An author's adventures
Covington resident writes story of intrigue set in India

While the book is not the least bit autobiographical, its 127 pages of adventure almost rival the real life of the person who wrote it.

"The Borrowed Servant of An Empress," by Covington author Gretchen Wellman Buendia, takes place in turn-of-the-20th-century India and is filled with excitement and intrigue as its star characters try to save the French monarchy from collapsing.

While Buendia has not worked to save a monarchy, her life is a rich tapestry of colorful tales and escapades that at one time found her traveling with a small circus across the country.

The story of how she came to write "The Borrowed Servant of An Empress" even has its own interesting twist. The novel is based on notes from her grandfather's journals. The Rev. Edwin Homer Wellman was an Episcopal minister who established churches on the Northwest and East coasts after graduating from City College of New York and Virginia Theological Seminary. He was an ardent traveler and a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y., and sadly died before his granddaughter was born.

Buendia grew up in New York, attending private school there, and then when she was just a child, her mother died and she went to boarding school in Connecticut. Her grandmother and aunt lived in Connecticut, too, and she lived with them for a number of years in a sprawling home. It was during that time that her father began sending her boxes of books. From the time she was a little girl, he encouraged her to read.

Among those boxes of books were the journals written by her late grandfather. Those notebooks went unopened until after Buendia had moved down South and the boxes of books followed her.

"I was going through one carton and saw those notebooks," she remembers. "I put them on the bookcase and didn't pay any attention to them. Then one day, I went through them and got very excited. I realized from the first page I read that I should get a book done."

She said her grandfather had beautiful handwriting and the story came to life as she began transcribing his 10 notebooks in 1996. She enlisted the help of a friend who worked as a researcher at the University of Maine.

"I discussed this book with her and she couldn't wait to get her hands on it," Buendia said. "She called all over the United States and Europe to get this (research) done correctly, to make sure everything we mentioned in there was done correctly.

"Mostly, I concentrated on my writing and getting things correct from the outline. I'm a good writer, but an impatient writer."

The author worked diligently and 11 months later, she had finished writing "The Borrowed Servant of an Empress." She sent a handwritten copy of her book to Red Lead Press in Pittsburgh, Pa., and the publishing house accepted her novel and turned it into a paperback that is available through its Web site, www.redleadbooks.com, for a cost of $15.

With the release of "The Borrowed Servant of An Empress," Buendia shows her flair for adventure. Britain's ambassador, Lord Kelwyn, and Empress Eugenie's personal assistant, Edwarde Le Mont, must face danger on land and sea to deliver a treasure that could help save the French monarchy from destruction to the Maharaja of Joudpoor.

Several years ago, Buendia published two books of poetry and now with the release of her novel, she is busy at work on a children's book based on some of her childhood days in Connecticut where she would play for hours in the woods and meadows that surrounded her grandmother's home.

Fourteen years ago, Buendia moved to Covington after a friend of hers, who had worked in the circus with her, moved to town and said she would help her friend get settled in a new place.

It was a respite from a whirlwind time in her life that began eight years earlier when Buendia, who was living in South Carolina, saw an advertisement for a circus in the local newspaper.

"It was 15 miles away," she said. "I left that night and drove to the little town and talked to the owner and the ringmaster. I said 'I'm a clown' and I had done children's parties and parades. They hired me right on the spot."

Her love of "clowning" goes back to when she was a little girl, and today she treasures a birthday card she gave her mother when she was 6 years old that is signed, "Love, your little clown. Maybe you'll see me in the storybook."

When she saw a chance to be a professional clown, Buendia made the leap.

"I absolutely loved it," she said. "For eight years, I was a clown and traveled from South Carolina to Virginia to Canada, the mid-United States and back East. I liked traveling and I really had a wonderful time, but there were some unsettling things that happened."

Most upsetting to Buendia and what led her to leave the circus was that she disapproved of the way the animals were being treated. She said animals were often beaten and she said those "bad times" finally caused her to leave.

She moved to Covington and got a job as an organist for a church in Atlanta, where she played music for the next seven years.

While she knew at an early age that she loved to be a clown, Buendia also had an inkling she would someday be a writer. For a time, Buendia lived in Maine, and it was during one of her travels through the Pine Tree State that she stopped at a place known as Camp Snowflake, where her future as an author was revealed to her.

"In there were ladies and gentlemen who were clairvoyants - sophisticated ones," she said. "I talked to a lady who predicted I would be a writer. She said I would produce a book. Two years ago I tried to contact her, but she had died. I wanted to tell her I had completed her forecast."

These days, a hip problem has slowed Buendia's travels, but she is preparing for an upcoming surgery that should help her have better movement. Meanwhile, she continues working on her children's book and drawing cartoons, something she has enjoyed doing since she was a girl in Connecticut.

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.