Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Men Read in 1901

One of my favorite parts of researching Annie's Stories involved figuring out what Stephen Adams would have read, besides The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which he read because he knew Annie Gallagher was interested in it. (You can see this on the cover.)

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells came to mind, but I had to pick novels for my character that would have been available in 1901. Wells had only three novels published by that point, but they were popular: The Time Machine, War of the WorldsThe Island of Doctor MoreauThe First Men in the Moon came out in 1901, and my characters are eagerly awaiting it.

For Verne there were plenty to choose from because he had been publishing for decades at that point. I chose Facing the Flag because I imagine most people today would not be familiar with that one. I wasn't. So because my character, Stephen Adams, was reading it and enjoying it, I had to read it along with him.

Verne's visionary outlook is startling when you think about it. In this novel he wrote about a weapon of mass destruction a hundred years or so before that term was even being used. A brilliant, but somewhat demented, scientist invents a weapon that the countries of the world all want, something that actually happened in the WWII era. You can read about the novel here. The novel is in the public domain so you can get it free on Google Books.

Of course there were classics like The Last of the Mohicans that I assume folks re-read. Libraries existed, but access was not widespread, especially for my characters in Lower Manhattan, so I supposed books got passed around, therefore Stephen and his friend Dexter trade books. There were dime store novels certainly, but my character is looking for bigger books. I wouldn’t call him a literary snob, but he is a discerning reader. That’s why his landlord chose him for some moonlighting work for his publishing company. (You’ll understand if you read Annie’s Stories.)

I left some hints in my novel. One is about a book that would soon be published. I'd love if readers would find that and let me know! Another is about something that Stephen, thinking like the novelists he most admired, imagined would be a keen invention, a device you could use to hear someone read a book to you while you worked.

There are other bookish themes in Annie's Stories, not the least of which is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. If you haven't read the book by L. Frank Baum, it's also in the public domain. Try it out. It's a bit different than the movie.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Back to School with Annie Gallagher

Being a former teacher, I like to ponder how readers might be prompted to learn more about history after reading my Ellis Island Series. I've added to my "Teaching History" page. Check it out and let me know if you have more ideas!

If you are on Twitter, you can help let others know about this resource by copying the text below:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Story Behind Annie's Heart Pin

If you've read Annie's Stories, you know in the story she receives a special heart pin. The pin is actually on the cover. It's a little hard to see, so I've pointed it out to you below. If you have a copy of the book, you can see it easily if you know where to look.

I have that pin. It was my inspiration while I wrote the story. I purchased it from an Etsy shop. I told the seller what I was using it for and she actually pre-ordered Annie's Stories! As a shout-out to her, and because I know many of you would be interested in her wares, here is the link to Mrs. C's Vintage Boutique.

So, if I have the pin, how did it get on the cover? I actually asked Mrs. C., the Etsy merchant, if she had any more of these. I thought they might make great giveaways. But unfortunately she doesn't, and she doesn't know where to get another one. If any of you have seen these anywhere, please let me know. It's real silver, but probably not from the era of my story. Although it looks like it could have been, don't you think?

So the pin, as far as I know, is one of a kind. The kind folks at Tyndale agreed to use it on the cover so I sent it to them and when they were done with the cover photo shoot, they mailed it back to me. It's a special little touch readers won't know about unless they read my blog or come to one of my appearances where I'll probably be wearing this pin.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The History Behind the Fictional Author's Mark in Annie's Stories

Annie Gallagher's stories were marked with a symbol. If you've read the novel you know that this symbol held great importance for determining the value of these stories (to everyone but Annie that is. For her they were priceless since her father wrote them.)

You might wonder how I can up with the idea that someone might give his original writings a hallmark so others would know he'd actually written it. In the story the author's pen name is Luther Redmond. I explain where the names came from, but for clarity here I'll tell you that Luther is for Martin Luther. Martin Luther gave his writings a mark. It's called the Luther Rose.

