America’s Mini War: The Spanish-American War of 1898

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Today, on Memorial Day, we honor those who fought for our country and the sacrifices they made. We think of war as a big, complex thing — that is, they go on for years and cost many lives. World War I lasted 4 years (though America didn’t get involved until the last year of the war) and World War II lasted six (though, again, America didn’t enter the war until three years after it started). The Vietnam War was even longer and more complex. It began in 1955 and ended in 1975, though American involvement lasted from 1965 to 1973. 

So it’s no wonder many do not remember the war that happened in between the Civil War (1861-1865) and World War I (1914-1918). But its implications and impact resonated for years to come and even today.

Photo Credit: Headline in the New York Journal of Congress declaring war which began the Spanish-American War, 25 April 1898, New York Public Library: Picryl/Creative Commons CC0 1.0

The Spanish-American War stands out in the annals of American history for several reasons. First, it was a very short war. War was officially declared on April 21, 1898, and the fighting ended on August 13, 1898 (though the war itself officially ended four months later). America was involved in this war for financial and humanitarian reasons. The consequences of the war for the United States helped to push the nation toward one of the greatest changes that occurred during the Gilded Age — it hurled the country onto the world stage.

The war involved fighting in Cuba, a colony of Spain at the time. Spanish rule was oppressive to Cuban insurgents, and they had been fighting three years prior. The brutal treatment of the Cubans by the Spanish gained a lot of sympathy in the United States, thanks to the yellow journalism popular at the time. It was very much on the minds of Americans. In Senator North, a novel by Gertrude Atherton published in 1900 but set a bit earlier, shows Washington society discussing the war constantly at their dinner parties and picnics, and outlines some of the great debates going on in the Senate about whether America should or should not enter the war. The thing that pushed America to declare war on Spain was the sinking of the battleship USS Maine, which newspapers played up as having been caused by either mines or torpedoes fired by the Spanish army (though it was never established whether this was really true, or whether it was some kind of technical error having nothing to do with the Spanish). 

A major player in the war was Teddy Roosevelt, who left his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy to join in the fighting with a group of soldiers known as the Rough Riders. This short war made Roosevelt a hero and cemented his emerging political career at the turn of the 20th century. The nation ensured independence for Cuba (which helped with political and financial trade) and gained control over the Pacific, including the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The war also allowed the United States to declare Hawaii its territory (though Hawaii wouldn’t become a state until 1959).

There were relatively few casualties in this war (about two thousand, as compared to 116,000 during World War I, 700,000 in World War II, and 58,000 in the Vietnam War). But those who fought made this little war an important part of American foreign politics and trade.

False Fathers, the second book of my historical coming-of-age series, the Waxwood Series, takes place during the summer of 1898, so the war is very much on the minds of Waxwood’s resort guests. In one scene, Jake and Stevens, a father figure who guides Jake throughout the book on his journey to manhood, are watching Stevens’ cousin Roger and his friends play billiards, and the subject of the Spanish-American War comes up:


The sky grew black, and the sea calmed. The young men played and drank into the night, and Stevens showed no signs of retiring. Jake wanted to leave, but his feet felt cemented int hat room. He listened as their talk moved from college professors and sports to the war in Cuba. 
“We ought to pull out while we can,” said Mr. Harrington. “It’s not worth the lives we’ve already given for it.”
“We’re not there for fancy, boy.” Mr. Trent shot two balls in the left side pocket. “Let Spain and every other country see we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
Mr. McDonaugh cocked his head. “The frontier’s all taken, so what have we left?”
“Virile man conquer virgin territory,” Roger agreed, his words sounding thick.
“We’ve almost won anyway,” said Ivan Morvell. “Not two weeks ago, the Rough Riders—”
“Those braggarts!” Roger snarled. “Posing for the papers like gladiators. And that goose with his mustache and spectacles!”
Stevens jumped up. In the shadow left by two lamp, his indignation was unavoidable. “I suggest you speak about Mr. Roosevelt with respect.”

