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Nancy Herman

The Author

Nancy Herman is a third-generation Californian who is fascinated with her state’s colorful history, including the westward migration of the 1800s. She grew up in the coastal town of Watsonville and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from San Jose State University. After her 25-year career as a Silicon Valley marketing communications professional, Nancy began researching and writing her first historical novel.

“I drew my facts from diaries, letters, and first hand accounts, including Virginia’s memoirs,” she says.


"Research turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of writing this book. Another was following the Donner Party’s route by automobile from Independence, Missouri to Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, California." You can read about that exciting road trip here.

“I’m in awe of the toughness and determination of our California ancestors who crossed two-thousand miles or more by wagon, on horseback, and even by foot to start new lives here.”

Nancy lives with her husband Tom in the Sierra foothills, not far from the site of the Donner Party’s 1846-1847 winter entrapment.

Why historical fiction?

I don’t remember when I first heard the term “historical fiction.” I do know that some of my favorite childhood books, such as The Little Princess, which still sits on my bookshelf, The Cornhusk Doll, which is out of print (I’m still seeking a copy), and The Secret Garden would most likely be categorized as young readers’ historical fiction today. Heidi. Hitty. Little Women. All these books carried me back to times and places I’d never been, but I never thought about that while I was reading them–I was too engrossed in the characters to realize how much my world was expanding as I read.

Like most Californians, I grew up with vague knowledge of the Donner Party and what they endured when trapped in the snowy Sierra during “pioneer times.” But in my early 20s I came across a book of poetry about the party members– their hopes and dreams, their confidence and mistakes, their misplaced trust, their courage and, in some cases, cowardice–and each of their stories snagged my heart and imagination. These were real people. Like me!

The book was The Donner Party by George Keithley. It immediately expanded my world, and years later it was the inspiration for my first historical novel, All We Left Behind: Virginia Reed and the Donner Party.

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