Grace Zaring Stone was a great-great-granddaughter of Welsh social reformer Robert Owen. Her mother died in childbirth, and Grace spent much of her childhood traveling. She started writing while living in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, with her husband, Ellis Spencer Stone, a U.S. naval officer and military attaché. They had one child, Eleanor Spencer Stone, later the writer and magazine editor Eleanor Perényi. Her first published novel was The Heaven and Earth of Dona Elena (1929). She used the pseudonym Ethel Vance for her 1939 anti-Nazi thriller Escape in order to avoid jeopardizing her daughter, who was then living in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. It became a bestseller and was adapted into a film the following year. She went on to use the pen name for some of her later books, including Reprisal (1942) and Winter Meeting (1946). Two more of her popular books were made into films, The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) and Winter Meeting (1948).