For these young men who are coming of age in the last years of the 19th century, the war symbolizes the potential for bigger and better things, not only on a national level but on a psychological level for them as young men going out into the world. The idea of power expands both in the public and private spheres. 

The complete Waxwood Series will be out in one box set next month, but feel free to get a head start by grabbing Book 1, The Specter, now. The book is free on all book vendor sites and you can get all the details and links here

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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The Princess Who Was Never Queen: Princess Ka’iulani

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This month is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and I always like to talk about the women since minority women don’t get mentioned much, especially in history. An article from Atlas Obscura caught my eye about the history of women surfers. The idea of a princess bringing surfing to Hawaii intrigued me.

But Princess Ka’iulani was much more than a surfer. Her story is a tragic (though not surprising for the Gilded Age) one of a princess who never got to be queen.

To begin with, Princess Ka’iulani was the child of an interracial marriage, which was not as popular or accepted at the time as it is now (a subject I incorporate in Book 7 of the Adele Gossling Mysteries). Her mother was a Hawaiian princess and her father was a Scotland-born businessman who had emigrated to Hawaii as a child. So she was born into royalty with the expectation that she would take her place in the Hawaiian monarchy some day. 

From all accounts, Princess Ka’iulani was an intelligent, and even precocious child. Some described her as “willful” and Princess Ka’iulani referred to herself as a “naughty” girl. Today, we know these to be euphemisms for highly-spirited women who refused to be bound to the separate spheres and asserted themselves as more intelligent and independent than most people thought women ought at the time.

As a teenager, she embarked on a path that would have been typical of wealthier young ladies of the time (royalty or not). She traveled to Europe and received an education in the United Kingdom that would have been expected of an upper-class young lady and especially one from a royal family. In 1891, her uncle (who was King in Hawaii at that time) died, leaving her aunt to inherit the throne. Her aunt, Queen Liliu’okalani, named her as the heir to the throne. 

A very majestic pose for a 17-year-old indeed!

Photo Credit: Princess Ka’iulani, photograph by Elmer Chickering taken in Boston, Massachusetts, 1893, Hawaii State Archives. Picryl/Public Domain

However, in 1893, her entire life changed when she received a telegram that her aunt had been dethroned and a group of American businessmen with financial interests in Hawaii intended to lobby the President to annex Hawaii. With her “willfulness” and “naughtiness”, Princess Ka’iulani returned to the United States, intending to see the president (Grover Cleveland). She released to the press a moving statement regarding her return which proved to be an impressively self-possessing statement coming from a 17-year-old:

I am now told that Mr. Thurston [one of the businessmen who overtook the monarchy] will be in Washington asking you to take away my flag and my throne. No one tells me even this officially. Have I done anything wrong that this wrong should ‘be done to me and my people? I am coming to Washington to plead for my throne, my nation and my flag. Will not the great American people hear me?”

Princess Ka’iulani’s visit was successful, as the American people were indeed moved and President Cleveland listened to her pleas. She managed to stave off this political coup. 

I say “stave off” because, after the Spanish-American War of 1898, Hawaii was annexed and became a U.S. territory. While Hawaii did not become part of the United States until 1959, its status of being a territory did away with the monarchy structure of government which meant Princess Ka’iulani would never become queen. Even sadder, she died just a year later of a weak heart which, some say, was brought on by the shock and disappointment of having her throne and her country taken away from her. She was just twenty-four years old. 

Book 7 of the Adele Gossling Mysteries will be coming out later this year, but for now, if you haven’t delved into this series, I highly recommend you pick up the first book, The Carnation Murder, for free at any online bookstore. The details and links are here

Works Cited:

Fahrni, Jennifer. “Princess Kaiulani: Her Life and Times”. Princess Kai’ulani Project. The Kai’ulani Project. 2006. Web. 10 May 2024.

