Jennifer Vido: What’s the inspiration behind THE WISHING BRIDGE?
Viola Shipman: A Zillow notification! Pardon the long story, but every novel I write is inspired by a deeply personal memory. THE WISHING BRIDGE is no different. I actually received a Zillow notification that my childhood home was for sale. I looked at the listing, and I saw the new photos of it. We’d sold it years before after my mother passed away and my father fell ill, but seeing the photos again sent me into a time warp, especially of the trees we planted when I was young. Growing up, I used to watch a Charlie Brown Christmas (which premiered, btw, the year I was born) while sitting in my grandma’s lap eating frosted Santa cookies. My grandma’s home was the epicenter – the North Pole – of my life growing up at the holidays. She lived in a tiny, one-story cottage with a huge wraparound porch that seemed to be a hundred degrees in the living room before a fire was started and a 120 degrees in her kitchen before the oven was lit. Every inch of her home was decorated: Blow moulds of Santa, snowmen and Rudolph – lit from inside as if they were alive – filled her yard. Santa’s rump popped out of her chimney. Her roof, porch and outdoor bushes and trees were drenched in lights. A tree filled with Shiny Brite ornaments, topped by a shimmering star and hugged by a manger and a tree skirt she sewed herself – felt applique with holiday scenes – filled her living room window.
When you walked inside the front door, my grandmother had cleared a path through the mountains of gifts she had bought and wrapped as if you were tunneling through snow.
My Grandma Shipman (my pen name) was a poor woman, a seamstress who never finished high school and never learned to drive. She stitched overalls at a local factory. My grampa was an ore miner. But, somehow, they scrimped and saved to make Christmas magical and meaningful, and their sacrifices changed my family’s life.
One year, after watching Charlie Brown, we went to our favorite Ozarks Christmas tree farm, and my grandma walked me back to the furthest reaches of the tree farm to find the saddest Charlie Brown tree. We dug it up, put it in a little pot with water, decorated it, wrapped it in a little tree skirt and placed it on her pink Formica table in the kitchen where it watched us bake cookies and me lick frosting from beaters. Then, after the holidays, we took it to our house and planted it in my parents’ yard. That stated a new tradition. Over many years, those trees became a border from the road and grew as quickly as I did.
“It’s amazing what can grow with a little love,” my grandma said.
When I received that Zillow notification, I remembered those Christmases as a kid. I never wanted them to end. I wanted Christmas to last forever. But I knew – as I aged – that I’d have to leave home and that the holidays would likely never be the same again. That’s what sparked the idea for THE WISHING BRIDGE.
Jen: Let’s get to know Henrietta (Henri) Wegner. Who is she, and what’s going on in her life?
Viola: Ah, I love complicated Henri. And I love writing complicated characters who are not 22-year-old TikTok’ers but wiser, older women who have been knocked around by life and try to forge on with grace and strength. She is a strong, smart, independent, single woman in her early 50s who forged a successful career in a male-dominated world. Now, however, she is growing disillusioned not only with her career and her young, unethical boss but also questioning the decisions she made long ago from turning down working with her father to turning down a marriage proposal while she was in college. Was it the wrong timing, as it is for so many of us? Was it not wanting to live in her father’s shadow? Or did she just not see her own light? Henri, like too many of us, is scared of change: What would her life look like without having a job that defines her? Good money, retirement, health care, all of those realities that stop us from making changes in our lives. She returns home for the holidays – a rarity in her life – to convince her parents – now in their seventies – to sell their beloved Christmas store. She actually convinces herself she’s doing it for the right reasons: They’re growing older, no one can run it on their own, she doesn’t want them to get taken, she wants them to be secure in their golden years . But when she returns home at the holidays – her parents’ busiest time of the year and her town’s most beautiful – she sees her family and Frankenmuth through new eyes: How hard her father has worked to make his dream a reality, the magic of the town and its independently owned businesses, the support of the friends she left so long ago, how much she loved the boy whose heart she broke, why Christmas means so much to her family – to all of us – and, most importantly, what will her legacy look like, that dash – the one between birth and death? Henri is a character who has built up a wall to get through life, and when she sees – despite her faults and bad decisions – how much she is still loved unconditionally and how quickly time goes, she lets go of fear and regret to become the person she dreamed.
Jen: How did Henri’s family react to her returning home in early December? And, how does she feel about her hometown?
Viola: Very suspiciously. Her brother, Finn, with whom she’s had a strained relationship, does not trust her. Her parents are thrilled to see her, but questioning as well. Why is our sister and daughter, who never comes home for Christmas, back and so interested in the business she had no interest in? In regard to Frankenmuth, the things that drove her away now look entirely different. After living in a big city her whole life, the town has many of things Henri now craves: beauty, quiet, quaintness, a sense of community and a charm only resort towns have. Henri left – and turned down Shep’s marriage proposal – because she could already see her entire life’s story written: Married, children, living in the same small town she was born, taking over her father’s business. Every day would be the same. Forever. But now Henri can see the beauty of owning a small business – like the ones that she has sold off her entire career – and the hard work and passion that goes into it. She sees her childhood friends – though struggling with many things – mostly happy and content. And she actually “feels” again when she reconnects with Shep. Settings are as big a characters as my protagonists. I love how environment impacts and changes us. When we are placed in a new or unfamiliar setting we tend to see ourselves in a new light, too, and Frankenmuth and Wegner’s makes Henri do that.
