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Unmasking a Man from my Distant Past

By Mari Christie
October 26, 2021

When I started writing Blind Tribute, the only piece of the manuscript I had was a mental picture of my great-great uncle, Percy Huntington (P.H.) Whaley, sitting at a desk writing something, with the sound of printing presses operating beneath his feet. I wasn’t sure what he had in mind, but he would soon take me on a seven-year journey to make himself heard.

Uncle Percy had, in many ways, already been unmasked (though we never met). I had heard about him on a personal level since childhood—a wealthy [former] journalist who took in my mother, her sister, and her mother when my grandfather went to war. As I got older, I learned about his journalistic endeavors—editorial writer for the Charleston News and Courier beginning in 1909, a reporter for the Philadelphia Public Ledger from 1913 to 1914, the first Executive Editor of the Philadelphia Evening Ledger from 1914 to 1918, and Founding Publisher of the Whaley-Eaton Service, an international newsgathering organization based in Washington, D.C., from 1918 to 1957.

Whaley-Eaton published bimonthly Whaley-Eaton Pamphlets on matters of interest to businessmen, and the Whaley-Eaton American Letter and Foreign Letter, the first widely circulated investment newsletters in the United States. These weekly publications were precursors to, and friendly competitors with, The Kiplinger Letter, still in circulation and often wrongly cited as the “first business newsletter” in America.

So, my Uncle Percy is the man from whom Blind Tribute’s protagonist, Harry (P.H.) Wentworth, inherited his profession, his Charleston ancestry, his barrier-island plantation, his beloved black nursemaid, and his writing career (to say nothing of his monogram). He was a real, world-renowned journalist (before there was such a thing) who made real history, but whose name has not enjoyed the longevity of his conjoined contribution to journalism and the business world.

As to unmasking. Even though I knew all this background on my Uncle Percy, I had no idea what sort of journey he would take me on. I am not sure even he knew the adventurous life I would give him, beginning with moving his lifetime into the Civil War era, but also taking a cue from his world travels, and giving him new life as a global force in the world of letters. I am not sure to what extent I “unmasked” him in the narrative portions of the book, as opposed to creating a mask of his personal traits, but writing Harry’s story certainly felt like unpeeling layers of both P.H. Whaley and his alter-ego, P.H. Wentworth.

I will forever say that P.H. Whaley—not Wentworth—wrote the editorials in Blind Tribute from the afterlife—I only edited them [because he let me]. I like to think the evolving nature of Harry’s thoughts on slavery reflect my uncle’s posthumous reflections on race in some sort of afterlife (for I imagine he was a paternalistic “white savior” type in his real life—much like Harry tries to be in the book). In any case, those portions of the book were very much “automatic writing,” and I credit Uncle Percy.

In this way, we unmasked each other. I learned more about who I want to think he was, and he—whoever “he” is at present—learned more about who he made me as an author, a descendant who took up his pen where he left off.

Mari Christie
Written by Mari Christie

Mari Anne Christie writes second chances for scarred souls. Her book, Blind Tribute, is a multi-award winner in American historical fiction, and she writes historical romance as Mariana Gabrielle. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her two cats.

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