The War That Didn’t End All Wars: World War I

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Today is Veteran’s Day, and we want to honor all people who fight for our country. I want to look at a war that is sometimes forgotten, or, rather usurped by its older brother later in the 20th century: World War I.

There’s no doubt World War II has gained in popularity in the last several years. There was a time when you looked on the Amazon bestseller list for Historical Fiction and saw only (or mostly) books set during the Second World War. But World War I has always been more fascinating to me. I got interested in this war after binge reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ classic series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. Though the series is set in the 1920s, Wimsey is a World War I vet and there are references to his experiences during the war and even a mystery with the foundations set during the war in the book The Nine Tailors

When we look at the history of World War I, we find people had very high hopes for it. It was, and still is, referred to as “The Great War” (even though few would deny World War II was greater) and “the war to end all wars” (which, sadly, it did not). This war was a modern war and a coming-of-age for warfare.

Photo Credit: American Soldiers on the battlefield in France during WWI, date unknown, U.S. National Archive: Picryl/Public Domain

World War I was the first war fought on a grand scale, involving 30 nations (including the United States). Wars up until that time tended to be confined to certain geographical areas so this war was the first real global war. 

It was also the first to use modern technologies such as tanks, machine guns (the infamous “Tommy gun” was originally designed to be used during the war), automobiles, and airplanes. That made mass destruction easier (sad to say) and so the toll it took physically on those fighting, including the dead and wounded was massive. The total casualties are estimated to be around forty million! While WWII  had about twice the casualties, for the early 20th century, this was phenomenal.

But what made World War I stand out above other wars before it was the psychological toll it took on those fighting and on their loved ones. Since such death and warfare hadn’t been seen on a massive scale before, the devastation it brought was huge. Post-World War I was the first time people began to recognize war could cause heavy psychological damage. A new term came into being after the war: shell shock (which we know today as PTSD). One of the things that fascinated me about Sayers’ series is how she shows the effects of shell shock on her protagonist Lord Peter Wimsey even a decade later, including nightmares, migraines, and nervous breakdowns. 

So let me call out to honor those who fought and died in World War I. Sadly, none survive today, as the last died in 2011. But we can still appreciate their bravery and the way they showed us the effects of global war.

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy my novella The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers and you can get it 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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The Vague Origins of Father’s Day

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Today is Father’s Day in the United States. If Father’s Day sometimes seems like an afterthought, it sort of was, though not because fathers aren’t worthy of honor. I trace this back to the residue of the 19th century separate spheres where home and family brought up images of mothers more than fathers. So we can understand in this light why Mother’s Day gets a lot of attention.

Unlike Mother’s Day, which has definite origins, the history of Father’s Day is a little uncertain. There were, in fact, two local celebrations going on during the Progressive Era that is thought to be the official kick-off of Father’s Day, both celebrated for personal reasons. In 1910, Sonora Smart Dodd campaigned in her home state of Washington for an official Father’s Day celebration in June, mainly wanting to commemorate her own father. Dodd’s father had been a Civil War veteran and raised her and her five brothers and sisters alone on a farm when his wife died in childbirth. She succeeded, as Washington began celebrating a state-wide Father’s Day that year. The other celebration happened two years earlier, in West Virginia when a local Methodist church in Fairmont celebrated the day in honor of 361 fathers who had been killed in a local mining explosion.

But official lobbying and support were slow in coming. National political figures such as William Jennings Bryan and Calvin Coolidge supported a national Father’s Day, but it didn’t get much traction. Lobbying for a Father’s Day continued, and in 1972, Richard Nixon declared Father’s Day a national holiday on the third Sunday of June in the United States.

Why was Father’s Day almost an afterthought? As they say, follow the money. Mother’s Day was a commercially viable holiday from very early on. It was, in fact, its commercial appeal that helped get Woodrow Wilson to sign a proclamation declaring it a national holiday in the United States in 1914. But many felt fathers just didn’t have the same monetary appeal. As I discuss here, the role of the father in the 19th and early 20th centuries was more of a disciplinarian. The sentimentality given to mothers seemed to undermine the idea of the “manly man”, emphasizing the masculinity crisis of the Gilded Age. 