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 Cozy Mysteries: Getting Cozy with the Past

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Years ago, I belonged to an amazing group of creative businesswomen. When I shared with them in 2022 that I was shifting gears in my author career to focus on historical cozy mysteries, I got a deer-in-the-headlights look. One of them ventured to ask, “What’s a historical cozy mystery?”

It was my bad because I had forgotten not everyone is familiar with the word “cozy” nor are they aware historical cozy mysteries exist. 

Historical cozy mystery is really a subgenre of a subgenre. In writer-speak, genre is a book’s category, usually with specific reader expectations. For example, romance is a genre (expectations: a love relationship as the main storyline and usually, though not always, a happily-ever-after ending). So is horror (expectation: You’re going to be scared out of your wits). Historical cozy mystery marries two subgenres: historical mysteries (subgenre of historical fiction) and cozies (subgenre of mystery fiction).

On the face of it, a historical cozy mystery is sort of a modern version of the traditional mystery (sometimes called the “whodunit”). Think Agatha Christie. One of my favorite things to do at the end of a particularly stressful and annoying day is to relax on my recliner with a cup of peppermint tea and open the Kindle reader on my iPad to a Poirot mystery (yes, he’s a pompous little man, but I like him). I immediately get into the story, following the clues and suspects, feeling the carefree times of 1920s England. I know I’m in for an hour of puzzle-solving and I know Poirot is going to get the criminal in the end one way or another. Nowhere else in the 21st century can you find that kind of justice. It makes me feel soothed and, well, cozy, like all the bad things that happened during the day don’t matter.

Ah, the epitome of cozy: A pipe and an Agatha Christie book!

Photo Credit: DietmarRauscher/Depositphotos.com 

The cross between mystery and history gets interesting when we consider the main purpose of historical fiction is to submerge readers in the past, and the purpose of mystery fiction is to present a human puzzle for the amateur sleuth or detective (and the reader) to solve. Writers of historical cozy mysteries aren’t only building a story around a crime that has to be solved. They’re also giving readers insights into another era. 

And not just the daily lives of people living in that era, but criminals and crime detection. We have to remember these things have changed dramatically over the centuries. There were no cyber crimes in the 19th century. There was no DNA testing to help solve crimes until the late 20th century. Taking photographs of a crime scene appeared on the scene in the mid-19th century but wasn’t common practice until the 1920s. So crime detection was relatively primitive and pretty crude in most cases. That makes it more of a challenge for the historical sleuth or detective, but funner for readers because detectives must make do with their wits and skills rather than rely on forensic scientific evidence.

In Book 1 of my Adele Gossling Mysteries, Adele’s brother, a former big-city detective, is amazed that the small-town sheriff of Arrojo knows enough to block off the crime scene so no one will tamper with it. Even fifty years before the book takes place (1902), this wouldn’t have been the case and it’s well-documented crime scenes were trampled over by police, reporters, and sightseers. Not a great start to solving a murder.

Another thing about how cozy mysteries differ from crime fiction, in general, is they introduce you to a host of quirky characters. That’s one reason I was drawn to writing cozies as opposed to other types of historical mysteries. In a cozy series, the characters become as familiar to readers as their own family and friends because flawed as they are, they’re also likable. I’ve had several readers tell me how much they love Adele and Nin and how they’re anxious to read more about them in each book of the series. 

The sleuths in cozies are always approachable, often funny, and very human. Who doesn’t love Jessica Fletcher in the 1980s hit TV series, Murder, She Wrote? She’s grandmotherly while at the same time sharp-witted and shrewd. Holmes is a cocaine addict and an egotist (at least, in my opinion) but he also cares deeply about solving crimes, more than he’s willing to admit. Fletcher and Holmes couldn’t be more different, but they share one quality, as all cozy mystery sleuths do: They’re on the side of justice. It’s hard to dislike a character who’s on the right side of the law.

