Grace's Pictures, Ellis Island Series #1Grace's Pictures, Ellis Island Series #1
Cindy Thomson
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Grace McCaffery hopes that the bustling streets of New York hold all the promise that the lush hills of Ireland did not. As her efforts to earn enough money to bring her mother to America fail, she wonders if her new Brownie camera could be the answer. But a casual stroll through a beautiful New York City park turns into a hostile run-in with local gangsters, who are convinced her camera holds the first and only photos of their elusive leader. A policeman with a personal commitment to help those less fortunate finds Grace attractive and longs to help her, but Grace believes such men cannot be trusted. Spread thin between her quest to rescue her mother, do well in a new nanny job, and avoid the gang intent on intimidating her, Grace must put her faith in unlikely sources to learn the true meaning of courage and forgiveness.

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Cindy ThomsonCindy Thomson is a writer and an avid genealogy enthusiast. Her love of history and her Scots-Irish heritage have inspired much of her writing, including her new Ellis Island series. Cindy is also the author of Brigid of Ireland and Celtic Wisdom: Treasures from Ireland. She combined her love of history and baseball to co-author the biography Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story, which was a finalist for the Society for American Baseball Research's Larry Ritter Book Award. In addition to books, Cindy has written on a regular basis for numerous online and print publications and is a mentor for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. She is also a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and the Historical Novel Society. Cindy and her husband have three grown sons and live in central Ohio.

Favorite Bible Verse: Isaiah 1:18, KJV Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool Interview with Cindy Thomson


Great cover for Grace's Pictures!

I absolutely love the cover. Tyndale did an amazing job.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a former teacher and I now write full-time. I’ve written for a variety of publications in different genres, but history is my usual theme, and I love historical fiction. Genealogy is one of my favorite hobbies. I’m a huge baseball fan, love all things Irish, and getting lost in a really good novel. I’ve lived most of my life in Ohio. I’ve been married thirty-plus years to my best friend, and we have three awesome sons and a daughter-in-law.

What is your favorite Bible verse? Why? Translation too, please.

I wish I had just one. Answering this question would be so much easier. When I was a young girl, a verse spoke to me. These words drew me close to Jesus: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18, KJV).  I love the message of forgiveness in this verse. I’ve quoted from the King James simply because I’ve been using that translation lately in order to read what my characters would have read. I really enjoy using many different translations.

What sparked your interest to write about leaving Ireland, using the Brownie camera as your vehicle, and interjecting the local police officer?
Leaving Ireland was a common experience for so many of our ancestors. As a result there are more Irish all over the world than there are in Ireland today. I like to explore what life was like for our ancestors—why they did the things they did, what motivated them.

I looked for things that affected their lives—what was new back then. The Brownie camera was one of those things. It changed photography forever. Suddenly the average person could take pictures.

Another major impact on the immigrants’ lives in those days was the police department. Usually not in a positive way. Teddy Roosevelt, not yet president, helped to clean up some of the corruption, but it would take some time before the poor trusted the police again. But as is always the case, there is good among the bad. Grace’s experiences with the police in Ireland caused her not to trust them, but sometimes God sends you help in surprising packages.

How did you choose NYC as your setting?

From 1892 to 1954, over 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. That is why so many Americans today have at least one ancestor who came to America through that station. It’s a common experience. While many moved on to other parts of the country, a vast number spent the rest of their lives right in New York City.

And turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York was so fascinating. There were so many inventions being introduced. There was incredible wealth before monopolies were illegal. And the contrast was the incredible poverty. Jacob Riis, with his How the Other Half Lives, and others like him were beginning to shed light on the social disparity. Christian organizations were active in bringing aid. So much was going on, so the seed for plenty of stories was not hard to find.


How much of the Ellis Island series comes from your background and experience?

My interest in my ancestry certainly played a big role. As far as I have been able to tell, my ancestors all came over before Ellis Island opened, but the immigrant experience is the same—a strange new world with lots of opportunity.

I have always believed the people who came before us have stories we can learn from. I’ve written numerous articles to guide people with genealogical research, but there is only so much that names and dates can tell you. I wanted to envision these people, so putting fictional people and circumstances into historical places, where they encountered real events and real historical figures, was my way of doing that.

How much research did the Ellis Island series take?
I can’t really quantify it. I researched before and during the writing process. I wanted to find out what life was like then, so I traveled to NYC, visited Ellis Island, looked at maps at the New York Public Library, went to several other sites, such as the New York City Police Museum, sat in Battery Park and got a feel for what my characters would have seen and done there, and studied lots of books. For some people, research sounds like drudgery, but for me, it is so much fun and not work at all!

Do you have a background and passion for history?

Yes, I would say I have a passion! My background doesn’t include formal training in history, but just being curious and spending time exploring.

How much of the story is factual information?