Talk about famous fathers! This photo is of none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and his three kids. He doesn’t look much like a disciplinarian dad here, does he?

Photo Credit: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his three children, 1900, Bain News Service, publisher, Library of Congress: Picryl/No known restrictions

Fathers are just as complex as mothers (something I discuss in my blog post about Mother’s Day) and Adele’s father is no exception. Although deceased when the series opens, Otis Gossling still profoundly influences his daughter and his son, Adele’s brother, Jackson, but in very different ways. As a highly-revered San Francisco criminal lawyer, it was his position that gave them their well-to-do standing. But Adele sees him very differently than her brother Jackson. Who is right and who is wrong? You’ll have to read the Adele Gosslng Mysteries to find out! 

And you can start right here with Book 1, The Carnation Murder, which is free on all bookstore platforms. Book 6 is coming out later this summer, so check that out here

If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy my novella The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to my newsletter subscribers and you can get it 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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The Marriage Age in the 19th Century

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In the 19th, and even the early 20th centuries, age was an important factor for both men and women when it came to marriage. This is especially true of women. Pretty much any woman who didn’t get married early was sneered at behind closed doors as being well on her way to spinsterhood (which, today, isn’t stigmatized like it was then). 

In the 21st century, many choose to marry at a later age. I can see several reasons for this. Both women and men are generally established in their careers later in life, so they choose to marry and have a family once they feel they’ve “gotten it together”. Many women prefer to start their careers before they take on marriage and motherhood. There is also a level of emotional maturity and intelligence that comes with age that (we hope) makes relationships and child-rearing more fulfilling. And there is no denying the pandemic and economic downturn in the last three years has something to do with people waiting a little longer to get married.

marriage, 19th century, gilded age, Waxwood Series, women, men

Young married couples in the 19th century knew marriage wasn’t all hearts and flowers. They were practical as well. I’m guessing this is probably an advertisement for Domestic sewing machines.

Photo Credit: Bride & Groom: Karen Arnold/PublicDomainPictures/CC0 1.0

This is in stark contrast to the marriage age in the 19th century. The average age for women to marry was, roughly, 20, while for men, it was 26. Why were women marrying at such a young age? We want to remember women were not as autonomous as they are today. Due to the separate spheres, many women were dependent on others for their livelihood, and marriage was the primary way they could survive when they came of age. There was also the “cult of True Womanhood” mentality where women’s destinies were to be wives and mothers, so marriage was seen as their goal in life. This is even true in the early 20th century when the New Woman. Keep in mind that, as independent and career-oriented as the New Woman was, she was still positioned as offering no threat to the “cult of True Womanhood” in her ultimate purpose in life (marriage and children).

Surprisingly, upper class women took the marriage age more seriously than middle and lower class women. You would think women with social and economic privileges would be more independent than their less privileged sisters, but, in reality, family and social expectations lay heavily upon them (a theme that comes back again and again in my Waxwood Series). Women who expected to marry into high society and/or maintain their position among the blue bloods had to marry young. In her book What Would Mrs. Astor Do? author Cecelia Tichi describes actress and model Evelyn Nesbitt, whose decision to marry the rich but abusive Harry Kendall Thaw came largely from the fact that she was “now over twenty years old, a perilous age for a Gilded Age starlet harboring hopes of matrimony” (location 3210). How much over twenty years? According to Tichi’s book, when Nesbit married Thaw, she was 21 years old.

In Pathfinding Women, the social standing of both Vivian and her mother Larissa hinges on Vivian marrying again. Vivian and her mother and, in fact, the Washington Street blue bloods that make up their social set are hyper-aware of this fact:

Vivian thought with irony of the past few days. “Yes, it would certainly be peaceful for us both if I were to become Mrs. Monte Leblanc.”

“And just what you need at this particular time in your life.”

A pain shot through Vivian. “What do you mean, Mother?”

“You always accuse me of ignoring the truth,” said Larissa. “But you don’t like it when someone else shows you the truth you’ve been ignoring.”

Vivian turned up the gas lamp on the night table and observed her mother’s face illuminated by a yellow halo. “You’ve always been shrewd, haven’t you, Mother?”

“I’m trying to make you see!”

