Generation Bonding: “Two Sides of Life”

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I’m a Generation Xer. I say it loud and I say it proud. Yep, I’m from the generation that started the technology revolution and brought you big hair, hip hop, and MTV. We’re known to be independent, educated (sometimes too much), and family-oriented. 

And I won’t lie. Sometimes, I have a hard time bonding with Generation Z or, as I like to call their kids, Generation Z Squared. Each generation has its own set of values and behaviors and even trying to explain one to the other can be a challenge. A fellow Generation Xer posted on Facebook recently that she tried to explain the stick shift car to her children and they didn’t get it.

But different generations can teach each other new things. One of my ESL students told me recently her company always puts older and younger employees on teams so the older ones teach the younger ones the value of their expertise and experience and the younger ones teach the older ones a new perspective and new technology. 

Several of the stories in my post-World War II short story collection, Lessons From My Mother’s Life, are about the lessons the older generation has to teach the younger. The 1950s and early 1960s were vital for women’s place in America because the dissatisfaction and inertia many women felt at that time led to the second-wave feminist movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. I talk more about how women felt in these post-war years in my blog post about the “Occupation: Housewife” Era

But there are stories in the collection that work the other way around too. It’s the younger generation that teaches the older one something new. One of these is the last story in the collection titled “Two Sides of Life”.

It was one of those writerly moments where an interesting anecdote my mother related to me became the germ of the story. When she was in her 50s (the age range I am now), my father took her to a nice restaurant for her birthday, as usual. They had a great time and when the check arrived, the server informed them the bill had already been paid. It turned out my father, who was working as a quality control consultant at the time, befriended one of his younger assistants who recommended the restaurant. The young man surprised my parents by paying the restaurant bill in advance.

I wrote the story as a contemporary work of fiction and posted it for a while as a freebie on my website. When I made the shift from contemporary to historical fiction, I took the story down, meaning to revise it. Toward the end of 2019, when I rewrote my first book, Gnarled Bones and Other Stories, to what became Lessons, I removed the title story (as it didn’t fit with the themes I had planned for Lessons) and went searching for another story to take its place. I realized the story I had written about my mother’s birthday dinner (then titled “A Birthday Gift”) would fit nicely with the new collection.

I retitled the story “Two Sides of Life” and kept the incident of the birthday dinner but moved it (reworked in mood, theme, and emotion to fit the collection) to the background. “Two Sides” became more about the dysfunctional relationship between the protagonist Leanne and her husband of twenty years, Calvin, and the lessons the young wife of Calvin’s assistant, Arlene has to teach her about life and women’s place in society. 

Leanne, like many suburban housewives of the mid-20th century, had been indoctrinated into the feminine mystique and, like many of these women, had become frustrated by what Friedan called “The Problem That Has No Name”. The story opens on the day of her forty-second birthday. Her husband Calvin (an intelligent but emotionally distant professor) “suggests” she head over to one of their neighbors (Paul, Calvin’s lab assistant) and offer to help with his six-year-old son’s birthday party. Leanne agrees, though reluctantly. The party proves to be a turning point in her life, as she bonds unexpectedly with Paul’s wife, Arlene. Arlene represents the familiar sort of young woman we imagine started the second-wave feminist movement: The “do it all” woman juggling a career and family, determined to make use of her full potential in the home and out of it. Leanne, like many older women of her generation, judges Arlene pretty harshly at first but comes to realize her judgment is misplaced:

“Arlene says women today can have a career and a family too, if they just make sacrifices and balance everything correctly,” he said. “It’s what she’s trying to do, and so are most of the girls who graduated with her at Mills College.” He looked at her again. “Do you think a woman who has a job can’t be a good wife and mother too?”

She felt the breeze around her turn into waves, returning the strange chill she had felt that morning. The noise of happy children dimmed, replaced by the loud caw of birds. She realized they were standing under a nest where baby birds chirped out their starvation. She saw the head of the mother, its grim beak set and its gorging eyes searching the ground. She recognized the basic instinct of a mother on her children.

