Tag Archives: somebody to love

Sold My Soul to the Company Store

Aug 12, 2014
Marquette Lumber company store, circa 1891 courtesy of Wikicommons

Marquette Lumber company store, circa 1891
courtesy of Wikicommons

Yesterday I got to do a very fun character interview from Phineas Bell, protagonist of Somebody to Love’s point of view for the Kimi-chan Experience. I was surprised by the last question she asked Phin, which was about how a company town in the late 19th, early 20th century worked. I had actually done a lot of research into the whole company system and learned a lot of fascinating and terrible things. So why not share that with you here?

If you’re at all interested in the 21st century debate about minimum wage, if you paid even a little attention to the Occupy movement or the 1% versus 99% discussion, then you will likely flip your lid when you learn about what the company system was back in the day and how it affected the lives of working men and women just over a hundred years ago. Because in a time before labor laws, back when the Gilded Age was also known as the Robber Baron Age, the 1% could get away with a lot more than they get away with now. (And I know, they get away with a LOT now)

“Company towns” generally grew up around mines or other sorts of remote, labor-intensive operations. In the simplest terms, the mine employed the men, paid them, owned their houses, and owned the store where everyone bought everything. These were the days before everyone owned a car, and a trip to the next town over or anyplace where an average person could shop at the competition’s establishment was a major, expensive undertaking. In essence, you were stuck where you were.

The disadvantage of being committed to one place was that whatever the owner of the mine where you worked and the town that you lived in wanted to charge for rent or groceries or just about anything, they could charge. You had no choice but to pay their price or hit the road, homeless and unemployed. It’s easy to think from our 21st century perspective that hitting the road would be the obvious choice, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time before unemployment compensation or easy transportation, a job could literally be the difference between life and death.

courtesy of Wikicommons

courtesy of Wikicommons

Unfortunately, it was the most vulnerable strata of the population that was at the mercy of these company systems. We’re talking uneducated laborers without a lot of support. They had families that depended on them and very little recourse to lodge complaints when times were tough and bosses were unfair. It wasn’t until much later that the government began to step in and pass laws to fix the blatant abuses of company towns.

One of the most shocking problems that these company systems had was that when times got tough for the bosses, they would start paying their workers in scrip instead of cash. Scrip was more or less Monopoly money that could only be used at the company store. It was worthless, especially for anyone hoping to save enough to get out of the horrible situation they were in.

Now, it wasn’t all super horrible, and the company town system did begin to change near the turn of the century, particularly after the Pullman Strike of 1894. Pullman, Chicago was one of the earliest company towns, planned and paid for by the Pullman railroad car manufacturer. When the company hit hard times in 1894, it tightened its belt by reducing workers’ wages without reducing the rents on their company-owned housing. The workers went on strike, demanding fairer conditions. The government stepped in, and after an investigation found that the workers’ lives were better off under the company system than they would have been otherwise. However, public opinion condemned the “paternalistic” style of the company town as “un-American.” Compromises and new ways of creating a balance between industry and humanity were hammered out.

It didn’t all happen overnight, and the reason why I’m a little vague in that last sentence is because there wasn’t one big push or law or incident that changed things, but rather a slow, steady progression through the first two decades of the 20th century. Wage laws were passed, health care laws came into being, but most importantly, automobiles became much, much more affordable. Honestly, the company system declined when workers no longer needed to live in the company town immediately surrounding their mine, and instead had the mobility to live miles away in a friendlier environment.

Don’t you just love how the dots connect in History?


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Women in Politics, 1900

Jun 20, 2014

Somebody To Love_blog sidebarYes! I got my first 1-star review of Somebody to Love! And it was the best possible kind of 1-star review too!

How can a 1-star review be a good thing, you ask? Well, when the criticism is all about a point of historical accuracy, and when the reviewer is, frankly, wrong, it gives me a great opportunity to talk about my favorite subject: History. The accusation was that it is grossly historically inaccurate for Phineas Bell to muse that his 4-year old niece, Eloise, could be President of the United States someday. The reviewer scoffed at the idea, saying that in 1900, when universal suffrage for women was still 20 years off, it would have been ludicrous for a man to think that his niece could be president.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Neither could the actual facts of history.

No, women were not able to vote in federal elections until the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified in 1920. However, this didn’t mean that they didn’t have political ambition or dreams of future equality. Far from it. Very far from it if you consider that the first woman was elected to Congress in 1916. Yes, Jeanette Rankin was elected to the House of Representatives from the state of, you guessed it, Montana, not in 1960, but 1916. That’s four years before women gained the federal vote. A woman. Congress. Elected. If a woman could be elected to Congress in 1916, why not shoot for the big office and assume that someday she could be president?

Jeanette Rankin, first woman elected to Congress in 1916

Jeanette Rankin, first woman elected to Congress in 1916

History runs deeper than that, though. It would be false to assume that no one, female or male, had any sort of dreams or ambitions in the political arena whatsoever until—poof!—one day in 1920 everyone decided “Okay, let’s give women the vote”. In fact, the roots of the suffrage movement run deep, deep into the first half of the 19th century. Early women’s rights pioneers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Susan B. Anthony spent the greater part of the 19th century fighting for the rights of women. They had enough support to fill lecture halls and demonstrations and to make their voices heard at the highest level. They were fighting so that women could participate in government, so why not continue that dream to hope that someday a woman could be the head of that government?

