Thursday, March 30, 2017


March Came In Like A… Caterpillar?

 
Kind of creepy and crawly, if you know what I mean.

For one thing, I made a quick trip to California, primarily to visit one of my dearest friends who is mortally ill. I figured I’d rather see her in person one last time than go to her funeral. The month didn’t get much better from there, as it was fraught with my own health issues, veterinarian bills and plumbing problems. Grumble.

Therefore, since I’m sick of it all, this month’s blog isn’t going to be about any of that bad stuff. It’s going to be about the kinds of research a person who writes historical novels has to do. Because I write books set in the 1920s, I need to know a lot of stuff about the area in which the books are set. In the case of my Daisy Gumm Majesty books, that means I get to learn about Pasadena and Altadena history. Sometimes this information isn’t as easy to come by as figuring out what people did and ate in ancient Rome. The twenties are historical, but they’re recent enough that some things aren’t well documented.

For instance, I had to find out what law-enforcement agency took care of crime in Altadena, California, in 1924. Altadena is a smallish (well, it used to be smallish anyway) community just north of Pasadena. Unincorporated, it’s part of Los Angeles County, but it’s not officially part of Pasadena. So, I looked on-line and couldn’t find out. Then I decided what the heck and called the Altadena Historical Society. Darned if my question wasn’t answered by a woman with whom I went all through school! I mean, we met years ago. Plus, we evidently looked so much alike when we were kids, our parents often tried to pick up me when they wanted her and vice-versa. However, Kathy found out for me that the Altadena area was served by the Los Angeles County Marshal’s Office, and that their headquarters were pretty much on Lake Avenue and Foothill Boulevard. Mind you, Foothill Boulevard, where Mrs. Bissel in my Daisy books lives (in the house my aunt used to own), was renamed Altadena Drive in the 1950s or 1960s, but it’s still there. The marshal’s office was just down the road and across the street a bit from Mrs. Bissel’s house.

Then there’s food. Daisy’s Aunt Vi is one of the better cooks in the universe. In fact, if she were a man at the time the books are set, she’d have been called a chef and made boocoo bucks. Boocoo, by the way, is an expression from the 1920s. Anyhow, from time to time, I also have to find out what people ate back then. It’s fun research to do, because I love food. But cooking was a heck of a lot harder back then than it is now. No blenders. No food processors. No Instant Pots (although folks used pressure cookers). No automatic dish washers. No electric mixers. No plastic or aluminum wrap, although they did have waxed paper. No store-bought bread, for Pete’s sake! Fortunately for Daisy and her family, Vi makes the best bread in town.

And today I had to look up meatloaf. Meatloaf? Yes, by golly, meatloaf. Good thing for me one of my dear Facebook friends, Andie Paysinger (http://www.asenjigalblogs.com), is a genius at cooking history. She and my niece Sara Krafft (also a research maven) both showed me to a great web site for researching food history (http://www.foodtimeline.org). Meatloaf for most of us is a pretty easy meal to prepare, and I personally love it.

However, life was different in the 1920s. For one thing, in order to make a meatloaf, Aunt Vi had to grind her own beef, pork, veal, chicken, and/or whatever other kinds of meat she wanted in her loaf. Not a problem, because Vi had one of these handy-dandy tools:

 
Oddly enough, my mother had one (and I still have it) that looks precisely like that. It probably dates from the same era, too.

Then, of course, we return to the problem of bread. It wasn’t pre-sliced or store-bought in those days. You had to knead your flour, yeast, water, milk, butter and/or whatever, form it into loaves, and then bake it in your own oven. Fortunately for Aunt Vi, both her employer (Mrs. Pinkerton) and her family have self-regulating gas stoves. However, after you bake your bread, you then have to cut it. Both Daisy and I suffer a deficit in the bread-cutting area. We can’t cut a straight piece of bread from a loaf to save ourselves. Fortunately, Daisy has other people in her life who can cut bread for her. I’m stuck all by myself with odd-looking slices of bread. What the heck. There are worse problems to have. Here’s a picture of a lovely stove Aunt Vi might have cooked on at the family’s residence. Needless to say, Mrs. Pinkerton, who is rich as Croesus, has an even bigger and fancier one in her mansion.