From Wikimedia Commons, Stained glass window with Lutheran rose by CTHOE

From Wikipedia, this is how Luther described his symbol when responding to the man who created it for him:

Grace and peace from the Lord. As you desire to know whether my painted seal, which you sent to me, has hit the mark, I shall answer most amiably and tell you my original thoughts and reason about why my seal is a symbol of my theology. The first should be a black cross in a heart, which retains its natural color, so that I myself would be reminded that faith in the Crucified saves us. "For one who believes from the heart will be justified" (Romans 10:10). Although it is indeed a black cross, which mortifies and which should also cause pain, it leaves the heart in its natural color. It does not corrupt nature, that is, it does not kill but keeps alive. "The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17) but by faith in the crucified. Such a heart should stand in the middle of a white rose, to show that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In other words, it places the believer into a white, joyous rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy like the world gives (John 14:27). That is why the rose should be white and not red, for white is the color of the spirits and the angels (cf. Matthew 28:3; John 20:12). Such a rose should stand in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in spirit and faith is a beginning of the heavenly future joy, which begins already, but is grasped in hope, not yet revealed. And around this field is a golden ring, symbolizing that such blessedness in Heaven lasts forever and has no end. Such blessedness is exquisite, beyond all joy and goods, just as gold is the most valuable, most precious and best metal. This is my compendium theologiae [summary of theology]. I have wanted to show it to you in good friendship, hoping for your appreciation. May Christ, our beloved Lord, be with your spirit until the life hereafter. Amen.

I was inspired by this and created something for Annie's father use on his stories. I'll let you read the book to find the reasoning behind it, but here is how I imagined it looking:

Image adapted from work of  Jed on Wikimedia Commons
Just as a master's painting could be faked, a writer's manuscript could be mislabeled. In a time when all we had was one's word, I imagine artists used marks, like kings and officials would have.

So that's the story behind that part of the story!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dorothy's Visit to Oz Was Not Just a Dream

Not in the book version, anyway. There are several differences between L. Frank Baum's book and the movie version with Judy Garland. Most people will point out that the slippers were silver not ruby. That's interesting, but I think a more major difference involves the dream.

The author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book had passed away before the movie came out, but Frank J. Baum obviously had an opinion about it. In the 1950s Baum's son wrote an essay about why the Oz books continued to sell. He cited reasons juvenile fantasy readers found the story appealing such as simple language, the fact that it appeals to adults who read it to their children. He says, "Reality and unreality are so entwined that it is often difficult to know where one leaves off and the other begins...." And then Baum says something that might surprise people who have only seen the movie and not read the book.

The story leaves the reader with a feeling that it all could have happened just as it was told. And the end is not spoiled by the author's explanation that these marvelous adventures were a dream or a hallucination. Never attempt to explain fantasy.

 In 1938 the screenwriters working on the film disagreed. They thought audiences were too sophisticated for that kind of thing. In The Making of the Wizard of Oz by Aljean Harmetz one of the screenwriters is quoted as saying, " cannot put fantastical people in strange places in front of an audience unless they have seen them as human beings first." And he meant that literally, believing that you couldn't just introduce a scarecrow, tin man, and cowardly lion and have audiences identify with them. But Baum did, didn't he? And scores of other film makers have since then if you think about the genre of fantasy...Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Avatar...just to mention a few.

Even so, the movie has survived and continues to entertain audiences, so maybe you can do both or one or the other. I believe it's the quest, the search for home and a place to belong that people identify with. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Story Behind the Magdalene Laundries

If you saw the Oscar nominated movie Philomena staring Judi Dench, you understand the experience my character Annie Gallagher goes through before she comes to America. Unlike Philomena, Annie wasn’t sent to the nun’s laundry to work because she was pregnant, but like her she was there to pay for her perceived sins. Annie was innocent, but it did not take long for her to believe God had abandoned her in that place.

“You are here to cleanse your sins, child. You do know you’re a sinner—and of the worst kind.”She dared to speak. “What is the worst kind, sir?”His fingers slid down her arm to her wrist. “The worst are girls who are so lovely, who have skin soft and smooth…”~From Annie’s Stories

The unfortunate part about these stories is that there was more than one of these institutions and they existed for well over two hundred years in Ireland. Shortly before my most recent visit to Ireland in 2013, the Irish government offered an apology for their part in what was called the Magdalene Laundries. 

