Bride of the Wilderness is the 6th book in THE WOMEN’S WEST series of novels set on the American Frontier. (Books 1 – 4 are currently available as e-books and will soon come out in paperback.)  Since this story takes place in the 1770’s at a fur trade rendezvous and in the French Colonial settlements along the Mississippi, talented cover designer Kim Killion was looking for a historical vignette to use on the cover.

Rendezvous 2 Rendezvous 1

Though I had taken a series of photographs at a rendezvous in Illinois at Fort de Chartres, Illinois several years ago, the images (above) weren’t digital and Kim couldn’t use then.  That’s what sent my husband and me off on a fine spring day to Ste. Genevieve, Missouri to photograph French Colonial architecture.

Did you know that there are only three areas in North America where this kind of architecture has been preserved? They are in the Provence of Quebec, Canada, in New Orleans and southern Louisiana and on the banks of the Mississippi south of St. Louis.

The earliest French settlement along the Mississippi was begun in 1707 by French missionaries and christened Kaskaskia. Later fur traders followed the missionaries’ route—from Quebec, through the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi. Farmers in search of arable land came to Kaskaskia a few years later.

By 1750, the demand for land had grown so that the newer residents of Kaskaskia began to cross to the west side of the Mississippi every day to cultivate the rich bottomland. To this day, this area on the west bank is known as “The Big Field.”

The Big Field

To avoid having to cross the river, the farmers eventually built houses on the western bank and named their town Ste. Genevieve. After a devastating flood in 1785, the town moved to higher ground, an area well back from the river known as “the little hills.”  It is here that we find the charming French Colonial buildings of Ste. Genevieve being both lived in and preserved as museums.

While makeshift housing existed for several years after the flood, once the settlers began to build lasting homes, they did it in what is now called the French Colonial style. Many house of the period were built in the poteaux-en-terre style, which is represented by the Biquette–Ribault house shown here.

Poteat-en-terre 2 Prteau-en-terre 1

With this kind of construction, the builders dig a deep trench that scribes the perimeter of the house.  Once the trenching is completed, tall palisaded stakes are driven vertically into the ground and backfilled to establish the walls.

 In the poteaux-sur-solle construction a cedar sill is set into the ground and the vertical pickets are erected on top of the sill to form the walls. Sill house 2 Sill house 1

With both these construction methods the space between the pickets is filled with a noggin called bouzillage, made of clay, straw and woven sticks. Applied in layers, bouzillage hardens to a kind of plaster finish. That plaster is often covered with whitewash as a final layer.

Please note: What most of us have come to think of as a “traditional” log cabin, which uses horizontal rather than vertical logs, is more of  an English-German building convention.

After the move to the little hills, structures like the Bulduc House, began to appear. They were built with the same Colonial French designs but of stone quarried from the “little hills” themselves. Extensive flower,  vegetable gardens and orchards surrounded most of the houses in the village. Bulduc Garden 1 Bulduc Garden 2

One of the most distinctive features of these French Colonial houses is the roof, which somewhat resembles a wide-brimmed straw hat. A complex Norman truss system is necessary to support this roofline, but the height and width also provided ample attic space for the storage of grain, foodstuffs or supplies. Since many of the homes in Ste. Genevieve were also places of business, the attics were frequently used as warehouses.

The roof’s deep overhang also provides deep, shady porches on every side of the house. Some of these spaces were enclosed to as separate rooms, but more often the porches were used as workspace or for meals and entertaining. It is believed that this style of roof was a design brought from the Caribbean.

Bulduc House 1Bulduc Porch 1

We returned from our fieldtrip with a nearly a hundred photographs. The house my cover designer Kim chose for Bride of the Wilderness stands on St. Mary’s Road at the edge of town. It is known as the Beauveau-Amoreau House, and was built in 1792.

House on the cover ElizabethGrayson_BrideOfTheWilderness


If you are interested in visiting historic Ste. Genevieve, these are some links you might find interesting:







Two For One


TWO FOR ONE: How My Research Trip to Wyoming for


My husband and I flew into Cody, Wyoming the first week in June. There was snow on the ground when we landed; by the end of the week it was ninety degrees. Which was probably a fitting introduction to this beautiful and rugged land.