Oh, and no chopped nuts! You had to crack your own nuts and chop them if you wanted to use nuts in something. Wow. Life must have been hard indeed. But you could still use your self-regulating gas range once you prepared your nut loaf.

 

One thing Pasadena had in the 1920s is still alive and functioning: Mijares Mexican Restaurant. While I was in Pasadena to visit my friend, I also saw my younger daughter, Robin, and my younger grandson, Riki, quite often. Riki and I had lunch at Mijares, by gum! Great place. Always was. Still is.
 
But enough of that. I’ll be in touch with the winners of March’s giveaway book, FALLEN ANGELS, individually. I might even get the books mailed out in April, too! At the end of April, I’ll be giving away a few copies of UNSETTLED SPIRITS, Daisy’s tenth (actually, it’s her eleventh) adventure. If you’d like to enter the contest, just send me an email (alice@aliceduncan.net) and give me your name and home address. If you’d like to be added to my mailing list, you may do so on my web site (http://aliceduncan.net/) or email me (you won’t be smothered in newsletters, because I only write one blog a month). If you’d like to be friends on Facebook, visit my page at https://www.facebook.com/alice.duncan.925.

Thank you!

 

 

Sunday, February 26, 2017


Hmmm….

Writing is a strange business. I mean, it’s fun to tell stories but sometimes I become plotless, and that’s not a good thing.

For instance, I know who the victim is in the next Daisy Gumm Majesty book (Spirits Unearthed) and I know who dunnit. It’s those pesky 300+ pages in the middle I have to figure out. I expect Daisy to do more spiritualist stuff, which is fun and should take up several pages. And maybe Sam’s Voodoo juju will pester him again (it did in the forthcoming Daisy book, Spirits United).

As a fake spiritualist-medium in the 1920s, Daisy has a built great business for herself and her family. True, she lies to people for a living, but she justifies her line of work by reminding herself she helps grieving family members and friends by reassuring them the dear departed is happy on the other side of life. Above all else, Daisy doesn’t want anyone to commit suicide because they want to rejoin their late beloved. I guess that’s a sound answer to people, including her fiancé, Sam Rotondo, who tell her they think it’s rotten of her to fool people. Of course, Daisy generally reminds him that the people she fools want to be fooled. Fair enough for government work, as folks used to say. Not sure they say that anymore—or that it’s true—but what the heck.

As a plotless Daisy story whirls in my head, I’m also getting ready to visit my own and Daisy’s old stomping grounds, Pasadena, California. The reason for this sudden trip is lousy, but I expect to see some of my old favorite sites. That should be nice.

In the meantime, as I was trying to clean up stuff, work-wise, before my trip, I decided the book I’ve wanted to finish for more than a decade now will never get written if I don’t have a deadline. I haven’t written to a deadline in… well, a whole bunch of years. So I decided what the heck and sent a query to an editor. Much to my astonishment, the editor emailed me the next day and asked me to send him the full proposal. So I did. With any luck he’ll reject the book, but if he doesn’t, I’ll be in full-blown panic mode as I finish that book and try to figure out the next Daisy plot.

Sometimes I think I’m an absolute idiot. Other times I’m sure of it. Sighhhhhh.

Anyway, I’ll be in touch with the winners GENTEEL SPIRITS, February’s contest book, individually. At the end of March, I’ll give away three copies of the original hardback version of FALLEN ANGELS.

By the way, FALLEN ANGELS won the Arizona/New Mexico Book of the Year Award in 2012 for best mystery/thriller (tied with Sara Sue Hoklotubbe’s THE AMERICAN CAFÉ). As a rule I don’t enter contests, since I share George C. Scott’s opinion about judging the worth of artistic endeavors. I honestly don’t think you can deduce one book is better than another if you’re comparing, say, COCAINE BLUES by Kerry Greenwood, to GONE GIRL by Jillian Flynn. Personally, I loved the one and detested the other. If all judges of all book contests were like me, GONE GIRL wouldn’t have been the fabulous success it was. I’m probably wrong, but it’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it, darn it!

