From Lititz to the Lone Star State

By on May 14, 2014

Lititz author publishes first novel

This Mother’s Day, author Duncan Alderson has an extra reason to be thankful for his mother. He was so inspired by photos of her in full flapper regalia that it moved him to write a novel.

The Lititz author will be signing copies of his novel “Magnolia City,” on Saturday, May 17 from 12 to 2 p.m. at Aaron’s Books, 35 E. Main St.

“I remember seeing these pictures of my mother [dressed as a flapper] as a child,” said Alderson, “but after she died, I found a box of old family mementos, and there they were, the famous flapper photos. Although we never had a chance to talk about the pictures, I do remember hearing stories about my mother’s youth and marriage.”

Lititz resident and founder of Rabbit Hill Writer’s Studio, Duncan Alderson, has published his first novel, “Magnolia City” — a torrid, adventure-filled love triangle set in 1920s Houston, Texas. (Photo by David Schrott)

Lititz resident and founder of Rabbit Hill Writer’s Studio, Duncan Alderson, has published his first novel, “Magnolia City” — a torrid, adventure-filled love triangle set in 1920s Houston, Texas. (Photo by David Schrott)

It was probably fortunate that Alderson was able to use his imagination. He fashioned Hetty Allen, heroine of “Magnolia City,” based on the photos. His mother, Dottie May, was far from the fascinating creature in the photos by the time Alderson reached adulthood.

“The exotic woman in the pictures wore furs and long strands of pearls, staring into the camera with a kind of flaming defiance missing in the practical housewife who was raising me,” Alderson explained. “I had to write a book to explain who that other woman was. She sparked my imagination in so many ways. Henry James said that every writer must find his donnée (what’s given to him by life). I found the thread of my donnée in those old faded photographs of my mother. When I yanked on it, a whole book unspooled.”

“Magnolia City” is Alderson’s first published novel, and the book was countless years in the making. Alderson spent approximately ten years researching and writing. When the novel was released by Kensington Books April 2014, it was immediately selected as the No. 1 “must read” by Harper’s Bazaar.

The novel tells the story of socialite Hetty Allen, daughter of a wealthy businessman grooming his daughter to marry the son of an oil baron. Hetty then makes the acquaintance of a wild and mysterious man who challenges her notions about love and her supposed destiny. Torn between the two men, she explores all that Houston of the 1920s had to offer &tstr; illicit jazz clubs, society parties, forbidden alcohol and stolen nights of passion.

Alderson grew up in Texas, so writing about his old stomping grounds was a natural choice. However, he still needed to do some historical research.

“I made three trips to Texas to do research,” said Alderson. “The first was to the Texas Room of the Houston Public Library to research the city in the 1920s. The second was to the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore, Texas to research the oil boom of 1931. The folks there were very helpful. I learned how to drill an oil well! The third trip was to San Antonio and the brush country of South Texas to a little Mexican plaza town called San Diego, where the tequileros (tequila smugglers) used to meet up with the rumrunners during prohibition. All the rest stops had signs that read ‘Watch for snakes.’ Old rusty tin roadside stands advertised ‘Barbacoa’ (baked cow’s heads). One touching moment was when I visited the Duval County Museum on the plaza in San Diego; the latina who ran it was so excited that I was visiting, and said, ‘No one’s been here in months.’ I felt so sorry for her, but it went along with the desolate site, a dusty little historic town in South Texas that time had passed by. It made a great setting for my rumrunning scenes in the novel.”

Great detail to history and locale, equal helpings of adventure and romance, along with a story line convincingly written told the point of view of a female character have made the book palatable for audiences of both genders.

Alderson’s creativity began early in life. His first love was acting.

“I was a child actor and starred as Tom Sawyer on both stage and television in Houston. My goal was to become a movie star and change my name to Duncan Divine. Then my family moved to the Piney Woods and my acting career never saw a second act,” Alderson lamented. “That was when I turned to writing. I wrote my first novel, ‘Retama,’ in high school, then went on to write advertising in my twenties. My goal was to escape the grind of advertising by writing a novel, and I freelanced three days a week, and wrote fiction the other four. Then I became a teacher and wrote fiction during my summer break. I was always ‘writing a novel.’ It’s been such a thrill for me to finally get one published late in life.”

Alderson puts into words how it felt to finally hold a copy of “Magnolia City” in his hands:

“I felt like someone had finally recognized my talent as a writer,” Alderson said. “It’s not so much about the fame and money to me, as about being validated as an artist. It felt good. It’s done wonders for my self-confidence.”

Locally, Alderson &tstr; who came to Lititz from Canada to be with his wife, Isabel Lark &tstr; is best known for his writer’s studio.

“I ran the Rabbit Hill Writer’s Studio for 10 years from 1995 to 2005,” Alderson said. “We offered creative writing workshops for adults ranging from the Fine Art of Fiction to screenwriting and creative nonfiction. I taught the fiction workshops and the Writer’s Round Table for more advanced writers and novelists. My students were kind enough to allow me to workshop my novel at the Round Table, so ‘Magnolia City’ was really developed there. It takes a village.”

Alderson is encouraged by the number of aspiring authors in the Lititz area.

“In 2001, Melissa Greene started her writing studio, ‘Write from the Heart,’ also in Lititz. It was amazing that there were two creative writing studios in this little town. Who knew?” Alderson said. “In 2005, I decided to retire and devote myself to getting my novel published. Many of my students were sorry to see Rabbit Hill close, but gravitated to ‘Write from the Heart.’ Melissa does a wonderful job in her workshops and I was happy to pass some students along to her.”

Alderson is especially happy that “Magnolia City” will be carried by Shakespeare and Company &tstr; a famous English-language bookstore on the Left Bank in Paris which was the hangout for many ex-patriot writers of the Lost Generation.

“It’s a symbolic victory to me to have my novel in the store with so much literary history,” Alderson remarked.

To learn more, visit To learn more about Duncan Alderson, visit

Melissa Hunnefield is a staff writer for the Lititz Record Express. She welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at or at 721-4452.

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