Olive Oatman

Inspired by this photograph of Olive Oatman, (See previous blog.) I read everything I could get my hands on about Olive’s capture by Indians and her return to her own people. By the time I finished my research, I’d decided the story I wanted to tell was best served by using a fictional heroine. That meant more research. This time I focused on relations between the Plains Indians and the whites between 1851, when Olive was taken, to the Battle of Little Bighorn in June of 1876.

The time and location that seemed best suited to my story was the year 1866 at Fort Casper, Wyoming Territory. This was where a bridge crossed the Platte River connecting the road from Fort Laramie in southern Wyoming to where Fort Phil Kearney was being hastily constructed in the north to protect the Bozeman Trail, which led north to the gold country in Montana and connected with the Oregon Trail.

Platt River Bridge replica

Since the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 had ceded much of the   area north of the Platte to the Cheyenne and Sioux, that made the gold miners, the soldiers and the settlers intruders.

Our first research stop in Cody was at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center <centerof> where I spent two days focusing on the life and art of the west.

Cheyenne woman in dress Cheyenne woman on horse

Most of my time was spent with the artifacts from the Plains Indians. The pieces these people made and used in their daily lives—the Cheyenne war shirts and weapons, the men’s   beaded pipe bags and paraphernalia, the women’s high-pommeled saddles, their deerskin dresses beautifully beaded and shivering with fringe and the brightly patterned parfleches where they stored their belongings—speak as much of their lives as their artistry. The museum complex proved to be a good introduction to the natural history of Wyoming, the cowboy life, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and the artists who immortalized the natural beauty and life in the west. 

We drove east from Cody to Casper to see the partial reconstruction of the 1860’s fort. It was a drive that helped us better understand the lay of the land in Wyoming. Watctching “the deer and the antelope playing” on the planes delighted us.


These are some of the photographs of the barracks and stables at Fort Casper. (Referred to in SO WIDE THE SKY as Fort Carr in the book.) Since no officers’ housing had been reconstructed at Fort Casper, I based my descriptions in the novel on other forts of the period.

Fort Casper drawing

 This is a drawing of the area in about 1866.

 We also spent a day exploring the area around the fort.  That included the Red Butes area, about four miles north and west of the 1867 bridge. This was where Cassie and Drew and Drew’s daughter Meggie have their winter picnic, and where

Fort Casper exterior Fort Casper interior

 Cassie rescues her stepdaughter when she falls through the ice. We also hiked around Caspar Mountain, which makes a cameo appearance later in the novel.

Old Bedlam

  Driving south, we visited Fort Laramie. This is the headquarters building, known at an earlier period when it was the bachelor officers’ quarters, as Old Bedlam.

East of the fort, we visited a place where wheel ruts had been cut deep into the rocks. This happened when the pioneers on the Oregon Trail “locked” their  wheels with chains and “skied” their wagons down the rise and into the Platt Valley.

Wagon train ruts

Before we left Wyoming, I was eager to revisit the Big Horn Mountains. When my college roommate and I drove cross-country, the Big Horns were the first “real mountains” we flatlanders had ever seen. We stopped at EVERY overlook to take pictures and gape, completely awed by the mountain’s majesty. The Big Horns proved to be every bit as magnificent on my second visit.

 Somewhere on our ramble through the mountains and back to Cody, we stopped in a rustic town for lunch. In the bookstore up the street, I discovered some fascinating nonfiction books about the cattle ranches that flourished along the face of the Big Horns in the 1880’s.  What surprised me was that for a time English investors owned many the ranches in this part of Wyoming.

 What intrigued me more was that this was where the aristocracy would exile their n’er do well younger sons when they had disgraced the family. Most of these “remittance men” reformed and went back to England to lead productive lives—but some of them stayed to prosper and build ranches of their own. What was it about this wild and beautiful place that drove them turn their backs on Europe and stay?

That was the question that inspired COLOR OF THE WIND and brought one determined spinster, three orphaned children and a remittance man together. 

But then, that’s a story for another day.

So How Do You Get Your Ideas?


Or The Girl with the Indian Tattoo

The photograph sent chills up my spine.

Women with Indian Tattooes

I was leafing through one of the Old West Series of Time-Life Books when I came across the picture of a woman dressed in elegant Victorian clothes, with her hair neatly parted and curled—and with an intricate Indian tattoo imprinted on her chin.

The dichotomy between the woman’s clothing and the primitive design of her tattoo whispered to my writer’s mind about the conflicts this woman must have faced. It made me think about the difficulties in reconciling the part of her life she could never deny with a white woman’s role in Victorian Society.

