Writing a novel of historical fiction and having it published is a dream come true for Sedalia writer and now author Lela Merrell-Savage, 76.
Merrell-Savage, a frequent SpoFest reader and member of the Sedalia Senior Center Writer’s Group, began her book, “River James and Saturday,” six to 10 years ago. She took a hiatus for several years and then began writing again. The book was published in September.
“When I held it in my hand, I was just in awe that I actually did this,” she said Wednesday from her home.
Characters and elements of the book were taken from a trip she made with her sister to Yountville, California, in Napa Valley. Merrell-Savage noted that she was intrigued with the small town of Yountville, because Yount is her maiden name.
Her book spans the years of 1849 to the 1940s and has one character who was actually a real person: George C. Yount, who founded the Napa Valley area back in the 1800s. Her accounts in the book of Yount are taken from history but are purely fiction.
“I was so impressed with him,” she noted. “He’s the only person in my book who was an actual living person. George was a friend of the Indians and the white settlers. He came there in the mid-1800s. He has a story of his own.”
When Merrell-Savage came home from the trip, she researched Yount and found he was the first white settler to arrive in the Napa Valley area.
“He was the person who brought the grapes into Napa Valley and he was awarded 12,000 acres by the Mexican government before it became California state,” she added. “He lived a fascinating life.”
Also woven into the book is the protagonist, a young girl named Saturday, who resembles Merrell-Savage’s niece Natalie Yount Gipson, originally from Warsaw.
Merrell-Savage said the book is historical fiction but also delves into murder, mystery and romance. She added it was her daughter, Julie Merrell who challenged her to begin writing the book again.
“So, I went out to the college (State Fair Community College) and took a creative writing course,” she noted. “I was the oldest person in the class, of course.”
Along with the encouragement of the class and the critiques of her fellow students, Merrell-Savage gained confidence to work on her book again.
“I almost quit,” she said of the class. “When it was time to critique my piece … one of the young women, who I thought was the best writer in the group, she said, ‘this was like falling through a Norman Rockwell painting and I want to know what happened to those people.’ Needless to say from then on I got hooked.”
Merrell-Savage eventually joined the writers’ group at the Sedalia Senior Center who also encouraged her to write, but she still found writing the book wasn’t easy.
“It was a real struggle, I almost quit,” she said. “I got to the point where it was just overwhelming. I couldn’t seem to get it together. I was tired of working on it, and my son Paul called.”
Her son, a videographer who lives in Los Angeles, played a part in fueling her writing abilities when he called her an “artist.”
“I thought about it and I thought, he’s right,” she said. “I’m writing this for myself basically, it’s something I’m interested in and it’s something I’m going to finish. So, I did.”
She added that former SFCC English Instructor and author Debbie Noland and fellow writer Fayerene Mayes helped her with the book.
“Without Debbie’s help, I’m not sure I would have ever finished it,” Merrell-Savage said. “It finally came together.”
The book “River James and Saturday” is available at Reader’s World in Sedalia and on Barnes & Noble and Amazon websites; it is also available as an eBook. Merrell-Savage will host a book signing from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Reader’s World, 1400 S. Limit Ave.