Sometimes a wrong turn turns out to not be so wrong after all.
Just ask Mary Lin Brewer and Rosa Lee Jude, co-authors of the “Legends of Graham Mansion” book series.
Brewer, official spokeswoman for the “historical and haunted” Wythe County mansion that draws thousands of visitors every fall for its haunted house tour, first became acquainted with Jude by accidentally ending up in the wrong tourism conference several years ago.
Brewer was planning to attend a seminar related to music festivals for some tips on Graham Fest, but she ended up in the wrong conference. “I sat down on the front row and realized I was in the wrong conference, but I didn’t want to get up in front of all of those people and walk out, so I just sat there,” she said.
She ended up in a seminar led by Jude, who is director of tourism for Wytheville. It didn’t take long for her to find out her wrong turn was a right decision. “She said more in three minutes that meant something to me than I had heard in three years,” Brewer said of Jude. “So I decided to stick around.”
After the seminar, Brewer introduced herself to Jude, but their paths didn’t cross much again until 2012. Who knows whether that chance encounter would have resulted in the “Legends” book series. It was a mutual friend that later helped seal the deal.
Brewer was approached by an author in 2010 about doing a book on the history of Graham Mansion. She agreed and the book was completed, but she found that it wasn’t in as high demand as a book that included a story of the mansion’s ghosts. It got her to thinking about blending the history and paranormal together.
She said she knew she didn’t have the skills necessary to weave the two together into a work of historic fiction, so a woman who helps with the haunted mansion tours suggested she needed Jude’s help. “It was quite prophetic,” said Brewer. That was February 2012 and now they have three books completed despite the fact most of their communication has taken place via emails between Wythe County and Brewer’s home in Florida.
With both women being independent and used to taking charge, Brewer said it was kind of odd for them to become partners in a project, but their skill sets were “a wonderful blending of talent. … We shook hands over the phone, basically.”
Brewer said Jude started writing the series shortly after she shared the Graham Mansion legends with her. “She wove it into this incredible piece.” They chose the most critical stories and characters to use in the books. The other characters were created by Jude and were a surprise even to Brewer.
“It’s fabulous. There’s this great chemistry,” she said of their partnership.
“When you’re writing something, it has to have one voice, so she’s (Brewer) all the history, she’s all the clairvoyant stories, she’s all the legends and lore,” said Jude. “She tells me these things and somehow or another …”
“… it settles in there,” Brewer said, as if to complete Jude’s thoughts.
Jude continued, “It works well because I’ll be writing the story … and it comes to the part where it says ‘describe room with mahogany staircase’ and that’s where she comes in.”
Brewer did the historical research, such as finding out how a sewing machine of that era worked or whether there was such a thing during the time frame in question. They said they’ve tried to keep details in the appropriate time frame.
“That’s one of the things that has helped me (write the first three books) so fast,” said Jude. “I’m not spending a lot of time doing research. I’m weaving the story.”
“It’s been a great privilege to do it together,” noted Brewer.
The first book in the five-part series is called “Redemption” and covers the time before Graham Mansion was built. At that time Joseph Baker had a cabin on the property and it is said the remnants of the cabin are underneath the mansion. A set of “stairs to nowhere” that remain in existence today and are mentioned in the book seem to be proof that part of the legend is true.
“Redemption” also tells the story of the killing of Joseph Baker, which actually occurred on the property. Legend has it he was killed by two of his slaves and Brewer says paranormal investigators have recorded electronic voice phenomena (EVPs) of these two slaves, Bob and Sam, in the “shackle room” that is in the mansion’s basement.
She and Jude say the fact the slaves’ ghosts appear to continue to reside in the shackle room is also evidence the mansion was built on top of Baker’s cabin. Both slaves were hanged on the grounds for their crimes and were dead when the mansion was constructed.
The second book, “Ambition,” focuses on Squire David Graham and how he came to be the despicable person legend describes him to be. “He didn’t start out that way, so what made him turn bad?” Brewer said.
Books one and two use historical fact and blend in fiction to speculate what might have happened in areas where legend is unclear.
The third book, “Deception,” debuted Saturday and is about Squire David’s wife, Martha. One might say Martha left her signature on the mansion’s history in a number of ways. She was known for signing things throughout the structure, including multiple signatures on the shackle room door that are still legible today and etched inscriptions and initials of family on a windowpane in the bedroom.
Legend says Martha suffered from mental illness and that Squire David kept her locked inside her room. This theory is supported by the fact she inscribed her name on the glass as M. Bell Peirce (her maiden name) instead of using her married name, Graham.
