From Little Scandinavia to Gay Mecca: San Francisco’s Castro District

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It’s LGBTQ+ pride month! 

I was fortunate enough to spend a few years living in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco which borders the infamous Castro district, one of the well-known meccas for gay pride. Walking a few blocks to 24th Street was a weekly thing for my sister and I when we did all of our shopping. One block up and a few blocks toward the downtown, we would hit the Castro district with all of its color, vibrancy, and enthusiasm and all of its rainbow flags and rainbow crosswalks. It was a place full of energy.

Photo Credit: A crosswalk in the Castro District painted with the colors of the rainbow flag, 13 October 2014: Pinpinellus/Wikimedia Commons / CC BY SA 4.0

But the Castro district (often referred to as “the Castro”) didn’t start out that way. In fact, its beginnings are much more humble. In the 19th century, the area was inhabited mainly by working-class immigrants of Scandinavian origin. Their hard work and love of their new country and the city are well documented in the 1948 film I Remember Mama. The film is based on the true story of a Norwegian family trying to make ends meet in early 20th century San Francisco and get used to the modernizations of American culture, including putting one’s money into a bank (a major theme in the film). 

This Scandinavian enclave lasted until the mid-20th century. Several things turned the tide for the Castro. The 1950s marked a great shift in American living when people, eager for a safe and sane life after World War II, sought the suburbs and their own houses with a picket fence. Families fled San Francisco for the more sedate cities of the Bay Area like Pleasanton, San Jose, and Walnut Creek. Many Scandinavian families from the Castro moved out of their homes, leaving them empty, and the city was eager to fill these homes, so buying or renting a home was reasonable (hard to imagine in San Francisco) at that time. This coincided with many gay servicemen being released from the army and looking for a gay-friendly place to live. Later in the late 1960s, when San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district (just bordering the Castro) became wild with drugs and violence, many gay people there escaped into the more livable Castro district.

In the 1970s, the Castro was a haven for gay activists, the most famous being Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay politician to serve on California’s Board of Supervisors. In the 1980s, the Castro saw a darker side when the AIDS/HIV epidemic hit the nation, but today, it stands as the symbol of gay culture and pride. This year marks the first since the COVID pandemic when all the festivities associated with Pride Month in San Francisco will be out in full force and as this article makes clear, San Francisco still remains a safe place for LGBTQ+ people to live and thrive just as it was in the mid-20th century. 

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Why My Waxwood Series is Also a Mystery

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One of the beautiful things about being an author is touching the lives of readers with your stories. I cherish readers who respond to my emails with enthusiasm for the next book (one lovely reader already emailed me asking if I still need Advanced Review Copy reviewers for Book 6 of my Adele Gossling Mysteries when the book won’t be out until August and I haven’t even put out a call for ARC readers!) I also love it when readers discover elements in my stories that never occurred to me when I was writing them.

This is exactly what happened with the Waxwood Series. When I wrote the books, I was thinking of a series arc involving historical coming-of-age, specifically one woman’s journey into the past and her maturing into adulthood in one of the most turbulent and chaotic times in American history. 

But one reviewer surprised me by calling the Waxwood Series “a mystery saga of the Gilded Age.” At the time I wrote the series, I wasn’t writing mystery fiction or even contemplating publishing a mystery series. I had written Book 1 of the Adele Gossling Mysteries as more of an experiment during National Novel Writing Month back in 2013 but put it aside to concentrate on historical fiction. So the idea that the Waxwood Series was also a mystery saga came as a complete surprise to me.

But now some years have passed since the last book of that series was published. I can now look back and see the gold nugget my reader discovered is absolutely true.

