Years ago, when I took my young daughters to Mexico for a month-long visit, my ten-year-old niece Ana got stung by a scorpion upon our arrival to their home in a small rural town. My sister Carol immediately took her to the doctor for an anti-venom shot. Ana was okay but in pain.
That night, Carol advised us, “When you get up in the morning, don’t slip into your shoes without first turning them upside down and shaking them. There might be a scorpion inside.”
That was our introduction to Mexico.
It’s not much different from Sophia Fairfield’s introduction to Las Vegas, New Mexico in The Finding of Miss Fairfield by Grace Hitchcock. Sophia hails from Charleston, South Carolina. In getting oriented to the Southwest, she learns to fend off those nasty scorpions by beating her dresses hanging in the closet before wearing them, and storing her shoes upside down.
It was a tradeoff she was willing to live with. She’d moved west to escape an arranged married and to work as a Harvey Girl.
I’d never heard of the Harvey Girls until I read this book. These are young women who worked at any of the Fred Harvey restaurants along the Santa Fe Railroad from the late 1800s to the mid-1950s. The eating establishments offered good food with quality service.
Serving at a Harvey House offered single women independence in a respectable job with a decent wage (including room & board) topped with a dollop of adventure. Only girls of good character need apply. Read more here.
In 1946, Judy Garland starred in the MGM movie The Harvey Girls, along with John Hodiak. Ray Bolger is in it, too—just as he (as the Scarecrow) and Judy Garland had starred together in The Wizard of Oz seven years earlier. Check out The Harvey Girls trailer here.
The Finding of Miss Fairfield is book one in the Aprons and Veils Series.
When an engagement of convenience becomes anything but convenient . . .
Forced into a betrothal with a widower twice her age, Charleston socialite, Sophia Fairfield is desperate for an escape. But, while her fiancé is away on business, he assigns his handsome stepson, Carver, the task of looking after his bride-to-be. Much to her dismay, Sophia finds herself falling in love with the wrong gentleman—a man society would never allow her to marry, given Sophia was supposed to be his new stepmother. The only way to save Carver from scandal and financial ruin is to run away, leaving him and all else behind to become a Harvey Girl waitress at the Castañeda Hotel in New Mexico.
Carver Ashton has had his life planned out for him since birth, but when he encounters Sophia Fairfield, he glimpses a new life—apart from his overbearing stepfather’s business. But, when the woman he loves disappears before he can express his devotion, Carver abandons all to find her. However, his stepfather has other intentions for Sophia and will stop at nothing until she is his bride . . . even if it is against her will.
In the late 1800s, Sophia Fairfield is stuck in a marriage contract with her father’s much older business partner, Prescott Payne. Prescott asks his stepson Carver Ashton to look after Sophia while he’s away on business. She finds herself inadvertently drawn to Carver, and vice versa. But falling in love with him would devastate her parents and fiancé, and scandalize Carver.
Sophia’s pleas to her father to not marry Preston fall upon deaf ears. When she can’t see any other way to get out of the marriage, she answers an ad for a Harvey Girl and leaves Charleston for the Castañeda Hotel in New Mexico. Immediately, she goes from wealthy, pampered socialite to humble waitress in the wild, wild west. With a slight change of name so as not to be easily found.
Yet both Carver and his rich, powerful stepfather are determined to find her. Carver wants to declare his love, while Prescott plans to claim her as his bride. He has no qualms about eliminating any obstacles—including Carver.
While Carver and Prescott seek her, Sophia is having her own adventure as a Harvey Girl. Adventures, plural, including waitressing at the hotel after years of being pampered.
Though Sophia soon feels like part of the Harvey Girl “family,” she encounters one problem after another, acquiring both friends and enemies. She has to deal with catty girls, undesirable suitors, and dangerous scoundrels. Not to mention scorpions.
Sophia must grow up fast as she takes control of her own life. Carver is definitely a worthy hero. Additionally, I enjoyed learning how the hospitable Harvey Houses were run with integrity and discipline.
Plenty of suspense marked by twists and turns kept me guessing. The last few chapters in particular were intense with high drama and action. I truly worried about Carver and Sophie!
My only complaint would be that the ending wrapped up too quickly. I can’t mention specific situations without spoiling the story, so I’ll just say I would like to have experienced the unfolding of three potential scenes rather than read a brief summary of the action. That’s a compliment, because the story and characters kept me engaged throughout.
Join me for some Q & A with author Grace Hitchcock.
