January 24, 2018
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Local author researches Maine sanatoriums for new novel

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TROY, Maine — Troy farmer and author Jennifer Wixson is back with “The Songbird of Sovereign,” the third book in her series of rural Maine novels, The Sovereign Series. The novel — publication date July 19, 2014 — is set in the 1940s at Windmere, a fictitious sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis, which is loosely based on several sanatoriums in Maine during that time period.

The novel is a prequel to the other two books in Wixson’s four-novel series, and moves back and forth between the 1940s and the present day as the main character, 88-year-old Miss Hastings, recalls her childhood at Windmere. In August 1941, when she is 16, Jana Hastings, a musical prodigy then performing on the stages of New York as The Songbird of Sovereign, finds her career cut short by TB. She’s sent to Windmere in central Maine to recover. At Windmere, various events – including first love, first loss, and the thundering approach of World War II – catapult the self-centered teenager into mature womanhood.

Wixson spent months researching sanatorium life in Maine — as so-called “Lungers” described their daily life at the sanatorium. Before the advent of antibiotics, those who contracted TB, a highly infectious disease, were isolated from the general population and treated at three sanatoriums in Maine: Western Maine Sanatorium in Hebron, the Central Maine Sanatorium in Fairfield and the Northern Maine Sanatorium in Presque Isle. “I want my readers to feel as though they’re at Windmere with Jana,” Wixson says. “To make that work I needed to get a good understanding of the patient’s daily life at the sanatorium. I relied heavily upon the Maine Memory Network, which has wonderful photographs and stories of San Life at the Western Maine Sanatorium.”

The “fresh air” concept of the sanatorium evolved in Europe in the second half of the 19th century, and quickly became popular in the United States in the early 20th century. Initially, sanatoriums were run by such charitable aid associations as the Maine State Sanatorium Association, which opened the facility in Hebron in 1904, then called the Maine State Sanatorium. Antibiotics for the treatment of TB were discovered in 1946, and by 1970 sanatoriums in the United States were all but extinct. In Maine, the Central Maine Sanatorium in Fairfield was the last to close, shutting its doors in 1969.

Many Maine families – including Wixson’s own – had members who were treated at one of the three state sanatoriums. Patients were at the facilities for months – sometimes years – and thus romances often developed. “My great-uncle met his wife at the Central Maine Sanatorium in Fairfield,” says Wixson. “I thought that was quite romantic when I was a child. The love story that I tell in Songbird between Jana and Henry is certainly something that could have happened at Windmere.”

Wixson will autograph copies of The Songbird of Sovereign at the Beyond the Sea Book Festival noon-2 p.m. Saturday, July 26, at Beyond the Sea Books, Route 1, Lincolnville. In addition, she will read from her new book and discuss her Sovereign Series at a fundraiser for the Troy Union Church 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, July 24. Copies of the book will be on sale at church and $5 from the sale of each book will go to support the Troy Union Church Steeple Project.

For more information, contact whitewavepublishing@gmail.com or visit www.TheSovereignSeries.com.