In the early 1980’s, retired from a short-lived English teaching career to stay home with my small children and with time to indulge my passion for reading, I discovered the works of Elswyth Thane. I devoured her historical Williamsburg novels, falling in love with each hero in the series. Then on to her stand-alones, Tryst, From This Day Forward. . .
But it wasn’t just her sweep-you-away plots and wonderful historical backgrounds. The thing that made me connect to Thane with such intensity was her deep love for England, especially as she expressed it in England Was an Island Once.
That book convinced me I had to write to her. By then Thane was in her 80’s living retired on her farm in Vermont. I tried to tell her what her books meant to me, how connected I felt to her characters. And she instantly recognized a soul-mate. “Who are you to understand so exactly what I meant?” she replied.
And there started an amazing correspondence that lasted some four years until her death. She wrote to me of her time living and researching in England. She filled pages with reminiscences of her life among the literati in New York in the early 1900’s, including Rudyard Kipling and Charles Lindbergh. She recounted experiences in Bermuda and other places with her world-famous explorer husband William Beebe. But most of all she sent me lists of writers I should read.
And I read everything she recommended. I felt as if I were taking a directed study master’s course. This was the most formative thing I could have done to develop my own nascent writing career.
We spoke on the telephone a few times, but never got to meet in person. After all, I was in Idaho, she in Vermont, thousands of miles apart. Thirty years later I was able to make a trip to her home in Wilmington, Vermont. I visited her farm, spoke to people with long memories who remembered her, and visited her grave with an armful of bright yellow chrysanthemums on a golden autumn day.
And that relationship, those letters, and that visit form the background of my newest release The Flame Ignites, where Elizabeth, a student in the present day writing a thesis on Elswyth Thane, finds her way blocked by a man whose beloved wife died while researching the same subject. The mystery haunts him, and soon it haunts Elizabeth as well.
You can see pictures of my visit to Thane’s New England on my website and also see more about the Elizabeth and Richard Literary Suspense series.
Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 43 books, mostly novels of British history. The award-winning Glastonbury, the Novel of Christian England, an epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work.
She also authors three crime series: The Lord Danvers Victorian true-crime novels, of which A Tincture of Murder is the most recent; The Elizabeth and Richard literary suspense series, which includes the popular A Jane Austen Encounter and also the new prequel, The Flame Ignites; and The Monastery Murders, the newest being A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary. Donna and her husband of 50 years live in Boise, Idaho. They have 4 adult children and 14 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener and tea-drinker.