Literary fiction


eLectio Publishing, 2016


In 1896, Frank Wilson, a banker in the town of Horton, Kansas, finds himself widowed with two sons. Urged to remarry just weeks after his wife’s sudden death, Frank begins corresponding with a bright, vivacious young schoolteacher, Irene Webb of Nortonville, thirty miles away. They quickly fall in love on the page, illustrating thoughts on the deeper meaning of marriage and the importance of living a “noble life” with quotes from the Bible, Emerson, and Pope. But Frank’s debilitating bouts of grief mean that months pass between visits, leaving Irene to wonder if he will ever be ready to propose. When an ailing, despondent Frank tries to break off their courtship, Irene, who comes from resolute pioneer stock, refuses to accept the news. If there is a cure for Frank, Irene is determined to find it.

The novel weaves a compelling drama of the agony of grief and the triumph of love. It is a testament to faith, devotion, and traditional American values. The letters transcend personal doubts and misgivings to convey universal romantic ideals, which Frank and Irene explore with eloquence, excitement, and hope. Such an art form seems lost in today’s breathless impatience of e-mails and text messaging.

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The bones of Diamond Mornings are the actual courtship letters exchanged between my grandparents, Frank and Irene, in 1896-97. I call the letters “history in a shoebox” because I found them in just such a box while emptying my mother’s home in 1981. The preserved letters opened to me a literary gateway to two sensitive, articulate individuals facing profound questions of commitment and solitude in Kansas during the last years of the nineteenth century. The complete correspondence--over one hundred letters--tells of the fifteen-month journey my grandparents made through daily and sometimes singular obstacles to reach commitment. These original texts are interspersed with fictional scenes based on my research and retelling of family lore.

I wrote Diamond Mornings not only to honor these two remarkable people, but also to shed light on a fascinating era in Kansas history. The novel introduces readers to a time and place they may know little about, and may find themselves longing for once they become immersed in it: the burgeoning Midwest near the dawn of a new millennium, two decades before US involvement in World War I, when most Americans viewed the future with excitement and hope. Frank’s and Irene’s letters offer the pleasures of a real-life love story—the first declarations of affection, the soaring emotions, the inevitable misunderstandings and confrontations as promises are made, withdrawn, and ultimately renewed. But the letters also transcend the personal: they provide a glimpse into a forgotten world that is rooted in traditional American values, yet may seem intriguingly foreign to the modern reader in many respects. 

This is a time when a man’s family and friends begin pressing him to find a new mate when he is still in shock from the death of his wife, the argument being that no man can possibly raise his children, run his household, and maintain his business without a woman by his side. Frank must grieve his loss and pursue a new romance at the same time.


This is a world where a separation of thirty miles presents a challenge to a blossoming relationship, and an age when obligation to family takes precedence over personal desires. The devoted daughter of ailing parents, Irene is as tied to her family’s farm as Frank is to his business and his sons. The telephone remains a novelty; the railroad is the primary mode of transportation between towns. Modern-day readers will be astonished to learn that Frank and Irene meet only eight times during their courtship. Their romance is mostly conducted through letters. By necessity, the power of words sustains their love through long weeks apart, crises and losses, Frank’s retreat and Irene’s efforts to understand his state of mind—all the way through to the altar.