Now, it’s not a mystery in the traditional sense. It has no detective, no amateur sleuth, no whodunit, and no red herrings. The mystery is largely personal and psychological. In Book 1, Vivian is confronted by a woman who knew her grandmother, Penelope Alderdice, in her youth and the woman she knew was not the woman Vivian grew up with. As a debutante coming into adulthood, Vivian considers it vital to know the truth about her family’s past. So her search takes her through several “clues” (such as Penelope’s summer in Waxwood, the name Grace, and letters Penelope wrote home about that summer) which tell her more about who Penelope was and what she sacrificed to become a shipping tycoon’s wife and Nob Hill socialite in the mid-19th century. The clues also point toward some astonishing truths about Vivian’s family that she never knew. Like a detective, she confronts her mother about these truths (the evidence) and gets some answers — but not all of them.

Book 3 continues Vivian’s sleuthing when a man who was acquainted with Penelope through stories from his aunt drops clues about Penelope that lead Vivian to realize there are still some skeletons in the closet she needs to air out. In spite of her promise to her mother to focus on winning the heart of a wealthy Canadian who can bring them back into the good graces of Nob Hill society, Vivian can’t resist pursuing these clues to unravel the mystery behind her family’s past. Her search takes her to a deserted artist’s colony in the hills and the bowels of San Francisco’s poorest neighborhood to find out about her roots. The results are life-changing for her. 

Book 2 focuses on Jake, Vivian’s brother, whose journey is more about his coming-of-age as a man in the Gilded Age. Book 4 presents an even greater mystery for Vivian — the man responsible for her family’s fall from grace comes back into her life unable to speak or communicate. In spite of her loathing for him, she gets involved with unraveling the clues behind his silence and faces the last of her family demons. 

Not all mysteries are about finding an external killer. There are crimes of the past that sometimes need to be put to rest before people can move on with their lives, just as finding justice for the murder victim and his or her family allows those involved to move on.

I would love for you to start reading the Waxwood Series right now and you can do that for free with Book 1, The Specter. Vivian’s story continues in Book 3, which is now on sale so you can find out about that here

*The Waxwood Series is a stand-alone series. That means you do not have to have read all the books in order to enjoy or understand each book.

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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Historical Coming-of-Age: Is That Even A Thing?

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I’ve always loved coming-of-age stories (and especially adult coming-of-age, which is a topic for another blog post). There is just something about a young woman or young man standing at the edge of the precipice and trying to figure it all out that appeals to me. After all, even those of us in our thirties, forties, and older are trying to figure out this thing called life, right? The difference is, we take from our past experiences while an 18, 19, or even 20-year-old is just starting their journey of discovery.

So it’s perhaps not a big surprise that recently I dug deeper into my Waxwood Series and made a startling discovery — the series I’ve been toting as a family saga since the first book was published in 2019 isn’t a family saga at all!

Why? Because the story arc of this series (which basically means the transformation the main character, Vivian Alderdice, experiences throughout the entire series) is about her journey to maturity. She begins at the age of eighteen in Book 1 to know exactly what she is about and what’s expected of her. Then a startling revelation sends her searching back into her family’s past which unearths some disturbing truths about who she is (or rather, who she thought she was). As the series progresses, she teeters between wanting to follow the expectations set for a Gilded Age heiress (because it’s a no-brainer and because she doesn’t want to disappoint her family) and her own feelings of discomfort that something just isn’t right. Another search for family truth (in Book 3) sends her in a totally different direction and becomes a book about letting go of a lot of things. Book 4 is the ultimate post-maturation moment where she realizes it’s not just about her but about those with whom she interacts — even those she thought she hated. 

Interstingly, Voltaire’s book was banned in its day for being blasphemous, politically hostile, and immoral. 

Photo Credit: Title page of  Candide by Voltaire, London: Nonsuch Press, 1939: UMD Special Collections and University Archives/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0

The coming-of-age novel is really not a new thing, though we’ve been hearing a lot more about it since the 21st century (probably because social media and the internet have provided a platform for young adults to share their experiences of what it’s like trying to navigate an increasingly complex and disturbing world). It actually began with the folk tales of children seeking their fortunes away from home. In its more well-known format of the young adult trying to figure it all out, English majors know well the term Bildungsroman. I remember in my undergraduate work having a course just on this set of novels where we studied Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones (1749), Candide by Voltaire (1759), and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Lawrence Sterne (1759). These novels are more about the antics and questionable ethics of the main characters before they find their way. 

