You can’t get more “local” than Lucy Sanna, who will be signing copies of her first novel, “The Cherry Harvest,” at Bookends on Main Thursday, July 16, from 5 to 7 p.m.
She hasn’t actually lived in Menomonie since her parents moved the family to Madison in 1964 when she was in high school, but she was born and raised here -- and the family business, Sanna Dairies, has been an important part of the city landscape since the 1940s.
Lucy Sanna went to preschool at Stout State University's child study center, attended elementary school at St. Joe’s, read her first books at the Mabel Tainter Library, and developed her life dream to be a writer here when she was eight.
“While my mother set my freshly shampooed hair into pin curls one Sunday evening, I watched a TV host interviewing Truman Capote. It was then I realized that writing stories was something one could DO (instead of growing up to be a snake charmer or a Pope, for example), and from then on, writing became my life focus,” Sanna says.
In her publisher’s “Library Love Fest” blog, Sanna tells the story of the Mabel Tainter library: “I can still feel the energy that pulled me in when I opened that massive door and entered the high-ceilinged space. The librarian greeted me – I was a regular – and helped me through the maze of tall shelves to the books I came to enjoy.
People are also reading…
“One of the beauties of public libraries is that they are open to everyone,” Sanna adds. “We might think of their importance to people who don’t have ready access to books. But even for someone who grew up with books in her home, the library was a fabulous escape into times, places and characters I would never have otherwise known.”
The move to Madison when she was in high school was very difficult, not easy.
“I was very comfortable in Menomonie. I learned to drive right before I left," Sanna said. "I went from a town of 10,000 to a city of 250,000 ... a high school there of about 250 to one of had 2,500 kids. It was really hard going into a new high school in your junior year. I was going into my junior year and missed my Menomonie friends.”
After college, there was marriage, motherhood and a career in publishing, editing and corporate communications in California.
As a new novelist, Sanna says, “I feel as if I’ve crossed over to my dream life.”
Her novel, appropriately, is set in Wisconsin, in Door County, on a cherry orchard during World War II as German prisoners of war are brought to the area to work the local orchards. The story revolves around the Christiansen family, Thomas and Charlotte and their teenaged daughter Kate, who are trying to keep the orchard going while son Ben and all the other young men who could otherwise be working in the orchards are fighting in the war.
As part of her two years of work in writing the novel, Lucy researched the history of the German prisoner of war camps in the United States and spent time in Door County, soaking up the feel of that unique Wisconsin setting for the scenes in her novel.
The plot has conflict, love, suspense and some surprising and upsetting turns, none of which I will reveal here, as it is so much more satisfying to come upon them yourself as you sink into the story.
As she travels on her book promotion tour, Sanna has been encountering people with lots of personal stories about the prisoner of war camps, even people descended from German POWs who came back to Wisconsin to live after the war.
Sanna is now working on a nonfiction book based on what she is learning about the POW camps, a history that has been neglected or even hidden by our government. “It’s not what people learned about in seventh grade history class,” she says.
Now for the in-depth local family connections to Menomonie. In 1946, Lucy’s grandfather, Anthony Sanna, purchased a condensed milk plant from Nestles here in Menomonie and fulfilled his dream of having all his five four boys together in a family business.
Charles Sanna, Lucy’s father, was called upon to design a world class milk drier, and he designed the largest spray drying facility of its day, allowing Sanna Dairies to produce and patent a nonfat milk product having the quality of bottled milk.
Lucy and her siblings were later the taste testers for what her dad developed and patented as Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa, the first hot chocolate to be made by adding only water.
The Sanna Dairies plant has changed hands several times over the years, as have ownership of the Sanalac and Swiss Miss brands. Charles Sanna still now lives in Madison with his wife, Peggy, where Lucy also Sanna lives when she is not in California.