Spotted on a Dublin street corner. Photo: ©2013byCindyThomson

This is still in the news as the women still living are awaiting redress. See this article. And here is an update

The women worked in these laundries (and so did children as you can see below), which provided services to hotels, resorts, and other other businesses, for no pay and against their will.

Transferred from en.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Dmitri Lytov using CommonsHelper.
(Original text : Scanned by Eloquence* from Finnegan, F.: Do Penance or Perish. A Study of Magdalen Asylums in Ireland. Congrave Press, Ireland, Piltown, Co. Kilkenny (2001).)

In Annie’s Stories my intent was not to point an accusing finger at a whole institution, such as the Catholic church in Ireland. I cannot say that all the laundries were abusive. But I think it’s clear from what we know today that some were.

Some people who read Annie’s Stories will probably wonder if such a thing really could have happened in Ireland. The answer is yes. Part of my heart lives in Ireland with the landscape and the people. There is so much that is good and beautiful there to celebrate. I feel the same about America and yet there are dark episodes in our history as well—Indian massacres (on both the Indian and the white side), the Civil War, race riots—to name just a few. There have even been institutions very much like Magdalene Laundries in America. In the 19th century both men and women could be admitted to what was referred to as insane asylums for a myriad of reasons, some light years away from being mental health issues. (If you don’t believe me, read this list.

I explain in the author notes of Annie’s Stories, referring to a character in the book, “When Father Weldon tells Annie that the church is not evil, he means that there are caring people within it, and I believe that has been true since the church first began. But a code of secrecy has allowed injustice to continue. History has lessons to teach us, and I pray our society learns from this awful episode.”

I believe stories have the power to change and influence us. If my story, and stories like Philomena, can have a positive impact by encouraging readers to stand up for justice, and have the courage to overcome the code of silence that is most often seen today as apathy, I will be pleased beyond measure.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Early 20th Century Recipes From Annie's Stories

One of the things I enjoy about reading historical fiction is the food. I don't always want to eat it, but I'm curious. What did people enjoy back then? Here are the answers from my novel, Annie's Stories.

Stephen Adams frequents his friend's diner where his wife makes one of Stephen's favorite dishes. It's so popular, it is often sold out. I believe it must have been early 20th century comfort food.

Creamed Cabbage

2 cups cabbage, minced, boiled until tender and drained
• 1 cup hot milk
• 1 tablespoon butter
• 1 teaspoon flour
• ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper
• 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
• Generous dash of sweet paprika
Return the cooked cabbage to the pan. Cream together butter and flour. Add the milk, butter-flour mixture, salt and pepper, parsley and paprika to the cabbage and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring to keep from burning. Serve over toast.

Annie did her share of cooking at Hawkins House. Her favorite dish was one Mrs. Hawkins taught her, a British speciality. It was time consuming, but in Annie's opinion, well worth the trouble.

Peas Porridge, sometimes called Pease Pudding

This recipe comes from an 1898 cookbook titled: Mrs. Roundell's Practical Cookery Book: With Many Family Recipes Hitherto Unpublished 

I imagine this was comfort food as well, at least it was for Annie, and a nice contrast to all those sweets she is so fond of.

Speaking of sweets, in one scene Annie and her cousin Aileen are making a Brown Betty. They would have learned this from living in America. The dish first appears in the middle of the 19th century. Maybe I shouldn't say it, but...surely this is comfort food as well. I wonder what my mood must have been while writing this novel. ;-)

It's a fairly simple recipe. I read that it was one of the Reagans' favorites while they were in the White House.

Apple Brown Betty

2 c. finely chopped apples
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. bread crumbs
1/2 c. chopped nuts
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. butter
Place a layer of apples in a greased baking dish. Mix dry ingredients together. Sprinkle apples with the mixture. Alternate layers until all is used, ending with the crumbs on top. Dot with butter. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover to brown. Serve warm or cold with cream.

Annie has a sweet tooth, something Stephen discovers and takes advantage of. His neighbor bakes for several shops and she invites him to come by and taste something she is preparing called rugelach. It's a Jewish pastry/cookie to die for traditionally made for Hanukkah.

