I brainstormed many titles for my novel Elsie Whitmore: A Star from Oak Hills. I had a few great titles that were much more intriguing and trendy. However, I always came back to Elsie Whitmore. I am glad I had the freedom to name my own ‘book-child’!
The name Elsie is a tribute to a beloved woman from my childhood. The Elsie I knew was at least seventy-five years my senior, but I considered her my good friend. She took the time to dialogue with me. She watched out for me. She prayed for me.
Funny thing is, when I first got noticed Elsie, I was highly annoyed by something about her.
I grew up attending a church where just about EVERYONE could sing. On Sunday mornings, I sat between my Grammy and Grampy and my parents. On one side of me I was cushioned by Grammy’s velvety contralto and on the other side, my father’s deep bass. Behind me, my aunt would be singing a sweet alto. Their voices made the worship portion of our service such a joy.
On Sunday evenings, I would sit by my Grandma and Grandpa Cooley, who sat behind George and Eva Price. In their young days, three of them had been part of a quartet. My Grandpa could still sing a lovely true tenor. George could sing bass better than George Beverly Shae. And, in my estimation and his wife Eva, well, she was such a quiet lady but that trait made her one of the best harmonizers I have ever heard — with a supportive, ‘blendy’ voice that could make any other voice sound better.
Imagine my chagrin when Elsie and her husband started to sit directly behind Grandpa and Grandma and that became ‘their pew’.
Yes, just about EVERYBODY could sing at Green Grove. Just about EVERYBODY, but NOT Elsie.
Elsie could not seem to be on pitch for at least nine out of every ten notes. My Grampy couldn’t hold a tune either, but you would never know, because he sang quietly. But Elsie? She sang with pure joy and at the top of her lungs. To a girl who loved music so much and had inherited ‘the ear’ from both sides of the family, this was borderline unbearable.
One Sunday evening, I sat there between my grandparents stewing because I couldn’t enjoy the music, when I had a moment of one of the clearest Divine interventions that I have ever had my entire life, a thought that was clearly not my own:
Amy, if you could only hear Elsie the way God hears her. Her heart music is more beautiful than any other voice in this place. Her worship is true.
That moment changed me in many ways. It humbled me. It gave me a better understanding of worship. It made me realize that the arts were created for EVERYONE to enjoy. And, that they were also meant to be used for God’s glory. After that loud whisper in my mind, I stopped focusing on the superficial so much, and started valuing the broken, the subtle, the understated, the genuine.
Why Elsie WHITMORE?
My Grandma Cooley loved reading and ‘schooling’ so much. I am sure our dialogue throughout my childhood planted at least one of the seeds for my future career. One set of books that I remember her mentioning many times was the Elsie Dinsmore series that she had read as a child.
In retrospect, I am glad that this series was not one that she shared with me. I think her copies must have remained in her childhood home near Northville, NY. From what I gather, Elsie Dinsmore is a ‘perfectly perfect in every way’ type character. As a child, I needed characters that were beautifully flawed, because I tended to not give myself too much grace and mercy when I messed up as it was. That is probably why I read the Anne of Green Gables and Trixie Belden series over and over — I needed to know that it was okay to be real.
I think I heard Grandma mention the Elsie Dinsmore books so many times in my formative years, that pairing a last name that ended with ‘more’ with ‘Elsie’ sounded right to me. But, it was totally a subconscious decision.
So, essentially the title of my first sweet-contemporary is a tribute to two elderly ladies who greatly influenced me, Elsie and Grandma Cooley. But, on a greater scale, Elsie Whitmore: A Star from Oak Hills is a tribute to truth, to simplicity, to genuine worship, and to recognizing that we will be perfectly imperfect until we reach our Heavenly Home — even though this novel’s genre is not inspirational.
Knowing this, why do you think I chose to use the word “Star” in the subtitle? Email me at email@example.com with your thoughts!
If you have already read Elsie Whitmore, and would like to read an excerpt that will be included in the sequel, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject #moregrahamandelsie