Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cost of Prohibition


“The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses. Men will walk upright now, women will smile, and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever rent.”
Evangelist Billy Sunday, 1920

Acceptance of Prohibition was mixed from the beginning. Some states openly opposed it right off the start, claiming it encroached on State’s rights, others simply because it would cost too much to enforce.

In the end, 18 states appropriated money to enforce Prohibition. Indiana, Vermont, New York put enforcement in place but repealed it in 1923. Maryland never enacted any laws. Connecticut and Rhode Island never ratified Prohibition. In contrast rural South and West support for prohibition was strong.

Prohibition was one of the most significant social reforms of the early twentieth century—it showed the ambivalence of Progressivism in the way it blended moral reform and the search for efficiency through what they thought was a rational business-dominated organization of society. An alcohol-free society would have better employees, less social problems caused by alcohol, and less welfare problems.

The prohibition movement was a part of the huge cultural split in 1920s America that also involved the separate issues of the Ku Klux Klan and the campaign against evolution, as seen in the Scopes trial (1925). Cosmopolitan Americans and intellectuals looked down on rural and small town people who supported prohibition and those who were anti-evolution. A cultural divide divided American society in a way not too dissimilar to that over issues such as abortion and other Christian right crusades of the 1990s and after. It's possible the roots of the current cultural divisions can be traced from these 1920s sources, of which the dispute over prohibition was an important part.

Prohibition was going to reduce crime and corruption, improve health, solve social problems, reduce the tax burden of prisons and poorhouses.

Seized alcohol was often distributed to law enforcement. Occasionally a public show of destroying a few barrels of whiskey would be made in front of reporters and newsreel cameramen. But most of it ended up on someone’s table or speakeasy. Awareness of this only increased the growing contempt average people had for both the law and the people put in charge of enforcing it.

Between 1500 and 2500 federal field agents – mostly untrained – and 1500 office personnel were put on the job of fighting law breakers. In 1920 the Coast Guard had 26 inshore boats, converted tug boats and 29 cruising cutters. The boats were old and the Coast Guard was held in low esteem. It wasn't until the last years of Prohibition that money was funneled to stopping the flood of illegal booze.

Then the Great Depression took place. Unemployment soared. People began recalling the days that the government used to get huge amounts of money through taxes on liquor. Now the government was spending money trying to enforce unenforceable laws while all the money spent on buying alcohol by the people was going into the pockets of gangsters.

Progressives often supported prohibitions and saw it as improving society by controlling moral behavior through laws. They sincerely believe they can save us from ourselves.

In 1919, a year before Prohibition went into effect, Cleveland had 1,200 legal bars. By 1923, the city had an estimated 3,000 illegal speakeasies, along with 10,000 stills. An estimated 30,000 city residents sold liquor during Prohibition, and another 100,000 made home brew or bathtub gin for themselves and friends. In New York it ranged from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasies.

The fact that cirrhosis was substantially lower on average during Prohibition than before or after might suggest that Prohibition played a substantial role in reducing cirrhosis, but further examination suggests this conclusion is premature. First, there have been substantial fluctuations in cirrhosis outside the Prohibition period, indicating that other factors are important determinants and must be accounted for in analyzing whether Prohibition caused the low level of cirrhosis during Prohibition. Second, there is no obvious jump in cirrhosis upon repeal. This fact does not prove that Prohibition had no effect, since the lags between consumption and cirrhosis mean the effect of increased consumption might not have shown up immediately. Nevertheless, the behavior of cirrhosis after repeal fails to suggest a large positive effect of Prohibition. Third, cirrhosis began declining from its pre-1920 peak by as early as 1908, and it had already attained its lowest level over the sample in 1920, the year in which constitutional Federal Prohibition took effect.

Between 1916 and 1928, the price of whiskey in most places rose by an average of 520 percent.

Token raids on speakeasies by federal agents usually encouraged colorful newspaper stories rather than respect for federal law. In fact, after 1925, more and more citizens seemed to resent the cynicism with which the federal government (whose Founding Fathers had left murders, lynchings, adulteries, and other moral transgressions to the disciplines of the state legislatures) was so inconsistently pursuing an intrusive interest in whatever it was they might be tempted to drink.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rebellion in Iron River

Iron River is a small town in northern Michigan on the edge of the vast Ottawa forest. The region, rich in iron, was home to populations of Poles, Austrians, Italians, Hungarians and other immigrant Europeans. In late February of 1920 it was briefly the focus of America in a farcical display of just how toothless the newly passed law was. The rebellion garnered headlines in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times.

The country had been given a year to prepare for the event. The rich stockpiled cases of liquor and wine, including President Harding who had $1800 dollars worth of liquor purchased before January 16th and stockpiled in his living quarters. Harding regularly served alcohol to his dinner guests all through his term.

Headlines proclaimed WHISKEY REBELLION and ARMED FORCE TO DESCEND ON MINING COUNTY. The ‘armed’ invasion consisted of fewer than two dozen federal Prohibition agents led by Leo J. Grove. The raid came about after the local constabulary had seized several barrels of wine from the basement of a grocery store owned by the Scalcuccis brothers and subsequently been forced by the District Attorney Martin S. McDonough to return them to the brothers, claiming the liquor had been seized without a warrant. Informed of this, Grove and his invading army descended on Iron River where he again seized the wine. McDonough ruled the seizure was illegal since at least one of the brothers lived above the grocery and it was legal for people to keep liquor in their residence. McDonough then arrested Grove for transporting liquor.

Released soon after, Grove returned to Chicago and reported the events to Major A.V. Dalrymple, chief Prohibition officer for the mid-western states. Dalrymple declared Iron County was in open revolt and he would put them down and “go up and clean hell of that district or quit trying to enforce this law.”
With 16 men, along with an army of reporters, photographers and newsreel cameramen, he descended on Iron River. By this time the town residents, men, women and children had removed every cask and bottle and hidden them in the surrounding forest and mine shafts.

Dalrymple was able to seize a few barrels of wine which he destroyed with a sledge hammer for the newsmen. Sixteen hours later, on the 25th, he hastily left for Washington on urgent business. The villagers retrieved their hidden booty and Iron River went back to business as usual. Thus did the first salvo in the new war on alcohol end.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Chinese Massacre of 1871

The transcontinental railroad finally reached Los Angeles and mong the other immigrants to arrive on it were the Chinese. They settled in an older area of L.A, away from the Anglos and set up laundries, restaurants and gambling places. In that area was a 500 foot ‘alley’ called the ‘wickedest street on earth’. It was also called Calles de los Negros since many of the residents were the darker-skinned mestizos, Indians and half-breeds. Colloquially, it was called Nigger Alley. It averaged a homicide a night and that tally didn’t include Indians. It was home to brothels, saloons and adobe and wood hovels filled with the dregs of the city. In later years it was renamed and became part of North Los Angeles Street.

On October 26 or 27th a battle between two tongs erupted. When some sheriffs and other Anglos attempted to break up the fight, one of them, a rancher Robert Thompson was killed in the cross-fire.

In his first person account of the Chinese Massacre of 1871, recorded, “News of the attacks and counter-attacks spread like wild-fire, and a mob of a thousand or more frenzied beyond control, armed with pistols, guns, knives and ropes, and determined to avenge Thompson's murder, assembled in the neighborhood of the disturbance.” This mob embarked on a frenzy of lynching, shooting, stabbing and looting every Chinese man they encountered.