Luckily, coming-of-age stories don’t have to be about the young adult getting into all kinds of trouble in order to navigate his or her place in the world. The 19th century was complex enough on its own. Vivian is not only trying to find out who she is as a person apart from the Alderdice fortune, she’s also trying to deal with a world that was rapidly changing. The Waxwood Series takes place during the Gilded Age, a time that was confusing enough for adults, let alone young people.

If you’re interested in checking out my historical coming-of-age series, you can start by picking up a copy of Book 1, The Specter, here. The book is free on all bookstore sites. Also, Book 3 of the series, Pathfinding Women, is discounted for a limited time, so grab it here

*Although this is a series, the books can be read on their own. You do not have to have read Book 2 or even Book 1 to enjoy Book 3.

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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More Than Brando’s Mouthpiece: Sacheen Littlefeather

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This month is American Indian Heritage Month so I wanted to celebrate a classic Indian American actress. I came across this article from the Vintage News website in my Facebook feed last month about Sacheen Littlefeather who passed away on October 2. However, Littlefeather was known as an activist for American Indian rights more than for her acting. But what fascinated me about her story was how in 1973 she made headlines when, in Marlon Brando’s name, she went onstage to decline the Oscar he won for his role in The Godfather.

Photo Credit: Sacheen Littlefeather standing in front of the Oscar statue holding Marlon Brando’s statement declining the Oscar for The Godfather, 45th Annual Academy Awards ceremony, 27 March 1973, UCLA Library Special Collections: TarkusAB/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

The story behind her appearance at the Oscars has now become legendary. Before the 1973 Oscars, an incident occurred at Wounded Knee where Oglala Dakota and the American Indian Movement entered the town and took over in protest of Native American inequality and were eventually driven out by law enforcement. This incident sparked Marlon Brando’s rage and prompted him to declare that if he won the Oscar for The Godfather, he would decline it in protest of how American Indians were portrayed in films and television and treated by the film industry.

When the announcement that Brando had won came, people were surprised to see a young woman appear on the stage in traditional Apache dress, holding up her hand to decline the Oscar statuette. The story goes that Brando prepared a long speech for Littlefeather to deliver but the producers of the show threatened to have her forcefully removed from the stage if she didn’t keep it to thirty seconds. Put in a difficult position, Littlefeather handled it with dignity and grace. She condensed Brando’s wordy speech to a few eloquent and respectful words as to why he was declining the Oscar (you can watch that here). She endured booing and racial slurs from the audience, and John Wayne had to be restrained from attacking her onstage. The incident got her blacklisted from Hollywood and she never worked as an actress again.

Many have criticized Brando, accusing him of being a coward and sending a young woman to do his dirty work. There’s no doubt Littlefeather showed more courage and grace than Brando in facing the hostile Oscar crowd and backstage reporters. But Littlefeather maintained it was her idea to go in place of Brando and she did it to put across her message of inequality and prejudice that many American Indians working in Hollywood had to endure at the time and she never regretted what she did. 

Let’s celebrate the courage and dignity of American Indians like Sacheen Littlefeather to stand up for their equality and heritage this month!

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, sign up for my newsletter to receive a free book, plus news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history and mystery, and more freebies! You can sign up here

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🥳Release Day Blitz for Death At Will!🥳

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Title: Death At Will

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries: Book 3

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: October 29, 2022

Teddy Roosevelt is running for president and even Arrojo can’t deny progressive reforms are here to stay. Rebecca Gold, one of the era’s New Women, chooses just this time to set up her own law practice in Arrojo and lands the affluent Thea Marsh as her first client.

When Thea dies unexpectedly, the trail of suspects leads to her own family. The beloved and favored eldest son, Theo, is accused of the crime. Could such a placid man really be guilty of matricide?

