Gertrude Chaney, at age 25, arriving in Shanxi Province, where she will meet her husband, Watts Orson Pye. Her spunk and bravery and stylish fur collar were the inspiration for the character of Shirley in Dreams of the Red Phoenix.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.