Richland author bases novel on letters from Eleanor Roosevelt

For 15 years, Torena O'Rorke of Richland wondered why her friend Eve MacQuarrie had so many pieces of Roosevelt memorabilia in her home.

"She has plaques, photos of Eleanor, all kinds of things. Finally I asked and was astounded to hear her explain that Eleanor was her godmother," O'Rorke said.

"I never knew Franklin Roosevelt. He was dead before I hit the ground," said MacQuarrie, now 64.

But MacQuarrie has very vivid memories of her godmother.

"She was very intelligent, kind to people and yet quite humble. Intellectually, she knew her position as the wife of New York's governor and later first lady was important but she had no emotional sense of herself and her importance. She was the wife, and that's how women of that era thought of themselves," MacQuarrie said.

Fortunately for O'Rorke, women of that era, including MacQuarrie's mother, Jane Brett McLLwraith also treasured keepsakes.

"You should see my house. I come from a family of women keepers, I have 12 sets of china," MacQuarrie said.

Some of the items stored in MacQuarrie's Richland garage include boxes of letters and telegrams, more than 300, from Eleanor Roosevelt to her mother.

A few years ago she shared them with O'Rorke, 54, a historical fiction writer.

MacQuarrie said she's never read all of them. But O'Rorke has, several times, and incorporated parts of them into her latest book, The Duet Letters.

"I've always loved history," O'Rorke said, pulling one the typewritten notes from its envelope. "I actually cried when I read them."

Most of the letters are short, just a few paragraphs long.

"People of that time didn't feel the need to pour out their hearts like they do now. Can you imagine what my mother and Mrs. Roosevelt would have to say about Facebook?" MacQuarrie asked, laughing.

But the letters did have enough details to inspire O'Rorke's latest book, due to be released by International Book Management on Aug. 15.

MacQuarrie's mother met Eleanor Roosevelt while living in New York City in 1932. A mutual friend, Earl Miller, was Eleanor Roosevelt's bodyguard when FDR was governor. McLLwraith was dating Miller at the time and introduced them.

The women hit it off despite Eleanor Roosevelt being 24 years older. They remained good friends until the former first lady died in 1962.

For 30 years the two women exchanged letters and telegrams. McLLwraith visited the White House several times a year and sometimes cooked for the Roosevelts.

"They were confidants. There were parts of Eleanor she couldn't show to the world because of her position but she shared with close friends, including Jane," O'Rorke said.

O'Rorke used parts of Eleanor Roosevelt's letters to introduce chapters of her book. The plot involves a young woman, aptly named Jane, who's sent by Eleanor Roosevelt to German-occupied Paris during World War II. Jane's mission is to find another of the first lady's friends and help her escape France.

"It never happened in real life," O'Rorke said. "But the letters in my book are authentic."

MacQuarrie said she hasn't read the whole book yet.

"I read parts as she was writing, but I didn't want to influence who Torena's characters were or what they were doing. I wanted her brain to run free," MacQuarrie said.

"What's funny is, though Torena and my mother never met, she really captured her essence. While writing, Torena said she felt she was channeling my mom," MacQuarrie said.

"I'd hear a voice in my head saying, no, don't write dress, use frock," O'Rorke said.

The book was three years in the writing.

"The trick was finding just the right letter to move the story line along," O'Rorke said.

McLLwraith, her husband, Charles, and children moved to California after World War II.

When her mother died about 20 years ago, MacQuarrie inherited the family's Roosevelt keepsakes.

"When Eve got a job working at Hanford the boxes of letters and everything else moved to Richland with her," O'Rorke said. "It's lucky for me she's the type of person who keeps everything."

For more information on O'Rorke and her latest book, go to http://facebook.com/torena.ororke.

The softcover book will be available wherever books are sold, including Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Cost is $19.

O'Rorke also has written two other historical fiction books, Always Another Dawn and The Deigrtia Prophecy.