Grace Hitchcock has written historical romance novellas in The Second Chance Brides, The Southern Belle Brides, and the Thimbles and Threads collections with Barbour Books. She also has two entries in Barbour’s multi-author true crime series True Colors.
Her latest novel in the True Colors series is The Gray Chamber: Enter the terrifying asylum on Blackwell Island in 1887 along with Edyth Foster, who was wrongly committed by her greedy uncle. Inside, she meets an undercover journalist. Will either woman find a way to reclaim her true self?
In this exclusive interview, Grace explains the challenge of writing a novel that combines true crime with history and romance, reveals some of the historical details that inspired the novel, and shares the real-life spiritual lesson from her own life that made its way into the book…
The True Colors series are novels that combine true crime, history, and romance. How much of a challenge is it to write books that include all these moving parts?
It is definitely a challenge to balance a historical romance blended with true crime events, but I believe that being able to write a love story around tragic events has made me a stronger writer because I have to find ways to bring an element of lightness to the story so as not to bog the readers down in the horrors that is the true crime.
What inspired you to tackle the historical events of The Gray Chamber?
During the initial brainstorming of ideas for the True Colors series, my editor, Rebecca Germany, mentioned a Blackwell’s Island asylum where a journalist named Nellie Bly went undercover for ten days for a story, which caught my interest.
In reading Nellie’s scandalous exposé for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper, The World, I was shocked at the grounds by which the asylum would commit women and that’s when I discovered a tiny mention about an heiress with family members who had her tucked away so they could have her fortune…and Edyth Foster was born, a cat-rescuing, fencing American heiress with a terrible sense of style.
What research did you have to do to get the details right?
I listened to Nellie Bly’s Ten Days in a Mad-House on audiobook, which I ended up buying in paperback so I could re-read and underline. I found amazing articles from the historical society on Blackwell’s Island, printed out a historic map of the island with the location of its various buildings and taped it to my desk for the duration of writing, and checked out many books on fencing for beginners and a history of fencing.
I was terrified that I would get something wrong with the fencing scenes. I watched YouTube videos on fencing, and even looked up where I could take a class on fencing (haha) but ran out of time before I could go to a class in a nearby city—one day!
This is your second book in the True Colors series. Since there are multiple authors involved with the series—does that ever impact what you’re writing? What’s your process creating a book for this series?
Even though there are multiple authors in the series, each book can be read like a stand-alone, so the other authors’ stories don’t really rely on mine and vice versa. But it does make a difference in the fact that it adds a level of comradery. I admire the fellow authors in this series and have had the pleasure of meeting a few in person at writers conferences.
As for the process of creating a book for the series, I wanted to somehow connect The Gray Chamber with my debut novel, The White City, even though it takes place in Chicago 1893 and The Gray Chamber in New York in 1887. And it oh so magically worked out that Jude Thorpe, the New Yorker hero from The White City, could take a small role in my latest work as a young, untested detective. I loved writing about teenager Jude, and I hope my readers will enjoy seeing this new side of our hero.
How does your faith impact how you approach storytelling?
Usually, whatever I am personally learning spiritually while writing impacts my heroine/hero in some way. With The Gray Chamber, Edyth and Bane tried again and again to take matters into their own hands and failed.
I forced them to sit still and wait on God to fight this battle for them because, sometimes, we can do everything in our power to change a circumstance and it does nothing when all we are supposed to do is stop, be still, and let God move. So, I gave Edyth that lesson.
Even though it feels a bit vulnerable to put my personal lessons in a book, I think that it offers a level of genuineness that can bring life to the story and hope to the reader.
Visit Grace Hitchcock’s author page:
The Gray Chamber
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