Love Hurts: Vinegar Valentines

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I am a huge Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac fan (what can I tell you? I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s). One of the well-known facts about Fleetwood Mac’s bestselling album Rumours is that many of the songs were written in reaction to the multiple break-ups that were happening with the band members at the time. The most famous was between Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. But the other members were also going through their own heartbreak. Christine and John McVie were getting divorced and drummer Mick Fleetwood was separated from his wife at the time. If you’re super curious, read this article for more about how souring relationships influenced this brilliant album.

But giving someone the brush-off via written verse started way before Fleetwood Mac. It dates back to the 19th century with what we now call “vinegar Valentines.”

Photo Credit: Vinegar Valentine: The Suffragette, 1919, John Hopkins University Women’s Suffrage Collection: Special Collections at John Hopkins/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0 DEED

What are vinegar Valentines? We all know Valentine’s Day cards express love and devotion, right? Vinegar Valentines were completely the opposite. These little bombs either told off a past or present suitor or discouraged a would-be suitor from pursuit.

This form of valentine became very popular in the 19th and early 20th century with the rise of the written form in the United States (which is one reason why the protagonist of my Adele Gossling Mysteries series is a stationery store owner and epistolary expert). Since there was no email or text messaging at the time, people communicated through letters, postcards, and other written forms. So Valentine’s Day cards became another form of communication. 

In general, these valentines were meant to be more comic and sassy. However, their message could range from light comedy to downright aggressive. Not surprisingly, many of these vinegar Valentines were sent anonymously so the sender would never suffer the repercussions of his or her vicious message.

Just how bad were they? You can judge for yourself by checking out the slider (about a third of the way down the page) on this page

One of the main targets of these vinegar Valentines was suffragists. Women who fought for the right to vote were, in the eyes of many Victorian men (and, sadly, some women) “unfeminine” and “unwomanly” so who could be more fitting to receive the vinegar message on the day that represents love and courtship (which puts women firmly in the separate spheres) than women who believed they and other women should transcend the barriers of love and marriage?

Thankfully, vinegar Valentines began to fall out of fashion after World War I, and today we rarely see Valentine’s Day cards that are more than mildly annoying in their sense of humor. 

If you want to read how Adele uses her epistolary expertise to help the police of Arrojo solve crimes, look no further than Book 1, The Carnation Murder. It’s free on all bookstore sites! Check out this page for more about the book and links where you can download it.

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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Introducing the Grave Sisters Mysteries Series!

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If you’ve been subscribing to my newsletter (and if you haven’t, you might want to check out the link below because you’ll get a bunch of cool stuff, including a couple of freebies) you know I announced last year that I would be working on a new series in 2024 to launch in 2025. I’m now ready to talk a little bit about that new series.

The Grave Sisters Mysteries is going to be another historical cozy mystery series (like my Adele Gossling Mysteries). The two series have several elements in common. They both feature strong women sleuths who defy the conventions of their time. They are both set in small towns in California and they both include women who help men in law enforcement solve crimes. 

But the Grave Sisters Mysteries has a few differences that set it apart from my current series. As the name suggests, there is more than one sleuth in this new series. The sleuths, in fact, are three sisters. Eve is the oldest and most involved in solving the crimes. The middle sister, Helena, is her aide and brings different skills to the table. Their younger sister, Violet, is less involved in crime solving (at least at the beginning) but she nevertheless puts her hand in.

Another thing that makes the Grave Sisters Mysteries different from the Adele Gossling Mysteries is the sleuths’ non-crime-solving occupation. Adele runs her own stationary store in town. The Grave Sisters own a family business and its nature might surprise you. They run the only mortuary in town! That’s right. They deal with dead bodies in their line of work, though most of them get that way from natural causes rather than murder. Eve handles the administrative and accounting side of things while Helena is the resident mortician who prepares the bodies for burial. Violet, who is only eighteen in the first book, doesn’t get as involved in the family business until much later.

The time frames for both series are also different. Those who know the Adele Gossling Mysteries know the first book is set only a few years after the turn of the 20th century and the series is currently up to the middle of its first decade (spoiler alert: Book 7 is going to take place during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire). Adele’s values and ideas fit the Progressive Era and her New Woman status lends interest and background to the mysteries.

The Grave sisters live in a later era. The first book is set in 1921, a period in American history that was just as vibrant as the Progressive Era, though in a different way. World War I  was behind us but the Roaring Twenties wasn’t exactly in full swing. In fact, the nation was experiencing a sort of dip in prospects with so many World War I veterans who returned home to find they couldn’t get jobs (this becomes one of the themes of Book 2 of this series). But the sisters are firmly planted in this era that was experiencing a transition from the old to the new. America was still trying to hold on desperately to its old values and yet, the younger generation was sick and tired of the old ways and bringing in the modern age against their parents’ and grandparents’ resistance. All of these things affect the sisters and their relationship to one another. Future blog posts will address some of these topics. 

Even though Book 1 of the Grave Sisters Mysteries won’t be released until the spring of 2025, don’t despair! I have more information for you about the series here. Book 1 will be available for preorder sometime later this year. I’ll also be including more updates about this series as well as details and excerpts in my newsletter this year, so if you’re not signed up for my newsletter, now is a great time to do so!