Jen: What sparks a change in Henri?
Viola: Seeing Christmas through a child’s eyes again. Witnessing the joy that customers – who have shopped at Wegner’s Winter Wonderland their whole lives – experience when they come into her parents’ store with their own children and grandchildren. Seeing how hard her parents have worked to make their dream come true. Seeing what making a difference in the world – and one’s community – truly means. And experiencing Christmas again after many years of pushing it aside: The holidays are so difficult for so many of us. We’ve lost those we love, grief and loneliness overwhelm us, going home brings up difficult memories. But it’s important to realize that we can, and should, redefine the holidays on our own terms. We can create entirely new and beautiful memories. So many of us run from our pasts, but we are often running without a clear direction of why or where we’re headed. Henri realizes she can cross that bridge again and come home.
Jen: Who is your favorite character in the story and why?
Viola: I have two: Sofie and Hannah. I love secondary characters in books as I think they are the foundation of the novel and the mirrors for the main character. They lend insight into a main character in deep, meaningful ways. Often, they are the truth tellers. In THE WISHING BRIDGE, I loved writing about Sofie and Hannah, Henri’s BFF and childhood enemy, who own the dueling chicken restaurants in town across the street from one another. Sofie slings one-liners as quickly as she does her family’s egg noodles, but she also knows Henri inside and out, and has always seen what’s best for her but never wanted to stand in her way of pursuing her dreams. Hannah was the pretty, popular mean girl who was actually mean for a reason: A difficult childhood that made her lash out at those who had stable, loving families. How these three come together – and see each other so differently as women – was so challenging and rewarding to write, and serves as the foundation of the novel.
Jen: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
Viola: My grandma used to say that “life is as short as one blink of God’s eye,” and I want readers to understand how short yet beautiful our journey is and to not live in fear or with regret. Only by being our unique selves can we shine our light and love unconditionally. I hope this novel reminds readers of what matters most in life: The simplest of things and each other.
Jen: What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?
Viola: How much time do you have? We always bake cherished family desserts, including sugar cookies we cut out with my grandma’s vintage cookie cutters and frost, or making Gary’s mother’s “Christmas tree” coffee cake on Christmas morning. We put up ten trees (yes, you heard me.). But my favorite tradition is pulling from storage the countless bins of beloved vintage ornaments – Shiny Brites, ones collected on trips, paw prints from our dogs – and plucking them out one at a time and sharing a story about each -- who gifted them, where we got them, what they mean to us – and then hanging them up as we drink hot chocolate. It reconnects me to the meaning of the holidays and when I look at the tree, I see the story of my life.
Jen: What’s on your TBR stack?
Viola: Lessons in Chemistry. I think I’m the only one left in the world who hasn’t read it, but I’ve been so busy writing two books a year and traveling for events that I don’t pleasure read until I’m done with a book (other voices get in my head). Can’t wait to start this winter!
Jen: What’s your current work in progress?
Viola: A novel titled The Page Turner (Feb. 2025) about a young romance writer who finds success and vindication when she discovers a hidden manuscript at her family's summer home that throws her snobbish parents' high-brow literary careers into chaos. A sharp, insightful family drama for fans of Elinor Lipman and Jennifer Weiner.
Jen: Where can readers find you on social media?
Viola: My website, Facebook, and Instagram
Jen: Thanks for stopping by to chat about The Wishing Bridge. Happy Holidays!
Viola: Thank you for having me! I’ve been a Fresh Fiction fan since back in the day! Thank you for all you do on behalf of books, readers and authors!
Once the hottest mergers and acquisitions executive in the company, Henrietta Wegner can see the ambitious and impossibly young up-and-comers gunning for her job. When Henri’s boss makes it clear she’ll be starting the New Year unemployed unless she can close a big deal before the holidays, Henri impulsively tells him that she can convince her aging parents to sell Wegner’s—their iconic Frankenmuth, Michigan, Christmas store—to a massive, soulless corporation. It’s the kind of deal cool, corporate Henri has built her career on.
Home for the holidays has typically meant a perfunctory twenty-four-hour visit for Henri, then back to Detroit as fast as her car will drive her. So turning up at the Wegner’s offices in early December raises some eyebrows: from her delighted, if puzzled, parents to her suspicious brother and curious childhood friends. But as Henri fields impatient texts from her boss while reconnecting with the magic of the store and warmth of her hometown, what sounded great in the boardroom begins to lose its luster in real life. She’s running out of time to pull the trigger on what could be the greatest success of her career…or the most awkward family holiday of her life.
Holiday [Graydon House, On Sale: November 7, 2023, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780369732729 / eISBN: 9780369732729]
VIOLA SHIPMAN writes regularly for People, Entertainment Weekly, and Coastal Living, among other places, and is a regular contributor to All Things Considered.
Jennifer Vido writes sweet romances set in the Lowcountry filled with southern charm and hospitality. In between chapters, she interviews authors for her bi-weekly Jen’s Jewels column on FreshFiction.com. Most mornings, she teaches an arthritis-friendly water exercise class for seniors before heading to the office to serve as the executive director of a legal non-profit. A New Jersey native, she currently lives in Maryland with her husband and two rescue dogs and is the proud parent of two sons who miss her home-cooked meals. To learn more, please visit her website.
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