After years of writing historical nonfiction books, I am more than a little excited to announce my debut novel, Providence, the first in the McBride Chronicles historical family saga series, will be released later this fall.
Years ago, a very wise teacher once told me "only write about what you know." Well, I always loved history, my educational background was in history, and I thought I was pretty good at it!
But how, I wondered, can anyone know exactly what it was like to live back in the past?
As a nonfiction book writer, I was more than a little familiar with researching historical figures and situations and then writing about them—the true facts.
Now as a fiction writer, I seem to be doing even more research, analysis, and investigation into living life in another century while at the same time trying to forget everything about life as we know it in the 21st century. It's no easy process!
For the past weeks, months, and even years while the McBride Chronicles series has been coming to life, I have found myself researching some of the following topics while trying to think and act like someone living in the 19th century:
Placing my characters in these settings has been a challenge—but a most enjoyable one.
For a fiction writer, though, research alone is not enough. Creating real-life flesh-and-blood characters is essential.
Over the next several months, I will be blogging about some of these topics. SO if you enjoy historical fiction as much as I do, I hope you will follow along on my adventurous journey.
Please read my blogs, leave a comment (good or bad), join my email list by signing up for my "freebies" (the first is "Poker Alice"), and watch for the release of Providence, my debut novel, to be published by Sandra Jonas Publishing, Boulder, Colorado.
I hope you will be in for a treat . . .
Prohibition days certainly encouraged “rum-running” and “bootlegging,” and many became very proficient at the game.
But how could a once-honest cop possibly turn into an infamous bootlegger?
I love discovering characters from the past that were just a little different from the rest. Crossing the line of respectability made them that much more intriguing.
And such a man was Roy Olmstead from Seattle.
He was born on a farm in Nebraska in 1886 and was raised by good farming folk to become an upright citizen. In 1907, he joined the Seattle Police Force, following in the footsteps of his older brother.
And by 1910 he had been promoted to sergeant.
In 1916 Washington joined the “dry" states as a result of prohibition, and a year later, Joe Warren was appointed Seattle chief of police. He soon noticed Olmstead’s diligent work and squeaky clean record so by 1919 had appointed him to lieutenant.
Although not officially working on the “dry squad” himself, Olmstead soon became very familiar with the way bootleggers operated as they plied the waters of the Pacific Northwest between Seattle and Vancouver Island. Many of them made money while others continued to just make mistakes so they were caught. Olmstead realized where they went wrong and was convinced he would do much better at the game.
So he began to operate his own small bootlegging business, believing that working on the other side of the law would be a piece of cake! Unfortunately, he too made mistakes and was soon caught, fined, and eventually dismissed from the police force.
That didn’t bother him, because he had wanted to go into the bootlegging business full time anyway. Eventually he became one of the largest bootlegging operators and employers in the Puget Sound.
By 1924, his operation was so successful that he was able to wholesale liquor to numerous clients, many of whom were Seattle’s elite and even some police officers who turned a blind eye to what he was doing.
At the height of his career as a bootlegger, Olmstead’s organization alone was delivering 200 cases of Canadian liquor into the Seattle area daily, and he was grossing $200,000 a month. He owned a fleet of vessels and had purchased a farm outside town to store the contraband goods.
Strangely, he never allowed his men to carry guns. He believed it was better to lose a shipment rather than lose a man’s life. This was quite a departure from other bootleggers at the time and certainly contrasts today’s views of owning guns in the US.
But soon Olmstead was caught, and his operation came to an end. On January 19, 1925, Roy and his second wife, Elise, were both arrested.
Elise Olmstead (using the name “Aunt Vivian”) had been broadcasting children’s bedtime stories over a radio transmitter from one of the bedrooms in their elegant home. In point of fact she was really sending out coded messages to rum-running vehicles!
Many in Olmstead’s organization were also arrested and two of his vehicles, the Eva B and the Three Deuces were seized and over 700 cases of liquor and 240 cases of contraband goods were confiscated.
Olmstead’s Trial became one of the largest and most controversial in US history. Olmstead was sentenced to four years in the McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary and fined $8,000. His wife, Elise, and seven other defendants were acquitted.
Having studied the law well and with his wife’s help from the outside, Olmstead made frequent appeals to the higher courts during his incarceration, and in February of 1928, the Supreme Court heard the famous Olmstead v. United States case. His lawyers claimed that wiretapping set up by the Prohibition Bureau was illegal.
In May of 1931, Olmstead was finally released from prison, and on Christmas Day 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt granted Roy Olmstread a full pardon, restoring all his constitutional rights plus canceling the $8,000 fine and another $2,288 in court fees.
A CHANGED MAN
By then Olmstead was a changed man. While in prison, he had embraced the Christian Science faith and now believed that liquor was a curse!
Following his release, he made a living as a furniture salesman and his wife divorced him, maybe finding him less appealing as an honest man. He began to visit prisoners in the King County Jail, preaching to them about the evils of drink! He even became a Sunday school teacher, and many alcoholics were released into his custody for counseling.
Roy Olmstead the “good cop” had returned. You can read more of his story in my book Legends, Liars and Lawbreakers.
But what, I wonder, happened to all those rum-running boats? Two of them (the Eva B and the Three Deuces) were seized by customs officials during the 1920s. During WWII, George E. Murry was the officer in charge of a boat called the Zev, which he believed had once belonged to Olmstead. The Zev had been confiscated by the US Coast Guard Reserve and later put into service by them based in Elliott Bay in Seattle.
There were a fleet of other boats that had once plied the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Does anyone have any information about what happened to any of them?
If so, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.
If you have ever visited my hometown of Victoria in British Columbia, there were probably two landmark structures that caught your eye—the Parliament Buildings on Belleville Street and the Johnson Street "Blue Bridge" leading to Esquimalt.
The impressive Legislative Buildings still stand and have since 1897, officially opening in February of 1898. Sadly, however, the old blue bridge erected in 1926 will soon disappear, replaced by a new state-of-the-art bridge, currently standing alongside. Ironically, there is an interesting connection between these two landmarks—budget—and therein lies this tale.
The Parliament Buildings were designed by architect Francis Rattenbury, who won a competition to design them under the pseudonym of “ABC Architect.”
Parliament had initially been housed in buildings known as the “bird cages” because of their unusual and rather ugly appearance. So you would think that people would have been delighted to have the new grand structure overlooking the harbor.
Not so! The erection of the buildings had vastly exceeded its original budget of $500,000. Final cost of construction came in at $923,882, and completion had also been delayed by two years.
Almost 30 years later in 1926, the original “blue bridge” was constructed. And despite a long-held nostalgic affection for the old bridge, in 2009 it was decided by the powers that be that updating the bridge to today’s seismic standards would cost too much and a brand-new bridge would be cheaper to construct.
But the final cost of the new bridge turned out to be almost three times the original estimate:
Isn't it strange how two Victoria landmarks are connected by “budget issues”—a big topic of controversy back in the 1890s and an equally controversial subject over 100 years later in 2018?
These problems of budget are not restricted to Victoria. I discovered some fascinating global facts about this topic. For instance, statistically at least 85% of every construction project around the world will go over budget.
This happens because certain things are seldom factored into the original estimate, including:
All adding up to a lack of foresight!
So, as for Victoria, what do you think? Do you agree that the elegant Legislative Buildings were well worth the extra expense despite being over budget?
And how do you feel about the new bridge, about which there are still ongoing discussions?
The problem now seems to concern its name. In point of fact, it leads off Pandora Street and NOT Johnson Street, so should it be called the Pandora Bridge or will it forever be known as “the blue bridge”?
Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.