When Lisa Alther finds herself confused about a topic, she sits down and writes a novel about it. So when it came to light that her ancestors were Native American and Portugese, she decided to write her way into understanding how she could be connected to them. The result is a series of linked novellas called "Washed in the Blood" (Mercer University press/2011). In the book, Diego Martin and Daniel Hunter, a Spaniard and a Quaker, come to Appalachia to change the place and wind up changed themselves. The stories of their descendants and the changes to the landscape make "Washed in the Blood" a sweeping Southern epic.