Mrs. Winchester's Biographer

 Coming October 3, 2023

Mrs. Winchester's Biographer

Cover by Deborah Bradseth Cover Design

Deanna Lynn Sletten

Book Description:

Was Sarah Winchester a woman of mystery or simply a strong woman who lived her life on her own terms? It will take another strong woman to ensure her story is told.


1918 – Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, has read and heard all the newspaper stories written about her. Snob. Crazy. Insane. Spiritualist. Ghosts. Séances. The list goes on and on. At the age of seventy-nine, she’s lived an incredible life and her wealth has allowed her to live as she pleased. Sarah loves projects, and now she has one last project she wishes to complete. It’s time she compiled her life story so friends and family will know the truth once she’s gone. But with her crippling arthritis, she needs someone to help her. She hopes the young woman her lawyer, Frank Lieb, has sent to the house will fit in with her staff and work well as her typist. Sarah knows she doesn’t have many years left, and this is a project she is determined to finish.

1918 – Olivia Collins is a young single woman who has found herself in a precarious predicament. Through a mutual friend, lawyer Frank Lieb, she’s been offered a chance to work with the infamous Sarah Winchester. Olivia is nervous about meeting the elderly woman she has heard stories about all her life. But she desperately needs this job. Without it, Olivia has no idea what her future will hold.


Today – Morgan Connors is helping her mother go through her recently deceased grandmother’s possessions when she comes upon an old manuscript. The title states it is Sarah Winchester’s Autobiography. Morgan works as an acquisition editor at a publisher in San Francisco and knows that no such book has ever been published. When her mother explains that Morgan’s great-great-grandmother, Olivia Collins, once worked for Mrs. Winchester, she’s intrigued. Who was Olivia Collins, and why did she have a manuscript of Sarah Winchester’s life story?  


Mrs. Winchester’s Biographer tells the captivating story of Sarah Winchester’s life and how she became one of the most talked-about women of her time despite her attempts to protect her privacy.

Historical Biographical Fiction/Historical Women's Fiction

Publication Date: October 3, 2023

Cover Design by Deborah Bradseth Cover Design

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Please enjoy the first chapter of Mrs. Winchester's Biographer:

Chapter One

May 1918


Olivia Anne Collins tried not to wring her gloved hands as the black automobile pulled up to the front door of the beautiful Atherton, California home. Peering out the window, she was immediately impressed by the landscape around the entrance. A lush green lawn spread out around the home with giant shade trees spreading cooling shadows over it. Gardens of colorful flowers were artfully placed around the yard, and purple wisteria draped beautifully over the walls of the pristine white house.  

Olivia stared at the home with both admiration and trepidation. This was the home of the grand lady. She was excited to meet Mrs. Sarah Winchester but also frightened of what the esteemed lady would think of her.

Taking a breath, Olivia ran her hand over her striped skirt to press away a stray wrinkle, then raised it to the nape of her neck, smoothing her already perfect auburn chignon. Her slender fingers touched the small hat tentatively, ensuring it still sat securely on her head. As she did this, the uniformed driver came around to her side of the motorcar, opened the door, and graciously offered his own gloved hand to help her out.

“Ready, Miss?” he asked, smiling down at her.

Olivia nodded and accepted his help. She stepped onto the cement patio and ensured she was steady before letting go of the driver’s hand. He nodded and smiled again, then returned to the driver’s seat.

Olivia turned toward the stairs that led to the front door. Smoothing her skirt once again, she thought she caught movement from a large window on the right. The draperies swayed. Had someone been watching her, or was she just imagining it?

Despite the day’s comfortable temperature and the gentle cooling breeze, Olivia suddenly grew warm. Her hand went instinctively to her stomach as it knotted within. She needed all the strength she could muster to get through this interview and, hopefully, secure a place for herself. Otherwise, she wasn’t sure what would become of her.

Steeling herself, Olivia stood straighter and walked up the four steps to the front door. Before she even touched the brass knocker, it opened.

“Miss Collins?” a woman asked, smiling. “We’ve been expecting you. Please come inside.”

“Thank you.” Olivia followed her into the polished tile entryway. The woman wore an outfit similar to Olivia’s—a sensible striped skirt falling nearly to the ankles with a billowy crape blouse and waist sash. It was the perfect working woman’s outfit, easy to wear and move in.

“I’m Miss Sivera,” the woman said. “Mrs. Winchester’s secretary. She has asked to see you right away, so please follow me.”

Olivia nodded, and the heels of her oxford shoes clicked on the tile floor as she walked across it. They took a right at an open archway that led into a large living room. A left turn took them through another doorway into an office.

“Mrs. Winchester. Miss Collins is here,” Miss Sivera said softly.

Olivia had been waiting days for this meeting and had tried to imagine what Mrs. Winchester would be like. Of course, she’d heard the stories but had also heard only good things about her from Sarah’s lawyer, Samuel Franklin Lieb. Yet, nothing had prepared her for the sight of the diminutive woman who turned from the front window and gazed at her with bright eyes.

“Thank you, Henrietta,” Mrs. Winchester’s soft voice said.

