Research and art: Grousable Books Newsletter 15 May

Grousable Books Newsletter

In this issue: follow my research, quick possum pic, author spotlight on Jolie Tunnell, Beach Town Books, and a bit of art.

A unique chance to watch me work

No, I don’t mean I get on Zoom and you watch me type, frown, and shuffle papers.

For my newsletter subscribers, and because I do love documenting history, I plan to blog my process of research for both a New Orleans-based short story and Murder at the Gasworks, a prequel to my Tommy Jones Victorian mysteries.

people at a bank

George Elgar Hicks, Dividend Day (1850)

The inspiration for the short story is Bouchercon 2025‘s anthology competition, which I plan to enter. The territory is new. Since the conference is in New Orleans, that’s where they’ve asked the stories to be set. All my fiction work so far has been set in England or southern California, so this will be a challenge. 

I’ll also be diverting into my WIP (Work in Progress). The Tommy Jones prequel is half-drafted already, but there is still much research to do, starting with understanding Dividend Day at the Bank of England, pictured above, when stockholders collected their quarterly dividend. (And no, I don’t know how this fits into the story – yet – but there’s been some sneaky goings-on at the Bank . . . )

You can come with me (to the research posts, not the Bank). The first installment is in a secret category on my blog. 

Author recommendation: Jolie Tunnell

This month my hearty recommendation is for the novels of Jolie Tunnell, who’s a wonderful person in addition to being a wonderful author of cozy historical mysteries. I became acquainted with her sleuth Loveda Brown in her first outing, The Great Loveda Brown.

Jolie writes the Idyllwild Mystery Series. Idyllwild is located in southern California, like my Bummer at Luna Beach, but it’s up in the San Jacinto Mountains, on the way to Palm Springs. Idyllwild has long been an artists’ colony, but the town also has a very interesting history, as it turns out. 

Here’s the latest tale. Go ahead and download it. It’s FREE!

Cover of Loveda Brown: The Boston Burglar

 

Loveda Brown is a governess for a wealthy 1911 Boston family, but things are about to get complicated.

The August heat could be blamed for short tempers and frizzy curls, but only Loveda Brown would know how a dead man landed in her third-floor bedroom unannounced. Or would she? The clock ticks down as Loveda and her best friend Bea try to untangle the mystery while her future becomes dimmer than a sixteen-watt lightbulb.

Can she take the heat? Or will the truth shock her world?

Download at:  https://dl.bookfunnel.com/l55do1hfrm

Quick possum pic

I’ll make this quick because not everyone is enchanted with the species Didelphis virginiana. But surely babies are ok?

baby possums

These two joeys are two of three siblings, and they do like munching, though they are careful not to be seen by the owl. They also hide when the adult possums come by.

Coming in June

If you’re in or near San Clemente, California, come on by. I will be one of a few authors at Beach Town Books for their June Author Pop-Up on Sunday, June 23. 

Beach Town Books sign

More information as I have it! But let me give the shop a shout-out, too, and not just because they’re hosting li’l ole me. Beach Town Books has lots of used books and some new in a friendly shop with knowledgeable staff. Really a special place. 

And a bit of art

I love museums, and this year I’ve had the privilege of visiting the Smithsonian in D.C., the National Gallery of Art, the San Diego Museum of Art (free every third Tuesday if you’re a local!), the Oceanside Museum of Art, and the Skirball Cultural Center and Museum in Los Angeles.

Of course, when I go I’m attracted to Victorian-era art. From a historian’s point of view, works of art are primary sources (things created during the era you’re studying). But I’m also an art history buff, interested in artistic styles and what topics are shown in the works. I take photos of both the paintings and the tags so I don’t forget.

Brook's A Pastoral Visit

Richard Norris Brooke, A Pastoral Visit (1888), National Gallery

It’s not easy to take photos of paintings in museums. The lights tend to reflect off the varnish, so I often have to photograph from the side. That’s not ideal, but at least it’s my photo.

I like A Pastoral Visit because as I get older I appreciate genre paintings, like people at home, more and more. A family together in a comfortable room, 1888 gender roles intact, food, strong adults, children, and a cat. I tend to sit and look at paintings like this for a long time.

And more!

Want to read previous newsletters? They’re located here at my website, where you can also find information and buy links to all my books. You can post comments there too.

Until next time, keep grousing!

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Historical fiction research report 1

I recently received an email from Bouchercon 2025, the big mystery convention being held in November 2025 in New Orleans. They are putting together an anthology. I entered last year’s anthology for San Diego, and wrote a special story for it: Murder Steampunk Style. It didn’t get accepted.

So I’m trying again, but I live in San Diego, not New Orleans. The instructions say the story should have something to do with the Big Easy. I’ve been there three times, I know some history, I’ve done some reading (history, of course, but also fiction such as Tennessee Williams, Anne Rice, Ellen Byron, Alexandra Ripley). One of my strongest memories from visiting was seeing the Domino Sugar factory on the banks of the Mississippi River. I do like me some technology. I look on Google Maps and it’s Domino Sugar Chalmette. I found their website, but it occurred to me that if I write about a body buried in Domino Sugar, people working there might be offended, or the company might. 

I love writing historical novels, so what if I made it historical? Yes, people in the South know their family history, but perhaps it would be distant enough that it would be ok. I look at the brief history timeline on the Domino website, and it looks like the earliest possible would be 1909. On May 17, the refinery commenced operation. So give it a chance to get rolling – I’ll do 1910.

First picture searching “New Orleans 1910” cinches it for me, an uploaded photograph “by” Mark Savad on a fine art commercial site. Did he colorize it? Create it with AI? I don’t know, but later I find the black and white version.

1910 image of New Orleans

But the source doesn’t matter because it’s evocative and this is the inspiration stage. I kept looking for images from New Orleans in 1910 and decided to start a Pinterest board to stow them. Then I added the Pinterest extension to my Chrome browser, so I can add pictures as I come upon them. I add the one of the Domino plant.

Somehow I stumble on Louis Armstrong (serendipity!), who I know is from New Orleans, and I wonder how old he would be in 1910 so I check the Wikipedia page and he would be 9 years old. This would be that early part of his life when he worked for and had dinner with a Jewish family. I remember that was why he wore a Star of David in later life.

Much later in his life, Armstrong wrote about his very young life in “Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La, the Year of 1907”, and it’s been studied. I searched but couldn’t find the entire document transcribed online (looks like his house museum archive may have the original). The Wikipedia article found their info from his booklet in a collection book, which I find online used for $10 so I ordered it.

I will now continue gathering more pics and info about the city in 1910, and thinking about Louis Armstrong as the possible character.