“See what? That I’m not getting any younger?” Vivian’s eyebrows arched. “That’s what you meant, isn’t it? You think I ought to grab the first man that asks me like Cousin Emma did.”

“I wouldn’t go so far as that.” Her mother’s voice was reasonable. “But twenty-six is an age where a woman can begin to expect little out of life if she’s not married.”

You make twenty-six sound like ninety-six,” said Vivian, realizing she was starting to sulk.

Vivian is considered, by the standards of the 19th century, to be well above the marriage age, though she is still young, and this puts her in an awkward position matrimonially, and one that her love interest, Monte, who is considerably older than she is, doesn’t fail to grasp and use to his advantage.

Pathfinding Women, the third book of the Waxwood Series, is at a very special price right now. Find out about the book here. And don’t forget that Book 1, The Specter, is free here 

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

Works Cited:

Tichi, Cecelia. What Would Mrs. Astor Do? The Essential Guide to the Manners and Mores of the Gilded Age. Washington Mews Books, New York University Press, 2018. Kindle digital file.

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The Man Who Brought Down Al Capone

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Did you know May is National Mystery Month? 

Today, May 4, marks a milestone in American criminal history. On this day in 1931, one of the most ruthless and famous crime bosses of the Prohibition Era, Al Capone, began serving his 11-year prison sentence for tax evasion.

America has always had a bee up its bonnet about liquor and in some ways, still does (I live in a county that was a “dry” county — i.e., no selling liquor within county lines — until 1999). Temperance was high on the list of reforms during the Progressive Era. After World War I, the nation’s government decided to do something about it. So in 1919, the Volstead Act was passed, prohibiting the making and selling of liquor in America. In 1920, the Prohibition Era kicked off in America, bringing with it the birth of the gangster, the speakeasy, and the Tommy gun. It also marked the most violent era in criminal history in America.

I meant to write this blog post about the criminal (Al Capone). But digging deeper into the history of Prohibition law enforcement, I became more fascinated by the crime fighters than the criminal. Because there was a team of crimefighters that brought down Capone and they were led by one man: Eliot Ness. 

Photo Credit: Eliot Ness, 1933, retouched: Melesse/Wikimedia Common/PD US government

Ness worked for the federal government and he and his men had a reputation for being smart, heroic, and incorruptible (no mean feat during this era). He worked for the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) department which put the fight to enforce anti-liquor laws right up his alley. In 1930, his department paired with the U.S. Department of Justice and Treasury in the fight against violent crimes in America which had reached their peak. That year was also Hoover’s declaration of war against the gangsters largely responsible for those crimes. At the head of the list was Al Capone, who had risen to fame as Chicago’s kingpin and evaded every criminal accusation made against him.

The message was clear: get Al Capone on something, anything. Agents worked several angles, including the (obviously) prohibition violation angle and the income tax evasion angle. In the end, the treasury won. Though Ness and his team managed to get enough evidence together to bring forth thousands of prohibition violations against Capone, the kingpin eventually was sent to jail not for the many people he had killed and the violence he and his gang instigated but for avoiding his income taxes.

Why was Capone found guilty of tax evasion rather than prohibition violations (those charges were eventually dropped?) One theory is prosecutors were afraid the jury would find Capone not guilty of the violation charges because, frankly, everybody hated prohibition, and many saw gangsters that fought against it as heroes rather than criminals. Tax evasion, though, was a different matter. Most citizens weren’t sympathetic to those who didn’t pay their taxes (just as we are today). Keep in mind Hoover’s orders: get Al Capone on anything. 

Still, Ness made his mark in history. In fact, he was so well known during this era that in that same year, cartoonist Chester Gould created a tough-talking, smart private eye who would become an icon in detective fiction. 

Come meet the crime fighters of my Adele Gossling Mysteries, starting with Book 1, The Carnation Murder, which is out now and at 99¢ (though not for much longer!) You can get all the details about the book Barnes & Noble chose for their Top Indie Favorites list here

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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A Boat Looking for a Harbor: Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman

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***This post is part of The 4th Broadway Bound Blogathon: Tony Edition, hosted by the Taking Up Room blog. ***

***Some spoilers***

Most of you who have been reading my blog know that I am both a fan of classic film and I write psychological fiction. When I was in grad school, I found many classic playwrights have an amazing way of dramatizing psychological reality into compelling family stories. Playwrights like Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neal, and Lillian Hellman were some of my favorite playwrights in grad school and an inspiration to me as a writer. 

