I'm no Thelma and Louise. I'm not even Thelma. Or Louise. I've never picked Brad Pitt up from the side of the road either, and trust me I've kept my eyes peeled! I am a woman who takes road trips by herself-- I've done the Montana road trip a bunch of times since my daughter moved to Montana. I'm a professor and if I have wifi, I can hit the road and still do my job. My husband is in construction. Construction dudes do not get paid on road trips. So I go by myself. I'm an adult. I'm 58 years old, for Goddess Sake. I can go places ALL BY MYSELF.
I still think that, but I had a bad experience coming home from Montana a couple of weeks ago (no one touched me so don't worry too much.... just ride out the story). I haven't talked about it much and today I figured out why. I'm ashamed. Dammit.
Here's what happened. I drove to Montana and Idaho in October of 2020. To get to Montana you have to spend a good part of the day driving through Utah. So I did. No problem. Way too many Trump signs with the Jesus behind him (seriously dudes?) and the black bulletin boards that claimed riots happen only in blue states (instigated by guys wearing dark blue, no one said). But fine. In a democracy I can live with the fact that people don't agree with me. BUT, then I drove home to CA on a Saturday and a LOT of the freeway over passes in Utah had these Trump/Gun demonstrations. OK. I'm a woman alone on the road. I just drive. No middle finger to assure these lunatics they're Number One. I'm a nice middle class lady driving alone.... I'm not totally stupid.
After 11 hours on the road I pass Beaver Utah. There's a particularly vigorous freeway overpass protest/celebration. I drive past. I'm going like 85 (the speed limit in Utah is 80 and everyone's driving like a bat out of hell), when I run into a convoy of trucks driving 40 MPH. Their flashers are on. THey've got the two flags all these people have, the Trump flag and the Blue Lives Matter flag. Some have Confederate flags. There's one swastika flag. They have signs that say, "Rifles for Trump." They box me in. A truck comes along side me and a guy hangs out the open truck window. He's waving a gun and yelling at me. I grip the wheel and stare straight ahead. More screaming. The truck in front of me gets a little ahead of things and I see an opening. I stomp on the gas and squirt through the space between trucks and I'm off down the road, 60, 70, 80, 90, 95, 100 mph (Mini Coopers are FAST!). As I put distance between me and the 40 mph convoy I see another convoy on the North bound side of the 15. They're circling between Beaver and Cedar City.
As I drive away I think, "Where are all the highway patrol? I saw them all day and now there's none." I suspect that wasn't an accident. Hey Utah law enforcement, do ONLY blue lives matter?
I have a hotel reservation in Cedar City. Should I stop? But the town after that is no better and the town after that is the one famous for being a polygamous town that gave birth to the Vegas mass shooter. And I'm tired. And feel sick.
So I stop in Cedar City. There's two of those trucks with the flags in the hotel parking lot. "Just get in your room and stay there," I say to myself. I do. Problem solved. I don't go out to eat. I've got trail mix and grapes in my cooler.
I get up really early the next morning and take my stuff to the car, then swing by the lobby for a cup of coffee. It's dark. I've got my dog, Dolley. On my way back to my room a man wearing a "Kill all the Democrats" t-shirt complements me on my dog and watches me go into my room. I close the door and worry. Then I tell myself to get a grip. I peer out into the hall way. He's gone. I grab my last bag and head for the side door that will take me to my car and back to blessed California. I step outside, Dolley just behind me. After about 10 steps a man's voice says, "Hello Friend." I turn. It's the guy in the "Kill All the Democrats" t-shirt. He grabs Dolley's collar. "I meant the dog, not you," he says to me in a low, deep voice. I freeze. What do I do? We look at each other. He grins. Then an older woman comes through the door. She sees us and makes this little yelp sound. The man lets go of Dolley and says, "You have a nice day." I say, "You too." I go to my car and drive away. I might have cried a little.
I was scared. Really scared. I didn't say anything when my parents asked me how the drive was. I know people think a single woman shouldn't be driving around alone. I know people will think I had it coming. I know people will think, what was a lady driving an economy car with CA plates doing driving through Utah in October, 2020 alone? Bitch, you had it coming.