In his own words, Newmark said, “Besides Judge Widney, Cameron E. Thom and H. C. Austin displayed great courage in facing the mob, which was made up of the scum and dregs of the city; and Sheriff Burns is also entitled to much credit for his part in preventing the burning of the Chinese quarters. All the efforts of the better element, however, did not prevent one of the most disgraceful of all disturbances which had occurred since my arrival in Los Angeles.”

By morning, 19 Chinese men were laid out on the street near city hall, some still had the ropes they had been hung with around their necks. At the coroner’s inquest it was determined that only 1 of the men had been involved in the original tong war. Around 111 witnesses were called to testify before the Grand Jury. Blame for the incident was originally put on the police for not moving in and controlling the mob sooner. At the time a state law forbade a Chinese man from testifying against an Anglo.

There were 49 men indicted for the deadly attack, 23-25 men were charged with murder or incitement to murder and 7 were found guilty. They were given sentences between 2 and 6 years. The sentences were later over turned on appeal and the blame was shifted to the Chinese for not alerting the authorities sooner.

Newmark concluded with, “Following this massacre, the Chinese Government made such a vigorous protest to the United States that the Washington authorities finally paid a large indemnity. During these negotiations, Chinese throughout the country held lamentation services for the Los Angeles victims; and on August 2d, 1872, four Chinese priests came from San Francisco to conduct the ceremonies.”

Harris Newmark (1834-1916), son of a modest Prussian Jewish merchant, who arrived in America in 1853 and joined his older brother in Los Angeles.

Ref: American Memory. Sixty years in Southern California, 1853-1913, containing the reminiscences of Harris Newmark. Edited by Maurice H. Newmark; Marco R. Newmark: CHAPTER XXIX THE CHINESE MASSACRE 1871

L.A. El Pueblo Grande by John Weaver, the Ward Ritchie Press, Pasadena, 1973

Monday, November 15, 2010

Prohibition 1920-1933

The 18th Amendment brought in an American-wide Prohibition that lasted 13 years and changed America in ways that are still reverberating, would probably never have happened at any other time in U.S. history, including embedding organized crime into the fabric of America. It was the culmination of a number of historic events and the oddest fusion of parties normally on opposite sides of the political and moral fence. It brought Republicans and Democrats, suffragettes and the KKK, unionists and industrialists together to form uneasy alliances to enact the first Amendment designed to impinge on the individual rights of Americans. The 18th Amendment was actually unconstitutional in doing this.

Racism on many levels played a huge role in the passage of the Amendment. Rotten-borough legislatures in existence which gave unequal voting powers to low population rural over heavily populated urban areas gave the rural, and mostly dry, votes more power than the wet urban groups. This reapportioning would have been corrected following the 1920 Census, at which point urban votes would have overpowered the dry rurals. It was literally city versus country.

That the larger urban areas was made up of immigrant Irish, Italian, German, Greek, Jewish and other alien groups and the rural areas were more often nativists was another huge factor. Heavy drinking was linked with these immigrant groups and they favored saloons and pubs as the center of their community. These places were more than pubs, they were employment centers, mail drops and political stumps. Political alliances and votes could be bought and sold at local saloons. Patrick J. Kennedy owned a pub in Haymarket Square in Boston and from there launched the Kennedy dynasty. Northern Democrats were more often than not supported by these immigrant groups, whereas Southern Democrats were more often made up of conservative nativists who also supported segregation and were dry. On both sides there were wet-drys and dry-wets, those who voted one way or the other depending on political needs and whichever way the wind was blowing.

And in the early 1900s it was blowing a dry wind. There had been numerous ongoing movement toward prohibitions, and many states were already dry by the turn of the century. At the same time there had always been a suffragette movement seeking the vote for women. Prohibition and Votes for women moved along a parallel path. The drys knew they needed the women’s vote to get their measure past. The wets opposed the passage of such a law for the exact same reason.

Rising Anti-Semitism and the hostilities in Europe further played into the hands of the drys. Most distilleries were owned by Jews, and most breweries were in the hands of Germans. The French, Italians and all Catholics were wine drinkers and were disliked by the newly reborn Ku Klux Klan who had more than the now free black population on their minds. Racists and progressives alike saw alcohol as the demon rum that unleashed the simple minds of black men and turned them into animals.

When America was drawn into the First World War ant-German sentiment soared. They were demonized in papers and from pulpits as Reverend Purley A. baker, a methodist minister who was the national superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League, the driving and unifying force being Prohibition, said they were “a race of people... who eat like gluttons and drink like swine.”

Socialists hated alcohol because they thought a mind clouded by intoxicants was more easy to control. Industrialists voted dry because drunken workers cost them money.

One other major event had to occur before Prohibition would be supported by so many. The 16th Amendment. Until an income tax could be levied, the sales tax on liquor was the primary source of revenue for the federal government. The only other income came from import tariffs, which raised the cost of imported items and were unwelcome by consumers, so the sale of alcohol was necessary to fund a federal government. Once that was eliminated, the way was open for a push to prohibit alcohol country wide.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How to Keep the Excitement Alive in a Series

On several lists I’m on I’ve read the question, “When is it Time to End a Series?”

I’ve pondered that and realized that counter to that question is another question, “How do you keep the excitement alive in a series?”

One thing I’ve noticed in a couple of ongoing series is that sometimes the main character never changes, and I think this can be deadly. Though the hero or heroine may have the same job, the events he or she lives through must have some effect on him or her. All of us grow and change because of both the good things and the crises that happen in our lives; so it should be for the on-going characters in a series.

Invisible Path is either the ninth or tenth book in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. The publisher, Mundania Press, says ninth, but in fact there have been ten including the prequel, Deadly Trail, published by Hard Shell Word Factory, now a part of Mundania. I suspect one of these days the prequel will appear with the other Tempe books on Mundania’s website.

In the prequel, Tempe is a widowed mom of a young teenaged son though she is dating the minister of the local church, but wedding plans are interrupted because of a murder—of course.

In subsequent books, Tempe and Hutch are married, most of the time happily though they do clash at times--mostly on spiritual matters. Tempe’s son, Blair grows older, graduates from high school and goes onto college to pursue his love of firefighting. Because of her job as resident deputy, Tempe must takes risks, often putting her own life in jeopardy. At the start of their married life, Hutch has trouble understanding and fears for Tempe. As time passes, though he never likes it, he is able to come to terms with what goes along with his wife’s job.

Even less major but ongoing characters change. Detective Morrison who in many books has little respect for Tempe, partly because she’s female and partly because of her Native American heritage, starts to accept Tempe as a competent law enforcement officer.

Though most of the books are set in the Southern Sierra in and around the fictitious town of Bear Creek, Tempe’s investigations take her into new areas of the mountains and the Bear Creek Indian Reservation. The town of Bear Creek and the reservation have an uncanny resemblance to the little town where I live and the nearby Indian reservation.

Most of the books have a bit of Indian mythology or legend as part of the plot, which I hope will intrigue the readers of the series and keep them coming back to find out more.

To be perfectly honest with you, I won’t quit writing the series until I don’t have any more dilemmas to confront Tempe with or murders for her solve. I face each new book wondering what will happen to Tempe. She and her husband and the people who populate Bear Creek and the Bear Creek Indian Reservation are as real to me as my own family and friends. Because I am excited about what is going to happen to them next, I hope my readers will be too.

Invisible Path can be purchased as a trade paperback or e-book from or any of the usual online bookstores.


“Jesus, I need to talk to you.”

My grandma was the only one who could get away with pronouncing my name like Jesus in the Bible. My friends say it like “Hay-soos.” Grandma didn’t like it when she heard someone say my name like that. She usually corrected whoever it was by saying, “My grandson is not Mexican, he is Indian. His name is Jesus Running Bear.”

