Kids find, publish Mom's bookDonna died of breast cancer in May 2012 at age 61. Her daughter, Juliana Weber, and cousin, LuEtt Hanson, were sorting through Donna's belongings in her New York home when Juliana stumbled on a book draft tucked inside an old cedar chest, the Winona Daily News reported.
By: Samantha Luhmann, Winona Daily News
WINONA, Minn. — Donna Weber was many things: U.S. Navy nurse, Civil War enthusiast, horseback rider, avid reader. She was the wife of a U.S. Navy helicopter pilot, mother of three, and in many ways a sister to family and friends.
The Winona native enjoyed knitting, crocheting and singing in her church choir. If she crossed paths with a stray animal, she was sure to give it a home.
Donna Weber was many things.
But no one ever guessed she was an author.
Donna died of breast cancer in May 2012 at age 61. Her daughter, Juliana Weber, and cousin, LuEtt Hanson, were sorting through Donna's belongings in her New York home when Juliana stumbled on a book draft tucked inside an old cedar chest, the Winona Daily News reported. Sections of the story, featuring a Winona woman in the Civil War, were typed text and others written by hand. Many pages were worn and marked by edits appeared to have been made across nearly three decades.
"I don't think anybody had any idea she wrote it," LuEtt said. "It was a surprise to all."
Donna mentioned the novel once or twice, Juliana said, but she wasn't sure how seriously to take it. Donna generally kept to herself when she put her mind to something. It was uncharacteristic of her to brag.
Juliana was sure of one thing — the book needed to be published.
"My first thought was I would pay money for this book," she said.
The story is set in Winona and features Beth MacLaird, the daughter of a skillful doctor, and her journey both fighting in war and falling in love with a war captain. At one point she sneaks away from home, disguises herself as a man, and departs for the battlefield, leaving the captain to wonder if he'll ever see her again.
In many ways, LuEtt said, Beth mirrors Donna's personality. Both women were loyal to their families, worked in the medical field, had a strong appreciation for nature and loved reading.
"She was just as adventurous as the heroine of her novel," Juliana said.
Juliana was surprised by the amount of detail the story contained, and more so by how well-written it was. In some places the storyline turns dark, she said, bringing out a side of her mother she had never known.
When Juliana told family members about the book and her idea to publish it, their response was unanimous — it's what Donna would have wanted.
"I can't imagine her putting that much work into something and not publishing it," said Gary Rahn, Donna's cousin.
Juliana took on the task of editing the book. She reworked vague descriptions, made some grammatical corrections, fixed a few plot holes_a dog, for example, grew from a puppy to an adult without explanation — and wrote the synopsis and her mother's biography. She worked as minimally as possible to preserve Donna's work.
"There are things I wish I could ask. Are the changes OK? What should I do? It's difficult," Juliana said. "I wish it would have happened when she was still alive."
Donna had named the book "Ladyslipper" because of the connections she saw between the flower and the story's heroine. Juliana researched the flower and found the title was perfect.
"Ladyslippers tend to grow in shadowy places," Juliana said. "They're beautiful, but resilient perennials and they're endangered, just like the heroine."
She listed the novel for sale online in early December, and donated copies to her mother's favorite bookstores. "Ladyslipper" has since sold more than 100 copies. All proceeds will go toward cancer research, Juliana said.
"The last thing I want to do is profit from my Mom's work," she said. "That's not right."
With the book completed and published, Juliana has returned to working on her own novel, one that in many ways reflects her mother's story. Writing was once a trait she thought to be hers alone. Now she knows it's something she and her mother always shared.
"It's a connection between me and Mom that I didn't realize," she said. "I'm very proud.
Information from: Winona Daily News, http://www.winonadailynews.com
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.