As it turned out, that woman was Olive Oatman. In eighteen fifty one on the Gila Trail through the Arizona Territory, the Yavapai Indians attacked the Oatman family’s wagon, and Olive and her sister Mary Ann were taken captive. Later they were traded to the Mohave Indians, where Mary Ann died of starvation.

Olive was rescued in 1856 by her brother Lorenzo, who had also survived that terrible day. Not surprisingly, Olive underwent a difficult period of readjustment when she returned. But eventually she went on to travel the United States lecturing about her experiences, having books written about her and marrying a Texas rancher.

So Wide The SkyAlthough I drew many elements for my novel from Olive’s experiences, I hoped to tell the story of a heroine in somewhat similar circumstances who resolves her difficulties in her own way—which is how Cassandra Morgan was born. I wanted to be able to construct a novel where a woman entirely changed by her captivity confronts the life she might have lived and creates her own destiny. So Wide the Sky is that story.

In the years since I wrote So Wide the Sky there has been a good deal of scholarship done on Olive Oatman. The most significant is the excellent non-fiction book, The Blue Tattoo, written by Margot Mifflin. It deals not just with Olive Oatman’s captivity, but her later life and how she made her own peace with what she had endured. I recommend it to you if you’re interested in knowing more about the real Olive’s fate.

Interestingly enough, in the chapter Ms. Mifflin devotes to Olive’s literary legacy, So Wide the Sky is acknowledged and discussed.

Other writers have discovered Olive’s story, too. The current, and probably most prominent use of an Olive-like character is in the AMC television series HELL ON WHEELS, where the role of “Eva Toole” is played by Robin McLeavy. As a devoted viewer, I can’t help hoping that in the end Eva find her happy ending, too.

“The Next Big Thing” – Links to Talented Authors’ Works in Progress

I’m always so pleased for a chance like this to introduce readers to great new stories from authors you may already know, and to introduce new writers who have fresh and engaging stories to tell.  You’ll find it well worth your while to take a few moments to follow these links and get a sneak peak at what these talented ladies are working on right now:

“The Next Big Thing” – Lynna Banning Asks Elizabeth Grayson About her Work in Progress

Welcome to my blog —

I’d like to thank Lynna Banning who invited me to answer her questions and talk about my hopes for my newest novel.  Over the last seven years, Lynna has become a dear friend and mentor to me.  She is also the author of my absolutely favorite book of 2012, GAUCHOS AND GUMPTION, which is based on her own grandmother’s adventures in Argentina at the beginning of the twentieth century.

These are the questions Lynna asked me to answer:

Courtesy of the Monterey History and Art Association

> What is the working title of your book?
This title came from the women artists’ San Francisco art organization that offered day-long train excursions to Monterey so the members could sketch and paint the marvelous scenery.

> Where did the idea come from for this book?
My agent suggested the subject after she had seen a show of California Impressionist paintings. I was very excited with the idea because I was familiar with and loved these vivid works of art. I have spent a good deal of time on the California coast, taught art for years, and enjoy writing stories where ambitions and passions intertwine.

> What genre does your book fall under?
After happily writing historical romance for years, this story seems a perfect segue into the world of historical fiction.

> How long did it take to write the first draft?
I guess you could say I am still working on the first draft.  I edit as I go, so a first draft takes me quite awhile.  But with any luck at all, I have a manuscript that usually only needs light revisions when I reach the end.

> What actors would you use for a movie rendition of your book?
Cecelia: Amanda Peet
Joe: a younger version of Antonio Bandaras
Evelyn: Mila Kunis
Mary: Maggie Gillenhall
Lucia: Ellen Page

> What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?
THE SKETCH CLUB is an intimate portrait of the lives and loves of four women painters who struggle for recognition as members of the Monterey Art Colony at the turn of the twentieth century.

> Will it be self published or represented by an agency?
It will be represented by the agent with whom I’ve worked for some years.

> Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Research is always how I find my way into a story and what inspires me as I write.  For many months, I read about the artists who lived and worked in Monterey, visited museums and studied the paintings these women artists have left behind.  As I did, I came to see each of them as talented individuals who made extraordinary art in a period when critics did their best to dismiss women artist’s work. In reading about their struggles and the Bohemian lives they lived, I came to see each of these artists not as historical figures, but as living, breathing women with stories to tell.

