Category Archives: BY GRACE

ROAD TRIP FOR THE IMAGINATION

Leaving home on October 12, I had some thoughts about what I might encounter along the way. Home is Northern California and my destinations were many.: Santa Barbara to pick up my writing friend and traveling companion, Penny; getting out of CA as fast as possible; the south rim of the Grand Canyon.;  the Northern AZ Museum for its display of founder Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton’s wondrous paintings; ACOMA pueblo 

atop its great mesa where I’d wanted to go for more than 50 years; Ghost Ranch and Abiqui, Georgia O’Keefe’s incredible territory; family in Santa Fe, Rogers, Las Cruces, Alamogordo, Tucson only to miss those in other areas; the Women Writing the West conference in Albuquerque and the much longed-for return to the Sky Islands of Arizona’s Huachuca Mountains           

of which I write and where I now am…so many miles, adventures, unexpected twists and turns in the pathway!

I’ve met and shared with amazing people on this journey but the most amazing was to finally meet Cheri Saunders. It was Cheri and her husband, in the 1960’s, who first found and mined the Blue Opals here. Despite several visits to her Gallery, I’d never connected with her. After her husband’s early death, Mike Anderson assumed a very important and big part in her life. It was Mike whom I’d met and conferred with over the years as the concept of  BY GRACE took hold of me. Mike was incredibly generous with his time, his knowledge and his support. .I only knew of Cheri as the elusive designer of magnificent jewelry, including the few pieces I accumulated over the years. When I last visited in 2008, I bought presents for my women and children in our family and a beautiful hunk of blue opal with its white and tawny streaks marking its uniqueness. As BY GRACE came close to publication, friendly jewelers wrapped the piece in silver coils and swirls and hung it on a leather cord. The necklace is worn by Grace on the cover of her book and has captured the attention of all who view it when I wear it.

I went in search of Mike, my consultant, to thank him and give him copies of my books. The Gallery was closed up and had the appearance of a long silence. I approached the adjacent home and shop, calling out for him. I have no hesitation or qualms about knocking on strange doors, a pattern left from my social work career.  But this wasn’t a strange door; I wanted to find my special friend. A silver haired, petite woman, in jeans and a lovely blue sweat shirt responded and I had no doubt who she was. As I told her of my mission, I knew what she would tell me…Mike was gone. I was two years too late and the sadness hung between us. We sat in the patio and talked of many parts of our lives. These are not feelings and details for you to read of. They are special, private and treasured.

In the final minutes of our visit, Penny joined us and we were the beneficiaries of Cheri’s generosity. She no longer sells her work nor does she design. Instead she offered us the bounty of her talents and we left deeply touched and thankful.

How does travel affect you?

Is it the scenery, the people you meet along the way,

or simply leaving your everyday life behind?

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Filed under Arizona Territory, BY GRACE, Historical Fiction, Reflection, Travel, Writing

BACKSTORY: JEREMY ALTON QUACKENBUSH

I’m sorry for my absence and could explain it as due to my computer crashing, launching BY GRACE with all the detail work involved, doing readings, planning a trip that will take me to the Huachucas next month.

Still and all, I promised you a peek at how Jeremy grew into the noxious man he is when we meet him in BY GRACE. So, here comes Grace’s nemesis.

* * *

Jeremy, at thirty, is the prissy, self-centered, spoiled nephew of Lavinia Quackenbush, Grace’s benefactress. He is about 5’5’’, slim of build with dark brown hair; his mustache and beard are in the Van Dyke tradition and he spends inordinate time coaxing them to perfection. He dresses expensively, picks over his food, drinks and smokes his cheroots to excess. He does nothing to benefit others unless it serves his self-interest.


Cruel to his playmates, Jeremy managed to turn any would-be friend against him and then go crying to Maman for comfort and a litany of how he had been belittled, forsaken and maligned; Maman and Papa indulged his every whim and knew the other children to be short-sighted in their slighting of their darling boy. Often after such an episode, Jeremy’s current pet would die a mysterious and unusually brutal death. It was left to the below-stairs staff to dispose of the remains and quaff any rumors. Still and all, the staff were on to him from an early age and protected one another from most of his schemes. Even so, by age fourteen he had impregnated a young housemaid, implicated the sixteen year old stablehand and succeeded in having Papa run them both off.
Soon after, Maman and Papa lost what little fortune they had from Manan’s family, causing them to accept charity from Papa’s brother, and his wife, Lavinia. Jeremy liked the big house and attendant luxuries but despised his uncle and his wife. No matter, Jeremy successfully hoodwinked his parents and his uncle at every turn; Lavinia was a different matter. He never could read her accurately.
Jeremy stumbled through his education, often sent back from one boarding school or another. Whenever he was away, the whole household breathed that sigh of relief, even Maman, Papa, and Uncle but no one more so than Lavinia. He started gambling very young and had a nice nest egg by his second year at SUNY(he didn’t qualify for the Ivy Leagues and no amount of Uncle’s influence opened doors for him.) He majored in good times and loose women, meeting Priscilla at one school function or another. Mislead in believing she came from money, they were soon wed and he was soon disappointed.