Here's what else I know. That's BULL SHIT. I have a right to visit my daughter and parents without male supervision. In a democracy, I have the right to drive down the FEDERAL INTERSTATE without being menaced by gun nuts who want Trump to be president for life.
Here's what else I know. If Trump's your guy, WTF? Is this the American Democracy we want? Or is it the Brown Shirts, 1936 Nazi Germany? This is not how America is supposed to work. Not at all. Shame on you. Shame on all of you Trump supporters. And don't tell me these people were a lunatic fringe and you don't support them. You do. They're on your team. They're batting clean up.
Here's what else I know. These people wanted to scare me. They LIKED it. And I let them. I helped them by feeling ashamed of the fear they inspired in me. Me. So I'm writing this to say, "I am not ashamed of being a woman on the road alone, coming home from visiting her daughter and mother (who had her 80th birthday)." I am ashamed FOR the anti-American, anti-Democracy, fascists so weak they take pleasure in menacing women.. I am an American. I take democracy seriously. I take diversity and the First Amendment seriously. So.... I won't be afraid. I'll be proud of myself for not succumbing to fear anymore. Because fear's what got us here.
But also, these people aren't real Americans, but they think they are. They don't respect Democracy. And they're not going to start respecting democracy on November 4th after their guy gets his electoral ass handed to him. So be careful out there. There be monsters....and we have to live with them.
It’s funny how life is--and Not because I was turned into a newt and got better. I’m getting ready to publish the 4th book in my Kate Warne Civil War Spy series, Iron Widow, when I get this offer to write a novel based on the life of Helen Duncan titled The Last Witch. Huh, you say? How’s that funny? (I can hear you with my Mom Super Powers.) Well, it’s like this….
Helen Duncan was the last woman convicted for witchcraft in England, long, long ago in 1944. Wait a minute! That’s not long, long ago. That’s barely ‘ago.’ It’s a pretty weird story. Apparently she knew about a couple of ship sinkings before the British public, and she said it was because of her powers as a Spiritualist and Medium. OK. Well, yea sure, but no one really believes in that stuff, do they? I mean no one without a serious drug habit, right?
Turns out Spiritualism, the religion that believed the dead could be contacted, had two big historical moments. The first was the first half of the nineteenth-century and the second was between World War I and World War II. So Helen Duncan was this poor woman with too many kids and a slacker husband (what were the chances?) and after The Great War she quit her job and became a medium. She earned her money pretending to talk dead relatives (or really talking to them if you want to believe that), many of whom had died in the first World War.
Then in 1941 she knew about the sinking of the HMS Barham when she shouldn’t have and she said it was because she saw it in a vision. The thing was, the Barham was sunk by a German U-boat and the Germans didn’t know they’d sunk it so Churchill wanted the sinking kept secret. EXCEPT, he let the war department tell the families of the 830 dead sailors. So that’s never very secret, right? NOPE! Helen probably knew because a family member told her—unless you believe some people can talk to the dead, then you go with that theory.
So come early 1944 and the English govt. is all worked up cause they’ve got D-Day planned, but they need to keep it secret from the Axis and some dumb ass gets it in his head that Helen Duncan, famous spirit medium, might spill the beans. Really dude? So they put her on trial, can’t convict her of treason, cause there’s no real proof, so they convict her of witchcraft and put her in jail until after D-Day. You know, so it’ll be secret. The things men do to women….
So I’m doing that research this week, while at the same time doing final proofing and formatting for Iron Widow, which oddly enough is a book about 1860s Spiritualism. See? Funny how life is…. This latest Kate novel is based on a real case Allan Pinkerton had in the 1870s and wrote about in the 1880s, but I made it a Kate case and turned the
“Black Widow” Allan wrote about into a not-so-black widow, or Iron Widow--iron being a color of grey. Clever, huh? I certainly like to think so.
I think it's a pretty good book, so you know, you should read it. People always ask me where they can find my books? Where do you find everything? Amazon. Iron Widow will be out as a print book and an ebook (kindle book) Monday, July 15th. Look for it at an Amazon link near you.