“I think any woman could do anything, if she sets her mind to it,” she said softly. “And I can see Arlene has her mind set on it. I’ve no right to judge her, and I’m sorry I did.”

Later, Leanne sees how she and Arlene are trapped in the same cage of feminine expectations, though their lives are very different. Their unexpected bond leads to some unexpected twists to the original story my mother told me. 

You can read “Two Sides of Life” as well as the other four stories in the collection which speak to the idea of bonding generations of women when Lessons From My Mother’s Life is re-released on March 29 with a completely new cover!

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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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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Release Day Blitz for Murder Under a Twilight Roof

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Title: Murder Under a Twilight Roof

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries: Book 5

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: April 29, 2023

In 1905, the Barry Circus makes its way to Arrojo, an event filled with chills, thrills, and enchantment. The whole town is buzzing with excitement to see Julius Rowe, the “daring young man on the flying trapeze”. To the crowds, he’s the handsome and dashing star of the show. To his fellow performers, he’s arrogant, demanding, and a little too ruthless. But who cares, as long as the crowds can’t get enough of him?

Then on opening night, the unthinkable happens — Julius misses that third somersault and falls into the net, instantly killed.

The police are baffled. Was it an accident? Was it murder? And if it was murder, who did it? 

Was it the husband of Julius’ latest conquest or the lady herself, proving that a woman scorned can be a dangerous thing? Or was it one of the other performers for reasons of his or her own? It’s up to Adele Gossling and her friend Nin Branch to help when the circus closes ranks against the police.

What reviewers are saying about this book:

“Well written, as always with an intriguing mystery to solve.”

“I enjoyed [the story] immensely!”

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


Excerpt

Jackson looked annoyed, tapping his pipe on the arm of his chair. “I told Hatfield we should have run him out of town.”

“I’m glad you didn’t,” she said. “He has some very illuminating insights into his co-performers.”

“He’s no performer,” Jackson grunted. “He’s a charlatan.”

“But a very useful and observant one,” she said.

He eyed her. “I’m assuming you got information out of him that might help our investigation.”

“Mr. Sipes had some interesting observations about opening night.”

“Oh?”

“Julius visited Calvin’s wagon,” Adele said. 

Jackson filled his pipe with tobacco. “I’m certain many performers visit the man on opening night. He does take care of their salary, after all.”

“I highly doubt Julius would slip into Calvin’s wagon for an hour just to get his pay,” Adele said dryly.

Jackson heaved a sigh and put his paper down. “All right. And why, according to the amenable Mr. Sipes, did he spend an hour in Calvin’s wagon?”

“He couldn’t tell me that.” Adele jumped as she pricked herself with the lacing needle, “But he did say the man emerged with a big grin on his face.”

“Perhaps they were talking about salary after all,” Jackson said. “If Calvin agreed to a substantial raise, that would cause Julius to come out grinning.”

“Julius just renewed his contract a few weeks before,” Adele pointed out. “One would think they would have discussed salary then.”

“All right, Del, what are you really getting at?” Jackson chewed on the edge of his pipe.

“‘A smile well above him,’ according to Mr. Sipes,” Adele added.

Jackson’s eyes narrowed. “It would seem Mr. Sipes is well versed on the idea of thinking well above oneself.”

“Calvin has been hiding something,” Adele insisted, “something he knew about Julius that night.” She rose, going over to the desk in the corner. “I found these behind the curtain.” She handed him the two halves of the broken pencil.

“You think they belong to Calvin?”

“I know they do,” she insisted. “It’s his brand. And Cora told us he broke a pencil that night, remember?”

“What would this smug smile on Julius’ face have to do with a broken pencil? It makes no sense, Del.”

“I think you ought to talk to Calvin again,” Adele said. “You remember his words when he saw the body, Jack? ‘That wasn’t supposed to happen.’ Find out from him what was.”