Questions about The Finding of Miss Fairfield
What was your inspiration for writing The Finding of Miss Fairfield? What’s your personal connection to the setting or situation?
Grace: Tracie Peterson and her Westward Chronicle series! I fell in love with the Harvey Girls as a young girl because of this book and make sure I re-read the series about every other year. Cannot count how many times I’ve read it! Now, I’m writing my own Harvey Girl series.
What historical parameters were imposed on you, particularly as it relates to the Harvey Girls?
Grace: Whenever I tell people I am writing about a Victorian Harvey Girl romance, they usually assume the Harvey Girls are associated with an old-time saloon, but nothing could be further from the truth.
In the 1890s, there were not many respectable jobs for women, so when Englishman Fred Harvey created his chain of fine dining restaurants along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroads, single women without an education, or in need of earning their own way, were given a chance to earn an honest wage without the speculation that they offered anything else but food as a service.
With Mr. Harvey’s strict rules about the waitress’s code of conduct, the women were given their independence while still maintaining their good name and place in society under the protective, fatherly arm of Fred Harvey. These extraordinary, brave women became known as the Harvey Girls, the ladies who tamed the Wild West with fine china, good pie, and exceptional service with complete propriety.
At a time when men filled towns and women were scarce, inevitably, a railroad worker or townsman would express interest in marrying a Harvey Girl. In order to marry, she would need to fulfill her work contract or risk paying a fine of a month of salary. The fine was set in place to ensure that Fred Harvey would have enough workers and that he wouldn’t simply train a girl to have her shipped to a town of bachelors and leave him without a waitress.
As you can probably tell, such a set-up sends an author’s head to spinning with all the romance that could come from a woman venturing out on her own in a land filled with cowboys, bandits, ranchers, and farmers. The possibilities for romance are endless! There is so much more I could write about these fascinating ladies and their contributions to society, but I hope you enjoyed this taste of history on the Harvey Girls!
How did you develop your heroine and hero, Sophia Fairfield and Carver Ashton? Did they hijack the story or do you have full rein?
Grace: I tend to develop my characters through layered edits. The first draft, I make the characters do what I have lined up for them in the plot, but by the third draft, they try to take the story in their own direction ☺
Incidentally, what would Sophia have to say about you?
Grace: I think Sophia and I would get along well! We both are on the quiet side and enjoy reading ☺ She might get angry, though, for all the drama I put her through toward the end of the story!
What unusual thing did you do or discover while researching for this story?
Grace: As an avid Harvey Girl fan, I read just about every Christian Historical Fiction work I could find as well as several non-fiction works on the subject.
One of the craziest things I discovered while researching was that Fred Harvey originally had waiters serving in his houses, but one of his managers thought that if the houses were run by waitresses, the male guests eating at the Harvey House would be better behaved. Fred Harvey agreed and thus, the Harvey Girls were created!
Questions about writing
What books have been most influential for you as an author?
Grace: Janette Oke! She is known as the pioneer of Christian Fiction and is one of my very favorite authors of all time with her stories of sweet romance and perseverance. A Gown of Spanish Lace had such a plot twist it that it has stayed with me for two decades.
Share a little about your novel writing process, and the length of time it takes to complete a book.
Grace: I usually begin with a spark of an idea that I at once research to see if it would work with the eras I enjoy writing (Gilded Age and Regency England). From there, I do a deep dive into writing out a full plot chapter by chapter, which generally takes about a week to ten days.
Once I have my plot down, I do about a week or two of basic research and begin the first very, very rough draft that I usually finish at 50,000 words after 3 months of writing.
Then, I research any spots that needed improving in the first draft and go full editing mode, pausing throughout the book to research spots that need more description and historical accuracy, which is about two months and then, I do a third round of edits and research while doing a line edit, which takes a month.
By the time I get to the 6-month mark, I am more than ready to have a break—haha—and I send it off to my publisher who does a content edit and sends it back to me for three weeks. Another editor does a line edit, then sends it back to me for three weeks. Still another editor does a copy edit and sends it to galleys (where they format the book) and sends it back to me to proof one last time for one week! Then, praise the Lord, it is over. It goes to press at usually 100,000! So long story short, 6 months to write and about 2 months to edit!
You’ve written historical fiction set in various American locales throughout the 1800s. Do you have a favorite time period or setting? Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
Grace: For America, it is definitely Gilded Age and for England, REGENCY! I am working on edits for my first ever Regency series for Kregel Publications and the research has been so much fun! This idea was sparked from a Hallmark movie where a girl proposes to a guy ☺ And I thought what fun it would be to have that happen in another time and what would happen when the gentleman refused.