The truth of women in politics stretches even further than that, though. True, women may not have won the vote federally until 1920, but as early at 1869 they were able to vote and participate in government in the western states and territories. Wyoming granted women the right to vote in 1869, and by the end of the century just about every other western state had given women the vote or held referendums to enfranchise them. Again, I propose that the hopes and dreams of the people who supported the movement could easily have extended far beyond just the vote.

Why? And why the West? What made them so advanced and enlightened? Well, one theory was that women were able to have more direct participation in western politics precisely because conditions were neither advanced nor enlightened. Life on the frontier was harsh. In some cases it was primitive and it was lonely. With so little people to tame the land and govern it, women became an essential part of political life. They were sometimes left in possession of land and businesses when their husbands died. Better yet, in some cases they were considered equal partners in enterprising endeavors because the men in their lives had no choice but to count on them. So many women rose to the occasion that their political rights were a natural matter of course.

Mayer-Awakening-1915So impressive was the political power of women in the west and the role that they were given in state and local government, that the suffrage movement back east looked to them as example of what women could do and be and achieve. The Progressive Movement, which is generally held to have started in the 1890s and transformed politics in the early 20th century with platforms supporting universal suffrage, modernization of technology, an end to child labor, and an increase in education, was closely connected with suffragists in the West.

If you take nothing else from this lightning-fast examination of women in politics in and prior to 1900, though, come away with this. Even though women did not gain the vote until 1920, it took decades of work and hopes and fighting and reaching for more to bring public opinion and government around to the point where the work of Stanton, Stone, and Anthony became a reality. So was it unrealistic of me to have a man speculate that his niece could become president in 1900? No! Not at all! And remember too, in 1900, England had a queen, and she wasn’t the first. Women could, and would, rule.


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The Secret Power of Series

May 08, 2014
© Grigorenko | Dreamstime.com

© Grigorenko | Dreamstime.com

Okay, writers. I’m going to tell you something you already know. Ready?

Nothing sells books like more books. Series are totally the way to go.

Heard that before? We all have, especially those of us who are indie authors. But you know, it’s really true. I mean, really, REALLY true. I’ve seen authors skyrocket in sales and popularity when they find a series that touches people and run with it.

Here’s the thing, though. In my humble opinion, not all series are created equal. Or rather, different kinds of series accomplish different things. I have two series out right now, one medieval romance and one historical western romance. They are structured entirely differently than each other, and as a result they’ve performed differently. Here’s how….

The first series I published was The Noble Hearts. The three novels in this series, The Loyal Heart, The Faithful Heart, and The Courageous Heart, are dependent upon each other. You can read them out of order, but there is an overarching plot to all three books. They are designed to be read in order. You won’t completely get The Courageous Heart unless you’ve read the first two (which is a shame, because in my opinion, The Courageous Heart is the best of the three by far).

My other series, Montana Romance, currently consists of four novels and three novellas. Each book in that series stands completely alone. You could read them in any order and the others would still be complete stories that makes sense from beginning to end. The only thing you’d miss out on by reading them out of order is maybe spoilers about who ended up with who. But let’s face it, this is romance. We all know who is going to end up with who from reading the back cover blurb.

© Farsh | Dreamstime.com

© Farsh | Dreamstime.com

I’ve had several reviewers and commenters say that they read In Your Arms or Fool For Love, and now even Somebody to Love, without having read any of the other books in the series and that they’ve enjoyed them thoroughly. I haven’t had the same sort of comments about The Noble Hearts. Guess which series sells better? By, like, a factor of ten?

Yes, they say that series are where the money is, but I would like to throw a little caveat in there and say that connected books that take place within the same world but can be read on their own really make the money. Does this mean that you shouldn’t write a continuous series? I hope not, because my Sci-Fi series, Grace’s Moon, which I will start publishing in July, is a continuous series.

My current working theory with continuous series is that it’s all about how you promote that first book. I think you have to continuously, diligently promote the living daylights out of that first book, and probably offer it at a discount or free too! (Side note: offering the first book of a series for free only works—and works WELL—if there are several other books in the series) We’ll see. I plan to kick some butt with Grace’s Moon.

But what if I don’t? I remember hearing something that I think Hugh Howey said about series. If the first couple of books don’t sell well, abandon the series and write something else. Hmm. On the surface that sounds appealing. Is it in our best interest to continue writing something that isn’t selling? It depends.

I recently read another article that complained deeply about the volume of series that authors (particularly indie authors) have started then abandoned. The author of that article expressed a level of betrayal from the readers and a reluctance for them to read anything more by the authors who had previously left them hanging. Now that rings true to me!

So what’s the answer? As far as Grace’s Moon (or any other series I plan to write in the future) goes, I have my initial game plan and I have ideas to extend it. The books that I know I am going to write are the kind that just have to be written. They’re inside me, struggling to get out. I’m not going to turn them away because their predecessors haven’t done well. I plan to publish four Grace books by the end of the year.