About the Author

Tam May writes stories about powerful women set in the past. Her fiction gives readers a sense of justice for women, both the living and the dead. Tam’s stories are set mostly around the Bay Area because she adores sourdough bread, Ghirardelli chocolate, and San Francisco history. 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 breaking loose from the confinements 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) and concocting yummy vegan dishes.


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

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Release Day Blitz for The Mystery of the Golden Cat!

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Title: The Mystery of the Golden Cat

Series: Adele Gossling Mysteries: Book 4

Author: Tam May

Genres: Historical Cozy Mystery

Release Date: January 28, 2023

For Adele Gossling, Labor Day is about giving voice to progressive reforms such as the eight-hour workday and minimum wage for women. But for business owners in Arrojo, California, Labor Day is about making money. City slickers flock to the country seeking holiday deals they can’t get in San Francisco or Sacramento. What better way to celebrate than with bargains and the community picnic?

What they don’t know is there’s a thief in town. He’s already succeeded in getting away with burglarizing business owners in neighboring towns and the county police can’t seem to get their hands on him.

Who is stealing gold trinkets from the shops in Arrojo, California? Is it the dandified Mr. Lyman? The town’s junk collector and pariah, Zephyr Brown? or is it someone or something beyond their wildest imagination?

What reviewers are saying about the series:

“Great new series!”

“Characters come alive!”

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


Excerpt

Hatfield said, “I’m sure your brother told you about the reports we’ve received from my friend Sheriff Hill about thefts they’ve had in Sacramento.”

“But that’s far away from here.”

“Not far enough, Del.” Jackson folded the paper on the crease and laid it down. “Last week, we had a few thefts in some of the towns in this county.”

“Vargas was the first,” Hatfield said. “And yesterday, we received a dispatch from Wells Fargo that Rosa Gris and Blue Springs reported items missing from some of their shops.”

“That’s ghastly!” Her cup dropped to the table, missing the saucer. Tomas mumbled his dismay in soft Spanish. “No one was hurt, I hope?”

“The thief is only interested in valuables, not people,” said Jackson. “There have been no reports of violence.”

“Still — it’s horrible to think —” She took another slice of toast from the holder, feeling her hand shaking.

Hatfield drew his hand toward the edge of the table between them. Adele’s shoulders gave a quick flinch, though she knew the sheriff would never take liberties. But there was something in the man’s gaze, his mouth closed but his eyes large and almost innocent, that gave her the feeling of being in a too-intimate corner with him just then.

“Perhaps Nin and I should warn the Bridge Street merchants before Monday,” she suggested. “From one shop owner to another.”

Silence buzzed around her, muting the brilliant blue sky to gray. Even the pair of doves nesting on the gazebo hushed up their morning song. 

“We’ll be very discreet, of course,” she continued, her voice less assured. “We’ll ask to speak to them in private.”

The sheriff cleared his throat. “I’m afraid you can’t do that, Adele.”

“Why can’t we?”

“Because,” Hatfield said, “the town council refused to allow it when I suggested it.”

“Refused!”

“They want us to keep it quiet, Del,” said her brother. “We shouldn’t have even told you.”

The butter knife slipped from her hand and scraped against her empty plate. Tomas darted forward, mumbling in Spanish, glancing around to see if anything had been broken. “That’s perfectly ridiculous! Why for heaven’s sake?”

“They believe it would cause ‘unnecessary panic’ and ‘soil the potential prospects for prosperity in our good town’,” Hatfield grumbled. “Those were Mrs. Faderman’s words. They all agreed with her, of course.”

“They didn’t have much choice,” Jackson remarked. 

Adele threw down her napkin. “So that’s what you meant when you said their behavior borders on negligence! That civic pride of hers has blinded her again!”

“Not to mention made her deaf and dumb,” Hatfield said dryly.

Adele rose, pacing the veranda. “Her behavior doesn’t border on the negligent, Sheriff. It is negligent. Even criminal!”

“Really, Del,” her brother mumbled. “Must you always exaggerate?”

“What else would you call it, Jack?” She insisted. “She’s prepared to risk what could be a mess of thieves roaming in our midst.”


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/

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

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