Ancestor Trouble: The Book Takes Shape

The dark blue, slightly purple-tinged cover of Maud Newton's Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation (Random House, March 2022), with the title and author's name in white; the subtitle in mustard yellow; a quilt motif in mustard, cornflower blue, aquamarine, pink, tan, and salmon-red; photos of the author's grandmother, great-grandparents, grandfather, and (infant) mother; the author's eye; snippets of an ancestor's witchcraft trial testimony and an article on her grandfather's union.

Ancestor Trouble has a cover! Rachel Ake’s quilt-inspired design incorporates some of my old family photos, an ancestor’s witchcraft testimony, and so much more.

Lit Hub did a cover reveal that features some insights from the brilliant Ake and some commentary from me. And I wrote a little bit more about the design—The Dream Cover I Didn’t Dare to Imagine—for anyone who’s interested. The book will be published by Random House on March 29, 2022.

Here’s the official description:

Maud Newton’s ancestors have vexed and fascinated her since she was a girl. Her mother’s father, who came of age in Texas during the Great Depression, was said to have married thirteen times and been shot by one of his wives. Her mother’s grandfather killed a man with a hay hook and died in a mental institution. Mental illness and religious fanaticism percolated through Maud’s maternal lines, to an ancestor accused of being a witch in Puritan-era Massachusetts. Maud’s father, an aerospace engineer turned lawyer, was a book-smart man who extolled the virtues of slavery and obsessed over the “purity” of his family bloodline, which he traced back to the Revolutionary War. He tried in vain to control Maud’s mother, a whirlwind of charisma and passion given to feverish projects: thirty rescue cats, and a church in the family’s living room where she performed exorcisms.

Their divorce, when it came, was a relief. Still, the meeting of her parents’ lines in Maud inspired an anxiety that she could not shake; a fear that she would replicate the family damage. She saw similar anxieties in the lives of friends, in the works of writers and artists she admired. As obsessive in her own way as her parents, Maud researched her genealogy — her grandfather’s marriages, the accused witch, her ancestors’ roles in slavery and genocide — and sought family secrets through her DNA. But sunk in census archives and cousin matches, she yearned for deeper truths. Her journey took her into the realms of genetics, epigenetics, and the debates over intergenerational trauma. She mulled modernity’s dismissal of ancestors along with psychoanalytic and spiritual traditions that center them.

Searching, moving, and inspiring, Ancestor Trouble is one writer’s attempt to use genealogy — a once-niche hobby that has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry — to expose the secrets and contradictions of her own ancestors, and to argue for the transformational possibilities that reckoning with our ancestors has for all of us.

More details to come in my newsletter (now renamed Ancestor Trouble) and probably here on the blog too. Redesign coming!



My Book Will Be Out from Random House in Early 2022

Maud Newton, her yellow lab, Daisy, and Daisy's lab-shepherd friend Roma, eating newly-picked alpine strawberries
Maud, Daisy, Roma, backyard strawberries, and a tangle of vines, (c) Jane P. 2019

Hi. I’m told my book is headed into production soon, and it will be out in early 2022, probably in March. Whew, and hooray! Date and title to come. I’m excited for you to read it, if you’d like to.

Meanwhile, my old Ancestor Hunger newsletter is warming up in the driveway. I’m aiming to send new dispatches every two weeks. Here are the recent ones:

  • Lineage Unconscious: On Jung and family symbols, including some of mine: black cats and mugwort, acorns and oaks, cardinals and quartz, clover and seashells. Also singing.
  • Other People’s Family Stories: Including some from Maaza Mengiste, Alexander Chee, and Elizabeth Bachner that I’ve particularly cherished as I’ve been holed up the past couple years.

I didn’t intend to disappear from this site for so long, but the book and my other job kept me busy. And in the unlikely event you were wondering what I was up to in the midst of a pandemic and election and attack on the freaking Capitol and so forth, my Twitter feed probably filled you in.

Recently, though, I deleted all my tweets over a month old in disgust over what social media hath wrought in our democracy and the idea that it was monetizing me in the process. Mostly I feel glad that I did this, and freer, but it was a rash act. I’ve been tweeting since 2008. I often used my archives to remember articles and interviews I’d enjoyed but misplaced. Although I downloaded them before deleting, I don’t see myself perusing the file in the same way.

My personal Facebook page has been blessedly abandoned for three years, so deleting just about everything there didn’t feel difficult at all, though Zuckerberg & Co. do not make it easy and only the insurrection prompted me to sit my ass down for all the hours it took to make it so.

In any case, as my mom used to say in her most theatrical Texan way when I kept trying to reach her, and couldn’t, and did finally: Here I ahhm!

A super-smart fact-checker I was working with on my book late last year called this site the most 2000s blog, design-wise, they’d ever seen, and I could only agree! I also thought, ha ha, you brilliant youngster, you didn’t even see the original paint spatter background (captured in part below) that Max made on actual paper at our kitchen table or the “more subtle” graph paper background we decided on a couple years later.

Part of the original paint-spatter background of MaudNewton.com, glimpsed here behind the header. The colors are black and red. The letters are (cut from newspapers and magazines, scanned in, and arranged alongside a childhood photo of Maud at a typewriter.
Original MaudNewton.com header, (c) Maximus Clarke 2002

Truly, it has been a journey here at MaudNewton.com, which will soon undergo a proper redesign. Here’s hoping you’re as well as you can possibly be in these times.