Also (this is silly) the only reason I entered the AZ/NM BOTY contest was because, the state of literacy in New Mexico being what it is (abysmal), the notion tickled me. Sometimes I think I have a black heart.

Anyhow, if you’d like to enter the contest, just send me an email (alice@aliceduncan.net) and give me your name and home address. If you’d like to be added to my mailing list, you may do so on my web site (http://aliceduncan.net/) or email me (you won’t be smothered in newsletters, because I only write one blog a month). If you’d like to be friends on Facebook, visit my page at https://www.facebook.com/alice.duncan.925.

Thank you!

Sunday, January 29, 2017


The Joys of History

 
1924 is the first year in which Daisy Gumm Majesty will be eligible to vote in the United States of America. Women were granted the vote in 1920, but Daisy wasn’t twenty-one and, therefore, was unable to vote in that election. Now you only have to be eighteen, but even if that were the law back then, she still wouldn’t have been able to vote in 1920, because her birthday came after the election. This is only relevant because she and her father have a political discussion in the book SPIRITS UNITED, to be published sometime this year. I have to finish writing it first, of course. I’ve never taken so long to write a book in my life. Gah. Don’t know what happened, but I suspect having a hip replaced, having cataract surgery, and enduring months of physical therapy disrupted my regular writing schedule.

Anyhow, the Gumms and the one remaining Majesty (Daisy) decide to vote for the Republican candidate, Calvin Coolidge, in 1924. Daisy’s favorite president up to and including 1924 was the Republican Theodore Roosevelt, because he was a reformer! No longer could food-processing companies poison the consumers of their foods with impunity, because Teddy Roosevelt put his foot down (not on the food). Roosevelt was also a vigorous conservationist and established the United States Forest Service, allowing the creation of five National Parks. Daisy is all for national parks and for reform, even if she isn’t quite sure what needs to be reformed. Of course, if she had been able to vote in 1920, she’d have voted for Warren G. Harding, who died before everyone discovered he was a rotten crook.

Like most of us, Daisy is more concerned with her day-to-day life than she is about national and international politics. She probably would lift her eyebrows if she read about Coolidge’s immigration law, which restricted immigration to the United States, but she wouldn’t think too much about it because it didn’t affect her personally. She’d be more interested, not to say delighted, that her daily newspaper had begun printing crossword puzzles because she’s a wordsmith, if not a particularly well-educated one.

She’d naturally be horrified by the brutal murder of young Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, who wanted to prove their intellectual superiority by committing the “perfect crime.” As Sam Rotondo could have told the two murderers, there’s no such thing as a perfect crime; but sometimes it’s difficult to find evidence pinpointing the perpetrators of whatever crime is under examination. In fact, this is a problem for Daisy in SPIRITS UNITED. As ever, Daisy remains only slightly daunted in her search for the criminal. According to Sam, she’s not supposed to be anywhere near the crime and its suspects, but Daisy persists anyway. She’s such a buttinsky!

Daisy is a good person. Even she feels a little uncomfortable about her animosity toward the entire German people because Germans killed her husband via the Great War. She knows she’s being irrational, but she can’t quite help herself. This is primarily because she and a whole lot of other people blamed the war and everything that happened during it on Kaiser Wilhelm. They’re wrong, of course. The Kaiser was as much of a nitwit as anyone else, but he was far from the only instigator of that ghastly and incredibly stupid war. However, Daisy couldn’t know what we can know, because the war was current news to her. It wasn’t history, as it is today. Did you know, for instance, that many Germans didn’t believe they’d actually lost the war? Well, they didn’t. After all, no battles were lost on German soil.

Daisy’s creator (moi) has read extensively about World War I, however, and it’s easy for me to see Daisy’s prejudice is . . . well, biased, you know? I mean, all prejudices are. The fact that a German Jew invented the gas that eventually drove her husband Billy to his suicide is only ironic to those of us who understand WWI wasn’t, as it was often called, The War to End All Wars. Rather, it was only the beginning of a long, steady decline in German policies that eventually led to Hitler and his cronies murdering millions of Jews, Gypsies, Catholics and other “inferior” people.

