The Story of Henry and Emma
A few years ago, I started writing what became the Amazing Gracie Trilogy.
I had an idea about someone who didn't know anything about food preparation working in a restaurant kitchen. I wanted it to be humorous. Who would that person be? How could it happen?
My instant answer was an undercover cop on assignment. Gracie popped into my head literally seconds later - complete with her first name. Then a stall. I cook. I watch shows on The Food Network. But I had no idea whatsoever about how a commercial kitchen really works.
So while I worked on writing Secrets of Honor, I researched what happens in the back of the house. I learned about hierarchy, who does what, how they produce mass amounts of food, things like that. I gathered some ideas about places and situations where I could inject some humor. It was a start.
While I was learning about restaurants, I was also making notes about locations, real local law enforcement agencies and departments, other characters, names (an endless endeavor for me, and I imagine most fiction writers - I jot them down and mix and match. Rarely does a character arrive at my door with both first and last names. If they do, they're usually lying to me.)
One day as I was driving, a whole slew of ideas popped into my head all at once. As soon as I got home, I jotted down as much as I remembered. I had enough to start writing.
I was also almost finished with Secrets of Honor, so I just kept adding to my Gracie notes. Almost as soon as I typed The End on one, I started a new manuscript called Amazing Gracie.
And it sucked.
The story I envisioned needed too many details before any of it made sense. Those details were so boring, I could barely stay awake to type them. Still I continued, thinking once I got going, I'd know just what I could cut and could figure out how to streamline the rest. I was about fifty pages in when another burst of ideas filled my head.
All of a sudden, I realized I had way too much information to fit into one book. So I stopped writing and returned to editing Secrets of Honor.
Not long before I finished, a family member handed me a cigar box. "What's this?"
"A friend wants you to have it. She knows you write and thinks you might be able to do something with it. She found it at a flea market."
I opened the lid. It was filled with yellowed envelopes covering something clunky on the bottom. That night, when the house was quiet, I opened the box again and took out the top envelope.
In all there were about twenty envelopes, all from 1924-1926, plus various other items, some of which were as recent as the late mid-century. One was a Valentine's card from 1925! The letters were from a young woman to a young man. I'll call them Emma and Henry here, although those were not their real names.
That night I read them all. When I finished, I felt as though I knew these two people. Mostly Emma wrote to Henry, and it must have been Henry who saved her letters. Most were typed and filled with mundane daily details, but most also showed the beginning of their courtship and the attitudes of the time, almost a full century ago. And the more formal language.
Here's a sample:
And I guess that's about all, except that I want you to know that if I had had one little doubt that we would get back in time I should certainly have told you. I am so sorry we spoiled your evening- and ours. Can you forgive me? I believe, since it's my first and only offense, that you will.In the bottom of the cigar box were a few keys, some loose, others on a chain. There were also a couple of name badges and a few scraps of paper.
As soon as I published Secrets of Honor, I started anew with Gracie. And this time around Amazing Gracie became the Amazing Gracie Trilogy.
The epilogue to this story is that enough information was in the box to allow me to find out more information on these two people. I have also tracked down someone who I think is a descendant - perhaps a great-grandchild. Sound familiar?
At some point, I will try to contact this person and ask if they would like to have these pieces of their history... but I'm not ready to give them up just yet. Henry and Emma are still too real.
In other news... Solomon's Compass will be on sale for 99 cents from April 15 through midnight April 21.
I'll be back here on Monday, May 6. See you then!