I don’t know what inspired my mother to give me such a name, and she wasn’t around to ask.

Grandma fixed her small dark eyes on me. When she smiled her eyes became crescent moons. She wasn’t smiling now. Whatever it was she wanted to say, it had to be important.

I put down the bowl I’d gotten out of the cupboard. Breakfast would have to wait.

“You’ve been thinking about something a lot. Something that’s going to give you problems.” Grandmother’s face was round, weathered, and brown as a nut. Her gray hair was pulled straight back and arranged in a bun. Wiry strands escaped and poked out around her ears and the nape of her neck. She wore a man’s red plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows, over a pair of faded blue jeans. Beneath the baggy clothes, she was slim and muscled. Her toes peeked out from a pair of worn leather sandals.

I loved my grandma; after all she was the one who raised me after my mother left me alone while she went on a three day drunk. My uncle found me and brought me to grandmother’s house where I’ve been ever since. No, I don’t miss my mother because I don’t even remember her. I only know what I’ve been told about her—not much of it good.

I wasn’t sure what kind of problem Grandma meant. Sure, I’d been going down to the beer joints with my cousin and friends even though I knew she didn’t want me drinking. Maybe that’s what this was about. I respected my grandmother, but I hadn’t obeyed her warning about never touching alcohol. She hated alcohol. Grandfather had died from drinking too much. Maybe my mother was dead too. No one had heard from her in years.

“Come. Sit down.” She motioned to the chair where I usually sat. In front of her was a cup of tea. “We’re going to find out exactly what is going on with you.”

I sat on the edge of the seat. She was going to do some weird Indian stuff. We were Miwok—though we didn’t live on or near a reservation. We lived in a small town in the foothills above Modesto which is in the Central Valley of California. Frankly, I didn’t know much about my heritage except what my grandma told me.

She was an amazing woman, and could do so many things. I was proud of most of what she did. She knew how to gather herbs that could cure most sicknesses. She wove beautiful baskets that she sold at Pow Wows and to tourists in gift shops in Yosemite and other places.

When I was a kid, she took me on camping trips into the back country. She could out hike me even today. But I wasn’t crazy about all the Indian stuff she did that I didn’t understand.

Grandma stared into the cup and began speaking in her native language. That’s what she always did when she was concentrating on something.

She lifted her head and fixed her eyes on me again. “You’re looking for a girlfriend. That’s it, isn’t it?”

Well, sure. What young guy isn’t trying to find a girl? But for once I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut.

Again, she peered into the cup. “I see all kinds of women. Be careful not to choose the wrong one. If you do, you’ll be miserable.”

She stared and her eyes looked funny, like she was seeing something far, far away.

I squirmed, wondering where this was leading. Maybe she already had someone picked out for me.

“I see a pretty girl with a nice figure. She has long straight hair, clear down to her waist. She’ll wiggle her plump bottom and you won’t be able to think. Women have power–especially young pretty ones. Don’t you so much as give her more than a passing glance. If you do, you’ll be miserable your whole life.” Grandma didn’t look up.

In my mind I could see the pretty girl walking down the street, her shiny black hair swinging back and forth like her hips.

After a few minutes my day dream ended when Grandma said, “There’s another one. Short and skinny like I was when I was young. But beware, she’s nothing like me. This one is sneaky. She’ll act like she cares for you when she has lots of other men.”

Interesting. This was more fun than I’d expected.

“I see another one, curly headed and laughing. She’ll welcome you to her bed.”

This was sounding better and better, and I risked a smile.

“Take my warning, grandson. Don’t marry her. She knows nothing about being a wife or taking care of children. She only knows how to have fun. She only wants to party, party, party. She’s not for you.”

I was beginning to wonder if there was anyone Grandma would see in that teacup who was good enough for me.

“Ah, there’s the one you must look for. She’s a sweet girl, with dark brown wavy hair and a dimple in one cheek. She knows and respects the old ways.”

“Where is she? Does she live around here?” I was ready to introduce myself to this wonderful woman.

“No, she lives far away. It may take a long, long while before you meet her.”

That wasn’t such good news. “How will I find her?”

“The path lies straight ahead. Sometimes it will be invisible, but it’s always there.”

Grandma’s discussion about my future seemed to be over.

She picked up the cup and dumped the dregs in the sink. Wiping her hands on a tea towel that had been draped through the handle of the old refrigerator, she asked, “Are you ready to eat?”

* * *

I almost forgot about Grandma’s predictions, because I started drinking more and more with my buddies. I became an embarrassment to her and my other relatives, and I didn’t care.


Marilyn Meredith is the author of nearly thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Invisible Path from Mundania Press. Under the name of F. M. Meredith she writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, An Axe to Grind is the latest from Oak Tree Press.

She is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Internet chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at her website and her blog

Marilyn Meredith is the author of nearly thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, the latest Invisible Path from Mundania Press. Under the name of F. M. Meredith she writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. crime series, An Axe to Grind is the latest from Oak Tree Press.
She is a member of EPIC, Four chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Internet chapter, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America.

Sunday, November 7, 2010



IN his baccalaureate address as President of Yale University, in June, 1922, Dr. Angell felt called upon to say that in this country "the violation of law has never been so general nor so widely condoned as at present," and to add these impressive words of appeal to the young graduates:

This is a fact which strikes at the very heart of our system of government, and the young man entering upon his active career must decide whether he too will condone and even abet such disregard of law, or whether he will set his face firmly against such a course.

Monday, November 1, 2010

If you love America, vote!

Something to remember when you go to the polls tomorrow:

Before he’d served even one year President Obama lost the support of the easily distracted left and engendered the white hot rage of the hate-filled right. But some of us, from all walks of life and ideological backgrounds -- including this white, straight, 57-year-old, former religious right wing agitator, now progressive writer and (given my background as the son of a famous evangelical leader) this unlikely Obama supporter -- are sticking with our President. Why?-- because he is succeeding.

Read the rest of the article:

We faithful Obama supporters still trust our initial impression of him as a great, good and uniquely qualified man to lead us.

Obama’s steady supporters will be proved right. Obama’s critics will be remembered as easily panicked and prematurely discouraged at best and shriveled hate mongers at worst.

Obama Will Triumph — So Will America

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Banned Book Week

The need to fight against those who want to tell us what we or our children can read is still a battle we must never give up on. The fear some people have to unleash ideas or thoughts they don't understand should not be allowed in our society. Fear of ideas has no place in our classrooms or libraries. Ideas and knowledge, even unpleasant knowledge, can free us. Stifling knowledge allows others to control us.

When they tell you something is inappropriate ask them why? Why are you afraid to know? Why are you afraid for your children to know? When you try to control what I read I ask you why? I demand to know what you think gives you or anyone the right to control what words I read, what images I see?

You have the authority to control what your children are exposed to. That is your right as a parent. But your right to control ends there. You do not have the right to dictate that for me or my children.

My advice to everyone? Read a book and open your mind. It really isn't that scary a place once you get to know it.

ALA Banned Book week

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Bullies are terrible. We all agree on that. These days almost every day we hear about some teenager bullied literally to death, taking his or her own life because bullies online and off tormented them to the point they felt they could no longer live. Most of the time these bullies are people their own age. In some well publicized cases the tormentors included adults, who we presume, should know better. 

Our reaction is one of stunned shock. What sort of adult would stoop so low as to pretend to be a teenage boy or girl and attack another teenager so viciously as to drive that teen to kill themselves? It’s an unbelievable horror.