A clairvoyant told Brewer the woman who wrote the inscription was sick and angry and that she was locked up in the room. The woman indicated the inscribed initials were the people Martha loved and that she put their initials there because she was losing her mind; she wanted to be able to remember their names. The clairvoyant also told Brewer Martha’s husband wouldn’t let these family members visit Martha.
Brewer said the initials are those of Martha’s nieces and children. “She wanted to leave her mark of anger,” Brewer said of the fact Martha didn’t use her married name in the inscription.
Book four, “Salvation,” will cover the Civil War era as it relates to the mansion and the final book, which will be entitled “Revelation,” will be a “sum total” of the whole series, said Jude.
Although she and Brewer had “somewhat” outlined the five books in terms of time frames before the series was started, Jude said they didn’t know what was going to actually happen in each book.
“It’s only been while writing this book that I’ve come to the realization of how it’s going to end,” Jude said. “The characters talk to me.
“When I was writing book two, the imagery came to me in dreams I would have over and over. It would be like I was there with them when the things were happening; and I had the dream so many times that it needed to be in the book because otherwise they wouldn’t shut up,” Jude added with a chuckle.
The heroine of the book, Grae, was not a real person in history. Jude said she was “created out of Mary Lin’s love of the mansion and wanting to have a heroin to tell a good story. You’ll find out that Grae has a connection to (the mansion), but you won’t find that out until book five. Grandpa Mac, Grae’s grandfather, is a Graham (in the book), but he thinks he’s not really related.”
Due to the name of the main character, the series originally was going to be entitled “Shades of Grae,” but that was changed when Jude and Brewer learned of the controversial novel “Fifty Shades of Gray” and decided it was time to rethink the title.
So, will the story reach a definite end with book five, or will a door be left open to allow for future books?
“That’s a good question,” the women responded simultaneously.
“The series will come to a conclusion. There will be closure on many things. So there will be things that you’ve wondered about throughout the whole series that will be answered. But there may be some things that there just isn’t an answer to; you know how history is,” Jude said. “Could there possibly be other books? Yes. There could be a book about the General (a cat that plays an important role in the ‘Legends’ series).”
Brewer said the General was a real cat that lived on the grounds and had a knack for appearing out of nowhere. She said the cat disappeared a few years ago, but Jude insists she saw him while she was driving out to the mansion one night.
“The General only appears to me now,” she added.
As for additional books, Jude said, “We’ll just see. You know, when you write five books in two and a half years, you’re tired. By the time next fall comes around, I think we’ll be ready for Grae to rest and to get on with her real life.”
So far, the books have been receiving high marks, four and five out of five stars, among readers on Amazon.com. Both authors said they are astounded by the popularity and high praise the books have been receiving. “We knew we liked them, but we didn’t know how many to order,” said Brewer.
The first book has already sold about 1,000 copies and about 20,000 digital copies have been downloaded.
Jude said the response has served as encouragement for her to continue writing. She had already started a fantasy series before being approached by Brewer.
“I’ll be writing forever,” Jude said. “I’ve probably got 100 short stories on the computer, but time is always what keeps people from doing things, because you’re working and you’re busy, but there’s nothing like a deadline to make you do something.”
Brewer approached Jude in March to April 2012 and wanted the first book ready in time for the Graham Mansion haunted houses, which begin in late September and run into November.
At first they thought about releasing one book a year, but with the response they were seeing from the first book they knew the audience didn’t want to wait a year for the next installment. “I have people messaging me every day wanting to know when (book three) is coming,” said Jude.
Still, Jude predicts the “true success” of the books will not be known until all five are released and people can see that there is a full series.
Both women agree the venture was stepping out on a limb that seems to have paid off. “For once we didn’t listen to logic, we listened to our instinct and our hearts,” Jude said.
Brewer agreed. “Absolutely. There were indicators that told us not to; there were obvious indicators that told us to watch out and wait, but we trusted our instincts and went in whole hog.”
For Brewer, the whole venture has been somewhat magical.
“You have these magical relationships in your life, and you only have a few. This is one of them for us,” she concluded.
There will be a historical tour of the property, including Civil War re-enactors, Nov. 23, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eventually, Brewer hopes to start “Legends of Graham Mansion” tours that are geared toward the book series so readers can see the actual rooms they’ve read about.
The books can be purchased locally at Draper Mercantile. For more information, visit the website, www.legendsograhammansion.com, or the Facebook page, www.facebook.com/LegendsOfGrahamMansionSeries.