What do a Victorian Lady and a 1940s Gal Gumshoe have in common?: Part One

One carries a parasol One carries a .38Two women sleuthsTwo novelsFREE1-20-22

When M. Ruth Myers and I discovered we were both promoting books in our respective historical mystery series at the same time, we thought how much fun it would be to compare the responses our female sleuths from different historical periods would make to the same questions.

Uneasy_Spirits_800x1200_72dpiOn the surface, Mrs. Annie Fuller, the protagonist in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, is a rather typical 19th century widowed woman who supports herself by running a boarding house. The fact that she supplements her income as the pretend clairvoyant, Madam Sibyl, is a secret she must protect in order to preserve her reputation as a respectable lady.

game_dame185x2801-1In contrast, in M. Ruth Myer’s award winning series, her protagonist, Maggie Sullivan, is proud of her profession as private eye. Living in Depression-era Dayton, Ohio, Miss Sullivan drives a DeSoto, carries a .38, and isn’t ashamed to admit she likes an occasional nip of gin.

In short, you might imagine that Miss Maggie Sullivan couldn’t be more different than my genteel Mrs. Annie Fuller.

Well, let’s just see, as we ask them a series of questions.

Today’s post is Part One and tomorrow Part Two will continue over on Myers’ blog at http://galgumshoe.com

1. What got you interested in pursuing such an unusual profession for a woman?

ANNIE: Although I know that there are such things as female investigators who work for the Pinkerton Agency, I am strictly an amateur. In fact, it is my occupation as the clairvoyant Madam Sibyl, giving out financial advice to wealthy San Francisco businessmen, which got me involved in solving crimes. When one of my favorite clients died under suspicious circumstances, I decided to go undercover as a servant in his household to find out who killed him (and recover his missing assets.)

MAGGIE:  My dad was a cop, so I grew up around cops from the time I knew how to toddle.  I wanted to do what they did, but I wasn’t very good at following rules the way policemen had to.  Then a woman in our neighborhood killed herself after her husband skipped out and she heard rumors he might have another family down in Cincinnati.  My dad said if she’d been able to hire a detective and find out for sure, it might not have happened.  I decided that’s what I wanted to do, to help people like that.

2.  What is your relationship with local law enforcement like?

MAGGIE: Way too many of them try to mother hen me because they watched me grow up.  Half the others, I went to school with.  I get along fine with everyone on the force except two.  One made a pass at me and I had to hurt him where it counted to convince him No meant No.  The other’s the head of homicide, who clings to the notion I find things out by batting my eyes instead of using my brain.  Nobody slips me information and I never ask for special favors – although I’ve been known to trick people into inadvertently letting a tidbit drop now and then.

ANNIE: Actually, I have tried very hard not to have my activities as an investigator come to the official attention of the San Francisco authorities, since any public recognition of my involvement would damage my reputation as a lady. All formal connections with the police have come through the San Francisco lawyer, Nathaniel Dawson, and Patrick McGee, a local patrolman, who happens to be my cook’s nephew. They have both proven to be invaluable collaborators in my investigations.

3.  How do clients hear about your services?

ANNIE: Several of my first cases came from people who live in the boarding house I run who asked for my help, and Mr. Dawson has kindly brought me in to assist people that his law firm was hired to represent. Recently, it has been my growing reputation as an accountant who can ferret out financial wrong-doing that has led people to ask for my assistance.

MAGGIE: Many of my clients come to me through word of mouth.  Some come because they’ve seen my number in the telephone directory.  One even came to me because she found my business card in a library book.

4.  Are there any ways in which being a woman gives you an edge over a man in pursuing your cases?

MAGGIE: Sure, several.  It doesn’t occur to most people that a woman could be a private eye.  That means I can blend in.  Men, even when they find out what I do, tend to underestimate me.  Women, on the other hand, are more likely to talk to me than they would a man.  Sometimes I have to let them chatter on to sift out a tidbit or two.  Men don’t have that kind of patience.  Mostly they don’t even think of questioning the likes of manicurists and cigarette girls because such women are invisible to them.

