Historical Research for the Contemporary Writer by Bonnie Edwards
I write contemporary romance but a few years ago I got a blindingly complete idea for a paranormal erotic romance that my editor snapped up for the Aphrodisia line at Kensington Books.
I was so excited by the idea that I sent an email that said something like, “What would you think about a book set in a haunted bordello where the dead hookers tell their stories?” Four minutes later a response came asking for two books.
My first series was born, but wow! Dead hookers? A hundred-year-old mansion? The spirits of the hookers who worked in Perdition House each had a story to tell. Since they lived in the mansion pre-WWI I had some major work to do.
For the first time ever, I found myself writing historical fiction. Why? Because each story is told in real time by the women while the contemporary heroine is sleeping. In other words, Faye Grantham falls asleep and dreams a vignette out of a woman’s life.
So, while Perdition House has a contemporary heroine, it also has several historical heroines as well. Confused yet? I never was. As I said above, the idea came to me in blinding clarity.
Back to research…
One question on the net about brothel museums led me to The Montana Historical Society at the state website.
I learned that Butte, Montana had a reputation for its bordellos and vice dens. I also learned that the crusader Carrie Nation had met her match in madam May Maloy. The women scuffled in a saloon and Ms. Maloy emerged the winner.
Butte became the perfect place for me to find my madam. Not a prostitute, I decided, but a kept woman, raised by a single mother who'd embraced the Free Love movement that rose in the years following the Civil War.
So, I had the real Carrie on one side of the movement for social change and Belle, a fictional forward-thinking free love advocate who also needed to make a living. I used Carrie's appearance in Butte as a ticking clock.
In one vignette signs appear that Carrie's due to arrive. In another, I show the scuffle that ended Carrie's time in Butte. Carrie Nation is a catalyst for change within the novel's historical setting. Belle, my fictional madam, sees Carrie's interference in Butte's business as a sign that it's time to move on. She decides to collect several women and head west to Seattle to build a fine mansion dedicated to elite businessmen and powerful politicians.
Oddly, months after completing the first story (then titled by Kensington as Midnight Confessions) I fell across the book: Stella, by Linda J. Eversole. This is a creative non-fiction biography of a madam, Stella Carroll, who operated brothels from San Francisco to Victoria, BC.
Reading the account of Stella's life sent chills up my spine. Her reasons for choosing her locations were exactly the reasons I chose to set the mansion where I did. Her attitude toward living the high life, having the best wines, the best foods, fine clothes were shared by my fictional heroine, Belle Grantham.
Creepy? You bet. The real story of Stella Carroll proved that I'd come at my characters correctly. They felt real to me and then, having read about Stella, I hoped my characters in Perdition House felt real to readers as well.
Perdition House An Erotic Saga Part 1 is FREE and available for download at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LDBRD0U
And for iBooks, Nook, Kobo and other retailers here: https://books2read.com/u/bpDwXb
I'm showing you the cover for Part 2 because I love it so much!