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Digging into the past
Hi Harlie! Thanks so much for having me here today. 🙂
I wanted to talk a little bit about research. Sometimes I think I should have been an archaeologist. I love digging into the past! Finding little nuggets of information helps bring a story to life. For a writer, that’s almost as exciting as panning for gold.
When The History Channel aired a feature about the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, it immediately caught my attention. I’d never heard much about the event, but the photos and stories about the survivors mesmerized me.
Being the research addict I am, I trolled the Web and found a treasure trove of stories waiting to be told. Stories of real-life heroes and heroines who overcame immense odds to rebuild the city after the nation’s worst tragedy to date. I couldn’t wait to toss two characters into such a dramatic setting!
But I didn’t want to focus solely on the disaster. There was so much more to tell about San Francisco. Before the great quake, it was one hot city. The ninth largest in the U.S., it was home to 400,000 people, and rife with crime, prostitution, opium dives and most any vice you can imagine, mostly concentrated in the Barbary District. There, the city’s Vice Squad – for a price, of course – turned a blind eye to the scandalous dance halls, peep shows and whorehouses. More tame fun awaited at the Chutes and Zoo, an amusement park, or the Golden Gate Donkey Rides, where children could ride in goat carts or on donkeys.
I always like to give a little extra setting for a story through the music. Songs hold so much more than emotion between two people – they help convey the opinion and way of life during the time of their popularity. Because most lyrics written during that period are in the public domain, I even use a little in the story.
In the early 1900s, as now, people loved a wide range of music. Ragtime piano was in its heyday, and opera enjoyed immense popularity. I couldn’t resist making my hero, Mac, a piano player. 😉
One of the great things about the early 1900s is that photography, while still crude compared to today’s standards, was no longer in its infancy. In fact, I found this video of San Francisco, pre-earthquake – how amazing is that? Horse and carriages sharing the street with automobiles, street cars and pedestrians, who all are apparently unconcerned with a possible collision!. It’s a wonderful illustration of the hustle and bustle of this vibrant city.
You can watch it here: 1906 Earthquake video
With the turn of the century came “modern” conveniences such as electric lights and telephones.
While the disaster changed a way of life for San Francisco residents, it also engendered hope. The pioneering spirit of the West was still very much alive. The stricken San Franciscans rolled up their sleeves and got to work clearing debris. If the structure was left standing, some shops reopened for business the next day.
What also fascinated me was the gritty strength of the women. They worked side by side with the men to clear debris, or do whatever it took to get the city, and their lives, functioning again.
In real life, such disaster is heartwrenching. In fiction, it’s fodder for a great story, especially when it has such a hopeful aftermath. Already down and out, Norah Hawkins and Gerard “Mac” MacKenzie are looking for a better life in San Francisco. Do they find it? Well, you’ll have to read Betting It All to find out. 🙂
Here’s the blurb:
Norah Hawkins wants a new life as far from her old one as possible, but where can she ever find that chance? When a letter arrives promising her the deed to property in San Francisco, Norah packs her bags and flees the broken shards of her troubled past.
With its anything-goes atmosphere, 1906 San Francisco suits Irishman Gerard MacKenzie just fine. He loves tending bar in Norah’s saloon, and verbally sparring with the shrewd businesswoman for more privileges and work. Her beauty, wit and sass make his blood boil with need.
But disaster looms over their promising new lives when a terrible earthquake buries their dreams and threatens to shatter their future. Norah and Mac must rebuild their lives from the ruins and they’ll need each other more than ever, but can their ties to each other save them or tear them apart?
Lord, she must have left her common sense in New Jersey. A man like Mac would prove to be nothing but trouble. Mischief twinkled in his eyes. Back in her hotel room to repack her scant belongings, Norah felt it in her bones. Deeper than your bones, a small voice told her. She felt it in a way unfamiliar to her. It rattled her nerves. It turned her thoughts to him at the most inconvenient times, wondering what sort of man Gerard McKenzie truly was beneath his sharp tongue and wily ways. It robbed her of common sense and self-control, inventing ways to stay near him. When he’d practically insisted she hire him, the thrill running through her both startled and intrigued her. No man had so much as laid a finger on her, not with her permission anyway. Yet she found herself imagining what Mac’s touch might feel like.
In the hallway, he whistled Melody of Love. She imagined him singing the lyrics:
Hold me in your arms, dear
Dream with me
Cradled by your kisses, tenderly
While a choir of angels from above
Sings our melody of love.