But is it? Look around. Turn on the TV, the radio, open a newspaper or go online and read news blogs. A Christian preacher openly incites violence by loudly proclaiming to the world that he will publicly destroy the holy book of Islam because, he aays, it’s not a true religion. In Nevada a Senatorial candidate announces that if his party doesn’t get its way, they should rise up and take it with arms. There are people publicly and loudly bombarding us with a never ending litany of hate. Hate the Muslims, hate the liberals, hate the Tea Party, hate Obama, hate gays, hate Latinos, execute abortion doctors, execute gays, execute adulterers. There is no public discourse anymore. It's all about who can shout the loudest and who the often openly biased news outlets choose to showcase. 

Hate is spewed from the mouths of wildly popular news commentators. Armed people show up at political rallies, trying to bully other people into supporting their beliefs. Religious leaders picket the funerals of men who gave their lives supposedly so Americans can enjoy the freedoms these groups seem so determined to take away.

And we’re surprised children bully and torment other children? We should only be surprised that more of them aren’t doing it. After all, they have such wonderful role models.

Want to stop bullying on the schoolyard? Stop it in public discourse. Stop tuning in to the haters, practice tolerance toward those who you don’t agree with. Show your children bullying by anyone is wrong, no matter what their motive.  Stop teaching our children how to hate. Then maybe we can cut down on bullying and its deadly consequences.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Placing Out

In the 1800s the West was opening up and in need of people. Eastern cities, on the other hand, often had a surfeit of the poor. Religious based charities struggled to help the masses of children who suffered the worst when their families were impoverished. But
there always seemed to be more children than places to help. At the same time a shift in how children were viewed took place. At one time children were seen as young heathens who needed to be educated to become productive adults. But in the 1800s children began to be looked at as pure innocents who if they were removed from a bad life, could be reformed and become productive citizens. Poor and orphaned children only needed to be put in good places and they in turn would become good. There was also the view that rural life
was innocent and free of vice. Large urban areas, on the other hand were viewed as full of vice and children growing up there had little hope of redemption. Placing out would change that.

To fill the needs of the Western farmers and businesses chronically short of labor children’s aid and send impoverished children to a
better world societies decided they could send children in need of homes out West to the families that needed them. Children housed in orphanages and asylums were offered to these families. Sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not. Children picked up by the police for loitering or stealing were often offered to the Aid societies.

They were moved in groups, by the train load, sometimes as many as 40 children to a rail car. The children ranged in age from 2 to 16, with some families placing out too, as well as the occasional adult seeking a new home.

Originating in Europe, placing out became common through the mid-1800s up through the 1920s. In the beginning, most of the organizations involved in arranging for the children to find appropriate families were religion based. This usually meant Protestant families. The committees wanted families who would commit to raising the children in their faith as well as guarantee them an education. The idea was not to just foster kids out for a few years, but to train them to be productive citizens.

At first the effort was applauded as not only aiding children in need, but in removing potential future criminals since most of these
children came from the more crowded, crime ridden areas of major cities. Places like New York’s Five Points had an organization that arranged homes for many placed out kids. But dissension grew and critics of the program voiced their opinions loudly. There were complaints of children being exploited – instead of being taken in to families, they were being treated as indentured servants.

Slavery had just ended in the late 1800s, and some saw outplacing as a way to secure new unpaid labor, since in many cases the outplaced children received room and board and an education. There were stories of abuse, or cruelty, even rape. Eventually the criticisms, changing laws and growing western populations, made placing out a thing of the past.

To learn more:

Orphan Trains

Placing out in Kansas

Child Labor in the US

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review of The Daemon

by Daniel Suarez definition: "A program that is not invoked explicitly, but lies dormant waiting for some condition(s) to occur"

The label thriller has been slapped on a lot of books lately. Good books that deserve praise, but are they thrillers? The term is often used to describe any fast-paced crime story that isn't a cozy or traditional mystery. So when a book comes along that fits the label perfectly, it's well, thrilling.

The Daemon, the first part of what is being billed as a two part novel, is a truly spectacular thriller. It's seat-of-the-pants, stay-up-late and can't-put-down reading at its finest. It's a high-tech thrill ride, scarier because it's all based upon ongoing research. This is not science fiction, though I see it labeled as such. It's more appropriately called a techno-thriller.

Matthew Sobel is a computer programming genius. When he knew he was dying of cancer, he set about creating a series of complex programs that would be invoked when his obituary was run in media outlets. The first program run is apparently to eliminate the people who were involved with him in creating the programs. It is the death of one of these men that brings Peter Sebeck a detective in to investigate. Another bizarre murder occurs shortly after and Sebeck is drawn further and further into Sobel's game while everyone scrambles to find out what is going on, then trying to stop it. Sebeck finds himself locked in a fight with Sobel and a growing legion of disenfranchised black hat hackers who use wit, cunning and social engineering to wreak havoc on a world that often doesn't have a clue.

If you love taut, nonstop suspense then pick up The Daemon. It won't disappoint. It just might make you think, too.

Web site:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review of Beaumont Blues

by Robert Fate

This is the first of the Baby Shark books I’ve read. I had heard about the books and how good they were, but somehow missed picking up a copy. I finally lucked into Beaumont Blues in March at the Left Coast Crime and came away with a rocking good book that has made me a firm Robert Fate fan.

Kristen Van Dijk and her PI partner Otis Millet roar through the 50s in this wonderful book that starts out innocently enough with Kristen and Otis hired to find a missing socialite party girl. They’ve tangled with this girl before. But things go sideways when they find the girl being held by a psycho nephew of a local crime boss. Kristen gets the girl away from him, but not before two men are slaughtered and she has to knock the stoned kidnap victim out to get her to safety.

Things go downhill from there. The kidnapped victim, 17 year old Sherry Beasley, is heir to an oil fortune. She will inherit at 18 and if she isn’t there to hear the reading things will go badly. Nothing in the case is as it appears and no one is telling Kristen the truth. But Kristen is sharp and knows her way around low lifes. It’s not her fault that every move she makes seems to bring more of those low lifes out of the woodwork.

This is a wonderfully written book that I had a hard time putting down. Kristen is one of those characters I wish I could sit down and share a few brews with. Highly recommended if you like taut fiction that will leave you breathless, but satisfied.

Robert Fate's Web Site

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Myth of Childhood

Child workers from a glass factory, 1908

Some conventions we follow seem so innate and natural we assume they always existed. That's not always the case. A perfect example of this is the idea that childhood as we know it has always been the norm. The family dynamics of mother, father and children who needed to be tended to until they entered society as, hopefully, responsible adults was the way it’s always been. Certainly the so called 'family values' groups on the right would have us believe that God created the family as it stands today, therefore this is God's way and should be our way.

In actual fact, the concept of family as we know it came into being in the mid 19th Century and solidified in the late 19th century, though it wasn't until the 20th Century that child labor laws reflected this family value and protected children from exploitation. In 1916 a Federal law was passed prohibiting the transport of goods across state lines if minimum age laws were violated. The law was declared unconstitutional in 1918, voiding that protection. In 1924 Congress tried to pass a national child labor law, but the measure was blocked by opposition and the bill was dropped. In 1938 President Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which limited many forms of child labor. In 1973 Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, creating the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect and other steps designed to increase children's rights and reduce child neglect and abuse.

Before the mid-1800s children were seen as being filled with original sin. The renown American theologian, Jonathon Edwards, believed children were "not too little to go to hell' and he advocated preaching terror when necessary, even to children, who in God's sight "are young vipers… if not Christ's."