ANNIE: I must say I agree with Miss Sullivan, that the fact that people tend to underestimate or over look me as a woman gives me an edge. It was amazing what I learned when I pretended to be a female domestic…people simply didn’t notice I was in the room. Women have to be observant to survive in a world dominated by men, so despite my relative youth, I have learned how to read the unspoken meanings behind a person’s clothing, the way they hold their bodies, and their facial expressions. And I can ask the kind of questions that would be seen as suspicious or rude, if I were a man, because I am perceived as just a gossipy woman.

This concludes Part One of our interview. Look for my post tomorrow where I will link to Part Two on Myers’ site.

Meanwhile, do go and check on the first book in her series, No Game for a Dame, which is free on Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and iBooks.

The second book in my series, Uneasy Spirits, is free for the next three days (1/20-22) on Kindle

M. Louisa Locke, January 20, 2016

January Promotions

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Maids of Misfortune is the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, and I am pleased to say that six years after I first published it on Kindle, it is still selling quite nicely (one of the benefits of writing historical fiction is that these books never go out of date.). It has over 1100 four and five star reviews, and the whole series continues to attract readers who just want a light, fun, easy read (always my goal.) It will be 99 cents on Kindle for the next 3 days.

Next up is the second book in my series, Uneasy Spirits, which will be free on Kindle 1/20-22. This book is probably my most edgy, in that it deals with the question of whether or not spiritualism (which was a very popular belief in the 19th century) was real or not. So in addition to it being a fairly straight-forward mystery, it’s got a good deal of suspense going on as well.

Finally I want to report how happy I am with the sales of my novella, Violet Vanquishes a Villain, which comes chronologically right after the fourth book in this series, Deadly Proof. But I would also remind you that you can get this novella, and my collection of short stories, as a free download if you subscribe to my newsletter.

M. Louisa Locke

Historical Fiction Story Bundle Goes on Sale Today!

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I am excited and proud to have 2 of my books as part of a Historical Fiction StoryBundle that is available, November 4-26.

In case you don’t know, StoryBundles offer readers a chance to discover quality books by independent authors in a particular theme. These bundles are put together and are available for a limited time. The reader can look at the basic bundle and decide how much they would like to pay, whether they would like to also obtain the bonus books, and whether they would like to donate some of the money raised to charity.

The Historical Fiction StoryBundle comprises a total of ten terrific titles by top-notch authors, together representing a breadth and variety of experience. These stories blend real-world historical settings with romance, adventure, fantasy and mystery to bring you whole worlds of fun! You’ll visit ancient Egypt, the Americas, the Caribbean, Great Britain and Japan; you’ll meet pirates and warriors, witches and princesses, detectives, time-travellers and more.

MAIDS_800x1200x72dpiFor my participation in the Historical Fiction StoreBundle, Maids of Misfortune, the first book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series has been made available to those people who subscribe to the StoryBundle Newsletter, while the second book in the series, Uneasy Spirits, is part of the basic bundle.

My Victorian San Francisco Mystery series features Annie Fuller, a young widow who supports herself by running a boarding house and supplements this income by giving business and domestic advice as the clairvoyant, Madam Sibyl. While no one would think twice about Annie Fuller’s occupation as boarding house keeper (one of the most common jobs held by married or widowed women in this period), 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. In fact, in the 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 they got their stock tips through supernatural means.

Spiritualism, as a religious movement, took off in the United States in 1848 when the young Fox sisters began to communicate with the dead through a series of mysterious rapping sounds. Spiritualists believed in universal salvation and that spirits could communicate with the living. Mediums began to appear throughout the United States, and they professed to have the ability to speak with the dead through a variety of mechanisms, including spirit guides, celestial music, alphabetical codes, and slate writing. These mediums went into trances and spoke before large audiences in public halls, and they held séances and private “sittings” where the spirits gave advice and foretold the future.

