Tools to use to Recreate the Past: Annie Fuller’s Boarding House

I am working on Bloody Lessons, the third book of my historical mystery series, which means I am wrestling once again with how adequately and accurately to portray the past, in this case 1880 San Francisco. This led me to the idea of describing some of the tools I used in creating the historical background for my protagonist’s home, which appeared first in Maids of Misfortune and will continue to play a role in all of my books, a boarding house in the 400 block of O’Farrell Street of San Francisco, between Jones and Taylor. First of all, as Susanne Alleyn points out in her clever and very readable book, Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (and Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myth, an author of historical fiction needs to recognize that Read more…

Victorian San Francisco: Domestic Service

If you are going to write mysteries, as I do, set in urban America in the 19th century, servants are going to play a role, and so it is not surprising that you will find servants as important characters in my Victorian San Francisco mystery series. However, as I have mentioned previously, my purpose for writing this series, besides providing entertainment, is to illuminate the kinds of occupations held by women who had to work during the late 19th century. Maids of Misfortune, my first book, therefore was intended, from the beginning, to introduce the reader to the world of domestic service, the most important job young women had in the 19th century. In fact, it was while I was doing research on my doctorial dissertation on working women in the west that I found a diary by Anna Harder, Read more…

What was San Francisco like in 1880? The Economy

This is the first in a multi-part series describing San Francisco in 1880. For those of you who have read either Maids of Misfortune or Uneasy Spirits, or my short stories, this will provide you with some deeper understanding of the city where my main characters, Annie Fuller and Nate Dawson, lived as children in the 1860s and returned to as adults in the 1870s. If you are not familiar with my Victorian San Francisco mystery series, I hope these historical pieces will pique your interest––although I promise my fiction is much livelier reading. All the material quoted below is from my thesis, “Like a Machine or an Animal: Working Women of the Far West in the Late Nineteenth Century,” University of California: San Diego dissertation, 1982 pp. 60-69.”  I must say, it is much more entertaining to convey historical information through Read more…

Golden Gate Park in Victorian San Francisco

Dear Reader, When I started this blog several years ago, I assumed that most of my posts would be about historical topics. After all, I had a doctorate in history, I was winding down a thirty-year career as a college history professor, and the book I was talking about was an historical mystery. What I didn’t expect is that the overwhelming majority of my posts would be on the subject of self-publishing. While I expect to continue to post pieces about publishing, marketing, and other themes related to being an indie author, I also want to begin to get back to my historical roots. Currently, the material that I have produced about the historical setting of my fiction has appeared on the page of my website called Victorian San Francisco. However, I intend on adding new material for this page Read more…