Miss Sivera nodded, turned, and left them.

Olivia stood still, unsure if she should approach Mrs. Winchester or wait to be approached. Despite her small stature, the older woman looked formative. She wore an outdated long, dark dress with a high collar and full sleeves. Her round face was wrinkled yet pixie-like, and her gray hair was pulled up in a loose bun. After a moment of studying Olivia, Mrs. Winchester gave her a small smile and walked slowly toward her.

“It’s nice to finally meet you,” Mrs. Winchester said, offering her hand with effort. Even though she was in the house, Mrs. Winchester wore gloves just as Olivia was wearing.

Olivia was not tall by any means at five feet, two inches, but she felt as if she towered over the elderly woman as she reached for her hand and held it gently. She’d been told Mrs. Winchester had painful arthritis, which was one reason she needed assistance. So, Olivia shook her hand with care before letting it go.

“Thank you for seeing me,” Olivia said. “I’m very honored to meet you.”

Her statement caused another impish grin on the older lady’s face. “I’m not so scary in person, am I?” she asked.

Olivia startled.

“It’s fine, dear. I know what people say about me. Please, let’s sit,” Mrs. Winchester said. She walked to a set of white and black striped settees that faced each other with a beautifully carved Asian-inspired table between them. As both ladies sat, Miss Sivera entered the room with a tea tray and set it on the table.

“Thank you, Henrietta,” Mrs. Winchester said. She turned to Olivia. “Would you mind serving? I’m afraid I’d spill if I did.”

“Of course.” Olivia was thankful to keep her hands busy. She removed her gloves, setting them aside with her small bag, then began to pour the tea. “You have a lovely home, Mrs. Winchester. And such beautiful landscaping.”

“Thank you, dear. That’s very kind. I have the most wonderful people who work for me and keep my gardens and house exactly as I like it.”

Olivia set a teacup closer to Mrs. Winchester and poured one for herself. There were cookies on the tray as well, but she thought it best to not eat while they were speaking.

“I prefer coffee, to tell the truth,” Mrs. Winchester said, then sighed. “But it doesn’t agree with me, I’m afraid. There is so much we start to deny ourselves as we age.”

“I can understand that,” Olivia said, thinking of how she’d felt over the last few months and the foods that suddenly made her ill.

Mrs. Winchester nodded. “Frank Lieb tells me he and your family have been acquainted for many years.”

The interview had begun. Olivia nodded. “Yes. Long before I was born. My parents moved from Ohio to California at the same time Mr. Lieb did. They were from the same county and were farmers. Although by then, Mr. Lieb had earned his law degree. My father had great respect for him, and as the group traveled west, they spoke often.”

“How interesting,” Mrs. Winchester said, her face lighting up. “I met Mr. Lieb after moving here, and he’s been a great help to me over the years. But I hadn’t known of his Ohio roots until recently. Where are your parents now, if you don’t mind me asking.”

Olivia didn’t mind. She knew Mrs. Winchester would want as many details as possible before deciding her fate. “They live north of San Francisco on their original orchard farm. I come from a large family—eleven children—and was the second youngest. After years on the farm, I craved to do more. My parents encouraged me about leaving home and learning a new skill to support myself.”

“Ah, a woman with spirit,” Mrs. Winchester said. “I commend you for taking your fate into your own hands.”

This surprised and pleased Olivia. “Thank you. My parents were a bit wary, though, and consulted Mr. Lieb on where I could find a suitable school and boarding house. He and his lovely wife, Lida, invited me into their home until a proper place could be found.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Mrs. Winchester said. “They are very kind people.”

Olivia lifted her teacup to her lips and quietly sipped. The tea was delicious and helped to calm her nerves. She noticed that Mrs. Winchester’s cup was still untouched. “I attended school for a year to learn Gregg Shorthand and typing,” Olivia continued. “After I successfully completed the course, Mr. Lieb recommended me to a colleague’s law firm as part of their new secretarial staff. That was in 1916. I was employed there until recently.”

Mrs. Winchester folded her gloved hands in her lap. “And that is precisely why I was very interested when Mr. Lieb recommended you to me. I’d been looking for someone to help me with my new project, and here you are.”

Olivia’s brows rose. “Project?”

“Yes, dear. Henrietta is my personal secretary and companion, but I already have her working too much to add another project to her list. So, I need someone who can take dictation and type for me. Does that sound interesting to you?”

“Why, yes,” Olivia said, her heart fluttering with excitement. “That would be perfect for me.”

Mrs. Winchester’s face grew solemn. “I understand you are in a delicate predicament. Mr. Lieb, however, holds your character in the utmost regard, and I trust his judgment.”

Olivia’s excitement faded. She’d known they’d have to discuss this, and embarrassment deepened the shade of her creamy cheeks as her blue eyes dropped to the floor. “I’m afraid I put myself in an untoward position and am deeply embarrassed by my actions,” she said sadly.

“My dear,” Mrs. Winchester said gently. “I’m not here to judge you. I, of all people, know how it feels to be judged by others who know nothing about me. I merely wish to bring this out in the open—just between us—so we can come up with a workable solution.”