As I’m sure you know, you can learn all sorts of things if you’ve got an Internet connection (and find all sorts of Monty Python stuff). Four years ago I learned to write novels, three years ago learned how to publish my own books, two years ago I decided to teach myself to play the ukulele and now I’m been learning to make cheese. I'm like a crack addict, but with milk.
I made a cow’s milk feta to start and then took what I learned from that experience to make it again with my daughter Emma in Bozeman. The Bozeman cheese turned out so good one day for lunch we shared it with the girl farmers where Emma works (the Montana State University farm, Towne Harvest).
I’ve got made a Colby, a beer infused Gouda, 4 small aged goat cheeses (one of which we at and wow, was it good), 4 double crème brie and another batch of feta (cause we at ours). Oh, and a cheddar, a Parm and a Gruyere and some other stuff…. I’m obsessed and the people at Sprouts think I’ve got a milk addiction. And I needed a cheese press and they’re expensive, but guess what? There are videos on how to make your own—or how to get your husband to make you one. How great is that?
What’s my point? It’s possible to keep learning stuff, even when we’re OLD. In fact, it’s not just possible, it’s essential to a quality life. Not calculus maybe (at least not for me), but stuff that makes your heart go pitter pat. I’m gonna be honest, I think there’s a LOT wrong with our country right now and I think a lot of it can be marked down to people who decided they were done learning new things, done expanding their worlds, done thinking about their values in an honest, evaluative way. It’s why we live in a ‘facts don’t matter’ world. Except that we don’t. Facts do matter because it’s in facts we find ideas and ideas are the only real thing we have. The rest is bullshit that distracts us from meaningful lives. Of course, if you’re reading this you already know all this stuff (cause readers are the smartest people in the world), but do you know where to by milk that’s not Ultra-High pasteurized?
On a related note, my 4th Kate Warne book, Iron Widow (the one with the black widow on the cover!) has been delayed. Don’t blame it on the cheese. I’m perfecting my editing process, which is easier said than done, but it will be out this month. I’m also writing about a late Renaissance woman painter and I just finished the first draft. You know what I like about writing about her? I didn’t know anything about late Renaissance painting and I learned a lot.
So I gotta ask, what are you learning these days? And if the answer is nothing—WTF? What could you give yourself permission to learn and do? And how much greater would you be if you did?
But aren't we all busy? I've got two books coming out this summer, my Science and Technology Encyclopedia came out a few months ago and I'm working on a new book (more on that in a different post). At least Cal Poly finished for the semester and I DO NOT teach summers anymore. Too many books to write!
I've published a lot of books the past three years. So many in fact that I recently realized my life was out of whack. All I did was write and teach. Oh, and sleep, but not enough because sleep is hard. Don't get me started. Anyway, I recently decided to try to re-balance my life. Leo (my ruggedly handsome husband) and I rebuilt some of our garden beds and installed some really cool trellises for tomatoes and beans. Then I watched a bunch of "Garden Porn" on Youtube and planted some new stuff. We'll see how that goes. I also bought the world's tiniest amp and a clip on pick-up for my ukuleles so I'd have a new challenge there. And I've begun to make cheese. Emma and I (I'm in Bozeman this week) made a really pretty feta yesterday--it's dry brining for the next few days but it looks promising.
What's my point? Is Peg just bragging? Absolutely not. I know so many women who do sooooo many cooler things than me. I have a friend who retired from professing and taught herself to paint. Now she travels the world and paints the loveliest things. It's pretty cool. Or my mother, who after a full career as a nurse practitoner, has become a kayaking, cycling jock (despite a hip and knee replacement). One of the things I admire about women, particularly older women, is their nearly endless ability to re-invent themselves, learn new things and have fresh adventures. That's what novel writing is for me-- a chance to re-invent myself as a story-teller and fiction writer.
Anyway, my point is that we're all busy. Every single one of us. But the best sort of people, the happiest sort of people, are the ones who do not let their waged jobs define them. Your 'busy' ought to be more than your job and domestic drudgery. Sure I teach at a university for money, but that doesn't make me a Professor. Or not just a professor. It's what I do to pay the bills. It took me a long time to realize I was more than my job--in fact it took some pretty unhappy stuff at work to get me there. That and listening to my super smart female friends.
