Julie Mannix von Zerneck and Kathy Hatfield on their IRDA Winner “Secret Storms”


What is the name of the book and when was it published?

Secret Storms: A Mother and Daughter, Lost then Foundpublished on April 2, 2013  (co-authors Julie Mannix von Zerneck and Kathy Hatfield)

What’s the book’s first line?

“The world will always remember the shots being fired on November 22, 1963 at 12:30 in the early afternoon.”

What’s the book about?  Give us the “pitch”.

A pregnant, upper class nineteen-year-old Philadelphia Main Line debutante is confined, against her will, to a state mental hospital. She spends her pregnancy surrounded by the mentally challenged and the criminally insane. On April 19, 1964, she gives birth to a child, whom she is forced to give up for adoption.

A loving middle-class couple adopts a month-old little girl from Catholic Charities. She is adored and cherished from the very beginning. It is as though she is dropped into the first chapter of a fairy tale—but we all know how fairy tales go.

This is the story of a mother and daughter. Of what it is to give up a child and what it is to be given up. Of what it is to belong, what it is to be a family and what it is to yearn deeply, and to never lose hope—because anything is possible.

In this exquisite memoir, Julie Mannix von Zerneck and Kathy Hatfield recount the stories of their lives. Deliciously strange, surprising and sweetly funny, this tenderly written book takes us on a wild and frightening journey. Written in two distinct and deeply expressive voices, their stories seamlessly meld together in a breathtaking ending.

What inspired you to write the book?  A particular person? An event?

We were reunited forty-four years after being separated at birth. The natural inclination, of course, was to immediately fly across the country and run into each other’s arms. This would have been unwise, however, as it would have been a meeting between two strangers. Instead, we allowed ourselves nine months, an entire gestation period that nature affords all mothers and children, to get to know one another.

During this time we spoke on the phone, sent each other photographs, video-chatted, and wrote hundreds of letters. We had entire lives to recount, stories and anecdotes neither one of us could get enough of. We would ask each other countless questions about our childhoods, about dreams, desires, what the people who raised us were like, everything big and small. After a time, it became apparent that the letters we were writing were in fact the chapters of a book. And so Secret Storms was born. Writing the book together served, among other things, to bring us closer together and helped us understand each other better.

What’s the most distinctive thing about the main character? 

Julie: I was a Main Line debutante who spent her early childhood in Convents of the Sacred Heart all over the world, before settling down at Sunny Hill Farm in Philadelphia. There, I was a member of what the community referred to as “the eccentric Mannix family and their menagerie” of wild animals, including Rani the cheetah and Jupo, my favorite spider monkey. My parents were writers and adventurers and I was always surrounded by the artifacts and stories they brought back from their travels.

When I became pregnant with Kathy, I was committed, against my will, to a state mental hospital for the criminally insane, where I stayed until her birth. It was here that I decided that what I wanted most for my daughter was a happy, ordinary life—something I wasn’t capable of giving her. Someone else would have to. That was my first and best decision as her mother.

After leaving the Main Line I married the love of my life, had two more children, and went on to become an actress… all the while, yearning for my daughter.

Kathy: I was adopted by parents who loved me madly. The best parents anyone could have asked for. Unfortunately, when I was six years old, my mother passed away. The years that followed were mired in misfortune: an abusive stepmother, economic hardships, and the unexpected discovery of my adoption. “I thought your mother told you,” my father insisted the year I turned 12. The instability of my life forced me to move forward without regard for my past. Many years later, however, I discovered clues to my real identity, and–with one certified letter–my life changed forever.

What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?

Secret Storms is, first and foremost, a book about hope. About never giving up, no matter how impossible the odds may seem, because anything is possible. Everything is possible. It is a book filled with adventure, intrigue, heartbreak, loss, joy and pain–but most of all, redemption. 

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  1. […] to come together as writers. Since Kathy was given up for adoption at birth, Julie and Kathy “had entire lives to recount.” Not wishing to meet as strangers they exchanged lengthy letters which “turn[ed] into […]

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