same places Annela does. Her parents' apartment building is based on the home of boy-girl twins from my class. My best friend Katri's apartment was the model for Sister Henderson's (including the Agatha Christie collection). My sisters and I spent time at the shore on a big stone protrusion we nicknamed "Elephant Rock." I attended the same school, shopped at the same mall (especially the Candy Bag or Karkkipussi), rode the same metro, visited the National Museum, and walked the paths of Seurasaari. Finland is my second home, and I long to go back some day.

My mother, a Helsinki native, first heard the gospel from missionaries when she was a young woman living at home. Both of her parents were adamantly against her decision to be baptized. Her father even threatened to kick her out of the house if she joined the Church, but when he realized she was serious about her new faith, he never followed through. She was baptized at age seventeen and promptly became the black sheep of the family.

My father spent two and a half years as a missionary in Finland and returned five years later on a Fulbright. One day at the Neitsytpolku ward in Helsinki he was struck by a blonde beauty coming in the door. After church he went to the train station with some of the missionaries and ran into her again. It wasn't long before they left together, the missionaries eyeing the couple with envy.

Over his shoulder he grinned and said, "Eat your heart out, elders."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Those who read At the Water's Edge will find a few similarities in the story, as my parents' romance served as a springboard for my imagination. That said, this book is not their story. I made the mistake of mentioning to one of my sisters that our parents were my inspiration. When she read a few chapters of an early draft, she started crying, hoping that our grandmother was as supportive to our mother as Helena is to Annela.

"Did Grandma really say those things?" she asked.

If only. I had to tell her that no, this is fiction. I made it all up. Helena is not our grandmother, and no one else in the story exists outside the imagination either. Even so, over the course of writing this book, the characters have all become very real to me, and I will likely revisit them again.