Arizona resident pens novel about mother from Vallonia

It was in 1996 when Patty Schoenfeld was helping clean out her mother’s home and found a box of letters in a closet.

Tragedy had struck, and her 86-year-old mother was forced to move in with Schoenfeld’s brother, John Foster, in Utah after being seriously assaulted by two burglars.

Schoenfeld figured the box, which wound up at her sister’s home for safe keeping, contained letters from friends and Christmas cards.

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Nearly 20 years later, Schoenfeld, who lives in Arizona, discovered the letters had been exchanged by her mother, Anise Fosbrink, and a man with whom she had been engaged — something her mother had kept a secret over the years.

Fosbrink was born in 1910 and had spent most of her life in Arizona.

Fosbrink, however, was born in Vallonia and graduated from Vallonia High School, and that’s where the young Indiana farm girl met Bill Shaw.

Shaw and Fosbrink fell in love and became engaged.

Schoenfeld read through the letters, around 650 written between 1927 and 1935, and saw how much the two loved each other.

Fosbrink and Shaw had much different circumstances. He was trying to find work any way he could and had moved to Hamilton, Ohio, while Fosbrink pursued an education from Indiana University and later became a teacher.

But the letters held them together, and their affection for each other was real.

Schoenfeld found the letters so inspiring and beautiful, she felt compelled to document them in a novel.

So in 2015, shortly after she had discovered the content of all of those letters, she began writing “The Starve Hollow Affair,” replacing the name Bill with Dale and Anise with Anna.

Schoenfeld was a nurse by trade but felt someone should write a book based on the letters, so she took private courses from an author near Scottsdale, Arizona, to hone her book-writing skills.

She also joined writing groups and wrote 13 hours a day for a couple of years and took about a year off work.

“I wanted to write the book because the letters were so beautiful,” she said. “The book carries the story through the letters.”

“The Starve Hollow Affair” was released in March and is a historical fiction romance novel.

The book almost didn’t happen because of copyright issues because she owned the letters but not the content. A lawyer advised her she could not write and publish the book.

“Everyone was deceased, but I didn’t have the permission to use it,” she said.

So she scoured the internet and came across Shaw’s son, David, in New Hampshire and asked for permission.

“He said, ‘Oh, publish it,’” she said. “He knew about my mother.”

Schoenfeld said David knew all about his father except for five years. The letters were able to fill that gap.

Set during the Great Depression, the book begins with a tragic incident decades later in 1996 when Fosbrink’s home was invaded by two burglars that assaulted her and stole from her.

“She was 86 and living in Phoenix alone,” Schoenfeld said. “We had tried to get her to move before that, but she wouldn’t. The police said the neighborhood had gone downhill so bad and that she needed to leave.”

Fosbrink and Shaw had gone to school together and had met when he was 11 and she was 8. After he graduated, he moved to Hamilton, Ohio, because his father was in prison and his family wanted to leave the Jackson County area.

That’s when he began writing her letters.

“They fell in love through their letters,” Schoenfeld said.

She said Shaw was very smart and well-read and attended Columbia College in Chicago because he ran out of money.

The two were engaged and together for five years, but Fosbrink called off the engagement after she met Schoenfeld’s father.

Fosbrink had encouraged Shaw to attend school, but he didn’t at that time, although he later wound up becoming a psychology professor.

He worked a number of jobs, some only for 25 cents an hour, and saved enough money to visit her at Indiana University, but at that point, she had already met Schoenfeld’s father.

“She told him that she no longer felt the same, and he was devastated,” Schoenfeld said.

Shaw remained in the area and enrolled at Indiana University to study, Schoenfeld said.

“They were still communicating, and she felt bad because it wasn’t his fault,” she said.

The book takes a few twists and turns, but its 54 chapters are constantly guided by the letters. The book includes transcripts of the letters before continuing the story.

Schoenfeld said readers have so far given her a lot of great feedback.

“I am enjoying the response I’m getting,” she said.

Schoenfeld said people have told her how the story is well-written and hard to put down.

“Those things are great to hear,” she said.

Schoenfeld said it was rewarding to give the book to her aunt, who is in her 80s.

“She wanted that book in her hands,” she said.

Schoenfeld and Foster made a trip earlier this spring to Jackson County to see Starve Hollow and visit Joe Peters of Brownstown, who is their second cousin. Peters helped put together a lot of details for the book.

The two have been to Jackson County before a few times for family reunions and brief visits.

Both said it was clear their mother cared deeply about Shaw and the letters.

“The letters were important to her, and she left them for a reason,” Schoenfeld said, adding the letters followed Forbrink through her moves from Bloomington, Rushville, Arizona and more.

“They were always protected, too,” Schoenfeld said, and she feels her mother left the letters for her to find.

“I think I was supposed to write this book, and I think she left them here for me to,” she said.

Schoenfeld already is working on a sequel, “The Final Air Castle.”

“The Starve Hollow Affair” can be purchased by searching for its title on amazon.com.