Tuesday, June 01, 2010
Guest Blogger Julie Hyzy
Getting to Know Grace
Grace Under Pressure, first in my new Manor House Mystery series, debuts today. In many ways it’s similar to my White House Chef Mysteries—giant mansion, servants, murder—but instead of a president, the resident-in-chief is Bennett Marshfield, an extremely wealthy recluse who trusts very few people—generally only those he’s known for forty years or more.
Assistant curator, Grace Wheaton, has just started working at Marshfield and she’s only in her thirties, which means she’s facing an uphill battle where Bennett is concerned. Especially after head curator, Abe, Bennett’s first in command and dearest friend, is murdered.
As she attempts to win Bennett’s confidence and help him bring Abe’s killer to justice, Grace finds herself confronting skeletons in her own family’s closet. With the support of her roommates and that of handsome gardener, Jack Embers, Grace finds herself protecting and defending the home she loves almost as much as her own.
Researching this series has been an absolute joy, and I have Molly to thank for that. She arranged the Triple Threat Tour for Hank Phillippi Ryan, Karen E. Olson, and me this past February. I’d been working on the manuscript for Grace Under Pressure when Molly first invited me to visit North Carolina. My first reaction was: “Absolutely!” I love Molly—she’s great—and the opportunity to tour with Hank and Karen was way too tempting to pass up. My second reaction was: “North Carolina? Near Biltmore?” I’d always wanted to go there and I knew that visit to the estate would help me with research for Marshfield. I didn’t hesitate to tell Molly I was in.
We had a fabulous time visiting bookstores and libraries, and eating barbecue. Yum! I got my first look at the breathtaking Chapel Hill Blue Sky above UNC and enjoyed the hospitality of many kind and wonderful people. The energetic and always upbeat Karen Kiley arranged for an evening reception with music and refreshments and—best of all—a roomful of eager readers. After our tour I had a truer, more vivid feel for North Carolina. And after visiting the Biltmore Estate on my own, I came to know my fictional Marshfield Manor even better than I had before.
Let me state unequivocally that Marshfield is not Biltmore in disguise. Not even close. Although Marshfield is just as opulent and serves as a major tourist attraction and museum the same way Biltmore does, Marshfield is slightly smaller, and has fallen far behind the times. Grace may have been put in charge of her beloved manor, but she’s still a stranger to most of the staff. She needs to lead while finding the best way to fit in.
When we were in winding down our Triple Threat Tour, Hank turned to me and said she envied me because my departure to Biltmore would signal the beginning of my next adventure. I loved that—loved how it made me feel. And during my four-hour drive to Asheville, I replayed her words in my mind. This trip was my chance to immerse myself in a way I could never experience at home— to pretend I was Grace. To live and breathe and see and smell the history and mystery and wealth very few enjoy. To experience it as Grace might—close enough to touch, but still an outsider.
So thank you Molly, Karen, and Hank! Until I received the invitation that ultimately put us together for our whirlwind tour, I had no plans to visit North Carolina. But thanks to Molly, I not only experienced the best book tour I’ve ever encountered, I got a chance to live my own Marshfield moment. And I can’t wait to go back.