All of this is kind of my way of saying, in effect, that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

For instance, my own two grandsons, Daigoro and Rikiichi, had a Japanese father. Born in Tokyo, by gum. And do you know why Keiji (Dai and Riki’s dad) was born in Tokyo? Because Keiji’s father, who was born and reared in California, was sent to a Japanese detention camp in Poston, Arizona, during WWII. He was so annoyed by his family’s incarceration (and the loss of everything they possessed) that he moved to Japan as soon as he could. Then there occurred a series of other circumstances that led to him moving back to the United States. If not for WWII, Dai and Riki would be Satomuras instead of Oshitas, but I won’t go into the reasons for that here. Let’s just say life is complicated. It’s even more complicated for Dai and Riki when it comes to the Issei, Nisei, and Sansei question. Nevertheless, Riki always attends the Nisei Festival in Los Angeles every year. What the heck, you know?

My son-in-law’s family changed their Italian last name to a non-Italian last name after WWII, by the way. Not that it matters here. I just mention it because it’s interesting, and I wonder if Sam Rotondo’s family would be tempted to do the same thing if they lived long enough to see WWII. Clearly, Daisy’s not the only person in the world to descend to irrational biases. Heck, my other son-in-law is an Armenian from Iran. Mind you, Armenians are culturally Christian but he’s from Iran and, therefore, if he were attempting to get into the United States today, he couldn’t.

Gah. Enough of that.

I’ll be in touch with the winners UNSETTLED SPIRITS, January’s contest book, individually. At the end of February, I do believe I’ll give away three copies of the original hardback version of GENTEEL SPIRITS. If you’d like to enter the contest, just send me an email (alice@aliceduncan.net) and give me your name and home address. If you’d like to be added to my mailing list, you may do so on my web site (http://aliceduncan.net/) or email me (you won’t be smothered in newsletters, because I only write one blog a month). If you’d like to be friends on Facebook, visit my page at https://www.facebook.com/alice.duncan.925.

Thank you!

 

Sunday, January 1, 2017


Happy New Year (1925)

 
Don’t know about any of you, but I’m kind of glad to see 2016 come to an end. Mind you, for me personally, 2016 was better than 2015, mainly because I was sick almost all of 2015. In 2016 I had my left hip replaced, but that was a Good Thing. Now all I have to hurt about is my back, and there’s even hope for that. But we lost SO MANY PEOPLE in 2016. Unfair, 2016. Phooey.

However, this particular blog isn’t about me, or even 2016. It’s about my home town of Pasadena, California, and its New Year’s Day traditions. And, of course, Daisy Gumm Majesty and her crew.

Daisy Gumm Majesty’s latest adventure, SPIRITS UNITED (which I expect to finish writing one of these days), takes place in Pasadena in October of 1924. But the new year (1925) is fast approaching! On Thursday, January 1, 1925, Daisy and her family (and maybe Sam Rotondo, if he can walk that far on his injured leg) will stroll the few blocks from her darling little bungalow on South Marengo Avenue to Colorado Boulevard and will, among a whole bunch of other people, watch the Tournament of Roses Parade (more often known merely as the Rose Parade).

The Tournament of Roses Parade began its history in 1890, when folks in Pasadena drove their buggies and tallyhos (whatever they were), decorated with roses, along the streets of Pasadena. Over time, the Tournament of Roses Association was formed, and the Rose Parade became a more structured event. The big deal after the Rose Parade was, for the first few years, chariot races. Then the City Fathers (and Mothers, one presumes) decided to build a football stadium, which they called the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl was dedicated in October of 1922.

When I played the flute and the piccolo (not at the same time) in the Eliot Junior High School band (yes, I know it’s called a middle school today), we actually marched in the Rose Bowl. The less said about that, the better, mainly because the tuba player ran into a goal post. It sounds funny, but it wasn’t for him. It hurt. My class at John Muir High School graduated in the Rose Bowl in… Well, the year doesn’t matter. Let’s just say I’m old. An old and venerable place, the Rose Bowl.