What must it be like, to know such a deep love? To trust a man with her heart?
A small laugh burst forth. If she’d learned anything in her twenty-five years, it was that men couldn’t be trusted. Especially not with a woman’s heart. The only time she’d given in to curiosity and let her heart rule over her head left her burning with shame. The thrill of Floyd Enders’s attentions turned to surprise when his fluttering kiss grew forceful, his groping desperate as he pinned her to the ground. Another attempt to prove her cut from the same cloth as Estelle, another whore to be used at his whim and tossed aside.
A bitter chuckle escaped. She’d done the tossing instead, and her kick to his hard groin left him writhing in agony. Too bad it wasn’t the lasting kind of pain, like he’d inflicted on her, claiming she’d begged for it. His lie followed her for years on the whispering lips of other boys who wanted what Floyd supposedly had.
Would Mac treat her so poorly? Of course not. She’d provide him with wages. If she wasn’t careful, he’d woo more from her, and soon she’d have less than nothing. No money, no saloon and worst, a ruined reputation. No man would rob her of that.
She lifted her bag, then thought better of it. Let Mac learn right away to take orders from her. After setting it on the bed, she put on her hat and opened the door.
Mac leaned his shoulder against the wall, one leg crossed over the other, aimlessly twirling his tweed cap in his hands. Glancing up, he straightened and scrunched the cap.
At least he pretended seriousness. “Please get my bags.”
He flashed a smile and winked. “Yes ma’am.”
A more fragile female might be devastated by his charms. Oh, she hoped this wouldn’t turn out to be a terrible mistake.
Hoisting one bag under his arm, he grabbed the handle of the remaining one. “All set.”
“Excellent.” She led the way downstairs, stopping at the front desk to check out and settle her account. Outside, she found Mac wearing his cap and a smile.
The bustle of the busy street made her hurry in excitement. “I wish I had time to explore the city.”
“It’s something, isn’t it? Makes me feel more alive.”
Slowing her pace, she glanced over. “Yes. Exactly.” She couldn’t hide her surprise at sharing that feeling. “Once I make my success, I’ll indulge my curiosity. Until then, I have too much work ahead.” She hurried on.
He fell into easy step with her. “There’s always time for work. My mama always said it’s more important to take time to celebrate.”
“Life.” He said it as if she should have known the answer.
Funny, she’d never shared that inclination. Life presented too many challenges, too many obstacles she had to scrabble over.
Oh my…you know what excites Harlie more than anything? A historical romance story that I actually have some knowledge about the time period and the setting. I’m a bit of history freak (my dad with argue that point since I did poorly in AP World History) and The History Channel is one of my favorite channels to watch. The earthquake that hit San Francisco in 1906 is one piece of history that still amazes me. The tenacity of the people to perserve and survive, the military coming in and helping feed and shelter, but for me its what was learned from the rebuilding of the city itself. Truly, check it out. It will amaze you and Ms. Masters does a wonderful job of describing the city before and after the earthquake.
Another thing that I really liked about the story was that Mac and Norah were friends first and then fell in love. To me there is nothing worse than instalove/lust in a book. Both Mac and Norah had so much too lose and so much more to gain once they got to San Francisco.
Norah wanted a much better life for herself that her mother ever had in New Jersey and Mac is chasing a dream of being a piano player out west. Meeting on the train under funny circumstances and slowly becoming friends was a treat. Mac knew of her trick that she pulled but instead of reporting her, he got to know her.
I don’t want to give too much in the way that I liked how Ms. Masters plotted her story but I will say that it flowed and I got caught up in everything that Mac and Norah were doing to build something great and also watching them go from friends/boss/employee to lovers. The tent camp scenes were heartbreaking knowing that the camps were real. Those scenes added an authencity to the story and made it much more layered.
The end scenes were some of the best in the book. Secrets from Norah’s past are revealed and they are sweet to say the least. I will have to say that while I loved the book, I want more of Mac’s and Norah’s story. I know that authors don’t like to hear that too much, but I would. Did they make it in the aftermath? Did true love prevail? In mind they did but I completely fell in love with this book and its characters. And you will too.
Betting It All
Cate Masters has made beautiful central Pennsylvania her home, but she’ll always be a Jersey girl at heart. When not spending time with her dear hubby, she can be found in her lair, concocting a magical brew of contemporary, historical, and fantasy/paranormal stories with her cat Chairman Maiow and dog Lily as company. Look for her at http://catemasters.blogspot.com, and in strange nooks and far-flung corners of the web.