Flora Burlingame started her writing career later in life. She attended a writing workshop at the local community college; then signed up for a six week class on creative writing through the parks and recreation department. When she enrolled in the class for the third time, the instructor took her aside. “I can see you are serious about this,” she said, and invited me to join a small group of dedicated writers that met in her home once a week. The writing urge then fully awake, prompted Burlingame to return to college for journalism classes. Before she could complete the course of study, Burlingame and her husband moved from Southern California to eleven acres with a view in the Central California foothills.
In Mariposa Burlingame found a critique class for freelance writers and began selling articles to various magazines. At Merced Community College she took another writing class, and later, joined the San Joaquin chapter of Sisters in Crime, an international organization for women who read and write mysteries. Burlingame continued to write stories and articles, publishing in the Sierra Gateway Neighbors catering to the foothill communities in three counties. In addition to features, she wrote the column Foothill Reflections.
The inspiration for Burlingame's novel Charcoal and Chalk was born when she inherited several boxes of family letters, documents, and photos once the property of her maternal great grandfather, John Ogilvie Stevenson. Growing up she had heard snip-its of stories that this ancestor, newly from Scotland, had taught the freed slaves in Texas following the Civil War, and that to do this was a life-risking and noble endeavor.
These papers had been tucked away in closets and attics for close to 150 years. As Burlingame began reading the letters, dating from 1867 to 1873, the story unfolded like fiction. Burlingame decided to bring the letters to life by adding dialogue and characters—still remaining true to the actual events with some extra excitement thrown in. The result is a fascinating novel of perserverance and true courage inthe life of a Scottish missionary inthe post Civil War era.