Only through the works of people like Jean Jacques Rousseau, Johan Pestalozzi and Catherine Beecher this concept was rejected in favor of children being natural and innocent, free of original sin. With that change grew the idea that if children were going to become good adults they needed nurturing throughout their childhood. Children were blank slates, open to being molded with the proper raising. Women were assigned the role of primary caregiver and teacher. Men were to provide support. Starting in the mid 1800s women's magazines began to present articles aimed at instructing them on how children should be raised, including reading material and appropriate toys. Playgrounds began to be constructed for children to have a safe place to play. The definition of childhood was advanced from 5-6 years of age to include adolescence. This time was meant to be a time of innocence, play and learning.

But it took decades before the idea of childhood as an innocent, carefree age encompassed the idea that they should not be working long hours for low wages and they continued to be exploited as cheap labor well into the 20th Century.

What does all this mean? That family as is touted today as being the norm is no such thing. Family is as artificial as construct as marriage is. In the past people cared for their children as long as they were infants and unable to do anything themselves, but once they reached an age when they could work, be it hunting, tending crops or as the world grew more industrialized, working in mines or factories, often for 14 or more hours a day, often at little or no wages then they were expected to get out and be productive. Girls were married off as soon as they reached puberty. Certainly the idea of keeping children at home into their late teens or even early twenties was unheard of. They would only be mouths that needed feeding and if a boy or girl was big enough to work, then they should work. That was God's plan then. Reverend Edwards would certainly have agreed.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Writing Historic Romance

Guest blog by G.G. Royale

I love writing historic romance, and part of that comes from the fact that I never want to stop learning. Writing historical gives me an excuse to read more, to buy more books, to spend hours surfing WPA archives and backlogs of newspapers online. The most fun thing for me in writing historic fiction is when I get to use one of those wonderful nuggets of information I gleaned in a meaningful way in my story.

I have a master of fine arts in fiction from the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans, so I have studied writing. A lot of writing. But I never sat down to learn how to write historic fiction specifically. If there is a “method” others use, I don’t know about it. In talking today about the way I do it, I will reference The Flapper and the Fellow, a mild BDSM novella set in 1925, available from Loose Id. This is by no means my only historic work -- I’ve written erotic romances set in the Middle Ages, samurai-era Japan, and plantation-era Louisiana to name a few -- but it is the one for which I did the most research.

When starting any story, the first thing I do is create my concept, my basic plot, and my main characters. I do this sort of devoid of time or setting. That can come later. Character should drive plot, so really the people matter most. I do tend to write to a lot of calls for submissions -- found either at Duotrope or the Erotica Readers and Writers Association page -- so most of the time I start with the theme or prompt. In the case of The Flapper, the theme was “trading places”; two characters had to house swap or something like that. I knew most people would play with the idea that the two people who swapped would be the two love interests, so I decided to go with the idea of who got left behind. From that, the story of Dot, the housekeeper, and Winnie, the professor taking Dot’s sister’s job, came about. My next thinking was “When would be a fun time for this to happen?” and of course the 1920s popped into my head: the hedonism of the Jazz Age tempered by Prohibition, suffrage… This time period offers a plethora of cultural conflict and richness from which to draw, particularly when set in New Orleans.

Once I’ve settled on my characters, plot, and setting, I start my research. My primary source for The Flapper was Mary Lou Widmer’s New Orleans in the Twenties. I like to use at least one book that can sit next to me while I’m writing because going back and forth between my word processing program and Web sites can sometimes feel frustrating. This book is full of great anecdotes and pictures, organized into chapters about the major elements of life and society at the time. It makes for very easy referencing. I prefer that sort of book to more thorough sociological, academic treatises, though those have more in-depth treatments. All I need is a few touch points that will ring true to readers, such as the names of newspapers, sports teams, restaurants…those sorts of things. I think most major cities have books like that.

In general, I try to write in such a way as to avoid anachronism by glossing over some details, leaving other things out completely, and totally playing up what I know was there. This works better in erotic romance because the romance is central, not some plot necessarily derived from the era in which it is set. Adding the erotic element makes it even better, since I can always distract the reader with sex! If I can’t find out for a fact whether or not an invention existed in the period of my story, I’ll leave it out completely. Following that, a few firm things I know fit into the time period added to the story give a sense of reality. For instance, Dot’s car starts by literally cranking over the engine. Every scene involving the car includes that at some point, even in the pouring rain. Fashion is also great to play with because the old fashion plates from magazines make for very clear description and up-to-the-moment accuracy.

I tend to focus on one or two elements of the era that I think are the most important in relation to the plot and throw in a heavier dose of detail there. In The Flapper, those elements were jazz and Prohibition. I referenced Louis Armstrong and what his career was doing in 1925, and I talked about the radio stations that were just sprouting up. These things were important to Dot’s character, since she wants to play trumpet in a band. I also researched plenty of articles on how easy it was to get a drink in New Orleans in the 1920s; it was really easy. Most of the famous granddame restaurants here had secret rooms, code to order special drinks, or waiters who openly carried flasks in their apron pockets to spike any drink for their grateful customers. The bayous and inlets south of the city made for great rum-running too, so the restaurants were never in short supply. Winnie’s father was an abusive drunk and his mother a teetotaler, so the availability of booze is somewhat shocking to him, though he slowly learns to appreciate the New Orleans cocktail spirit.

Once the story is finished, I read it through looking specifically for anachronisms, and I have a proofer do the same. As a reader, I can’t stand it when I know for a fact something shouldn’t be in a story, and I do try quite hard to avoid having my own readers feel the same way. This is completely separate from any other edits or proofing that I do. That’s about it. After a final polish, I sent the manuscript off with my fingers crossed that it will find a publisher.

Bio: G.G. Royale began writing erotica in the English student lounge at a small California university in the 1990s. After taking a few years to perfect her craft and earn her MFA in creative writing, she began submitting short stories. Her work appears on Web pages, in anthologies, and as eBooks. She lives in New Orleans, raises chickens, and edits for erotic romance publisher Loose Id.

More information can be found at her site, and at her blog.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why Write History?

Guest Blog by Margaret Blake

Lots of people pose that question. It always comes up when I do a talk and ask for questions. My answer is much the same, although it varies a little depending on why they are asking the question. It can be asked in an arrogant way “Why write history?” and you imagine they are thinking, it’s a lot of old hat! Or they can ask because the questioner is perhaps wondering if there is a market out there for the book they have hidden in a drawer.

I write history because I love to delve into the past. Ah too easy that, it has to be more than that. My novels have an element of suspense as well as romance. Believe me it is just a tad easier to write suspense when you don’t have cell phones, or telephones, or fast cars and aeroplanes. When everyone can’t find out anything about anyone else practically instantaneously. No computer, no Facebook…importantly no DNA.

Journeys were horrendous in the medieval times. You went on horseback or you walked. Roads were notoriously dangerous too. Robbers abounded. You could go in the summer when there were more people but again this limits you.

Something important happens in London, it takes ages for the news to be brought to say Yorkshire in the North. News would be brought by visitors, or importantly, by the packmen who travelled the roads delivering goods and who picked up lots of gossip on the way.

All this enables me to really spin out the story. In my novel The Substitute Bride, my heroine changes places with her sister. She will marry Lord Hinchcliffe and she does get away with it for a very long time. But when he does find out, then it is more devastating for she is by then madly in love with him and it is no more a marriage of convenience. Imagine what a photograph could do to that plot!

