Local author Diana K. Perkins launches book 'Jenny's Way' set in Sprague

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Sprague - posted Tue., Apr. 9, 2013
Local author Diana K. Perkins reads from 'Jenny's Way,' her most recent book, which is set in 20th-century Sprague. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Local author Diana K. Perkins reads from 'Jenny's Way,' her most recent book, which is set in 20th-century Sprague. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

It was a packed house at the Sprague Historical Society April 6 for the launch of Windham author Diana K. Perkins’ new book, “Jenny’s Way.” Perkins read an excerpt from her novel, set in 20th-century Sprague, and spoke briefly about her research into the lives of the mill workers who populated the town between the 1930s and the 1960s.

“There might be things in here that you’re going to recognize,” Perkins told her audience, “but it is fictional.” She augmented her presentation with vintage images of Baltic from the last century, when massive elms and maples lined the streets. “It was like a canopy over Main Street, which was a dirt road,” she said. The trees were felled in the Great Hurricane of 1938, she said.

Perkins’ novel is marked by that natural disaster and by the hurricane of 1955, which destroyed the dam that powered the town’s textile mill and flooded the village center. The flood also destroyed access to the makeshift “cabins” that mill workers had constructed along the shores of the dam’s lake. “They were squatter cottages, a nice place to spend the summer," said Perkins. “There was a lot of good boating, good fishing, and good swimming. When the dam went out, the cottages were inaccessible. There was really no good way to get to the cottages, so they gradually went into disrepair,” she said.

The tale in “Jenny’s Way” focuses on three Sprague families whose lives become intertwined over the years, and for whom the cottages become a significant element, Perkins said. The spark of an idea that ignited her work was a local legend that “ladies of the evening” lived and plied their trade in the squatters’ cabins. “Nobody can really tell me that this is true. I haven’t been able to substantiate it at all,” she said.

But as a writer of fiction, Perkins said, the legend provided a backdrop for her tale, as it did for her previous book, “Singing Her Alive.” She said she hiked up to the place where remnants of the cabins still exist, taking photos of their remains: collapsed log-cabin walls, roof flashing pounded out of old tin cans.

Her writing process, she said, “really starts with the place, and I put myself there as the characters. You always write your experience; you can’t help but weave something of yourself into [a book].” As she wrote, the “women in the woods” constituted a family of sorts, and they became one of the three families around which she spun her tale.

The new book’s title refers to a road, also called Ginny’s Lane, which is now on private property, Perkins said. She obtained permission from the landowner to explore Jenny’s Way as part of her research, she said.

Local history – and local legends in particular – have become a focus for Perkins, who grew up in Columbia, Conn., and now lives in Windham. Her next book, already in the works, is set in Chaplin and focuses on “Diana’s Pool,” a swimming hole where a young woman reputedly drowned under questionable circumstances. That book is scheduled for release in November 2013.

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