> What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Readers who enjoy the books of Susan Vreeland (author of GIRL IN HYACINTH BLUE) and Tracy Chevalier (author of THE GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING) might well enjoy THE SKETCH CLUB.

> What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I hope that readers will be fascinated by the same things that made these real women compelling to me: that each faced her own challenges. One must weigh her artistic ambition against her marriage to successful muralist.  Another must silence the self-doubt instilled by her domineering father. A third is forced to make the heart-breaking choice between her child and her career. And the student who comes to learn from each of these remarkable artists, must decide if she can marry a man she fears she cannot learn to love, so she can keep on painting.

Chicken Saga – the final chapter

We are down to three chickens now that Big Boy is gone. The remaining three seem shaken by his kidnaping by Animal Protection, and are much more reticent in approaching people. They have a right to be because their days here in the complex, I’m afraid, are truly numbered.

All the residents received the following letter from the management in yesterday’s mail:

Dear Owner,

We are in the process of relocating our free range chickens that have taken residence in the complex. As much as they are enjoying the arrangement, their early morning (3 A.M.) crowing is disturbing several of your neighbors. Your board has received a petition signed by several residents pleading that we relocate the chickens to a more suitable location.

The Board of Directors has contacted Russell at Apex Pest Control to relocate these friendly, but raucous visitors at his five-acre ranch in the country. They will be joining “Annabel” and “Lulu” in their “Coop of the West” to live out their days. Please be assured that our chickens will not be harmed and Rus has promised to send up pictures once they have settled into their new home. (We may even be able to arrange visitation rights.) The Board and Management understands that some residents have become very fond of our friendly fowl, but have come to the realization that the natural sounds of early morning crowing aren’t compatible with our quiet residential environment.

Please call management with any questions of concerns regarding our feathered friends.


So you see the chickens truly are being “relocated.” It has been fun to have them here, to be able to watch them come ambling down the driveway in the middle of the day or to have them greet us when we get out of the car. (Probably more because they think we’re going to feed them than for any other reason.) Even to hear them crowing early in the morning. Russell’s “Coop of the West” sounds like it’s going to be a good place for them to live. They’ll have shelter, food, the company of other chickens. But will they miss running free?

Good-bye to you Hennie, Pennie, and Little Boy. We’ll miss you all!

Chicken Saga V

Of course you knew that it was inevitable that people in the complex would name the chickens. The rooster with his swagger, his loner personae, and exceedingly loud crowing is called Big Boy. The rusty-brown rooster with the bright red comb and magnificent iridescent green tail feathers is Little Boy. The hens, one black, one brown, are mostly known as “the sisters,” but some folks refer to the brown, biddable biddie as Hennie. The black headstrong one is — yeah, you guessed it — Pennie.

For a while it seemed that there was a romance developing between Pennie and Big Boy, or at least that’s what it looked like to me, though they were a star-crossed pair. While Little Boy, in his I’m-the-boss manner, did his best to herd everyone up onto the fence and into the trees for the night, Pennie would lag behind. She’d stand on the top rail of the fence waiting for Big Boy to arrive.

Some days Pennie waited a good long while. But once he’d finished pecking in the dirt or exploring the underside of the cars in the parking lot, he’d flap to the top of the fence in a single hop. When he did, Pennie would rush toward him, and he toward her, like Cathy and Heathcliff across the moor.

Whether Pennie’s romance with Big Boy would ever have ended up with Pennie hatching a brood of chicks is something we’ll never know. Two days ago, the Animal Control van pulled up below the chickens’ favorite roosting trees. A man in a jump-suit climbed out, put on leather gloves, and eye protection. Then, taking out a net, he headed down the drive. A few minutes later I saw him return carrying Big Boy upside down and by his ankles.

By the time I ran down to intervene, the man had Big Boy in a cage and had slammed the door to the van. Even with the door closed, I could hear Big Boy was crowing.

“What are you doing with that rooster?” I demanded.

He opened the driver’s door and turned and scowled at me for interfering. “We’ve had complaints about him crowing at all hours, so the county is ‘relocating’ him.”

Like someone in the witness protection program?

I thought briefly about following the van down to Animal Control and bailing Big Boy out. But if I brought him back to the apartments, his recapture was inevitable. Instead, I stood there feeling helpless. I watched the van roll down the drive and wondered if the other chickens would miss Big Boy. I suspected Pennie would.

