A novel is a committment. It’s long. It’s complicated. It’s filled with characters who have minds of their own. The story always goes places the writer didn’t expect. Ends as never imagined. That’s why we write them. That’s also why we read them, and why, in a world of e-mail and text messages, we still love them. Here’s where my love of the novel has taken me . . .
Miss Ellie Wells forced Seth Watkins out of the second story of her Purple Sage Saloon, naked, at gunpoint. Never mind that he had just given her the Purple Sage for her birthday–he didn’t pay his whiskey bill, and if he thought he didn’t have to because he was her “partner,” he’d better think again. Soon she tossed the wedding dress he bought her onto the same dusty main street. Miss Ellie didn’t “partner” in any sense of the word. And she never let anyone see her cry. When Seth returned with a bride, Marta Mae, niece of Colorado’s richest railroad and mining magnate, Ellie marched right over to present the newlyweds with a bottle of French champagne and her best wishes. But Marta Mae wasn’t fooled. She recognized the threat this tall, confident woman posed, and she wasn’t going to allow anything or anyone to imperil her fragile new marriage. She promptly handed the bottle back to Ellie along with a temperance pamphlet, little dreaming how the war she was starting would spread far beyond the borders of their quiet town . . .
This book started with a little-known fact:
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union is still the largest women’s movement the world has ever known.
In other words, the 19th Century women, who wanted to put an end to drinking alcohol, managed to organize more women than any woman’s organization before or since.
Yet they were wrong-headed.
They understood the problem. They were deeply concerned about abused women and other issues that we would recognize today. However, their idea was to reform men rather than change laws to protect women. If they could close the saloons and put an end to “demon rum,” they thought that men everywhere would become gentlemen.
Ironically, at the same time, many 19th Century women braved the American frontier because they wanted to own land and open their own businesses; opportunities (rights) denied them in the more settled east.
What if a women saloon-owner were to be confronted with a woman temperance leader determined to close her down? What if the two women loved the same man? Miss Ellie’s Purple Sage Saloon grew out of those two questions.
It is said that the women in her family share the same fault–too much passion. And Kate Burke’s burning passion is photography. At a time when lady photographers are supposed to take “pretty” pictures, she exposes the massacre of hundreds of Indian women, children, and old men at Wounded Knee Creek. In a place where respectable wives don’t “get familiar” with ‘the natives,” Kate risks her life to document the women of the Sacred Sioux Quillworkers. She is determined not to let their centuries-old secrets die with them. And before she is finished shooting, Kate will take on the entire U.S. Seventh Cavalry and single-handedly change history. But even a woman as gutsy as Kate may not be able to escape the enemy who stalks her, a past she cannot forget, or the rivalry of the two men she dares to love . . .
A tale of courage and undaunted spirit, Kate’s story promises to haunt the prairie forever, like the ghost dancers who never die . . . like the dream art of the quillworkers . . . like the silver images of her own glass plates.
This one started with the oldest of story questions,
what if . . .?
Photographs were extremely popular in the 1890s. Almost every eastern home had “parlor picture books” that often featured photographs of Native Americans, even pictures of men in kivas and on mountain tops performing scared ceremonies. However, there were no pictures of women’s ceremonies. Likely because men would not have been allowed to view, much less picture, such ceremonies, and women photographers were expected to take “parlor pretties.”
What if . . . a woman photographer felt compelled to document the women of Sioux Sacred Quillworkers before they, their art and their sacred ceremonies disappeared?
What if . . .that same woman was at Wounded Knee and had evidence that the US Army’s “battle to end all Indian Wars” was really a massacre?
Because her camera saw too much, that woman would be in danger. She would likely put others in danger–her husband, his business associates, her family, anyone who tried to help her, etc.
There are many ways to “see too much.” No doubt that woman, and her photographic art, would be changed forever by the Sioux Quillworkers and their art.
Being a Lady Pinkerton detective gave Dayle Dobson an outlet for her restless energy and a whole other meaning to “getting her man.” Smart and fearless, she arrived in a wind-whipped Wyoming mining town prepared to help the big boss’ wife rescue Chinese child prostitutes, even if that meant inciting Tong wars and racial hatred. It was her job and she always did her job.
Harry Bryant, handsome and mysterious, has never met a woman he couldn’t woo or a miner he couldn’t organize, never mind that organizing is against the law. A strike in this town will stop the coal fueling America’s trains. Knowing that, he figures he’s one “outlaw” who will be dictating terms to the President of the United States.
Vividly bringing to life an exciting but little-known historical event, Dayle’s story quickly engages all the emotions stirred by injustice . . . all the life-threatening drama of a far-reaching intrigue . . . and all the poignancy of a man’s heart-wrenching choice between the law and what she knows is right–not to mention the man she loves.
Talk about conflicting demands!
In the 1880s there were real Lady Pinkerton Detectives–emphasis on “lady.” They were not to disgrace the Pinkerton Agency by dressing “unseemly” or doing anything that might reflect badly on the company. Never mind that they were also expected to come up with results any way they could.
And a moral dilemma!
The Pinkertons worked for anyone who could afford to hire them. In the American West that was mainly the railroads and the mine owners. For that reason, Pinkertons often got involved strike breaking and land swindles. Work for the agency long enough and you were sure to find yourself on the wrong side. Then what? Sewing and school teaching didn’t pay and lacked adventure.
Add death-defying daring . . .
In the 1880s there were real women missionaries who were willing to risk their lives to save Chinese girls from slavery in places like Rock Springs, Wyoming.
And righteous condemnation . . .
Of course, women missionaries had no use for Lady Pinkertons, whom they considered little better than the girl-prostitutes they were saving.
Now throw the Pinkerton and the missionary together. Make their lives depend on each other and see what happens.
A femme fatale is an archetype, a recurring motif, found in all world literatures, both ancient and modern. She is often portrayed as an alluring, seductive woman, who cannot be resisted and therefore leads men into compromising situations–a dangerous woman.
Sometimes she is the villain.
More often she uses her charms to play on a man’s weakness in order to trip up his villainy. She will often appear to be amoral (an anti-heroine) in the beginning of a story and later prove to be the heroine.
Some Famous Woman Spies
Belle Boyd–Civil War
Emiline Pigott–Civil War
Antonia Ford–Civil War
Lydia Barrington Darragh–Revolutionary War
Ann Bates--Revolutionary War
Nora Slatkin–Director CIA
An interesting tidbit:
While famous women spies are real and their stories well-known, famous women detectives are almost all fictional.