Here’s a picture of the Rose Bowl under construction in 1921:
 
 

Before the Rose Bowl was built, games were held in Tournament Park, which has since been renamed Brookside Park. For years and years, the Rose Bowl was the largest football stadium in the nation. Daisy didn’t much care about that, but her late husband, Billy; her current fiancé, Sam Rotondo; and Daisy’s father, Joe Gumm, are all football fans. However, they didn’t go to the 1925 Tournament of Roses Game. For Pete’s sake, tickets cost $5.00 each! Nobody in Daisy’s family would waste that much good money to watch anything so frivolous as a football game. Anyhow, beginning in 1926, the Rose Bowl football game was broadcast throughout the nation. Great modern invention, radio, by golly! That means Daisy and her mother and aunt will be able to sit in the living room and read while Joe and Sam listen to the radio-signal receiving set Daisy bought for her late husband a couple of years earlier.
 
 
The 1925 game must have been exciting, however, because Knute Rockne’s legendary (to some. I’d never heard of them) Four Horsemen from Notre Dame played Ernie Nevers and his team from Stanford. Notre Dame won 27-10, in case you wondered.

 

As for the Tournament of Roses Parade itself, for many years the queen and princesses who composed her court were chosen from among students attending Pasadena City College. Before that, however, I don’t have a clue how the queens, princesses, and sometimes even princes were selected. The very first Tournament of Roses Queen was Hallie Woods, who ruled on New Year’s Day, 1905.

Here we have a souvenir postcard from Pasadena for New Year’s Day, 1925:
 

There was no queen in 1924 for some reason beyond Daisy’s understanding or recollection (and Google wouldn’t give me a reason). In 1925, however, the Tournament gurus made up for their neglect in 1924 by choosing Margaret Scoville (who was, I presume, a local gal) as Pasadena’s Rose Queen. She was married, by the way. I think there were only two married Rose Queens in Pasadena’s long history.

Here's a photo of Margaret Scoville, not when she was the reigning Rose Queen in 1925, but taken at a meeting of former Rose Queens held in 1956. Margaret’s the kind of dumpy one in the middle of those seated:



Naturally, Aunt Vi will fix something spectacular for dinner. Well, it’ll at least be mighty tasty. In fact, because the Gumms are originally from Auburn, Massachusetts, I suspect she’ll opt for a New England boiled dinner, which can cook while she and the rest of the family toddle up to see the Rose Parade. A New England boiled dinner consists of a corned beef brisket or a smoked ham and a bunch of root vegetables like onions, potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, maybe some parsnips and perhaps even some cabbage (yes, I know cabbage isn’t a root vegetable). Since neither Daisy nor I like black-eyed peas (and anyhow, they’re a southern tradition) we’ll just skip those, thank you very much. Of course Daisy’s father, Joe Gumm, would probably adore some codfish cakes. I know my own father did (he was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and grew up in Hartland, Maine). Since, however, neither Daisy nor I like those either, Vi will forego them, bless her heart. There aren’t many foods Daisy and I can’t get down home and comfy with, but black-eyed peas and codfish cakes are a couple of them. Kippered herrings are another matter altogether. We both love those.

 
Anyway, the last time I personally ate a New England boiled dinner was when my younger daughter Robin, my mom, and I drove across this vast nation and visited relations in New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine. My half-sister, Ann Provost, (who lived in Dexter, Maine) made it for us. It was spectacular. Mind you, it’s kinda like corned beef and cabbage, but it’s not called that on New Year’s Dayor probably most other days of the year if you live in Maine.

By the way, the Rose Parade and game never occur on a Sunday, which is why this year’s (2017’s) parade isn’t today (January 1). That’s because all the floats and bands and so forth, scared the horses tied to railings outside the various churches on Colorado Boulevard (which was called Colorado Street back then). That particular custom persists to this day.

I’ll be in touch with the winners of December’s contest individually. As I seem to have an overabundance of UNSETTLED SPIRITS, one of Daisy’s many adventures, I’ll be giving away copies of that book in January. If you’d like to enter the contest, just send me an email (alice@aliceduncan.net) and give me your name and home address. If you’d like to be added to my mailing list, you may do so on my web site (http://aliceduncan.net/) or email me (you won’t be smothered in newsletters, because I only write one a month). If you’d like to be friends on Facebook, visit my page at https://www.facebook.com/alice.duncan.925.

Thank you, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!