Sister Florence Spalding

A number of people have asked me about the image of the woman on the cover for By The Hands of Men.

When I was brainstorming the cover, my friend Kathleen Potter was the one who designed a layout featuring cameo type photos of a man and woman over and above the war imagery below.

As the time came to start working on the cover more intently, I did a Google Image search for women from that time period.  On the second or third search page, I ran across the photo.

I knew nothing about the subject of the photo, but something about the young woman was incredibly striking.  One fellow-writer had a more specific reaction: “Her eyes burned right through me!”

Burning or not, I fell in love with the photo.  I followed it through the web to its home page on the Manly (Australia) Library Local Studies Blog, and they kindly gave me permission to use her image on the cover.

The photograph is of a young woman named Florence Spalding.  She was, in fact, a nurse during World War One.  Among her tours of duty was a hospital ship during the Gallipoli Landings, which film and history buffs both know was a terrible slaughter of the Allied forces.  Sister Spaulding was a remarkable woman, and I encourage you to read more about her at the link above.

I found the synchronicity of locating a photo of an actual nurse a little…eerie is not the right word.  In fact, it was almost a little comforting.  It was one more small event of many that have transpired over the writing of the novel.  Mostly, I’d see those little “coincidences” when it came to research.  I’d happen to be at a used book sale, and there, as if waiting for me among the faded Stephen King and Nora Roberts paperbacks, would be an old hardback that just happened to be about one of the themes or events of the upcoming volumes in By The Hands of Men.  Like as not, the book I’d discovered would also have been written during that time period and from a first-person witness, the kind of voice that lends authenticity to a story.

An old saying goes, “Coincidences are God’s way of remaining anonymous.”  I once wrote a story in which a character suggested that God doesn’t give us the big miracles anymore, ever since the manna showed up in the desert, and all we did was grumble that it didn’t come with crème brule.

Miracles are all around us, really, if we only have eyes to see.  Airliners (these huge collections of metal pieces the size of large buildings) that take off and land with great regularity.  The computer I’m writing this is on is such a commonplace miracle of technology that it is invisible to us.  Then there is the casual, off-hand statement a friend that happens to contain a tiny nugget of information that, in turn, will be very helpful to one of my kids.  Or the red-tailed hawk that soars just twenty feet above me when I’m on my mountain bike, giving me a terrific view of its beauty and power.  Small gifts of grace appear in our lives, all the time, every day.

I know that it gives me a quiet kind of peace to see them at work in my own life and the life of those I love.  Looking for them refreshes me, and reminds me Who is in charge.

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