Feature story for The Commercial Appeal
May 30, 2012
Courtney Miller Santo grew up in conditions fertile for a burgeoning writer, a conservative Mormon household with seven children where there was no television to be found. Instead, the large and close family told stories and created plays. They interacted in ways almost unheard of today. And they read.
“My dad was always reading, he would go to bed at 9, and he would always have a book,” Santo said of her father, an elevator mechanic.
Santo, the oldest of those seven children, describes her childhood just outside of Portland in Milwaukie, Ore., as “chaotic,” yet a bookish manner set in and has paid off for her in a big way as she prepares for her debut novel, “The Roots of the Olive Tree” (William Morrow), to be released in August.
The story is threaded along one olive-growing season, taking a look at the lives of five generations of firstborn daughters and Anna, the 112-year-old matriarch, who wants to be the oldest living human being in the world.
The story, set at Hill House and the family’s olive groves in northern California, centers on a geneticist coming to study the longevity of the family just as the youngest, Erin, returns home alone and pregnant.
It’s a combination that, the dust jacket of an advance reader copy explains, “ignites explosive emotions that these women have kept buried and uncovers revelations that will shake them all to their roots.”
It’s a novel with a road to publication almost as intriguing as the tale within the pages. Santo entered her manuscript in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award competition in 2011. Out of 5,000 entrants, she made it to the semifinals and the remaining 50 hopefuls. And then she was eliminated. But that’s only the beginning of the story because she was then contacted by an agent with the Janklow & Nesbit Associates literary agency who had read the manuscript excerpts posted at Amazon, and wanted to represent Santo … (read more)