I went inside, scooped up some feed and sprinkled it at the edge of the driveway. It seemed like the least that I could do.

Chicken Saga IV

Dear friends —

Well, apparently our townhouse complex isn’t the only place having a debate about where chickens belong. In today’s newspaper I saw a letter to the editor from a woman protesting a statute the county is considering that would ban the keeping of backyard chickens. Well, not all chickens, actually. Roosters, specifically.

As it turns out, what the county hopes to do is allow the keeping of laying hens. Laying hens are useful birds; we can eat their eggs. We can whip those eggs omelets with cheese and ham. We can add a few ingredients and bake a cake. We can make a lovely custard sprinkled with cinnamon.

Occasionally, you might hear some clucking from a hen or notice a a disgruntled cackle and a little wing flapping between two biddies who claim the same place to roost. But they’re quiet and biddable for the most part. Roosters crow — loud and long and early in the morning. Therein lies the problem. Feeding us is all well and good. Waking us up, at least according to the county supervisors hereabouts, isn’t something they can sanction.

Of course, what I wonder about the ordinance the county has proposed is whether it favors hens over roosters. Does it declare one sex of chicken to be superior to the other? Could such a statute be considered sex discrimination?

The homeowner who wrote the letter in the newspaper was outraged that such a ban is even under consideration. Since she breeds chickens for fun and profit, banning roosters would devastate her business and deprive her of her livelihood – because without roosters there would be no chicks.

So is this a variation on the age-old the question: which came first, the rooster or the egg?

Just wondering –

Chicken Saga III

The situation I wrote about in my last update on the chickens, where my nearest neighbor had begun feeding the chickens about the time the sun comes up, has resolved itself. Two mornings ago, the chickens gathered and the roosters commenced to crow. At the first cock-a-doodle, one of my older neighbors bustled out onto her balcony in her lavender flowered robe.

From two-doors-down, she shot a withering glance at the woman preparing to feed the chickens, and waved her broom in the chickens’ direction. “Shoo! Shoo, shoo!” she said crisply, but not loudly enough to wake any more of the neighbors. “Shoo! Shoo!”

The chickens looked up, considered her as a potential threat, then pecked around on the ground in defiance. Once they’d made the point that she didn’t scare them all that much, they turned tail feathers to her and sashayed away.

Chastened, the neighbor with her bucket feed subsided into her own place. We haven’t had any more early morning crowing since then. I hope it lasts.


Chicken Saga II

In the first part of what seems to be turning into a series of updates on the feral chickens that live in our apartment complex, I mentioned that we had not yet been awakened by the roosters crowing. Early Sunday morning, one of the two roosters saw fit to remedy that.

Having been born and raised in cities, the only time I’ve ever heard a rooster crowing was on TV. That meant I was totally unprepared for the ungodly noise that started outside our bedroom window about 5:30 A.M. That sound was as piercing as a gym teacher’s whistle, as stunning as an air horn going off right in your ear. It was high-pitched and almost operatic.

It sent both my husband and me bolting upright in bed. We looked at each other, not because it we weren’t sure what it was, but because we were wondering how on earth could all that racket could come from a creature that didn’t come up to our knee caps?

We flopped back in bed, jammed pillows over our heads, and burrowed in. But nothing muffled that rooster’s decibel level. He crowed for nearly half an hour: Cock-a-doodle-do. Cock-a-doodle-do! Then he just stopped.

We rolled over, cautiously lifted one corner of our pillows, then heaved a sigh of relief. Thank goodness that was over!

Until the next morning. That’s when I discovered our nearest neighbor’s treachery. She was up and dressed and on her porch tossing feed down to the chickens, while the rooster was strutting around proud as could be and crowing in appreciation.

Now I don’t blame my neighbor for feeding the birds; Tom and I feed them occasionally, too. (Which might explain why the chickens have such trouble flapping up into the trees to roost for the night.) But we feed them at a decent hour of the day!

So how can I ask a neighbor I barely know to stop feeding our complex’s chickens at such an early hour? I’m fully aware that some folks love getting up with the sun — and more power to them. I’m just not one of them.

So what I’m beginning to wonder is: Can roosters who crow (and crow and crow) to welcome the dawn and night owls like me learn to coexist?

Cock-a-doodle-do to all of you –