In Dangerous Enchantment my heroine has a secret, the revelation of which could end with her death. Alfled in A Saxon Tapestry pretends she is boy – again no photographs to show the lie of the disguise. It’s great.

I do write contemporary romantic suspense, as well as contemporary romance, and I enjoy these. Research is easy to do and in A Fatal Flaw my heroines quarry knows almost immediately that she is making enquiries about him. That puts her in danger. So you can have fun with modern technology as well.

However, I do enjoy going back in time. Why do I write history? Simple really, because I like to!

Whiskey Creek Press
Margaret's home Page

Monday, June 28, 2010

The History of the Model-T

A video of the history of the Model-T and how it revolutionized transportation and production with the first full scale assembly line. Those things were better than Hummers for getting around!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Black Widow Louise Peete

Lofie Louise Preslar, born in Bienville, Louisiana, a very personable woman who people loved. She was also one of America's leading "black widows". She was the Southern Belle daughter of a wealthy newspaper publisher. She attended the best private schools in New Orleans, where she became notorious for her sexual escapades which got her expelled. Following that illustrious beginning she embarked on a life of pleasure and murder.

She married traveling salesman Henry Bosley in 1903, and traveled with him. In the summer of 1906, Henry caught his wife in bed with a local Texas oilman and grief-stricken, killed himself two days later. Louise sold Henry's belongings and moved to Shreveport, where she worked as a prostitute until she could afford a trip to Boston. There she continued as a prostitute. She became popular as a girl who would make house calls. But on the side she lifted the jewelry of the wives of her wealthy clients. Eventually her larceny was discovered and she fled to Waco, Texas. There she met Joe Appel, another wealthy oilman, a flamboyant character who wore diamond studded rings, belt buckle and even the buttons on his clothes.

One week after they met, Joe was found dead with a bullet in his head. His diamonds were missing. Called before a special grand jury, Louise admitted shooting Appel down - in "self-defense." The oil man tried to rape her, she claimed, and she was forced to defend herself. The missing jewels forgotten, members of the jury applauded her. They also set her free.

By 1913, running out of luck and money, Louise married local hotel clerk Harry Faurote. Her flagrant adultery soon drove Faurote to hang himself. Moving to Denver in 1915, Louise then married Richard Peete, a door-to-door salesman. She bore him a daughter in 1916, but Peete's meager income wasn't up to her standards, and she took off alone, for Los Angeles, in 1920.

Shopping for a house to rent, Louise met mining executive Jacob Denton. Instead of leasing her the house, she persuaded Jacob to retain the property, and Louise would come in as a live-in companion. After several weeks Denton refused to marry her. In response, Louise ordered Denton's caretaker to dump a ton of earth in the basement saying she planned to "raise mushrooms" - Denton's favorite delicacy - as a treat for her lover.

Denton disappeared on May 30, 1920. There never were any mushrooms. Louise had numerous explanations for curious callers. First, she told all comers that Jacob had quarreled with "a Spanish-looking woman," who became enraged and chopped his arm off with a sword. Although he managed to survive, she said, poor Jacob was embarrassed by his handicap, and had gone into seclusion. Pressed by Denton's lawyer, she revised the story to include an amputated leg; the missing businessman would return once he was comfortable with his artificial limbs.

Most incredibly, these tales kept everyone at bay for several months, while "Mrs. Denton" threw a string of lavish parties in her absent lover's home. It was September by the time Denton's lawyer grew suspicious enough to call the police to search the house. An hour's spade work turned up Denton's body in the basement, with a bullet in his head.

Detectives started hunting for Louise, and traced her back to Denver, where she had resumed a life of wedded bliss with Richard Peete. Convicted of a murder charge in January 1921, Louise was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment. In the beginning, Richard corresponded regularly. In 1924, when several of his letters went unanswered, Peete committed suicide.

San Quentin's warden, Clinton Duffy, once described Louise Peete as projecting "an air of innocent sweetness which masked a heart of ice." Apparently she liked to boast about the lovers she drove to suicide, especially cherishing Richard's suicide, proof that even prison walls couldn't contain her fatal charm.

In 1933, Louise was transferred from San Quentin to the prison at Tehachapi, and six years later on her tenth attempt to win parole, she was released.

Her release was due to the intercession of a social worker, Margaret Logan, and her husband Arthur. Paroled to the care of a Mrs. Latham, in Los Angeles, Louise was allowed to take the name "Anna Lee," after her favorite movie star.

She found employment at a servicemen's canteen in World War II; in 1942, an elderly female co-worker vanished inexplicably, her home discovered in a state of disarray. Detectives called on "Anna Lee," the missing woman's closest friend, and they were told the woman had died of injuries sustained in a fall. The police bought the story, never bothering to check out "Anna's" background or obtain a death certificate.

The kindly Mrs. Latham died in 1943, and Louise's parole went to the Logans. She married elderly bank manager Lee Judson in May 1944, and on May 30, Margaret Logan vanished without a trace, Louise telling Margaret's aged husband that his wife was in the hospital, unable to receive visitors. By late June, Louise persuaded the authorities that Arthur Logan was insane and he was committed to a state hospital, where he died six months later. With typical lack of feeling, Louise donated his body to a medical school for dissection.

Louise moved into the Logan home with Judson, but in short order, her husband discovered a bullet hole in one wall, a suspicious mound of earth in the garden, and an insurance policy naming Louise as Margaret Logan's sole beneficiary. He never told anyone.

By December 1944, Louise's parole officer had grown suspicious of the regular reports, submitted over Margaret Logan's shaky signature, that contained such glowing praise for their charge. Police invaded the Logan home shortly before Christmas, prompting Lee Judson to voice his suspicions at last. Margaret Logan's body was unearthed in the garden, whereupon Louise offered another of her patented fables. In this story, decrepit Arthur Logan had gone suddenly insane, beating his wife to death in a maniacal rage. Terrified of attracting suspicion due to her background, Louise had buried the corpse and stalled for a month before having Arthur committed to an asylum.

Louise was charged with Margaret Logan's murder, her husband booked as an accessory. Acquitted on January 12, 1945, Judson took his own life the next day, leaping from the thirteenth floor of a Los Angeles office building. Louise, it was observed, seemed pleased with his reaction to their separation.

Convicted of first-degree murder by a jury that included eleven women, Louise was this time sentenced to die. Her appeals failed, and she was executed in San Quentin's gas chamber on April 11, 1947.

Evil Diva

Time Monday, Jun. 11, 1945

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Serendipity and creativity

Serendipity is defined as good luck in finding unexpected and fortunate discoveries. In writing, for me, this means stumbling across things unexpectedly that help push a story forward. I recently finished my first historical novel, COLOR OF SHADOWS AND SMOKE and have begun research on a second historical, this one called A PLACE OF SILENCE, set in the early 30s, still during Prohibition. While researching the Depression in my local library I came across a book titled THE ORPHAN TRAINS: PLACING OUT IN AMERICA. Since it was in the section dealing with the Depression I was intrigued and pulled it out, along with a massive pile of other books to look at. Between 1850 and 1930 200,000 children and several thousand adults where set out west, purportedly to find homes for the urban poor. The west was in desperate need of more bodies to help on the farms and industries and agencies like The Children's Aid society saw this as a way to find places for these children.