About Book One in my Regency series from Kregel:
Chilham in the County of Kent, Spring 1813
Sometimes the only way to out stride scandal is to find a crown big enough to silence it.
After breaking off two arranged engagements, country baker turned heiress Muriel Beau takes matters into her own hands and asks the visiting baron she loves to marry her in a very public proposal and is met with an emphatic rejection. With no other course but to flee Kent society, Muriel knows the only way out of this debacle is to out stride it by securing what every society matron dreams of obtaining—a coronet with a sumptuous title to match. And after a glittering reception in the courts of London, Muriel’s dreams might come true after all.
For my second project this year, I am working on book two in my Aprons & Veils series, a Harvey Girl Victorian Romance, The Pursuit of Miss Parish, which will release in May!
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Grace: In this business, just about every author gets a rejection from a publisher . . . even by publishers who later accept them!
When I began sending out one of my first manuscripts, I thought it was pristine, but after about 15 rejections, I put it on the shelf and focused on a new manuscript with fresh eyes and new goals based on some of the industry professionals’ suggestions.
Six months after I shelved that first manuscript, I went back and looked over it . . . the professionals were right. It wasn’t ready and it would require a lot more love (aka bleeding edits) before I attempted to send it out again. Sometimes, time is what you need to get a fresh perspective.
But it is also important to remember that when you get a rejection letter, they are not rejecting you. They are rejecting the work. And as much as you see it as a work of art, the publishers see it as a product. They are there to sell a product and if the product isn’t ready, it won’t sell well, so take heart and “hone your craft” and focus on any feedback you received that has merit.
That critique was very hard for me to hear—haha—but it helped push me to keep learning, attending writers conference, and following my dreams. Over the years, I have had novels rejected by Barbour, Bethany, and Kregel, but I tried again and again and eventually signed with each publishing house! So keep it up! You can do it!
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you like historical fiction—dual timeline, actually—you might enjoy my novel, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. This story spotlights L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Set in Holland, Michigan, this pre-published novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. Read more and watch the book trailer here.
If you like Southern fiction or stories about family secrets, you might enjoy my re-launched novel All That Is Hidden, Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.
All That Is Hidden awards:
- Winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award
- Semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest
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Grace Hitchcock Bio
Grace Hitchcock is the award-winning author of multiple historical novels and novellas. She holds a Masters in Creative Writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in History. Grace lives in the New Orleans area with her husband, Dakota, sons, and daughter. Connect with her online at GraceHitchcock.com, as well as BookBub, Facebook, Instagram, and GoodReads. Sign up for her newsletter here.
Join me next time for another visit with author Liz Tolsma.
Meanwhile, have you read The Finding of Miss Fairfield or any others by Grace Hitchcock? Answer in the comments below.
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I’ve been humming the song “Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe” (not sure that is the actual title) from “The Harvey Girls” the whole time reading this post. There are certainly a lot worse songs to run through my head!
What a fun story line! Now I’m wondering what could happen that made the climax of the book so tense.
Grace Hitchcock is such a great author’s name! Love her enthusiasm for her project—also the practical advice for aspiring writers.
Thanks to you both for an interesting interview. And an all-day accompaniment to my chores of “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe.”
How funny! I just went to YouTube to listen to it. Johnny Mercer’s singing it. Glad this post and song could lighten your step during chores today!
I’ve always loved the Harvey Girls also! So glad to know there’s a series focused on them. Another great interview, Laura!
So glad you dropped by today, Rita!
When you mentioned the Harvey Girls, I knew I’d read about them before but couldn’t remember the series. Then Grace mentioned Tracie Peterson and her Westward Chronicle series! Yes! That’s it. Enjoyed those stories, and Grace’s sounds good, too. Wondering how there could be a happy ending between step-father, step-son, and girl! Meanwhile, the Regency one sounds interesting, as well. What would make a woman publicly propose in that time period. Hmmmmm. Intriguing.
I’ve never read the Westward Chronicle series, but I’m curious about them. And you’re right about the unlikely situation–what happened to lead to that proposal? A good hook.
I’d read about the Harvey Girls before, but it was a long time ago and I don’t remember the title or author! Nowadays I can go to Goodreads to peruse my reading list. I haven’t read books by Grace Hitchcock yet, but I plan to check her out. Looks like some fun reading!
Let me know what you think after you read it, Ruth!