CLOCKWISE FROM TOP:
Fenchow-fu missionary compound, Shanxi Province, around 1925. This photo helped inspire the mission architecture in Dreams of the Red Phoenix—though I embellished my imagined buildings with colorful, Chinese-inspired details.
Rev. Watts Orson Pye strides up a desert trail in Northwest China, around 1925. This photo helped inspire the ending for River of Dust and the overall sense in both novels that these Americans were pioneers in a rugged landscape that resembled our American West.
Christian missionary children, around 1925. This photo invited me to imagine what life must have been like for a missionary kid in that far off land. The pith helmets serve as a visual reminder of the colonial setting.
This gentleman may or may not be my grandfather, but this photo offers a sense of the vast, unexplored territory that was Northwest China at the time my grandparents lived there and when my novels take place.
Rev. Watts O. Pye out on the missionary trail, open book on his lap, around 1925. He was the inspiration for Reverend Wesley Watson, who reads aloud from the Romantic Poets and Shakespeare to his Chinese sidekick, Ahcho, in River of Dust.
Rev. Watts O. Pye, Gertrude Chaney Pye and Lucian Wilmot Pye, 1925, Shanxi Province, China. This photo helped inspire the characters of Rev. Wesley Watson, his wife Grace, and their little son Wesley, who is captured by Mongolian bandits at the opening of River of Dust.
Gertrude Chaney, at age 25, arriving in Shanxi Province, where she will meet her husband, Watts O. Pye. Her spunk and bravery and stylish fur collar were the inspiration for the character of Shirley in Dreams of the Red Phoenix.
My father’s older sister, Mary Elizabeth, who died at age 6 in Shanxi Province. This evocative, moving photo helped inspire the many lost or departed children who people both novels, River of Dust and Dreams of the Red Phoenix.