The moment I read that, I knew the main character in A PLACE OF SILENCE would be just such a child. He would be a boy from a desperately poor family barely able to survive in some eastern city, perhaps Philadelphia or New York. So he was ripped out of his home and shipped west with a trainful of other children, some true orphans, other like him, from families simply too poor to manage. I immediately had to wonder what such a life would be like. Would you imagine your parents had abandoned you? Might you see it as a great adventure? At that time there were no laws controlling the use of children in labor. They were often working in mines or factories, toiling away for 12-14 hours a day for pitiful salaries and no assistance if they were injured, something like the trafficking in children that occurs today. But back then there were few people interested in the plight of children such as that.

But I would never have known about this if I hadn't started browsing the racks, just checking out intriguing titles and taking a closer look when I found one that interested me. I do much the same thing online. I will do Google searches on one subject then find links within the pages I'm researching that take me off in a whole other direction. Often fascinating ones, and sometimes they too can trigger that feeling of Eureka when I stumble onto some fascinating facet that can turn a whole plot on its ear.

I highly recommend it during your next trip to the library. Just find a section, perhaps in a section devoted to your city's history, or a period linked to whatever novel you are working on. Just scan the titles, see what jumps out at you and take a look.

You never know, you just find the magic key to making your novel one degree better.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I need a backbone

Anyone familiar with much of my work will know my characters are almost always heavily flawed. Some people have come out and said they don't like them because they're not 'nice' enough. My problem? I want to write even darker more flawed characters in darker stories. I've set out to do it a couple of times, but each time I go soft and pull back. My characters turn out flawed, but not as hard as I wanted originally.

I have no one to blame but myself. I rush to get my rawest, often unfinished first draft into the hands of my beta readers, then I let their comments influence where the story goes. It's certainly not their fault. They're doing exactly what I have asked them to do. I need to stop asking it. Instead, I need to wait until the draft has gone through some polish before asking others to look at it.

Ultimately, I need to grow a set and start trusting my own judgment. I have 9 novels published, with a few others in the chute. Isn't it time I trusted myself? Write my story the way I want it written? Let it stand or fall once it's done, not water it down during the first draft because my own doubts leave me unsure of my ability to finish such a book with a strong, if unpopular ending.

In one novel, I waffled and eventually softened my main protagonist's rough edges. I made him nicer. I put him safely back in his flawed hero-with-a-heart-of-gold instead of the truly flawed character who screws up at the end, whose flaws lead to tragedy.

So how about you? Have you ever pulled back from where you wanted to go with a character or storyline because you were told it was too unlikable? The character too nasty?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Critique-al Condition by Steve Liskow

When you love your WIP above anything except double fudge brownie ice cream, it’s time to have someone else give you objective feedback. The best way to do this should be to join a writing critique group, but my bitter experience is that finding a compatible group is slightly easier than winning the Powerball by picking Roman numerals.

I’m convinced that groups work better if all the members write similar material. “Literary” writers, who believe that Toni Morrison works harder to finish a book than Tess Gerritsen or Jennifer Crusie, sneer at genre writing. Somehow, they also cherish the illusion that “literary” automatically means “good.”

Feedback tends to focus on two main questions. The first is “Does this scene work?” Most people will probably agree on any particular sample. The second question is “Does this scene work HERE?” and it can generate sparks among the different genres and camps.

Sci-fi involves a different world that needs explanation at the beginning. Romance writers often introduce their protagonist with a blow-by-blow history of a love life going down in flames. On the other hand, mystery writers build tension by holding back on the revelations, so they tend to view the other approaches as an information dump.

The logistics of group meetings makes work on poems, essays, or short stories easier than dissecting a novel, but a chapter-by chapter approach won’t help on the second question. That may demand more time than the average group member has at hand, but our early schooling probably taught us to examine a novel in small chunks so we sometimes miss the full effect.

You don’t admire a painting by looking at all the red, then all the blue, then the green. Moving a scene or even a few lines of dialogue can change the rhythm of a piece. It can make information clearer, too—or give away a clue too soon. Move the punch line to the middle of a joke and see if it still gets a laugh.

Beyond these basics, everything else is subjective. I wrote Who Wrote The Book of Death? in present tense, which some agents and editors dislike. Others dislike first person POV or lots of description. My writing has a staccato rhythm and throwaway fragments to convey voice and attitude, but some readers try to “correct” it instead of seeing the content. My own invisible drummer makes it hard for me to read “older” styles and rhythms comfortably.

A really valuable reader “gets” your style and sees the choices you don’t even remember making. Right now, three women understand my stuff well enough to spot the real damage and make me apply triage. They are the best asset a writer can have: a reality check.

I send them chocolate and valentines.

Steve Liskow's first novel Who Wrote The Book of Death?, was published in May by Mainly Murder Press, and "Stranglehold," which won the Black Orchid Novella Award, appears in the summer issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Visit his Web site here

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Stephen Jay Schwartz

Sometimes a debut novel comes out that just blows you out of the water. Or as a writer myself, one I wish I had written.

I'm always on the look out for new books set in Los Angeles. I'm a noir reader who likes dark fiction and I've found few places that lends itself to that more than the city of Angels. Having lived there eight years I have personal experience with the dichotomy of the place. At once filled with glitter and glamor, it is also home and birthplace of many of the most violent gangs in North America, if not the world. From the days of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald writers have explored the dark side of this fascinating city.

It's hard to think of Los Angeles without thinking about the LAPD. The police force of Los Angeles has always had a big role in the character of the city, from the boundless corruption in the early part of the 20th Century to the violence and riots that threatened to tear the city apart. Even today there is a simmering tension in the dark Angel.

In Boulevard we meet one of the members of the thin blue line, LAPD homicide detective Hayden Glass, who's a member of the elite Robbery Homicide division that handles all the high profile murders. But Hayden has a secret he's desperate to keep -- he's a sex addict who cruises the very boulevards he's supposed to be policing, picking up street walkers and going to massage parlors for sex. His marriage fell apart because of his addiction. But now he might not be able to keep his secret much longer. Someone is targeting people Hayden knows and only he sees the connection in the victims, since he can't reveal his addiction which is what ties them together.

An excellent novel. Schwartz is a wonderful new voice in dark Los Angeles fiction and I can't wait to read more from this up and coming author.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles. Los Angeles. The wild, wild west indeed. Before the city, there was the 'hell hole of the west', the most violent place at the end of the Pacific Special. The place where everyone went when they had no place else to go. When you were driven out of everyplace else, you went west, just like Horace Greeley told you to. And once you hit Los Angeles that was the end of the road.

Los Angeles always attracted the outcast, the misfit, people on the run and people seeking change. There's never been anything normal or ordinary about the city of Angels or the people who inhabit it.

The first law in L.A. was a volunteer group of men who formed the Los Angeles Rangers in the early part of the nineteenth century. Unpaid, they lived off the largess of others for their equipment. The unit lasted roughly four years, then disbanded, leaving the already violent Los Angeles without a police presence. The county was overrun with bandits, gamblers, murderers and rustlers driven south by northern vigilantes. Vice of all kinds was not only legal, it was taxed.

To fill the void, the Vigilance Committee was formed in 1836. On October 13, 1854 Pinckney Clifford, a prominent businessman, was robbed and murdered by David Brown, a well-known bandit. The city Marshall jailed Brown, but the Vigilance Committee intended to take care of the killer. Mayor Stephen Foster intervened and convinced them to wait for the trial. But though convicted and sentenced to hang in January 12, 1855, his attorney convinced the California Supreme Court to grant a stay of execution. Instead another convicted murderer, a half-breed Indian was hanged.

