Rochester author C.H. Armstrong's grandmother was not your warm and fuzzy type.
Hers was a character forged in the crucible of the Oklahoma dust bowl and the Great Depression. She was tough, resilient and no-nonsense because she had to be. When her husband died suddenly of appendicitis, she was forced to raise 12 of her children on her own.
So when Armstrong, a nonfiction writer, decided to take her first stab at fiction writing, it was her grandmother who served as the inspiration and template for the main character, Victoria, in her book, "The Edge of Nowhere," which goes on sale online and in paperback today.
"She wasn't an easy woman," Armstrong said. "We loved her dearly, but she wasn't overly affectionate. She wasn't particularly warm."
Armstrong, who moved from her native Oklahoma to Rochester with her husband 23 years ago, said her venture into fiction writing so far is going better than she had anticipated. While awaiting the release of her first book, Armstrong has written a second one and this one — about a homeless girl in Rochester — has received an offer from a publishing agent.
A series of events are planned to promote "The Edge to Nowhere," which is published by Penner Publishing. An official book launching will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Post Town Winery. Armstrong also has appearances and readings planned for 3 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Rochester Public Library and 7 p.m. Jan. 26 at the History Center of Olmsted County.
Writing a novel had always been an idea in the back of Armstrong's mind, but a fear that she lacked the "creative bent" to pull it off held her back. A lifelong writer, Armstrong's work had been primarily focused on technical writing and freelance pieces. Then one day, while interviewing author Abbie Williams for an article for Rochester Women Magazine, the germ of an idea was planted in Armstrong's mind.
Williams' book "Heart of a Dove" focuses on a 15-year-old Southern girl sold into prostitution during the Civil War. It's a story of survival. The blending of historical narrative and personal drama centered on an indomitable heroine intrigued Armstrong and got her thinking about her own grandmother, who represented to Armstrong's mind the ultimate survivor and fighter.
"I couldn't get that thought out of my mind," Armstrong said. "How do you survive? It wouldn't stop. It just kept on floating though my head, until I finally sat down and tried to put it on paper."
While growing up in Oklahoma, Armstrong lived no more than five miles from her Grandma Edna. Armstrong loved her grandmother and saw her on a regular basis. But she couldn't help wondering: Why didn't she have a grandmother like her friends, the kind who made cookies and at whose house you spent vacations? Why did she have this tough-as-nails woman who could turn a person into stone with her glare?
"As I was writing this, I went from being — I don't want to use the word 'angry' at my grandmother — to understanding who she was and having just an incredible respect for what she accomplished," Armstrong said.
Armstrong said her grandmother was not one to indulge in reveries about the past. so much of what she learned about her came from memories and stories passed down through an extensive network of uncles, aunts and cousins. A theme that runs through many of these stories of this American original, she said, is a woman fiercely protective of her family.
"She may not have been demonstrative in her affections towards her children and her grandchildren," Armstrong said. "But I guarantee you if you messed with any of us, she would set you straight in a heartbeat."