Another playwright that was an inspiration to me was Arthur Miller. His post-war play Death of a Salesman (1949) has always been a favorite of mine. I really appreciate Miller’s deceptively simple story of the decline of a typical post-war traveling salesman which slowly unfolds to reveal the complex elements of family life during that era. Miller wrote a lot about male family members, and since my theme this month revolves around fathers, I wanted the opportunity to talk about what I believe is one of the most complex paternal figures in literature.

Willy Loman is, in many ways, a “regular Joe-shmo”, a direct product of the post-World War II era. I’ve talked a lot about women during this time in blog posts like this one, but the expectations put upon men during this time had their own set of problems. America was recovering from the horrors of the war and there was a drive to succeed and to be bigger and better than before the war. For many men, this meant reaching new heights in business and family. There was pressure to succeed and an emphasis on making money (Loman’s best friend points out to him that all people care about is how much a man is worth). In terms of family, the man was the head of the household and expected to make decisions and rule his wife and kids with an iron hand. The attitude was, “whatever I say, goes.”

Photo Credit: Lee J. Cobb (Willy Loman) and Mildred Dunnock (Linda Loman) from the 1966 televised version of Death of a Salesman, retelevised in March 1967, CBS Television: Renamed User 995577823Xyn/Wikimedia Commons/PD US no notice

*This is my favorite version of the play, as there are a lot of versions out there (including a 1985 version with Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman and a very young John Malkovich as Biff). You can find the 1966 version here

Willy Loman is very much this type of man. He’s built his entire thirty-five-year career as a traveling salesman around his expectations that his devotion would yield success. He expects obedience from everyone around him and doesn’t hesitate to raise his voice or his hand to get it. His semi-aggressive manner is, at times, frightening.

But Miller portrays Loman as much deeper than that. Underneath the bullying and arrogance is a man in need of love and respect and belonging (his wife refers to him as “a little boat looking for a harbor”). He tells his young boss Howard Wagner a touching story of how he came to be a salesman. He explains how he witnessed an 82-year-old salesman one night making phone calls to buyers and getting a warm reception. For Willy, this was the epitome of love, making him realize that being a salesman was the most wonderful job in the world. Why? Because a salesman could pick up the phone and be remembered and loved and respected. He goes on to tell Howard how this 82-year-old salesman died “the death of a salesman” with people lining up at his funeral. Willy, then, wants to be loved and remembered and, as many men did in the post-war era, chose his career to do it.

However, Willy is a dreamer to the point of building sandcastles in the air. His ideas of his own grandeur don’t quite gel with reality. The problem is he imposes these dreams on his family, especially his elder son Biff. Willy imposes his dreams of being “big” on his son without giving him a chance to discover who he wants to be on his own. So when Biff fluffs up a football scholarship and turns to a less-than-stellar life, his father accuses him of spitefulness, as if Biff chooses to fail instead of failure is inevitable because he is simply a different kind of man. In Willy’s eyes, his sons don’t love or respect him because they are as average as he is. Only in the end, when Biff makes Willy understand who he really is does Willy realize his son loves him after all. But by then, it’s too late.

My book False Fathers is also about delusions and fathers. Jake is looking for a father figure now that he has come of age and ready to take his place in the world. Interestingly, the expectations for men in the Gilded Age  were similar to those of the post-war era: success in business, earning a high income, and being “big”. Jake knows this and knows he needs a father to guide him. But the road to searching for a father figure isn’t as smooth as he anticipates and, like Biff, he learns a lot about himself and his own expectations in the bargain. 

You can read about False Fathers, which has just been revised and updated, here. And if you’re interested in women of the post-World War II era, you might find my book Lessons From My Mother’s Life to your taste.     

Want to explore the nooks and crannies of history that aren’t in the history books? Like social and psychological history and not just historical events? Want in on exclusive sneak peeks, giveaways, and surveys? Then sign up for my newsletter! You’ll get a free short story when you do.

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