"Grenell 1912" Lynn McElfresh's Book 4

By: Susan W. Smith

Volume 17, Issue 9, September 2022

An excerpt from Grenell 1912, Book 4 in the Thousand Island Series, by Lynn E. McElfresh

"Residents—buckets in hand—rushed to the scene from every corner of the Park. Two boys took turns working the hand pump on the corner. Men, women, and children formed a bucket brigade. Bucket after bucket was filled with water and handed off down the line. Vivi and I hurried to help, passing each filled bucket as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, I noted that Mr. Freeman was calmly orchestrating the evacuation of the nearby Columbian Hotel. A convoy of wagons was lined up on both sides of the structure. Bellboys threw packed bags and trunks from the windows. Bellboys below retrieved the bags and loaded them into the wagons.

A similar evacuation was occurring at the Wellesley Hotel behind us. Over the shouts of the hotel staff, we could hear mothers frantically calling for their children. Occasionally, I heard a child crying for its mother. I tried not to be distracted but focused on passing bucket after bucket toward the store.

Mr. Fitch appeared, his face smudged with soot and glasses askew. He had a stack of ledgers clutched to his chest. I could have sworn the ledgers were smoking, but I didn’t have time to assess exactly what I saw as another bucket was passed to me. He whispered something to Dr. Goodale. The next time I looked up, I saw Mr. Fitch running down St. Lawrence Avenue toward the river.

By now, my skirt was wet, heavy with the water that had sloshed from passing buckets. Despite all our efforts, the entire business block was a tower of flames within minutes. The fire roared like a mighty lion. The stone blocks at the base of the building oozed and melted in the heat. Suddenly the thunderous sound of crashing and splintering of wood made our line come to a standstill. The store roof collapsed, causing a rumble so intense that the entire bucket brigade jumped back a step or two.

Before we resumed, Paul Couch stepped out of line and pointed to the Wellesley Hotel and shouted, “There! On the roof! A firebrand has caught!” He took off at a run, disappeared through a side door, and moments later crawled from an attic window with a shovel in hand and a wet blanket draped over his head and shoulders. He beat at the burning shingles with his shovel.

We turned back toward the business block, but it was a lost cause. I looked at my bodice watch. We had run from the funeral procession toward Haller’s Store only fifteen minutes ago. In just fifteen minutes, the whole business block was a roaring furnace."

The book is available at several Thousand Islands Book Stores including:

  • The Antique Boat Museum Gift Shop, 750 Mary Street, Clayton;
  • The Little Bookstore,   413 Riverside Drive, Clayton;
  • Michael Ringer's St. Lawrence Galleries, 203 James Street, Clayton
  • Cornwall Bros. Store and Museum, 36 Market Street, Alexandria Bay.
Lynn McElfresh, author of the Thousand Island Series of Historical fiction novels, held a book signing in the Grenell Island Community House. Lynn’s latest release, Grenell 1912, has been highly anticipated by her loyal readers for months. The fourth novel in her planned nine novel series was released September 1st. Lynn has released a new novel each year since 2019. [Photo by Larry Asam.]

Interview with the author Lynn E. McElfresh:

I asked author Lynn McElfresh for a short excerpt of from Grenell 1912, Book 4 in the Thousand Islands Series. Of course, it is just one of many exciting parts, but one that must relate well for those who lived through our own Murray Isle fire this spring, 2022.

Many of us are familiar with Lynn's writing. Not only having completed four books in her Thousand Islands Series, but Lynn has written over 150 articles for TI Life! Her writing always leaves us with a smile, and this novel is no exception.

Q: After writing the first three books, what is the hardest part of starting, middle and of course, finishing? Who helps with the editing?

A: Beginnings are the easiest for me. I usually have the first scene in mind before I sit down to write. While researching the book, I list events that will happen sometime during the story. After that, it’s up in the air. But I usually have no idea how the book will progress, and even when I’m a page away from the ending, I’m not 100% sure how it will end.

As far as editing . . . Husband Gary is the first reader. To help with consistency, I develop a style guide for each book—a collection of proper names, compound words, hyphenated words, italicized words, and period-appropriate words and idioms. My! The time we spend discussing commas! You have no idea.

For input on the storyline, and an extra eye for details, I’ve had various people read through my manuscripts. For Grenell 1912, my dear friend Carol Pearson read through the manuscript and gave me sage advice. Carol did an outstanding job and I will tap her talents again for Book 5, if she is willing.

Q: And, I want to know what was the most fun to write—which section—or maybe which research was the most fun to do? What Parts of TI History that you would have liked to include, but hit the cutting room floor?

A: It wasn’t fun, but the Thousand Island Park fire chapters were intense and emotional. To prepare for those chapters, I read dozens of newspaper accounts and supplemented that with many first-hand accounts of other fires. Imagining the horror of that day, then reliving it through my writing was exhausting.

What didn’t make it into Grenell 1912? So many fascinating details about people on the river – too numerous to list. The Thousand Islands region is so rich in history and fascinating people, that I’m never at a loss for details or stories.

Q: By now are the characters easy to create? I know they carry the story, so which ones are now your best friends?

A: I often say—I don’t write the story—my characters write the story. Flossie, Vivi, and Marguerite are the standouts. The fun is thinking about how they will change from book to book. My characters aren’t static. Life experiences and age changes my characters from book to book. Flossie has pretty much stayed the same. (Although Flossie even surprised me in 1912!) In Grenell 1904, Vivi was five. In Grenell 1912, she is thirteen. In my next book—Grenell 1923, which I’m working on now—Vivi is twenty-four. Life experiences between 1912 and 1923 have dramatically changed her. (Marguerite, too!)

Well Lynn, you have grabbed me again. I received the book last weekend and now I am going to have the best time ever . . .  no dusting, no windows and no worries.


By Susan W. Smith, Editor, susansmith@thousandislandslife.com

Posted in: Volume 17, Issue 9, September 2022, Book review, Current


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