Chris Bohjalian wrote a novel 20 years ago based on the Armenian genocide. It was never published.
"It was a train wreck. Then I started thinking why should I write a book about the Armenian genocide when there were so many good ones already, including 'Rise the Euphrates' by Carol Edgarian," says Bohjalian. "The manuscript now resides in the archives of my alma mater."
The Amherst College graduate went on to write 11 other books - including his best-known work, "Midwives" - before finally getting back to the subject with "The Sandcastle Girls."
The book was inspired by his grandparents - Leo and Haigoohi - who survived the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians, starting in 1915.
It's that larger meaning that helped Bohjalian write his novel, when his first effort failed. He was determined to use the genocide as a backdrop, despite being told by people in the publishing industry - fortunately not his editor - that a book like "The Sandcastle Girls" would be a career killer. They said a lack of knowledge of the killings outside the Armenian community would make the book a tough sell.
He proved them wrong by telling two stories - one about lovers who meet in Syria during the genocide and the other about their granddaughter's efforts a century later to understand why they were so silent about their youth.
The author's own grandparents never talked about that brutal period. Bohjalian was able to get a lot of information from his father, Aram, who also didn't talk about the genocide while the author was young.
When Aram's health began to deteriorate in 2009, father and son spent a lot of time looking at old family photographs that sparked conversations about the family. "The Sandcastle Girls" is dedicated to Aram, and Bohjalian's mother-in-law, Sondra Blewer, who both died in 2011.
This information helped the author write the opposite of a "train wreck." The book - which could become a feature film - has earned high praise, including being selected as an Oprah Winfrey Book of the Week.
"I have written so many books that were successful, where people thought they were crazy ideas. When I started writing a book about midwives, I was told no one outside of New England would know what I was talking about," says Bohjalian.
He was glad that he didn't let the critics stop him. "The Sandcastle Girls" has been an educational tool for many readers. There are thousands of comments on Bohjalian's Facebook page from people who were clueless until reading about it in his book.
"Because so many people outside the Armenian community hadn't heard about the genocide, I was determined to get it right when I started this book," says Bohjalian.
He is also determined to talk about the book as often as possible. The trips give him a chance to thank the members of the Armenian community who have embraced the book.