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As a child, Author Ann Marie Stewart loved to tell stories to anyone who would listen. She enjoyed seeing the way people’s faces changed from laughter to sadness, back to joy. 

“I don’t always get to see that when people read my books, but I love hearing if they moved someone,” she said.

Stewart, previously known as Miss Ritz by her former middle school students, officially released her second novel “Out of the Water” on Tuesday, Oct. 19.

As a young teacher right out of college, she taught music classes at Leota Middle School from 1984-89. After finishing graduate school at the University of Michigan, she returned to the school from 1991-94.

“I still have connections with those students and their families,” Stewart said. “I poured myself into my students and they were like family to me.”

Stewart left the Woodinville area after accepting a new position teaching in Virginia, she said, although she often returns to Washington for vacationing and visiting family members.

In fact, she said, the idea for her new novel sparked as she drove across Washington state while on vacation a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, she also thought about her family members who were adopted as children, and she expressed curiosity about why her relatives did not want to meet their biological parents. 

The book follows the main character in 1981, who decides to search for her biological mother. In the process of doing so, Stewart said, she unravels five generations of secrets. The character’s relatives became caught in situations where they develop a connection to adoption, she added.

“It becomes very tangled,” she said. “In the end a lot of things are explained.”

Stewart said she decided to set the book in the ‘80s because websites like Ancestry.com and Facebook make it easier to trace biological family members nowadays. 

The book takes place in locations that Stewart holds closest to her heart, she said. Scenes include Boston in 1918, Central Washington University, Priest Lake in the 1930s, and Deer Lodge in Montana. 

In addition to her most recent novel, Stewart also published a book titled “Stars in the Grass,” which won the Christy Award for best debut.

Stewart credits her foundational writing skills to the Northshore School District and her English teacher at Inglemoor High School, Lynda Watson. 

“When you come from a community, and you feel supported in that community, you want that for your characters,” Stewart said. “I want all my characters to find that sense of home, that sense of reconciliation and that sense of reuniting.”

Stewart noted she will always remember the time when her father said she sounded just like her aunt. It was his way of saying she had the gift of storytelling, she said. Stewart also wrote short stories in elementary school; one even described the life of a pencil.

Later in life, Stewart’s creativity was able to flourish during her time teaching music at Leota Middle School. 

“To make music in that setting and to have this harmonious group, it was a nice place to have a community,” she said.

One parent even asked if they could make Stewart the guardian of their child if they died, Stewart said.

Recently, Stewart returned to Washington state to help her mother as she recovered from surgery. While visiting, she ended up meeting with some former students. 

“About 30 years had gone by. We got together to catch up on each other’s lives,” she said. “They’re parents of teenagers now and they’re in the same age group as I was back then.”

Currently, Stewart lives with her husband on a sheep farm in Virginia.

Stewart will come back to the Pacific Northwest in July 2022 for a book tour, she said. She plans to stop at places familiar to her like Barnes and Noble in Woodinville.

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