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Alum’s first novel mirrors her life

Niklas Martin

A coming-of-age story that celebrates Panamanian culture while exploring themes of “family, home and the secrets that divide” – that’s how Warren Publishing describes Rosy Crumpton’s debut novel, “All I Left Unsaid.”

A Wingate University alum who lives in Matthews with her husband, Brandon, Crumpton also likes his take on the book: “It’s about understanding that the path to a happy life isn’t straight, paved or wide enough to walk on.” Released last month and subtitled “A Latina’s Journey Toward Truth,” the book is based on events in the author’s own happy life, a journey in which she has struggled to learn a new language, overcome cultural barriers and survive challenges in her new family dynamic that left her reeling.

Born in Panama, Crumpton was 7 years old in 1990 when she and her mother moved to New York with the man who would become her stepdad. As her new world expanded to include eight siblings – four from her stepfather’s prior marriage and four that the couple had together – her links to Panama weakened. She lost all contact with her biological father.

“Growing up, we didn’t really talk about my dad much, but a part of me was always curious as to what happened to him,” she says. “At some point when I was 25 or 26, I decided I needed to Google him and just see what came up.”

A Latina woman wears a navy sleeveless top.

Her online search yielded a 17-year-old boy with her father’s uncommon name.

“I didn’t want to disrupt anyone’s life, so I sent a broad email saying something along the lines of ‘I live in the United States, and we may be related,’” Crumpton explains. “Two weeks later, after a roller-coaster of crazy emotions, I get a response saying, ‘I know who you are. You’re my older sister.’”

Within a few months of that exchange in 2010, Crumpton traveled to Panama to meet her three half-siblings and to reconnect with her father.

“The whole experience was beautiful,” Crumpton says of the visit, although she admits the circumstances were complicated.

“I didn’t want them to think I needed anything from them or to wonder, ‘Why is she coming into our lives?’” she says. “I just wanted to meet and focus on relationship, if that’s what they wanted.”

Putting pen to paper

Once back from her life-changing trip, which was filled with connection, reconnection and a new understanding of her past, Crumpton knew she had a story to tell. Having kept a journal since high school, she set about penning what she thought would be a memoir.

“It took me seven years to write it, start to finish, but some months would go by without me touching it. Then I would start up again,” Crumpton says. She describes the writing as “freeing.”

As the book took shape, she sought help from Theo Pauline Nestor, author of “Writing is My Drink,” who became the first person outside of her family to read the manuscript. A University of Washington professor and nationally known writing coach, Nestor saw the potential in Crumpton’s story and put her in touch with fellow author Sonora Jha, who published her own cross-cultural novel, “Foreign,” in 2013. On their advice, Crumpton shifted genres, from memoir to fiction, and began to tell a story very similar to her own through the eyes of a character called Olivia Batista.

A consummate big sister like Crumpton, who is third eldest of 12, Olivia opens the book with a letter to her four younger American siblings, introducing the story as her attempt to explain to them her sudden departure from “Mami’s” and “Papi’s” household many years before.

“If I had shared this story with you years ago, it would have had a different tone and another ending. It wouldn’t have been a story of growth; it would have been a story of bitterness, anger and even rage,” Olivia writes, urging her younger brother and sisters not to be mad at their parents or at her for “keeping them in the dark.”

In contrast, when Crumpton began writing, she shared the venture with her family members, who have been extremely supportive.

“Everyone’s name was changed, of course, and there are definitely parts I made up,” she says. “My sisters even gave me input about things I could add to change the characters or events. I had fun plugging in the fictional stuff. I would like to think I went about it the right way by keeping them in the loop.”

psychology major at Wingate, Crumpton had no trouble getting inside her characters’ minds. She says people with large families will be able to relate to the strong ties and complicated family dynamics in “All I Left Unsaid,” as will anyone who has moved from one culture to another. Although women would be considered her primary audience, she’s already received positive feedback from male readers.

Crumpton, 34 and a member of Wingate’s Class of 2005, works as the quality assurance/quality improvement director and diversity specialist for Developmental Disabilities Resources Inc. in Charlotte. She has had some of her articles featured in the online magazine Elephant Journal and has already started making notes for her next novel.

“We’ll see how this one goes,” Crumpton says. “I think Marcela, Olivia’s mom, may have a story to tell.”

The author will meet with friends and readers at an “All I Left Unsaid” book-launch party Saturday evening at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte. On her website, she offered free tickets to the event, which is now filled. To keep up with Crumpton’s writing, follow her blog. Her book is available from Warren PublishingBarnes & Noble and Amazon.