If you’re new to my site and haven’t yet checked out the Adele Gossling Mysteries, I encourage you to do that too! Book 1 of that series, The Carnation Murder, is free on all bookseller sites so you lose nothing but picking up a copy. You can find all the 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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A Survey of Women’s Issues: Revisited

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Women’s Equality Day is this month (on August 26). Women’s equality is central to so many of my books, including the Waxwood Series and the Adele Gossling Mysteries. A friend of mine recently posted a quote on her Facebook page from a well-known author who claimed that every book is a political act. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but for myself, while I don’t see each book of mine as a political act, I do incorporate in my books the things I’m most passionate about. And if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, subscribe to my newsletter, and/or read my books, you know I am passionate about women’s equality and women’s rights. 

Why? There are several reasons. I was born in 1970 just as the second-wave feminist movement was beginning to pick up steam. I came of age in the 1980s when third-wave feminism was picking up. 

But even more so, I sadly did not grow up in a household that valued women’s equality. My parents were born in the mid-20th century and my mom grew up with June Cleaver values (though she was not raised in America). Our house was very patriarchal. My father went to work and earned and took care of the money. My mom, though she had several careers in her lifetime, took care of my dad, my siblings, and me above all else, sometimes to the detriment of her own identity. Even the careers she had were of a more “traditional” vein (nurse, electrologist). I don’t begrudge this, though, as it was what led me to want more as a woman and to discover feminism in college.

In light of my recent blog post about disassociative feminism, there is perhaps no better time to ask the question: Do we still need feminism?

It seems some of the younger generation would answer a firm “no” to this question. A while back, photos began appearing in my Facebook feed of young women holding up signs reading “I don’t need feminism.” These young women claimed admitting we still need feminism creates a victim mentality and demonizes all men, encouraging man-hating among women. As someone from an older generation who writes about women’s oppression, this was deeply disturbing, to say the least!

Women have had a lot to fight for: in the 19th century and 20th and (dare I say it?) even the 21st. It’s not the fight that has changed but the nature of the issues.

In the 19th century, organized suffragism was born of a group of brave women whose names are branded in history like Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. During this time, suffragists focused first on getting society to recognize women were equals to men (with limitations dictated by the separate spheres, of course — no use rocking the boat too much). But later, their focus shifted to one solitary goal: to win women the right to vote. Why was this so important? Suffragists were smart enough to realize that without the right to vote, they would never be able to implement changes into public policy that would carry through to future generations. 

When progressive movements took center stage at the turn of the 20th century, suffragism continued with women such as Jane Addams, Alice Paul, and Ida B. Wells. Women achieved success when the 19th Amendment was ratified in the United States in 1920. The Progressive Era made many women more aware that equality wasn’t just about the right to vote. It was also about psychological freedom and throwing off the shackles of 19th-century femininity that limited what women could and could not do and be. In that light, the New Woman was born: active, athletic, and freer in body and spirit than her mother and grandmother.

After the fight for suffragism and breaking the stereotype of the Victorian “angel in the house”, the post-World War” II generation brought back a more modern version of the angel. Betty Friedan labeled her “the feminine mystique”. Magazines, advertisements, and doctors advocated for a woman’s place in the home, and her identity became tied to her relationships with others rather than her identity in and of itself. Friedan found these women in American suburbs living a life that fulfilled this destiny, but they were not happy because they suffered from The Problem That Has No Name. These women felt discontented and frustrated, as if something was missing from their lives but they couldn’t define what it was.

Friedan’s book inspired others to speak out about their frustration and disillusionment, eventually leading to second-wave feminism in the late 1960s and 1970s with activists such as Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Bell Hooks, among others. These women, whose slogan was “the personal is political” went further into the political sphere than their 19th and early 20th-century sisters. They zoomed in on social and personal oppressions, including issues such as domestic violence, rape, and reproductive rights. 

This meme is from a Tumblr site called “Confused Cats Against Feminism” and is meant as a tongue-in-cheek attack against the anti-feminist movement of the 21st century. You can read more about it here

Photo Credit: Meme from the Confused Cats Against Feminism, taken 27 July 2014 by Jym Dyer: Jym Dyer/Flickr/CC BY NC 2.0

But the question still remains: Do we need feminism in the 21st century? My answer would be as firm as the “I don’t need feminism” movement: YES!

Why? Because we’re still fighting many of the issues 20th-century feminists were fighting. To give one example, 20th-century women fought for women’s reproductive rights, including a woman’s right to choose whether to have children or not. In 2022, the supreme court overturned the law (Roe vs. Wade) that legalized abortion. Whether you’re on the side for or against it, there is a deeper issue here of taking away women’s right to choose what they do with their bodies. That freedom is one women have been fighting for for years and will continue to fight as a basic human right.

If you want to read about women fighting for equality, go to my Adele Gossling Mysteries! Book 1, The Carnation Murder, is free on all bookstore sites. And Book 6 is coming out soon, so pick up a copy at a special preorder price 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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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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Women in History: Inspirational Quotes

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Happy International Women’s Day! How about a couple of inspirational quotes from some of the women who made history throughout the years? Enjoy!

“I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”

— Mary Wollstonecraft

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again.” 

— Sojourner Truth

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

— Audre Lorde

“Women have always been an equal part of the past. We just haven’t been a part of history.”

— Gloria Steinem

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!

Works Cited

Elle.com. “81 Gloria Steinem Quotes to Celebrate Her 81st Birthday.” Elle. 25 March 2015. Web. 26 February 2020.

Kelly, Erin. “33 Inspirational Quotes for Women That Can Make Anyone Feel Empowered.” ATI. 26 April 2018. Web. 26 February 2020.

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