Women found Spiritualism a particularly welcoming movement. Based on the belief that the individual could communicate directly with the divine through spirits, Spiritualism challenged the authority of established churches and permitted women an unprecedented degree of power. As Spiritualists, women spoke in public, formed and led organizations, wrote newspaper articles, and made money as mediums.

However, this movement also became a perfect haven for fraudulent activities as men and women used rigged tables, tricks with the new medium of photography, and the general gullibility of human beings to extract money…often from grieving individuals who desperately wanted to contact a departed love one.

Uneasy_Spirits_800x1200_72dpiIn Maids of Misfortune, one of Madam Sibyl’s clients dies in mysterious circumstance, and Annie goes undercover as a domestic servant to discover what really happened. In Uneasy Spirits, one of her boarders decides that because of her experience as a pretend clairvoyant that she would be the perfect person to investigate and expose a fraudulent trance medium. Her investigation takes Annie into the intriguing world of 19th century spiritualism, encountering true believers and naïve dupes, clever frauds and unexplained supernatural phenomena.

But the historical Fiction StoryBundle doesn’t just offer you my two books, but you will also be able to take a walk through ancient Egypt with Libbie Hawker’s House of Rejoicing, the first part of a captivating series featuring the famous Nefertiti. Travis Heermann will spirit you away to 13th-century Japan in Sword of the Ronin, an intricate novel blending the tale of a lone warrior with myth and fantasy. You’ll go on a thrilling pirate adventure with Helen Hollick in Sea Witch! Here be pirates! And magic, and romance, and combat upon the high seas! And I’ll introduce you to a re-imagined Regency England in Miss Landon and Aubranael, which mixes a refined tale of life among the gentry with fairytales, magic and folklore.

And that’s just the basic bundle! You’ll get all of that for just $3. For $12 or more, you’ll receive four more terrific titles including the second part to Libbie Hawker’s saga of pharaohs and queens, Storm in the Sky. The further adventures of Helen Hollick’s pirate hero Jesamiah Acorne will also be yours in Pirate Code. In Mercenary, David Gaughran tells the thrilling (and true!) story of Lee Christmas, an American embroiled in revolution in nineteenth-century Latin America. And on top of all of that, Sarah Woodbury will take you time-travelling back to medieval Wales in Footsteps in Time, an enthralling tale of romance, fantasy and adventure.

To find out how to buy the Historical Fiction StoryBundle, just click here and enter a world of romance, mystery, fantasy, and adventure all in an historical setting.

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A Halloween Repeat Treat

“The feast of All Saints, which was ushered in Friday evening by the old-fashioned games of ‘All Hallows’ E’en, was yesterday celebrated in the Catholic and Episcopal Churches.” San Francisco Chronicle, 1879

“It’s barmbrack cake. Beatrice has baked a ring in it, and tradition has it that the girl who gets the slice with the ring will marry within the year.” Annie Fuller, Uneasy Spirits.

The first quote above is from a real person, who was reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle about real events. The second quote is by Annie Fuller, a fictional person and my protagonist, from the second book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, Uneasy Spirits, which is set in 1879 San Francisco. As we approach Halloween, I thought it would be fitting to discuss how I used factual data from the past to provide historical context for a work of fiction.

As I was plotting Uneasy Spirits,  I knew that I wanted the story to start only a few months after Maids of Misfortune, the first book in the series, ended, which was the last week of August, 1879. I also knew the basic plot was going to revolve around Annie Fuller trying to expose the shenanigans of a trance medium who claimed to commune with the spirits of the dead. So, placing the action of Uneasy Spirits around October 31 and the celebration of Halloween seemed a fairly obvious choice.