We're all busy but we're not all happy. I guess that's my point. I think a lot of unhappiness comes from working too hard for the wrong things. So the question becomes: Am I living my best life and if not, what can I do to change? DO! Because Doing is the key. We're all busy, so be busy at the right things. I'm going to go check that Feta cheese right now. I bet its gonna taste fabulous.
Well, I've finally done it. Sent Rebel Belles to press. The 3rd installment in my Kate Warne, Civil Wwr Spy series should hit Amazon in 3-5 days. So exciting! So Scary!
I've been writing a novel based on the life of union organizer Angela Bambace, set in the 1910s-30s, so it's weird to be thinking about the Civil War this morning. In the second Kate Warne book (the one with the floating circus elephant on the front) we left off with Juba rescued from slavery and Rose Greenhow still spying for the Confederacy in Washington City (which is what they used to call DC).
Of course Rose Greenhow was a real person and a real spy, so it was an awful lot of fun to write about how naughty she was (badness being so much more interesting than goodness, and all that). We can lay the union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run at her feet. General McDowell, who had command of the Union Army, had a MUCH bigger force than Beauregard's Confederate Army. If McDowell had marched to battle with Beauregard not knowing this the Union may very well have won. But, Rose and her minions not only figured out how big the Union forces were, but got that information to General Beauregard and the Confederacy's President Davis. So the Confederates pulled Gen.Johnston's troops from the Shenandoah Valley and sent them, hurry scurry, south to reinforce Beauregard.
Oh, I know, most of you are thinking: Really Peg? WTF? But stay with me.
The geography is kinda interesting. For you westerners, who know exactly where Two Dot Montana is, but have no idea about Virginia, let me explain. The Shenandoah Valley is northwest of Washington. Bull Run was just south of Centreville Virginia, south of Washington (see the 1860s battle map above). So the Union army marched right at Beuaregard's army, thinking they'd hammer them with a superior force. But Johnston did something that had NEVER BEEN DONE BEFORE--he put his army on trains and swung them south to the Manassas Junction train station--you can see it at the bottom of the map. See, McDlowell's thinking, "There's no way Johnston's dudes can get her fast enough to save that little ponce, Beauregard." But NO! The train goes much faster than men can march. Who knew? OK. You knew. But not many people in 1861 knew armies could be moved by train.
SO the battle starts and then Johnston swoops in from the railroad that no one was paying any attention too. McDowell's army was all, Shit Dude! This is SOOOO not how we saw this going. Panic, panic, panic. Run Away, Run Away, Run Away! And the Union Army gets its ass handed to them on a silver platter. Don't you hate it when that happens? (OK, the dudes who think there are good people in the KKK probably don't hate it, but the rest of you do.)
And it was Naughty Rose who sent the info about McDowell's army in the first place. Rose, who was having an affair with the senator who headed up the Senate Military Committee.And maybe having an affair with Lincoln's Sec. of State. Huh? See the power of Lady Bits in action!
Rebel Belles begins with the disastrous defeat at First Bull Run (aka First Manassas) and goes on from there, to the eventual, climactic downfall of Naughty Rose. And it's not all military strategy and spying. Super Sexy Captain Hazzard retruns for hot kissing scenes with our hero, Kate. You could ask for more . . . but should you?
OH, and you're welcome. I know you woke up this morning thinking, how the heck did the Union Army let the Confederates beat them in the first major battle of the Civil War. I'm glad I could help.
I've been in bed, sick with the flu, for 6 days straight now. Six Freaking Days! Who's got time for that? If I'd been in bed, writing for 6 days that would have been fun-- I'm currently working on the second Petronella book, set up at Flathead Lake in Northwest Montana & there' water dragons and Pegasuses in it. But NOOOOOO, instead I've got the darn flu, with the sore throat and head ache and chills and fever and . . .you get the idea. I've re-read all the Harry Potter books but the last (which I'll read tomorrow) and watched three seasons of Once Upon a Time (damn you Evil Queen!).
