Ana Brazil has tagged me in this blog hop where I will answer seven questions about my main character in my Victorian San Francisco series. Ana has a forthcoming historical mystery entitled Fanny Newcomb & the Irish Channel Ripper. I suspect my character Annie Fuller and Ana’s Fanny Newcomb might quite like each other! You can find out more about her work and Fanny Newcomb here.
The concept behind my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series came from my desire to find a way to introduce the reading public to the women who lived and worked in the far west at the end of the 19th century (the subject of my doctoral dissertation). As a fan of mysteries with amateur detectives (Sayer’s Lord Peter and Harriet Vane) and female sleuths (this was in the early 1980s and Sue Grafton had just burst on the scene) I decided that I needed to come up with a reason why a woman in 1880 San Francisco would investigate crimes by going undercover in a series of female occupations. From that idea came my series protagonist, Annie Fuller, a widow who owns a boarding house and supplements her income as a pretend clairvoyant, Madam Sibyl. In her first case, in Maids of Misfortune, Annie goes undercover as a domestic servant to investigate the suspicious death of one of Madam Sibyl’s clients. In the process she meets the murdered man’s lawyer, Nate Dawson, who becomes her romantic interest.
Since then I have written two other novels, Uneasy Spirits, where Annie and Nate investigate a fraudulent trance medium, and Bloody Lessons, where they try to figure out who is attacking local public school teachers. I have also written 3 short stories featuring minor characters from the series, Dandy Detects, The Misses Moffet Mend a Marriage, and Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong. The forthcoming work I am going to write about is another short story, entitled Madam Sibyl’s First Client.
Here are the 7 Questions about my character and this forthcoming work.
1. What is the name of my main character? Is he/she fictional or historical?
Mrs. Annie Fuller is my main character and she is very much fictional. However, since I drew on the extensive work I did for my history doctoral dissertation, I tried to make her representative of real women of her time and place as possible. She is a young widow who runs a boarding house. This is one of the primary occupations for married and widowed women in the 19th century because it was seen as a very respectable extension of a woman’s normal duties as a wife and mother. In addition, in most rapidly growing cities in this period in the United States, there was a voracious demand for boarding houses. Young single men and women were leaving their rural homes and flocking to the cities for the new jobs that were opening up, and they needed a place to live, where someone would take care of feeding them, doing light wash, etc.
While no one would think twice about Annie Fuller’s occupation as boarding house keeper—her second occupation, as the clairvoyant, Madam Sibyl, was not so ordinary. However, in 1880, spiritualism was very popular, and on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle were listed at least a dozen clairvoyants of one type or another, mostly women. And a number of them offered to give business advice. In fact, in the mid 1870s a famous woman, Victoria Woodhull, had gained national notice when she and her sister set up the first known female brokerage firm. Like Madam Sibyl, they suggested that the got their stock tips through supernatural means. So while this wasn’t a common occupation for women, it was certainly a possible one (and perfect for my purposes) and much more probable than setting herself up as a private detective in this era.
2. When and where is the story set?
The short story, Madam Sibyl’s First Client, is set in San Francisco, in 1878, in Annie Fuller’s boarding house. After the enormous population growth and financial successes of the 1850s and 1860s, San Francisco had gone through a difficult financial crisis. First the completion of the transcontinental railway in 1869 meant San Francisco manufacturers and workers faced competition from the east. Then the depression of the mid 1870s hit the west coast particularly hard.
There are signs the economy is finally improving, and many businessmen are trying to recoup some of their losses from the depression, which is one of the reasons Annie Fuller thinks she can make money giving out business advice.
3. What should we know about her?
Annie Fuller was born in San Francisco, but she lived until she was twelve on a ranch outside of Los Angeles, and then moved to New York City with her father when her mother died. Her father was a successful stockbroker and taught her all about accounting and finances.
She married at eighteen to John Fuller, the son of a wealthy friend of her father’s. Her marriage was short and very unhappy. Her husband drank. And, after her father died, her husband got control of her inheritance and speculated away her fortune, leaving her destitute and dependent on his relatives when he committed suicide. She spent the next 4 years being shuffled around between her Fuller in-laws, as a sort of unpaid companion and nurse. She’d lost contact with her mother’s side of the family, so it was a surprise when she received notice that her aunt and uncle had died and left her a small inheritance and their home back in San Francisco.
4. What is the personal goal of the character?
At the start of the series, financial security is Annie Fuller’s main goal. She feels betrayed by men (her father, for leaving her fortune tied up in such a way that she was financially dependent on her husband, her husband for completely dismissing her financial expertise and ruining himself and her in the process, and her father-in-law for ensuring that it was her wealth—not his own–that went to pay off the debts). To her, financial independence means she never has to depend on another man, and she can make her own decisions.
5. What is the main source of conflict, what messes up her life?
In the short story, the main source of conflict is whether or not she can get San Francisco businessmen to take her seriously as a financial advisor. She doesn’t like having to pretend to read their palms or cast their horoscopes, but this seems to be the only way they will take her, as a woman, seriously. In the books, her fierce independence will be an obstacle in the romance between her and my main male protagonist, Nate Dawson, and will occasionally lead her into danger.
6. Is there a working title of this story and can we read more about it?
Since of the complaints of some fans is that they never see enough of Annie as Madam Sibyl (since Annie is always going off and investigating crimes as herself, not as her alter ego), I decided to indulge myself and my fans and do a prequel to the series, a short story that is set a year and a half before Maids of Misfortune opens, entitled Madam Sibyl’s First Client.
7. When can we expect the story to be published?
I hope to have this story ready to go by the end of June, 2014. However, my plan is to include it as part of a collection of my four short stories this summer, so this may be the only form in which you can buy it. However, for those fans of the series who have signed up, or do sign up for my newsletter, the story will be available for free for a limited time.
I want to thank Ana for tagging me, and do go read her blog about her main character, who sounds fascinating, here. I have tagged Ann Elwood, whose work in progress is also set in the end of the 19th century, and you will be able to read about her main character here next week. To read some other tagged authors, I would recommend, Elisabeth Storrs blog about her main character in her Tales of Ancient Rome, G.S. Johnston’s blog about his main character, a 19th century Paris Police Chief.