A train accident out west when Uncle was touring his properties, left Lavinia primary inheritor of an immense estate. On stipends, Maman and Papa continued on in the mansion in Albany as did Jeremy and Priscilla; Lavinia spent more and more time in NYC. A late night fire six years before we meet Jeremy, killed his parents, almost got his wife and left him unharmed; Priscilla’s limp dates from the beam that caught her and would have killed her except for a brave butler, Liam O’Reilly, coming to her rescue.
Moving in with Aunt Lavinia at her NYC penthouse, suited Jeremy. His gambling habits exploded. He headed an ominous group of riff-raff and dabbled in all sorts of questionable activities; he had spies everywhere if it concerned Aunt Lavinia’s investments. With numerous mistresses to exploit, he tended to ignore Priscilla; let a mistress leave him, and Priscilla suffered his abuse.
Jeremy is obsessed with gaining his aunt’s estate, hoping for her death. Grace bcomes a threat to his plan and he threatens her. Lavinia knows he is not above killing either of them and sends Grace farther on her journey.

* * *

Writers, do you ponder the backstory of your characters to discover what motivates them or shapes them?

Readers, do you fill in the blanks as you read along, imagining a past or future for the characters?

I tend to do both!

Please look for HUACHUCA WOMAN, free on Kindle Oct.2 & 3

BY GRACE is waiting for you on Amazon, too!

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Filed under BY GRACE, Historic New York, Historical Fiction, Writing

BY GRACE is on her way…

I am very excited and happy to say  that I gave the go-ahead to my book developer on the second book in THE HUACHUCA TRILOGY,  BY GRACE! It will soon go to Amazon and the next step will be to study the proofs for corrections before it is made available to you and yours.

I have occasionally used a writer’s practice of writing the biography or backstory of a character. This usually happens if I’m stuck in the narrative, need a writing exercise to loosen up the creative energy, or need to move the story along.

In BY GRACE, I did this with two characters, the protagonist and her nemesis: Grace Pelham and Jeremy Quackenbush. I was aiming to get a better understanding of their characters and motivations. Incidentally, I used family names for their last names…fun to do.   Here’s GRACE

Grace was born in 1880 in Albany, NY to Elizabeth (“Liz”) and Lester Pelham. Liz died in the days right after Grace’s birth, with time to pass on her expectations to Lester. He was to do all that he could to keep her safe  and with him until she was grown; then, he was to “send her out into the world to find a place, a purpose and, just maybe, a prince of her own.”

Liz immigrated from England, at twenty, to live with her sister and family in Albany. She met Lester, ten years her senior, soon after in the store he inherited from his parents, killed in a boating disaster.. When a flash fire killed Liz’ family and she was the only one to escape the tenement, Lester and she married. She was his “Princess Liz” and he was her prince. Lester has only very distant relatives in the farmlands of upstate New York, none of whom are a resource for Grace at his death.

Grace is 18 when we meet her, taller than her tall mother, with the same delicate long fingers on strong hands. She has long blond hair and gray-blue eyes. She finished local schooling at 16 but has been tutored by her father all her life. He always read to her whether books, newspapers or the labels on museum displays, answering her questions patiently or eliciting her thoughts. They frequented the capitol, the museums, the varied neighborhoods and businesses; people from all over the world visited their waterfront emporium in its heyday and from them she also learned of the greater world.

Lester encouraged her to develop skills that would be of use and enjoyment: her constant drawing of the minutia of the world; ice skating, rowing, hiking, sewing, cooking, managing the store and its books. She took music lessons, the violin, but often left practicing to draw. She had playmates and friends all over the city but few that she could call intimate. The ending of her school days served to isolate her from most as their parents feared the waterfront and its society.  Still, she managed to meet them occasionally about town.

She has never had a boyfriend and has a romantic view of her parents love but knows little of its physical expression. Her frequent visits to the Museum of Natural History have given her the basic biology of reproduction but not the connection to how a lasting relationship enters into the process.  Grace knows nothing of the joys of human sex. She is somewhat worldly wise while retaining a Victorian innocence.

The book opens with Lester’s imminent death and the preparations he and Grace have made for her future. She is diligent under his tutelage in “cooking the books” to her advantage, preparing a varied wardrobe and plotting her departure from Albany which holds no future for her. She knows she can support herself in shop keeping, sales or doing books while she seeks her true vocation and identity. Grace has funds enough to see her settled in the city of New   York.

The quest begins.

Photo from Queens College School of Library Services Collection

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September 6, 2012 · 4:26 pm