Set in the 1930s, Taylor’s suspenseful and intricate follow-up to Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night tells the story of sisters Violet and Lily Morgan. When 16-year-old Lily becomes pregnant out of wedlock, Violet follows her to the Good Shepherd Infant Asylum in Philadelphia. The nuns promise good homes to all babies born under their roof, but unbeknownst to them, the lead physician at the asylum is practicing eugenics and sterilizing the expecting mothers who pass through their doors. As the girls’ visit comes to a close, Violet makes a rash decision that will alter not only her relationship with her sister, but her future with her fiancé, and her entire existence in her hometown of Scranton, Pa. Taylor delivers startling plot twists and incisive commentary on the social unrest of a coal-mining town during the Great Depression. Covering a six-year span, the novel reveals the consequences of arduous labor and widespread sterilizations that came with the eugenics movement. Among the prostitutes, mobsters, and miners is a web of interconnected lives that come together for a breathtaking ending in Taylor’s fine sequel. (July)
From Songs to Tears: PW Talks with Barbara J. Taylor
A family legend inspired Taylor to shine a spotlight on her hometown of Scranton, Penn., in her debut novel, Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night.
Your publisher informs us that the idea for this novel was inspired by a real-life incident that occurred in your family before you were born.
On the day she was baptized—July 4, 1918—my grandmother’s sister, Pearl, and her friends were playing with sparklers in the backyard. Something happened, and her dress went up in flames. According to the story, she survived for three days, and she sang hymns nonstop. When she passed away, everybody in Scranton came to view the body of the little girl who sang hymns. The story took on mythological proportions; it has always fascinated me. What also fascinated me was the effect witnessing [it] had on [my grandmother’s] life—although in real life, no one blamed her.
A key plot twist is a fateful snowstorm that has a major impact, not just upon Violet and her family but upon the entire community. Is the character Billy Sunday, who figures prominently, a historical figure?
The Billy Sunday Snowstorm is a real event that happened in Scranton in 1914. I grew up hearing all kinds of stories about it. Everybody seems to have known someone who was “saved” during the revival meeting that went on during the snowstorm. It seems kind of funny, because not everybody in Scranton was there that day, but they all wanted to have some claim to it. There’s something about that snowstorm I always thought would make for an interesting scene in a novel, so I purposely went back [to 1914] to include it.
‘Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night’: Authenticity augments tale of grief
The title of Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night comes from a Welsh proverb about how joy is inevitably followed by sorrow.
When Barbara Taylor’s touching first novel opens in September 1913, joy has vanished for the Morgan family of Scranton, Pa.
Two months earlier, the family’s older daughter, Daisy, died of burns suffered in a Fourth of July accident.
Now, her mother, Grace, spends most of her time in bed talking to an imaginary companion; her father, Owen, works in the coal mines 12 hours a day and drinks at bars most of the night; and her younger sister, Violet, blames herself for the accident — as do many of the gossipy neighbors.
Much of the novel pays earnest attention to the slow unwinding of grief, healing and forgiveness.
The story isn’t all somber, though.
Violet’s best friend, Stanley, who skips school to fish and teach Violet bird songs, and befriends the stubborn mule Sophie, adds a note of levity.
And the childless widow Lankowski, who keeps watch over Violet and Stanley and feeds them Polish sweets, is a kindly influence.
A chorus of “church ladies,” meddling and self-satisfied but well-meaning, provides a running commentary on the action.
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Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night – Publishers Weekly
Taylor’s debut novel is set in her native city of Scranton, Penn., during the early part of the 20th century. When Daisy, the oldest daughter of miner Owen Morgan and his housemaid wife Grace, dies in a fireworks accident, her parents are devastated: Grace’s melancholy becomes so overwhelming that she conjures up the creepy, destructive figment she calls Grief; Owen has a violent drunken quarrel with Grace, moves out to live above a tavern, and leaves their church. Meanwhile, the Morgans’ eight-year-old daughter, Violet, is weighed down by her guilt and starts cutting school with older boy Stanley Adamski, whose own life changes after a mining accident. Taylor’s novel, which is based on a family story, dramatically culminates with the arrival of evangelist Billy Sunday and a powerful blizzard that rocks Scranton. An earnest, well-done historical novel that skillfully blends fact and fiction. (July)
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Pocono Mountain West teacher’s novel draws from childhood tales
Nearly 100 years ago, a 7-year-old girl named Pearl was celebrating July 4 when a sparkler caught her dress on fire the day of her baptism.
She survived three days, singing songs from Sunday school before succumbing to her injuries.
Pocono Mountain West English teacher — and newly published author — Barbara J. Taylor heard the story of her great-aunt Pearl throughout her childhood. Taylor’s own grandmother was only a toddler when her sister died but always said she “pined for her” and stopped walking for a year after Pearl’s death.
The tragic family history forms the basis of Taylor’s first published novel, “Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night,” a work of historical fiction set in the 1910s. The book also weaves in threads of Scranton history, from coal mining, to Hillary Clinton’s great-uncle “Doc Rodham” who tended to Pearl’s injuries and evangelist Billy Sunday who was famously snowed in overnight with thousands while preaching in Scranton.
Taylor, who grew up and continues to live in Scranton, said she thought of Pearl’s story while in the Wilkes University creative writing program.
“It just always haunted me,” she said. She also wanted to incorporate the “Billy Sunday Snowstorm” story.
Best Summer Books 2014
I adore scrappy Violet, the eight-year-old protagonist of this novel, who is blamed by just about everybody in Scranton, a hardscrabble, blue-collar town in Pennsylvania’s coal mining country, for causing her nine-year-old sister’s death. Even though the community sits in judgement of her and her family, Violet refuses to conform to others’ expectations of how she should behave in the wake of this tragedy. The author says that this novel was inspired by an event that actually occurred in her own family decades ago. It’s a profound story of how one unforeseen event may tear a family apart, but another can just as unexpectedly bring them back together again. —Claire Kirch, midwest correspondentSee Full Article