Writers don’t always strive for character likability because many feel an amiable character is unrealistic and too Pollyannaish. But cozies aren’t about realism. They’re about escaping into another world where justice is served and criminals are always punished. And with historical cozies, you get the double-whammy: Not only do you get to escape into a “crime doesn’t pay” world but you get to do it in another era.

So if you’re ready to give historical cozy mysteries a shot, I invite you to check out my Adele Gossling Mystery series. I published the first book exactly two years ago and it has not failed to delight readers. The Carnation Murder is forever free on all the bookstore sites. You can get more information about it plus links to download the book 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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Thieves, Pickpockets, and Sex: The Dark Side of Circus Life

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While today we think of the circus as something fun, colorful, and family-oriented, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, before the Progressive Era, the circus was considered adult entertainment and not very savory entertainment at that. Even in later years, Hollywood liked to portray the circus as a place filled with vice and crime. For example, the film noir Nightmare Alley (the 1947 version, not the 2021 version) opens with a view of some typical circus side shows with thieves lurking in the crowds and a swindling spiritualist. The police suddenly raid the circus, making accusations of soliciting crime and claiming one of the performers’ costumes is indecent (as defined by the standards of the 1940s). Of course, the circus manager has an explanation for everything, but the police order them to move to another town anyway.

The circus worked hard to clean up its act (no pun intended) in the 20th century. The circus in America really began in the 18th century and for two centuries, was considered the place for crime, vice, and sexual titillation. Circuses were rumored to have made deals with pickpockets who roamed the crowd and then gave the circus manager a cut of whatever they got. Men could come and ogle women in tights and leotards in eras where women kept their entire bodies covered and even a curvacious table leg could be considered risque. There were rumors of prostitution, though there is no evidence that this actually occurred. 

This cartoon is taken from a book called Peck’s Bad Boy at the Circus by George W. (Wilbur). According to the caption, the boy Peck’s father is run out of the circus by the police because he was caught standing behind the lion’s cage creating the animal’s roar when the lion had a sore throat. This is an example of how even in the early 20th century, circuses were still seen as dishonest places that were always trying to swindle the public.

Photo Credit: Image from page 108 of “Peck’s bad boy with the circus [microform]” by George W (Wilbur), 1907, University of California Libraries: Internet Archive Book Images/Flickr/ CC0 1.0 Universal

Circuses started to reassess their image in the late 19th century and move toward the more family-oriented entertainment we know today. Circus managers became very strict about things like drinking and men and women socializing together. They included more children-friendly acts such as animals and clowns. The more adult entertainment moved away to the side shows rather than the main circus tent. 

Why did the circuses change their image in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? First, these eras marked a period of change and reform in America. America had prospered in the Gilded Age but with it came the baggage of greed, corruption, and extravagance. These reformers wanted a cleaner, better America and pushed for reform in the entertainment field as well, including burlesque, vaudeville, and circuses. And second, they changed for the same reason Las Vegas changed in the 1990s: money. This era also was the birth of leisure and family fun and circus managers shrewdly realized, just as the Vegas hotel managers did, that children were a lucrative market they were missing by entertaining only adults. 

Book 5 of the Adele Gossling Mysteries, which turns a year old this month, is all about the circus. The conflict between the circus as vice and the circus as decent entertainment unfolds within the mystery of the death of the star performer. If you want to grab your copy, you can do so here

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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Rerelease Day: Lessons 4-Year Publiversary!

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Today marks the 4-year anniversary of the publication of my historical women’s fiction short story collection Lessons From My Mother’s Life (hence the “publiversary”).

This book was a huge departure for me when I first published it in 2020. I was writing my Waxwood Series at the time, which was set in the 1890s, and I was also working on my Adele Gossling Mysteries, which is set at the turn of the 20th century. So to write stories set in the post-World War II era was a big change. It was also a book that was more personal to me than anything I had written up until that time. 

