The Story Behind Song From the Ashes by Megan Whitson Lee


In 1993 I saw a movie called The Age of Innocence starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder. The movie was based on Edith Wharton’s classic novel of the same title, directed by Martin Scorsese, nominated for Academy Awards and Golden Globes (winning several that Song From the Ashes 2year). I was drawn to the tortured-love triangle—the idea that these two people (Newland and Countess Olenska) desperately wanted to be together, but because of Newland’s prior commitment to his fiancée May, the relationship was impossible. The story was set in 1870s New York City amidst rigid social conventions and expectations.

Over the years I watched the film several more times, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago I actually read the novel. Even though the book was written in 1920, the issues and themes (the quest for love, honoring commitments, infidelity, the struggle between personal happiness and doing the right thing) are relevant to the modern reader. I’d been thinking for some time about modernizing a classic novel, and one Sunday while I was sitting in church, the idea popped into my head: contemporary version of The Age of Innocence—set it in Kingsport, Tennessee (which is my hometown incidentally), and transform the tragic Countess Olenska into a failed Nashville music star. Kingsport is a small town and one prone to gossip—everybody knows everybody’s business. Even today there would be finger pointing and talk because of Ella Casey’s affair with a married music producer in Nashville.

On a side note, the subplot of the baby with Trisomy 18 was inspired by a cause near and dear to my heart. Trisomy is a chromosomal abnormality that takes place during conception when three, rather than two, chromosomes meet at a particular chromosome site (such as the 15th, 16th , 18th or 21st chromosome). I’ve personally lost five babies to Trisomy 15 and 16 (miscarrying before the 10th week).

In children with Trisomy 18, some of these children are not born alive; others do not live but a few hours or days. Some live for years. A close friend of mine lost her daughter to Trisomy 18 at 17 months, and her strength in the midst of such a terrifying ordeal was truly inspiring.

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Megan Whitson Lee grew up in Tennessee but moved to the Washington, D.C. area as a teenager. She worked for criminal attorneys before earning her master’s degree from George Mason University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. Previously she received a Bachelor of Arts in Music followed by a year-long residence in London where she worked as a Literary Assistant. Her self-published first novel All That is Right and Holy won second place in the 2009 Christian Choice Book Awards. Megan teaches high school English in Fairfax County, Virginia where she lives with her husband and two Greyhounds.

Her latest book is the Christian fiction, Song From the Ashes.

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