So, what's my point? Fair question. I was checking Amazon for Season 5 of Once Upon a Time and, as always happens when I log into Amazon, my author page came up. And today that page gave me a surprise. I've got another book coming out. Who knew?
Well, I did. I guess. I told you, I've been pretty sick This is a novel I wrote for the Mentoris Project via Barbara Foundation Publishing. The project's founder, an Italian-American, was sick and tired of Italians and Italian Americans always being represented in Television and movies as thugs and mafia dudes. So he created this foundation and publishing company to promote books of notable Italian-Americans. Which is pretty cool when you consider that Italian Americans, like MANY other immigrant groups, have long been discriminated against (make your own leap to current events NOW). If you're interested, the web site for the project, with all its books and authors (incluce Me!) is: https://www.mentorisproject.org/author-bios-1/
So I got to write about Louis Palma di Cesnola, a guy I'd NEVER heard of when I agreed to write him. Turns out he was pretty cool.In his teens he fought in the First War of Italian Independence, in his twenties he fought in the Crimean War and in his thirties he fought in the American Civil War, where he was a Colonel in the cavalry. Horses and swords dudes! Midway through the war he was captured and spent ten months in the Libby Prison, a now infamous Confederate prison in Richmond. The guy ended up the first director of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is also a pretty cool deal. It was a fun book to write and the best thing about it was that the publishing company liked it so much they offered me another book deal. This summer I'll be writing about Angela Bambace, a union organizer that made a huge difference in textile worker's lives in the mid-20th century.
You can see the Cesnola cover at Amazon, or at my the home page of my web page. If you buy the book and read it I'd appreciate it if you left a review. Getting Reviews turn out to be the hardest thing about writing.
Thanks for reading this. I appreciate your time. And if you've had the flu . . . isn't it awful? Egad!
When I began The Great Show I knew I wanted to have a circus in it, for a lot of reasons. First, I said circus, right? Second, the Civil War pretty much shut down American circuses, so I knew I had to do get my circus book in before the war really gets rolling in the series. I had this idea that slave snatchers would kidnap Juba and sell him south and that Kate and the gang would go under-cover in the circus to look for him. My vision was that they’d be in circus wagons, traveling south, checking small towns until they found him.
Then research told me it wouldn’t work. By the 1850s, most circuses didn’t travel around in wagons, not if they could help it. Railroad travel was a far more economical way to travel. Also, a lot of circuses traveled by steamboat. The cool thing about steamboat was that circus owners could turn them into floating theaters. This meant they didn’t have to own a huge, expensive tent. They could just pull up at a town’s docks, put out fliers and voila! Instant circus.
Dan Rice, the most famous circus man of the mid-nineteenth century, refined this tactic by putting together a show he could do in almost any theater. He both saved on costs and got to claim his circus was classier than a traditional circus. He called his dramatic-circus hybrid Dan Rice’s Great Show.
The Great Show was an immense step up for Mr. Rice. He got his start working for other circus men as an animal trainer. His Lord Byron, the Learned Pig astounded 1840s audiences with his ability to do math and answer questions about literature. Eventually Dan struck out by himself, but when he did he had a wagon and his trained horse Excelsior. He called his circus Dan Rice’s One Horse Show. Eventually he moved up to Rhinos and Elephants. And then the Great Show, which he considered his finest idea.
I had more than circus problems with my original plot. It also turns out the vast majority of slaves sold south in the two or three years before the Civil War were shipped to New Orleans. If you lived in the deep south and needed new slaves you went to New Orleans for the sales, which lasted from October to the end of May (New Orleans being hot and full of disease in the summer months). So I didn’t need my main characters wandering around the South in circus wagons looking for Juba. I needed to get them to New Orleans, which lies conveniently on the Mississippi River. And what is the Mississippi River known for? That’s right. Steamboats. Badda Bing. Badda Boom. I had me the bare bones of a plot.
I’ve heard some writers say they write the first draft first, then go back and do the research. I guess if it works for them, fine. But it makes no sense to me. If I'd done that I'd have had to re-write the whole book and do it while working my two jobs and editing the other books. ICK! Research isn't as fun as writing (only because nothing is as fun as writing), but if you ask me it's got to be done first.Work first, play second. I’ve got this little sticky note on my desk lamp that says “Do the work and the art will take care of itself.” I don’t know where I picked up the saying but it feels like good advice, not just for writing, but for life in general.
