Hello, ladies! Please tell our readers a little about yourselves.
Priscilla: I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, seven years after the War between the States ended. My father is in the railroad industry and Mother keeps herself occupied with a full social schedule. They are ever hopeful I’ll marry well and settle down, but I know it will take a very special man to capture my heart.
Audrey: My family and I live in the Maxwell House Hotel in downtown Nashville where my father is manager. It may sound strange, but I really enjoy living in the old hotel. Did you know it was built before the Civil War? Even though that was over one hundred years ago, it’s still a beautiful place. We’re getting ready for Christmas now, with decorations, cookies, and the Maxwell’s world-famous Christmas Day dinner.
You’ve both spent considerable time at the Maxwell House. If you had to choose one favorite thing about the hotel, what would it be?
Audrey: The lobby. My brother and I used to play hide-and-seek in it while Mom worked the guest services desk. From the lobby, you can also see the grand staircase, which leads to the beautiful mezzanine overlooking the main floor. I’ve often imagined belles in gorgeous ballgowns gliding up and down the marble stairs on their way to the ballroom or out on the town with a handsome escort.
Priscilla (chuckles): I must admit my favorite thing about the Maxwell has nothing to do with its lovely architecture. My favorite place is the confectionary off the lobby. They have the most delicious peaches and cream.
I understand the famous Maxwell House coffee is named after the hotel. How did that come about?
Audrey: With my father as manager of the historic hotel, I’ve heard the story dozens of times. Back in the late 1880s, two fellows—Joel Cheek and Roger Nolley Smith—developed a special blend of coffee beans. Cheek gave twenty pounds of the coffee to the food buyer at the Maxwell House Hotel, who agreed to serve it to the guests. When the coffee ran out, the hotel went back to serving their regular blend, but the guests complained. They wanted Cheek’s coffee. The coffee became so popular at the hotel that Cheek and Smith eventually gained permission to name it Maxwell House Coffee. An unverified rumor says President Theodore Roosevelt took a sip of the brew while visiting Nashville and declared it “good to the last drop.” I may be a little biased, but I think it is too.
Priscilla, what brought you and your family to Nashville?
Priscilla: We came to attend the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. People from all over the world are here to celebrate the state’s 100th birthday. Papa is most proud of the Railway Exhibit, which he declares the best on the fairgrounds. I might have to argue that point, because there are so many fascinating buildings and exhibits. I’m especially fond of the wildly amusing sights of Vanity Fair.
Audrey: Did you ride the giant seesaw and the chute?
Priscilla: I did indeed ride the seesaw, which was thrilling. From the top, you can see well over two miles. But the chute is a water ride that tends to leave everyone rather damp. I decided to save my ten cents and spend it on an Italian gondola ride on Lake Watauga.
Audrey: I wish I could travel back in time to the exposition. I’ve recently visited the Parthenon in Centennial Park and found it utterly fascinating. It must have been quite the sight back in 1897.
Priscilla: It truly is. The Parthenon and other buildings are so well built, you’d never guess they’re meant to be temporary—built to only last the duration of the exposition. My father says most of them will be torn down once the expo ends in October, so I’m glad to know the Parthenon still stands for visitors to enjoy.
Audrey: Yes, they rebuilt it with permanent materials in the 1920s. There’s a museum inside.
What is something each of you would like to accomplish?
Priscilla: I appreciate your question, because I’ve been pondering this very thing for some time now. Although I love my parents and the upbringing they’ve provided me, I want more out of life than dinner parties and keeping a well-appointed house. There are so many people beyond the scope of my sheltered corner of the world that need someone to care about them. I’m just now beginning to discover that we all play a role in offering a helping hand to those in need. To truly see someone for the unique human being they are, created by a loving Father. I’m not entirely certain how to go about fulfilling my part in this whole thing, but I’m eager to begin trying.
Audrey: I love your answer. That’s exactly how I feel too. I’ve been far too self-centered in the past, and I truly want to become the woman God created me to be, using the gifts he’s given me to serve people. I would especially like to work with children like my brother. Emmett is a very special young man, but sometimes the world doesn’t see him and others like him the way my father and I do. I’d like to change that.
Thank you, ladies! We look forward to reading Count the Nights by Stars and seeing how your stories unfold.
About the book:
Count the Nights by Stars
Count your nights by stars, not shadows. Count your life with smiles, not tears.
1961. After a longtime resident at Nashville’s historic Maxwell House Hotel suffers a debilitating stroke, Audrey Whitfield is tasked with cleaning out the reclusive woman’s rooms. There, she discovers an elaborate scrapbook filled with memorabilia from the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Love notes on the backs of unmailed postcards inside capture Audrey’s imagination with hints of a forbidden romance . . . and troubling revelations about the disappearance of young women at the exposition. Audrey enlists the help of a handsome hotel guest as she tracks down clues and information about the mysterious “Peaches” and her regrets over one fateful day, nearly sixty-five years earlier.
1897. Outspoken and forward-thinking, Priscilla Nichols isn’t willing to settle for just any man. She’s still holding out hope for love when she meets Luca Moretti on the eve of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Charmed by the Italian immigrant’s boldness, Priscilla spends time exploring the wonderous sights of the expo with Luca—until a darkness overshadows the monthslong event. Haunted by a terrible truth, Priscilla and Luca are sent down separate paths as the night’s stars fade into dawn.
Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels including Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy Award finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Visit her online at michelleshocklee.com.