I imagine Mrs. Jacobs's looked similar to these from Zabar's in Manhattan. You can even order these online and have them shipped to your house!

Here is a recipe I found at

For pastry:
3 cups unbleached flour
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 pound cream cheese
1/2 pound softened butter or margarine
1 tablespoon vanilla
For the filling:
12 heaping tablespoons canned whole cranberry sauce
2 cups sugar
2 cups chopped walnuts
2 cups raisins
2 tablespoons cinnamon
For topping:
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar, mixed
Blend all pastry ingredients and divide dough into 6 equal pieces. Shape into balls, cover, and refrigerate until chilled.

Sprinkle a little flour on a flat surface. Take each ball and roll out into a 12-inch circle, dusting with flour as needed to keep dough from sticking. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of cranberry sauce on each pastry round, covering a 6-inch circle at the center of it.

Combine all other filling ingredients and spoon one cup of it on each round, spreading evenly to an inch of the edge.

Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut into 16 triangles, slicing the dough like a pie.

Starting at the outer edge, roll each triangle toward the center and place on a greased cookie sheet with the small end of the triangle on the bottom.

When all the triangles are rolled, dust the tops with the cinnamon-sugar mixture and bake in a 325°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until tops are golden-brown.

Are you hungry yet? If you have a recipe you'd like to share, let me know in the comments.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Song from Annie's Stories

I surely did NOT make up the tune Stephen Adams likes to whistle in my novel, Annie's Stories. The song is The Stone Outside Dan Murphy's Door, and it's a nostalgic song about the good old days.

Stephen Adams has never lived anywhere else but Manhattan. He doesn't know what it's like to pine away for one's homeland, but he knows plenty of people who are doing just that. He's curious about the cultures and far away places represented in the face's and lifestyles of the people on his delivery route.

The song was written by John (Johnny) Francis Patterson (1840–1889), who was known as the Irish Singing Clown. He was a circus performer. He was even painted by Jack Yeats, brother of W.B. Yeats.

The lyrics:

The Stone Outside Dan Murphy's Door

There's a sweet garden spot in my memory
'Tis the place I was born in and reared
'Tis long years ago since I left it
But return there I will if I'm spared
To the friends and companions of childhood
Who'd assemble each night by the score
Round Dan Murphy's shop, and there we would stop
At the stone that stood outside his door

Those days in our hearts we will cherish
Contented although we were poor
And the songs that we sung in the days we were young
On the stone outside Dan Murphy's door

When our day's work was over we'd go there
In summer or winter the same
The boys and girls would assemble
And join in some innocent game
Dan Murphy would bring down his fiddle
While his daughter would look after the store
The music would ring and the songs we would sing
On the stone outside Dan Murphy's door

Those days in our hearts we will cherish
Contented although we were poor
And the songs that we sung in the days we were young
On the stone outside Dan Murphy's door
And the songs that we sung in the days we were young
On the stone outside Dan Murphy's door

And yes, if you were wondering, I did listen to it while I wrote those scenes.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Financial Schemes of the Early 20th Century

While I was working on Annie’s Stories, and considering what kind of trouble my characters could get in, I thought about Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. If you haven’t read it, and you’re at all interested in the Gilded Age, put it on your must-read list.

I love reading books by authors who are writing about a society they actually lived in. You can’t get better historical detail than that. Take Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for example.

The idea that investing could bring quick money was alluring to both the rich, the rich wannbes like Wharton’s protagonist Lily Bart, and to those who could ill afford to lose a dollar.

(Photo above: Wall Street, 1898.)

And so my character Stephen Adams falls prey to what is called a Bucket Shop. This financial scheme is described as “an operation in which the customer is sold what is supposed to be a derivative interest in a security or commodity future, but there is no transaction made on any exchange. The transaction goes 'in the bucket' and is never executed.” (

Lily Bart is deceived by a friend for personal reasons, rather than by a bucket shop operation, but the idea is the same. My character had noble ambitions, but was lured just the same by the appeal of making quick money.

Sometimes when you study the past, it feels as though you are still in the present. Some things never change.

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. ~1 Timothy 6:10 NLT