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.

I had to write about these people. And so, Henry and Emma were born.

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.

Finding your true north isn't always easy. It's more difficult when you're the target of a killer. Even if you're the captain of a Coast Guard cutter and the man who makes you crazy is a veteran Navy SEAL. Especially then. But Coast Guard Commander Taylor Crawford is a determined woman... maybe even more determined than Jake Solomon, USN Retired.

I'll be back here on Monday, May 6. See you then!


All because someone handed you a box of old letters. Amazing how inspiration can hit, isn't it? Well, I'm sure Gracie thinks it's amazing.
How wonderful that the letters were found and made their way to JUST the write/right person.
Carol Kilgore said…
Alex - That's exactly what Gracie thinks!

EC - I consider them a treasure.
Old letters are awesome
Mason Canyon said…
That's amazing and I love the fact the letters found their way to you, you wrote the stories and now we all can share in the adventures they inspired. Do couples even write real letters to each other anymore. If not, it's a shame and a lost art.
Jan Christensen said…
Wonderful story about the story! It's great that you take incidents like that and use them in your fictional stories. Both you and Gracie are amazing.
Carol Kilgore said…
Jo-Anne - I think so, too.

Mason - I felt a little tingle when I opened the box and saw the contents. Like a little touch of magic :)

Jan - Gracie's way more amazing. I'm just a weird little writer.
L. Diane Wolfe said…
What a blessing that cigar box was then!
Carol Kilgore said…
Diane - I agree. A blessing for sure.
Christine Rains said…
How amazing that cigar box! A precious thing it must have been to someone, and so to you for the inspiration. :)
Melissa said…
That's so neat! It's wild where inspiration can come from. My great grandfather often wrote love letters to his wife on her birthday. We have several of them, and they were the inspiration for the letters one of my heroes wrote to his wife.
LD Masterson said…
When my mom passed, my dad gave me a small wooden box of her "treasures". In it were some of the letters they'd written each other when he was serving in the South Pacific during WWII. I was thinking I'd pass them on to my grandchildren until I read a couple. I knew Mom would have been embarrassed to tears having her grandchildren or great-grandchildren reading something so intimate so I decided to protect her privacy/dignity by destroying them. But this post made me wonder what if they'd been found by someone who didn't know "Kay and Frank". Maybe they would have been someone's inspiration.
Jemi Fraser said…
That is so awesome! Love knowing the story of Henry and Emma!! When you're ready, I hope you can find that connection for them :)
Very cool. The whole thing from a friend of a friend just picking something up to maybe finding the descendant? And building a world and story from the letters. Such a great origin story.
What a great treat to find this treasure.

Carol Kilgore said…
Christine - Reading those letters made me feel like a voyeur into the past.

LD - They might have been, but it's always best to follow the instincts in our hearts.

Jemi - I hope so, too. I think I will know when it's time. Now isn't it.

HR - It always pays to be open; we never know where inspiration will come from.

Teresa - I think so, too!
Lynda R Young said…
wow, what an amazing gift!! I love the story behind it all.
cleemckenzie said…
I never get tired of reading about how books come into writers' heads. This was fabulous. I hope that any of my memorabilia falls into the hands of someone like you and they turn it into a story.
Carol Kilgore said…
Lynda - I reread some of the letters while I was compiling this post. Henry and Emma are still alive for me.

Lee - I like the story behind the story, too. This one is like a thread through time.
Mark said…
It's amazing how one thing leads to another, but it's all part of the journey :)
Carol Kilgore said…
Mark - Absolutely. I love following the trail.
DMS said…
What an amazing story and I love that the box came into your life at just the right time. The letters sound fascinating- even if they are mostly about day to day life. Glad they were given to you and good luck tracking down the people associated with the letters. Amazing where writing ideas can come from. :)
Carol Kilgore said…
Jess - I feel the same way :)