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This Delaware Author Draws Book Inspiration From Her Local Community

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Local novelist Marisa de los Santos’ latest book, I’d Give Anything, is rooted in curious Delaware history.

By Amy White

Novelist Marisa de los Santos says her books are largely inspired by her local Delaware surroundings.

If you’ve yet to dive into New York Times bestselling author Marisa de los Santos’ prose, we can’t think of a better time. Santos’ stories—many written from a table at Brew HaHa!—speak to hope, love and profound human connection.

Your latest book, I’d Give Anything, is rooted in curious Delaware history.

The idea for the book came in 2012, when my son was still at [Wilmington] Friends School and an [enormous] fire started in the auditorium. Just 15 minutes later, every kid was accounted for and no one was hurt. It was later ruled an arson, but we’ll never know what happened. Just like in my book, the Friends fire was stopped by a firewall (although in my book, someone is killed.) The thing that really stuck with me is that somebody knows—at least one person has been walking around with this secret. My character, Ginny, is keeping this secret after all these years while also having her marriage fall apart and her mother pass away, and she’s dealing with an aftershock of that fire: loss of friendship.

Delaware has a way of sneaking into your books.

It really is a gold mine in terms of location. I am a huge fan of its neighborhoods. My own, Wawaset Park, [inspires me with its really neat mix] of modest and extravagant houses—it feels like it just got slipped into the pocket of the city. I have books that aren’t specifically set in my neighborhood, but they are. I’ll have characters walking around a neighborhood that is set in Virginia, but it’s these streets I’m writing about. I’ve stolen moments and trees and corners from The Highlands, Alapocas and Trolley Square. There’s something about walking through a neighborhood at dusk in summer, with cicadas singing, and knowing that behind all these lit-up windows, stories are happening.

What else serves as connective tissue in your books?

Some are literally connected with continuing characters. But really what connects my books is that the characters come before the story, which is not to say that story is not important. People who love my books tell me it’s because the characters felt very real to them—that is what I hope to hear. I write a lot about [the depth of] relationships: love relationships, siblings, mothers and daughters, childhood friends, people who start off as strangers. I also write a lot about women, who are so interesting to me. So often who they are on the exterior is calm, together and traditional, whereas so much is going on beneath the surface.

What makes your work a good first post-quarantine, #IRL book club choice?

I think my books reinforce faith in the idea that there’s hope for most of us. Most of us are decent at the core. Some people are more than decent. Some people can rise when you don’t expect them to, and I think that there is nobility in most people. These little things that people do for one another that seem so ordinary in passing but are actually extraordinary and compassionate and kind—that’s what keeps me going.

Published as “Marisa de los Santos: On Writing” in the June 2020 issue of Delaware Today magazine.