The police think so. So Rebecca turns to her new friend in town: businesswoman and fellow suffragist Adele Gossling. Adele has already proven herself to be adept at helping the local police solve crimes, much to the shock and chagrin of the town’s conservative citizens. Despite promises never to involve herself in crime detection again, how can she refuse a friend in need?

Will Adele make a case against Theo’s guilt for the police out of a stained teacup, a fountain pen nib, ashes that should have been in the fireplace, and daisies that should have been fresh? Or will Theo go to the gallows and the real murderer escape justice?

“The characters are true to life, and the early methods used in criminal detection are fun to read.” – Amazon reviewer

What reviewers are saying:

“Entertaining page-turner!”

“Intrigue that will draw you in and make you want more.”

You can get your copy of the book at a special promotional price at the following online retailers.


Excerpt

Within fifteen minutes, her brother sauntered into the shop, the silver deputy sheriff’s badge shining in the sunlight. “All right, Del, why the hush-hush?” 

“Does the sheriff know you’re here?”

“I told him I was going to the Bush farm to check on that stolen horse,” he said, amused. “Those girls of yours insist you have a murderer locked in your storeroom.”

Adele laughed. “I’m afraid they let their imaginations run away with them. No, no murderer, Jack.”

“Not yet,” Nin said.

“Are we playing guessing games now, Miss Branch?” he asked in a stiff tone.

“I never guess, Mr. Gossling,” she answered. “I take evil and death in any way it comes.”

He crossed his arms, looking at his sister. “Well?”

She told him all Rebecca had said about her employer’s death as the woman sat silently with her hands in her lap. It was as if Jackson’s badge made her nervous again.

He looked at Rebecca. “It would be better, Miss Gold, if you would tell the sheriff of your suspicions, just as my sister suggested.”

“I promised Theo I wouldn’t,” she insisted. “I promised him there wouldn’t be any scandal.”

“But if Thea Marsh didn’t die of natural causes —”

“I didn’t say that wasn’t true!” she insisted. “I merely said I had a feeling about it.”

He sighed. “I understand your trepidation. But there’s a procedure to these things, you know.”

“Fiddlesticks!” Nin burst out. “Don’t you believe in helping a friend?” Rebecca gave her a grateful look.

“When there’s no crime involved, I’m the first to help anybody,” Jackson’s tone was crusty. “But if there is a crime—”

Adele took his arm. “We need your professional and astute eye, Jack. If there is nothing in it, no harm done. If there is something, Rebecca will convince the family to go through the proper channels.”

“They won’t have much of a choice,” he remarked.

“Then you have no reason to object a look around Mrs. Marsh’s room, do you?” She gave him a sharp look. 

“I have no objection as long as there is a method to it,” he insisted. “One simply can’t go bursting into a room with a magnifying glass hollering ‘murder afoot!’”

“Don’t tell me the Anspatches never entered a room permission.” She eyed him.

He looked away and she was sorry she had spoken. But then, he said, “I suppose it can’t do any harm to look around as long as the family consents, and we’re very careful. But only if we have their full consent, Del.”

“That you have, deputy,” Rebecca said in a relieved tone.

And I have your full promise if there is anything in the least suspicious, you go to the sheriff.”

“You have my promise.” She bowed.

About the Author

As soon as Tam May started her first novel at the age of fourteen, writing became her voice. She writes engaging, fun-to-solve cozy mysteries set in the past. Her mysteries empower readers with a sense of “justice is done” for women, both dead and alive. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which take place in the early 20th century and feature sassy suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling. Tam has also written historical fiction about women defying the emotional and psychological confinements of their era. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in Texas because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music) and concocting yummy vegetarian dishes in her kitchen.

Social Media Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tammayauthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tammayauthor/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/tammayauthor/ 

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Tam-May/e/B01N7BQZ9Y/ 

BookBub Author Page: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/tam-may

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16111197.Tam_May

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