A word about the title of this collection: I had some arguments with my mentor about changing it. Why? Because she felt the title was misleading. The implication of Lessons From My Mother’s Life is that the book is non-fiction stories about my mother’s life. Or that the book is true stories of other women’s mother’s lives. From a marketing perspective, she thought this would create some problems with the book reaching the right audience.

And truthfully, I did consider changing the title for this rerelease (which I had planned on doing since last year). But I decided to keep the title as it was for several reasons. First, it felt right (and authors can be very stubborn about their titles!) But second, the title originally came from the idea that the lessons the stories convey are lessons that come from my mother’s generation, though they are not lessons she overtly taught me. They are more lessons inferred from her own life, that is, her regrets and what she did that I don’t want to do. These are universal lessons mid-20th century women have to teach us, whether they are our mothers or grandmothers, or even great-grandmothers. In the stories, an older woman teaches a younger one something about life not overtly but covertly, by encouraging her to do what she couldn’t or sending the message “Don’t do what I did.” 

Why am I calling this a “rerelease”? Because a few things have changed. The biggest change is the cover. When I first published the book, I created the cover because I was a struggling author whose finances were extremely limited. But over the years, thanks to all my amazing readers (those existing and those to come), I’ve been able to afford to have a professional designer do my covers. So I knew it was time for Lessons to get a makeover. 

I also took the opportunity to give the book a new cover to give the stories another proofread. I’ve done this multiple times (don’t ask how many) as a way to refresh the stories and make sure they still read well. So there are some minor tweaks to most of the stories. Even if you’ve already read the book, I encourage you to pick it up again because the stories will read a bit differently than they did in the original version.

I hope you enjoy the book and have a discussion with your mother or grandmother about what her life was like so you can learn the valuable lessons her life has to teach you.

Title: Lessons From My Mother’s Life

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Women’s Fiction/Short Fiction

Original release date: March 29, 2020

Rerelease Date: March 29, 2024

How happy was the 1950s happy housewife?

Women in post-war America were supposed to have it all: generous husbands with great jobs, comfortable suburban homes with nice yards and two-car garages, and all the latest gadgets to make their housework easier.

The pain and horror of World War II were over. The economy was booming and America was becoming a world leader. American women were to play a role in America’s prosperity, the role they were always meant to play: supporting mothers, wives, and daughters. Theirs was a life of ease. They were the fairytale princesses with the happy ending.

The women’s magazines told them so. The advertisements for laundry detergent and TV dinners told them so. The doctors who treated their children’s colds told them so.

Women in 1950s America were sold a bill of goods about their purpose in life and their futures. Some bought it and some didn’t.

This book is about the women who didn’t.

These are not nostalgic stories about my mother’s life or your mother’s life. They dig deep into the lives of five fictional characters who knew in the back of their minds that their lives weren’t happy and they wanted something more.

Five stories. Five women. Five roads that will lead to self-identity and fulfillment.

About the Author

Writing has been Tam May’s voice since the age of fourteen. She writes stories set in the past that feature sassy and sensitive women characters. Tam is the author of the Adele Gossling Mysteries which takes place in the early 20th century and features suffragist and epistolary expert Adele Gossling whose talent for solving crimes doesn’t sit well with her town’s conventional ideas about women’s place. Tam is also working on a new series, the Grave Sisters Mysteries about three sisters who own a funeral home and help the county D.A. solve crimes in a 1920s small California town, set to release in 2025. She has also written historical fiction about women breaking loose from the social and psychological expectations of their era. Although Tam left her heart in San Francisco, she lives in the Midwest because it’s cheaper. When she’s not writing, she’s devouring everything classic (books, films, art, music), concocting yummy plant-based dishes, and exploring her new riverside town.

Social Media Links

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

Instragram: 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

Are you into fun and engaging mysteries set in the past? Love sassy but sensitive women characters defying the social conventions of their time? Then 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, enlightening anecdotes about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!

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