Olivia dared to raise her eyes and saw the kind look on the older woman’s face. Her compassion propelled her to explain. “I allowed a dishonest man to coax me into an awkward position by professing his love and admiration of me,” Olivia said. “I thought he was being honest and true, but he was not. We both worked at the firm—he was a lawyer’s assistant, and I was a typist—and I truly believed he wanted to marry me. Now I am left to pick up the pieces alone.”

“The cad,” Mrs. Winchester said with disgust. “Mr. Lieb assured me that he was fired without anyone’s knowledge of why, so there is at least that.”

Olivia nodded. It still hadn’t helped her predicament. She’d gone to Mr. Lieb when she had no one else to turn to and had asked his advice on what she should do. He’d been professional and kind and thought he might have a solution.

“How far along are you, my dear?” Mrs. Winchester asked.

Not wanting to appear weak, Olivia looked her in the eye. “Four months. The baby should be due sometime in October.”

“How old are you, Olivia?”

Olivia swallowed hard. She was no longer sure how the interview was progressing. “Twenty-two, ma’am.”

“Twenty-two,” Mrs. Winchester said dreamily. “I was still keeping company with my sweet William at that age, and we married a year later.” Her face softened. “No one should be judged harshly for a mistake made so young. And a baby is the greatest gift of all.”

Olivia was stunned by her understanding. Most women her age would have judged her harshly, but Mrs. Winchester was full of gentle kindness. “I promise you I will act with the utmost propriety if I come to work for you,” Olivia said. “If you can find it in your heart to trust me.”

Mrs. Winchester smiled. Olivia noticed all her smiles were closed-mouthed, yet they still held warmth and kindness. “I believe you, dear. I think you and I will get along just fine.”

Feeling elated again, Olivia dared to ask. “Are you saying you are hiring me?”

The elderly lady nodded. “Yes. I am. And I believe you and I will have such a wonderful time working on my project. Granted—it will be work—but I can tell you are up to the task.”

“Oh, thank you very much, Mrs. Winchester. I won’t let you down,” Olivia said, feeling near tears. She had worried about what would become of her and her baby. Despite the circumstances, she’d known she couldn’t have given her baby up for adoption because it was a part of her. And she hadn’t wanted to bring shame on her family, who thought so highly of her accomplishments. Mrs. Winchester had saved her.

“Now,” Mrs. Winchester said, all business again. “We must come up with a story so as not to raise any question about you or your baby’s legitimacy. I am not one to lie in general, but a little white lie will protect you. How would you like to kill off your husband?”

“Excuse me?” Olivia asked. “My husband?”

“Yes, dear. In this day and age, with the war in Europe and that dreaded Spanish Flu starting to circulate around the globe, it’s easy to make a pretend husband disappear.” She grinned mischievously.

“And you’re willing to lie for me?” Olivia asked, stunned by her candor.

“To protect you and the baby, yes. Mr. Lieb and I discussed the possibility, and he agreed. We will tell the staff and everyone else we were mistaken and you are Mrs. Collins, not Miss, and that your husband passed away recently.”

Olivia pondered this. The man who’d seduced her had no idea she was expecting because he’d been dismissed and left town soon afterward. In fact, only Mr. Lieb and Mrs. Winchester were privy to her indiscretion. So, there’d be no one to discredit the fact that she had been married and her husband died. Glancing up at Mrs. Winchester, she saw she was waiting patiently for her reply.

“Perhaps he came home injured from the war recently and then, after a time, passed?” Olivia suggested. “Then I wouldn’t have to make up too many details.”

“Yes,” Mrs. Winchester said, seeming to ponder the story. “A white lie shouldn’t be complicated. She smiled warmly. “From this moment on, you are the young widow, Mrs. Collins. I will let Mr. Lieb know our plan.”

“Thank you,” Olivia said softly. “You are too kind to help me, and I promise I will not disappoint you.”

“I believe you won’t,” Mrs. Winchester said, slowly standing. “We will have a room ready for you here tomorrow. I’ll have the driver take you home so you can pack your things. Shall we start work the day after tomorrow?”

Olivia stood. “Yes, ma’am. That will be fine.”

“Wonderful.” Mrs. Winchester rang a bell that sat on the end table, and Henrietta arrived a moment later. “Henrietta. It seems I was in error. Mrs. Collins, not Miss, will be joining our staff beginning tomorrow. It seems her husband has recently passed. Will you be so kind as to show her around tomorrow when she returns?”

Miss Sivera’s expression remained neutral as she nodded. “Of course, Madame,” she said, then turned to Olivia. “I’m pleased you will be joining us.”

“Thank you.” Olivia wondered if Miss Sivera believed the story. She guessed it didn’t matter one way or the other. If Mrs. Winchester said it was true, then it was.

As she followed the secretary out of the room, Olivia was elated that she was now employed and had a place to live. She desperately hoped that she and Mrs. Winchester would get along nicely as she already felt a personal connection with her and was thankful for her understanding.

For the first time in weeks, Olivia felt safe to plan a future.

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