YUM, Right? You're welcome for the nearly/almost gratuitous man-candy. But I do have a point. Hold on, here it comes.
My second novel in the Kate Warne Civil War Spy Series, called The Great Show, is OUT!!!! Yippeeeee!!!! The reviews from my beta readers have been super positive, which cool. This book was a joy to write. It just unrolled in front of me like a magic carpet. I hopped on and the story took off. All I had to do is hold on.
Which is pretty weird. Long ago, when I first read Stephen King’s On Writing (which you should read because its fabulous), he said that writing was an act of archaeology. The writer’s job, he claimed, was to uncover the story that was already there. He said when he’s writing he never knows what’s going to happen next, much like an archaeologist doesn’t know what bone they’re going to uncover next. I remember reading that and thinking, “Bullshit.” Stories are created. Constructed. They are a purposeful result of hard work, plotting and research.
And they are, to an extent. But they’re also found stories. My most recent example of this happened last weekend. I was working on the second volume of my Petronella series (think X-Files meets Sherlock Holmes with parasols). I had my unicorn character swim across Flathead Lake to a little island. I knew she was going to swim from the little island to the larger Wild Horse Island and I knew she was going to encounter a hippocamp (a water horse) on the small island. So I write the part where she come ashore and sees the hippocamp and I don’t know what happens next. What will the hippocamp say to the unicorn? What will they do? So I take a break, fold some laundry, talk to my husband about dinner, and think. And I still don’t know what happens next. So I sit back down with the computer and start to write. It turns out the hippocamp doesn’t talk. She’s too afraid. Instead she leads the unicorn down the beach to the rotting corpse of a giant lake dragon. Did I know there was a dead lake dragon on the beach? No, I swear I didn’t. But my fingers uncovered the story.
That kind of thing happened with The Great Show a lot. I knew there’d be a circus and I knew a lot of other stuff I can’t write about here without spoiling the book, but some of the book I discovered as I wrote. In one chapter something terrible happens to Juba (to be honest, a LOT of terrible things happen to Juba in The Great Show), but I didn’t know this thing was going to happen until I wrote it. Nor did I know a second bad guy (who’s a bad woman) would appear when I got my main characters to New Orleans. But the Countess did appear and she’s deliciously evil. And entirely unexpected.
On a semi-related note, I had one of my students draw names from my email list for the Free Book Drawing. If I drew your name you should have an email from me in your inbox now. I’ll need your mailing address to send you the book. And if you didn’t win, try again next time.
Spread the Love. Peg
I’m not gonna lie. I was going to lie, but I decided not to. I had this whole elaborate story about how I was too busy writing and working to be blogging or sending updates to my email list. And I have been busy, but who has’t, right? But we make time for the things that matter, even when we’ve got too many balls in the air. We drop the stuff we don’t want to do. So that’s what I did. Let the spankings commence.
To be fair, I wrote and edited so much the last 6 months that I have the second Kate Warne novel out (See that pretty cover at the top of this column?), the third one nearly ready to go. I also met my third deadline for a 3 volume encyclopedia (something I’m working on with my friend Rosanne Welch), a novel in a new series ready for publication in December (it’s got unicorns and vampires!) and yet another novel, something I wrote on spec for a new press, out late this year or early next year. So that’s a lot of words. And then summer ended and I had to go back to school, at both my full-time and part-time jobs and there’s a lot of papers to grade. And I had an editing process to retool and refine.
Fine. That’s all true. But here’s the other thing—the true thing. I sold a bunch of you a book that was a hot mess. My first version of The Lincoln Special was riddled with typos and stupid little editing mistakes. I felt (and feel) really bad, though I know I should be patient with myself. I’m learning a lot. Learning to write the books was easy. Learning to publish them was harder, but not impossible. I learned that my editing process was not good enough. Sooo, I’ve retooled my process in a number of ways and then took the first versions (print and ebook) of The Lincoln Special down and remounted a cleaner version. But that doesn’t help those of you who bought the bad version. The new book is cleaner, but I still feel bad. So I’ve been avoiding the marketing side of my business. Pretty mature, huh.