I got a calendar for October 1879 (one of the wonders of the internet is being able to find this sort of thing so easily), made a list of the main scenes I had outlined for the book, and then decided to make Halloween (which was a Friday that year) the day when several of the semi-climatic scenes in the story occurred. I then literally counted back from October 31, and determined that the opening scenes of the book should happen about 3 weeks from this date. In the final version of the book, the first chapter opens on October 11.

But then I was faced with a real problem. Despite being a professional historian and having written a dissertation that focused primarily on women who worked in San Francisco in 1880, I had no clue how people in 1879 San Francisco would have celebrated Halloween. Did they trick or treat? Wear costumes? Have Jack o Lanterns? I had some vague idea that young boys in small towns went around tipping over outhouses on this night in “earlier days,” but beyond that, I didn’t even know if anyone would actually celebrate this night at all, much less how, in a larger city like San Francisco.

A little research was in order. The first clue came with the mention in the San Francisco Chronicle of “old-fashioned games of All Hallows’ E’en.” I now knew to look for what someone in 1879 would consider “old fashioned games,” which led me to several internet sites that reported on Halloween, including an article in Harpers Magazine for 1886. In addition there were a good number of contemporary articles detailing the history of this holiday.

All these articles agreed that, while Halloween’s roots can be traced back to a number of ancient cultures and religious beliefs, in the 19th century it was the Celtic peoples, particularly the Irish, who had the strongest influence on the development of Halloween as a night of celebration. It was the Irish who seemed responsible for turning October 31 into a night of fun and games, and Irish immigrants brought their traditions with them to America, profoundly influencing how this country celebrated this holiday.

I couldn’t have been more pleased with this information because the Irish were an enormously important ethnic group in San Francisco in 1879. They not only made up a substantial percentage of the working class of the city, they also were represented among some of the economic and political leaders of San Francisco (men like James Flood and William O’Brian, the Silver Kings, and Frank McCoppin, a former mayor.)

Not coincidentally, two of the most important people in Annie Fuller’s life are her cook, Beatrice O’Rourke, and her maid-of-all-work, Kathleen Hennessey, both Irish. Once I knew about the prominence of parties as the way to celebrate Halloween in this time period, it was easy to decide that Annie Fuller would host a party at the boarding house she owned, with Beatrice and Kathleen inviting their friends and family. A perfect setting for one of the main climatic scenes of the book.

Uneasy_Spirits_800x1200_72dpiAnd what fun that party was to write. There were indeed jack-o’lanterns at that time (in Ireland the tradition was to use turnips!), and I was able to work a pumpkin into the plot in what I thought was an unusual way. In addition, there were games like “snap the apple,” dancing, and special foods, like the barmbrack cake, which was one of several elements of Halloween activities that revolved around trying to foretell the romantic futures of participants.

I now had a way to provide a new and different setting in which my characters could interact. The detail I had gleaned from my research would make my portrayal of the past more authentic. And finally I was able to leaven what could have been a series of very “heavy” scenes with a light, humorous scene, which is one of my goals as a writer. And I learned something, which was much fun for me as I hope it is for the reader.

Oh, and click here to find a recipe for that barmbrack cake, in case you want to make it for Halloween! 

I am also part of a Halloween Giveaway Hop…Just go on over to my FaceBook Page and learn how to participate!

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Deadly Proof and Historical Fiction eBooks

NewHFAClogoI am a member of the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, a group of authors who banded together several years ago because we wanted a way to reach people who were interested in finding good historical fiction ebooks. The group started small, and our membership is by invitation only, but we now have 47 members and nearly 200 books in our catalog on our website http://hfebooks.com.

We feature books and posts by our authors every Monday, and every Thursday we post a list of books that are currently free or discounted and announce new publications. If you are at all interested in historical fiction, I strongly suggest you go on over to the site and subscribe so you will get these posts.

Meanwhile, today with the publication of Deadly Proof, it is my turn to have a featured book and a blog post. Click here if you would like to read my blog piece about my inspiration for writing this series and a little about women in the printing industry.

M. Louisa Locke, February 23, 2015