What about after that? Well, we’ll see. I have generations-worth of ideas for that series, but I also have—no joke—about ten other series begging to be written. The fourth book in the series will come to a satisfactory conclusion, but more will be possible.

In the end, I think that’s the best way to go with series. Write what you have to write and don’t cut it short, but leave the door open for more. I only intended to write four books in the Montana Romance series. Then the novellas popped to mind. Then a whole second series about the children of the main characters of the first season and their interactions with WWI. Then an interim book that takes place in 1908. I left the door open, and I think it will ultimately serve me well.

Yep, series are where the magic is.

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2014 Book #5 – Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century, by Graham Robb

May 06, 2014

Okay, I’ve wanted to post more about this book for a long time and to recount some of the history lessons I’ve learned from it, but I’ve just been so busy lately! So what better way to talk about the history behind my inspiration for Somebody to Love than to do a book report on Strangers. And yes, you’ll notice it’s book #5, even though I’m currently reading book #23 of 2014 right now. I started this way back in January and only recently had time to finish it.


The thing that struck me the most about Strangers is how different the landscape looked to 19th century gays and lesbians than we would think that it looked. Judging by today’s standards, I’m sure the first reaction one might have is to assume that life was haunted, fragile, and tense for 19th century homosexuals and that they were badly persecuted. Ah, but the very first lesson people should learn about history of any kind is that you can never view it with the standards and commonalities of modern life.

In today’s world, homosexuality is a hot topic. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, everyone knows what it is and has an opinion about it. It’s in the news, in pop culture, and a solid part of life in 2014. Not so in the 19th century! In fact, there was a great deal of ambiguity in the minds of your average 18th and 19th century person as to how to define someone who was outside of the norm. The 19th century was all about classifying and naming things scientifically, and it wasn’t really until this time that homosexuality was even defined. In fact, the term “homosexual” was coined in 1868.

Think about that for a second. 1868. There were other words in use in various languages to describe men who had a passion for other men—Uranian, invert, sodomite (which was a pejorative, whereas the other two were merely descriptive)—but the label came much later. Sure, sodomy was considered a crime, and (if I’m remembering this correctly) from The Buggery Act of 1533 until the first half of the 19th century it was a crime punishable by death, but that was the act, not the state of being homosexual.

Robb does an incredible job of piecing together the story of a state of being that was barely classified and certainly never spoken of openly through what historians call primary source material. He studied diaries, letters, journals, and other private communications to piece together the lives of men and women who didn’t fit into the traditional 19th century definition of masculine and feminine. It’s fascinating stuff! Even he admits that it’s incredibly difficult to state anything definitively, because the record of all of these lives isn’t necessarily there.

What was there, once you dig beneath the surface of genuine lack of knowledge on the part of most people and angst on the part of the men and women who knew they were different, was a rich tapestry of relationships existing without the umbrella of a label. There are cases that were hugely public, like Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, and James Pratt and John Smith (the last two men hung for sodomy in England in 1835), but far, far more common were men and women living their unusual lives under the hush of obscurity and the fear of being caught out.

Now that’s not to say that their lives were a big secret. Some people, like Emily Dickenson, for example, were known to have “extremely close” relationships with a member of the same sex, but in this time before people had a firm handle on what exactly that meant and entailed, these known relationships sailed right over people’s heads. I got the feeling that Robb was saying if people in the 19th century knew more about what was going on, they would have disapproved. This was not an age of acceptance and tolerance by any stretch of the imagination. But a lot of things could be swept under the carpet and kept behind closed doors in the name of Victorian morality (no one talked about ANY kind of sexuality in public) or in the spirit of a deeper masculine camaraderie than we generally have today.

Anyhow, I could go on and on about this subject, and I would really like to learn more about it. The gist of Strangers is that there was, in fact, a thriving LGBT subculture in the 19th century that looked far different than we would imagine it to look. People lived happy lives outside of the scrutiny of “normal” folks simply because their passions weren’t on the radar of your average 19th century citizen. Which makes me all the more adamant about my character Phin’s solid place as one of Cold Springs, Montana’s finest citizens, in spite of everyone knowing he’s a little “off”.

I would love to take what I learned from Strangers and write more m/m romances with it.

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Somebody to Love – Release Day!

Apr 29, 2014

Somebody To Love_smallHold on a second…. There’s something just a little naughty about calling it a “release day” when you’re publishing a romance novel (if you know what I mean).

At last! Somebody to Love, Phin’s story, is out there! I’ve had Phin’s story in mind from the very beginning. In fact, I more or less thought of the idea for Ethan and Amelia’s story, Fool for Love first, followed almost immediately by Charlie and Michael’s story, Our Little Secrets, and Somebody to Love simultaneously. Behold! The workings of a writer’s mind!

I hope you’ll pop on over to the brand new page for Somebody to Love where you can read the first chapter and find all the links to buy it!

Enjoy! And remember, Read it, Review it, Share it! Oh, and feel free to sign up for my newsletter too so that you can be the first to know about new releases and more: http://eepurl.com/RQ-KX