Now provoked beyond reason, the Vigilance Committee, led by Mayor Stephen C Foster (who resigned his position to lead the lynch mob) forcibly removed Brown from his cell and hanged him. When Foster ran for re-election he was voted back in as Mayor on a landslide. Only in Los Angeles, you say? L.A. was also the first major metropolitan city to recall a Mayor from office, but that, as they say, is another story.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Review of TERMINATED, a novel by Simon Wood

TERMINATED is another brilliant Wood thriller. Who goes to work expecting to be terrorized and nearly driven mad? Work is supposed ot be mundane, even boring. Not in Simon Wood world.

In Gwen's world, a loving mother, with a wonderful husband and a 'miracle' daughter, born after they had given up hope of having children falls afoul of a sociopath. Years earlier Gwen was stabbed by a would be rapist. The rapist was jailed and Gwen believed her injuries would prevent pregnancy. It also left her with the determination never to be victimized again.

When Gwen, as newly promoted supervisor, gives a much deserved bad performance review to Stephen Tarbell, who thinks her job should have been his, Tarbell goes ballistic. After a confrontation doesn't make her change her mind, he attacks her in the parking lot after work, pulling a knife on her.

She escapes and reports the attack. Her company brings in a private security firm to investigate and convince Gwen not to go to the police, that the matter will be taken care of quickly. But Tarbell is no ordinary disappointed employee. He fumes and convinces himself Gwen not only took his job, but is out to ruin his life. He decides to teach her a lesson.

Thus begins the unraveling of Gwen's life as Tarbell's schemes grow more and more complex. Tarbell's sanity unwinds. His attacks escalate. Gwen grows desperate as Tarbell begins to threaten her family. She has to stop him. But Tarbell is wily and Gwen is desperate when Tarbell systematically destroys Gwen's life and drives away all her friends and allies.

This is nerve wracking reading. I sometimes found the tension almost unbearable. Wood is definitely a master storyteller. If you want a read that will keep you up at night then pick up a copy of TERMINATED.

Buy Link

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Notable crimes in the 1920s

This is the first in a series of notable crimes that occurred in the 1920s.

Mention the 20s and people think Prohibition and the usual crimes associated with that. Bootlegging. Rum running. Speakeasies and blind pigs and gangsters roaring around in Model T's and Buicks blasting each other with machine guns. Bonnie and Clyde, Bugsy Seigal, The Valentine's Day massacre, Al Capone.

But like today, there were other crimes, more heinous in many ways because they victimized ordinary families and could just as easily be taken from the headlines in today's news stories.

Two of the most notable were the crimes of William Edward "The Fox" Hickman. On December 15, 1927 12-year-old Marian Parker, daughter of a prominent and wealthy Angeleno was kidnaped by Hickman, ransomed and brutally murdered. The second was the disappearance and subsequent fumbling by the LAPD of their search and attempted cover-up of a botched investigation into the missing boy Walter Collins. (This is the true life incident behind Clint Eastwood's movie, Changeling)

Hickman, who called himself 'The Fox' showed up at Marian Parker's school and talked the school officials into releasing the 12-year old girl into his care, telling them her father, Perry Parker, had been in a car accident. Shortly after Marian's father, a banker, began receiving ransom notes. Instead of being straightforward demands for money, the notes taunted the family and signing them with names like 'Death', 'Fate' and 'The Fox'. Hickman also forced Marian to write a note to her father to do as he was told or "You'll never see me again."

Following an aborted ransom drop where Hickman knew the police had been alerted. After more threats from 'The Fox', Perry Parker delivered the $1500 demanded, in gold certificates to the arranged drop spot. He arrived in his car and shortly after, a Ford Roadster coming the other way pulled up beside him. Parker tossed the money into Hickman's car. He could see his daughter beside Hickman, eyes open but non-responsive. Parker assumed she was drugged.

Hickman drove away with the money. Once he was some distance from Parker the passenger's door opened and his daughter was ejected from the car. Hickman sped off and Parker raced over to Marian only to discover she was dead. The exact cause of death was never determined, the coroner postulated it could have been asphyxiation or exsanguination. But beyond being brutally killed and, reports suggest, sexually molested, the girl had also been dismembered and disemboweled. She had been dead for at least 12 hours. Other body parts were recovered in Elysian Park as well.

A massive manhunt ensued, with thousands of officers checking out hundreds of tips. A $50,000.00 reward was offered. The police found the abandoned Ford and lifted fingerprints which led them to Hickman, who already had a criminal record for check forging and petty theft. He was finally apprehended when he tried to cash one of the gold certificates in Pendleton, Oregon. Extradited, he was tried, and despite attempting to use the insanity defense (the first time such a defense had been tried) he was found guilty and hanged in San Quentin on October 19, 1928.

To make the case even more bizarre, it was reported Hickman staged the kidnapping to raise money for Bible college. Ayn Rand was apparently so enamored of Hickman as a fine example of her Superman, saying this "What is good for me is right," a credo attributed to a prominent figure of the day, William Edward Hickman. Her response was enthusiastic. "The best and strongest expression of a real man's psychology I have heard," she exulted. (Quoted in Ryan, citing Journals of Ayn Rand, pp. 21-22.) She used him as a model to craft her Renahan, in The Little Street. Apparently she admired him as a the epitome of what a 'real man' should be.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Metamorphosis of a Novel

At the start of 2010 I started research for a new novel. But unlike all the novels I've written before, this one was going to be a historical. After watching a History Channel show about underground speakeasies in Los Angeles during prohibition that were protected by LAPD officers at the door I just knew there was a story there. I began to research the period and was amazed at what I found. Prohibition, instead of what the proponents of it planned or thought would happen, created a nation of criminals. Ordinary citizens, who before the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment would never have considered breaking the law, found themselves doing so regularly and without remorse. The law quickly proved unenforceable and rather than quelling crime and violence, which was one of the goals of the naive temperance movement that voted it in, it proved a breeding ground for the greatest growth of organized criminal activity America had ever seen.

This was a story background ripe for the telling. I knew I wanted the main character to be a cop. A crooked cop, one of the star officers of a very corrupt police force. I also had plans to mix Hollywood into the tale. After all, Hollywood came into its own during Prohibition and the power of the movie studios soon matched the power of the police force and city hall that ran the city of Angels.

But along the way there were changes. I researched numerous stars and found one who fascinated me. Ramon Novarro, a Latino actor who was groomed to replace Rudolf Valentino as the screen lover in the silent movies. Novarro was gay. It was an open secret in Hollywood and a zealously guarded one, since if word got out, his career would be ruined. But though he was never able to publicly admit his orientation, he also never succumbed to a studio arranged lavender marriage like so many other gay actors did so middle America would go on thinking they were 'real' men.

I wanted a Novarro character in my story. Instead of making him a closeted actor, I was going to have him be one of the numerous cross-dressers that also flourish in those days. Some became quite famous. But I planned a twist. My female impersonator was going to be fooling everyone. Including the crooked LAPD officer who would fall in love with her. Originally the story was going to be a tragedy, where the cop killed the impostor when he found out, and was forced to flee the country.

But along the way my characters began to speak their minds. The LAPD officer was still going to be crooked, but the woman he was going to fall for wasn't going to be a fake. She would be a real woman, with her own set of secrets.

I could have forced the characters to fulfill the roles they were born to play in my head, but I think when characters reach a point that they become so real they tell you their story, a good writer listens. Which is what I did. And ended up with Color of Shadows and Smoke, what I think is a powerful story of a bad man struggling to leave his past behind, to change so he's worthy of a woman way out of his league and how their two tragedies intertwine and create a love story.

Right now I'm in the very early stages of a new story idea. That will be the subject of a future blog.