So here’s my deal with you. Sign up for my email list (and if you already have, good for you) and have a drawing for 5 free copies of The Great Show ONE WEEK FROM TODAY. I’ll send the 5 winners an email and ask for a mailing address. All my print books come with access to a free electronic version of the same book, so if you like to read in a kindle (like me) you can do that too. Then, if you think that book deserves it you can leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads.
PS: Two days ago I learned my co-editor Rosanne Welch and I won a Best Book Award from the American Book Fest for our American Women in History encyclopedia. It’s only my second book award so it was weirdly exciting. The encyclopedia is WAY too expensive for mere mortals to buy but you can go see it at my web page (peglamphier.com) or at Amazon.
It's probably possible to write a series with female protagonist and not have a hot male lead. Possible, but why? No hot male lead, no sexual tension, no romance, no kissing (and other stuff). My Kate Warne series has George Washington Hazzard and I love him almost as much as Kate does.
Still, he's a troublesome character. Or he was when I first began to write him. It was with Hazzard that I first confronted the pesky question of historical accuracy. Every historical novelist faces this question. How much do you use from the 'real past' and how much do you make up? Take my Hazzard. He's based on a real person, but my Hazzard is different from the real one in some ways, but not all. So there's a Real Hazzard (RH) and a Fictional Hazzard (FH). RH, for example, married in 1857, but my Hazzard had to be single. RH might have been a scoundrel, but my RH had to be a super good guy (I had my fill of 'bad boys' in my 20s and I'm Totally over it). Also, I'm not entirely sure what RH looked like. I found the picture at the top of this post online and I thought, "hey, there's a handsome devil." So I use that image when I write Hazzard.Most mid-nineteenth century men don't look all that hot to us--it's the muttonchops, beards, weird hair, stiff poses and a million other things. But that guy is pretty hot, isn't he? Look again. I'll wait. Yum.
Most importantly, RH didn't hang out with the Pinkertons. Nor did he know the very real Kate Warne. That bothered me when I first started writing, but I've come to terms with it. I'll admit, when I first started writing fiction I was wearing my Professional Historian Hat.Professional Historians are supposed to get things right. I wasn't getting Hazzard 'right.' Still, I persisted, really for one reason. It was the name. Hazzard. How great is that? George Washington Hazzard. Even greater.
Some readers have suggested that Hazzard is too twentieth century in his ideas about women. There's no way, they insist, that piggish antebellum dudes would be that attracted to a woman with a career as a detective and spy. But here's the thing. The nineteenth century was full of dudes with extremely liberated ideas about women and the twenty-first century is full of dudes with terribly icky ideas about women (this is me showing restraint and not naming any names). And Allan Pinkerton hired Kate and his male operatives worked with her and Hattie Lawson. We have pictures of Kate in male clothing, male disguise, standing around camp with the men. They had to have known she was a woman and they worked with her anyway. So why not a male love interest named Hazzard? Isn't love Hazardous?
And it's not just Hazzard, it's Lallah. In my second book in the series I've got an elephant named Lallah Rookh. She's based on a real elephant that very real circus man Dan Rice owned in the 1850s. But she died in 1860, one year before book 2. She took a swim in the Ohio River, got in over her head (literally) and got water in her lungs. That lead to pneumonia, which killed her. She could walk a tight rope, which is astounding, and she was the first elephant in America to do a headstand. So I resurrected her. Lallah has a cool story and a tragic end and I wanted to write about her. So I fiddled with history. Go me.
One of the things I've learned writing fiction is that fiction is . . . fiction. Historical fiction should get stuff right, but it doesn't have to get everything right. And no one really thinks Professional Historians get everything right. History is a tricksy bitch.
PS--if you already read The Lincoln Special would you please post a review of it on Amazon, Kindle or Good Reads? I can't get any authorial traction without reviews. I've also got a small raft of people sending me typos/corrections. I think that's really cool. I'm going to upload another, cleaner version of the book at the end of the week. Thanks to all.
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