Most of the characters are fictional. Jacob Riis, of course, was a historical figure, as was Augustus Sherman, the photographer and Ellis Island registry clerk. First Church and Rayburn Street are fictional, as is Hawkins House. The Dusters were really a gang, and they really were mostly cocaine addicts. Goo Goo Knox was the real gang leader, but not much is known about him, so my depiction is fictional. Big Tim Sullivan the politician was a historical figure, as was William S. Devery, the police chief at the time. Of course their interactions with my characters were fictional. Dead Man’s Curve and the many trolley accidents there were based on historical facts.

What are the most interesting facts that you learned while researching and writing the Ellis Island series?

One interesting fact was that cocaine was legal, but some people were beginning to see that it was a growing problem. Another thing was that mug shots were just beginning to be used. It’s hard to imagine today how you can control criminal activity without them. I read in a contemporary newspaper how some people feared that with everyone walking around with a Brownie camera, some folks would have their picture made without permission. It was an invasion of privacy. Oh, if those people could have seen the future!

I could go on and on with this question, but I’ll give just one more example. There are some Thomas Edison films out there that you can watch on the Internet and see all the people walking around on the streets in Lower Manhattan. There were no stoplights or Stop signs or even lines on the road to direct traffic. People just went helter-skelter on their way. Other than Dead Man’s Curve, the traffic did not travel at a fast pace, so people continually walked in front of trolleys and wagons. The elevated trains, of course, were faster. They shadowed the sidewalks below in many neighborhoods before the subway was completed

These are the little things that help to paint the picture of the lives our ancestors led, and yet, people are people no matter what century they lived in, and they struggled with many of the same issues we do today—like finding God in the midst of all that.


Please give us a brief description of your next book in the Ellis Island series.

Stories have always been important to Annie Gallagher. After her storyteller father passes away and she escapes the prison-like confines her uncle put her in, in Ireland to go to America, she treasures the few written stories she has left from her father. As she reads the new book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Annie begins to think the power of story could bring back what she’s lost. When a handsome postman she likes “borrows” her stories to show to a publisher, and she learns her employer Mrs. Hawkins kept secrets from her, as did her beloved father, Annie wonders why no one thinks she’s worthy of trust, especially God, who seems to have turned his back on her difficulties. When Annie learns what the lessons of her past truly mean, she discovers the way home had been right in front of her all along.

What other new writing projects do you have on the horizon?

I hope to continue writing historical fiction and articles on Irish genealogical research. I have several ideas for future stories, but time will tell which ones will rise to the top.

What message would you like your readers to take from reading Grace’s Pictures?

Although life was filled with challenges for our ancestors, they held on to their faith. For Grace, she was constantly searching for God in others, not at first believing she could possess what she saw in the faces she longed to photograph. I hope readers will see that seeking God is the way to find him.

What organizations are you involved with?

Besides my local church, I’m a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), the Historical Novel Society, and—just to mix things up—the Society for American Baseball Research. You might wonder if I’ll write a baseball novel one day. I wonder that myself.

What are some of the challenges you face as an author?

Balancing commitments with writing time is sometimes challenging, but I’m getting better at it with practice. Writing is hard work and it takes time, and being patient with the process can also be challenging.

Who is the person who most influences your writing?

As in just one person? Liz Curtis Higgs and her wonderful historical novels, her friendship, and her amazing encouragement to everyone she reaches have influenced me to keep on trying to be the best writer I can. I’ve admired many other novelists, too many to mention. C. S. Lewis has been a big influence on me as well.

What aspects of being a writer do you enjoy the most?

Being able to write a story that affects readers in some way. I love hearing what readers think, and when someone gets what I am trying to communicate, it’s a wonderful blessing. I feel fortunate to be able to tell stories that come from my imagination. Someone once said, “I like having written.” I do too. I like the finished product. Writing is enjoyable, but sometimes it’s just downright difficult, so when the book is finally born, it’s the best feeling of all.

What do you do to get away from it all?

Spend time with my husband and our kids. There was a time when what I had to get away from was them—you know, when the kids were little and noisy and demanding—but now it’s the other way around.

What were your favorite stories as a child?

My mother used to read Charlotte’s Web to me at bedtime. I love that book! She also used to make up stories, simply little tales, but the grandchildren loved hearing them as well. I was also a big fan of fairy tales—Cinderella and Snow White mostly. I do remember reading a book that intrigued me that I’ll probably never be able to find again. I don’t remember enough about it, just that it was about a boy who found a message scratched into an old dresser by a boy who had lived during the time of the Pilgrims in New England. I guess those messages from the past have always intrigued me.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to thank everyone who takes the time to read my stories. There are so many great books out there, so I really appreciate everyone who picks up my books. Thank you, CBD, for asking me to chat with you.


Grace's Pictures, Ellis Island Series #1 -eBook

Grace's Pictures, Ellis Island Series #1 -eBook
Cindy Thomson
CBD Price: $8.99

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