The Other Lady Vanishes (Review)

I read a lot of Jayne Ann Krentz and per pseudonyms as teen. I picked this up expecting to experience some nostalgia. Amanda Quick aka Jayne Ann Krentz’s 1930s romantic thriller was an utter disappointment.

One of the things Krentz does exceptionally well, is she knows how to weave an interesting plot to keep me turning pages. Now, if you’ve read any of her books, her plots are pretty much identical whether she’s using pseudonyms or not. A misunderstood girl falls for misunderstood boy + someone ends up dead + have to solve mystery + killer is caught/dies = they admit their undying love and live happily ever after. There is nothing wrong with a formula that works and works well. However my biggest problem with this story is setting and dialogue.

If I had picked up this book without reading the back cover, I would not have known it was supposed to be set in the 1930s. I picked up Family Man which I have at home, and compared the dialogue in that novel to this one. I get using the same word choices for things, but Family Man and The Other Lady Vanishes are supposed to be set in different eras. Sure, Krentz throws in a little clothing description and mentions of old time Hollywood in The Other Lady Vanishes, but it’s not enough for me to believe this novel was set in the 1930s. People spoke differently then, used slang different than current norms, and had different ways of looking at the world than today. I know the genre and it’s expectations, but at least try to be true to the period. Krentz can’t even manage that.

This book killed any hope of me experiencing the nostalgia of my teens. I probably won’t be reading any more of Krentz’s books. If Krentz can’t manage to do actual research beyond Wikipedia pages, I’ll spend the time I could have used to read her next novel and read someone else.


Republican Primaries (1924)

Writing historical fiction can be frustrating at times. Especially if you can’t find just the right source (or any real source in my case). I spent a few months slowly piecing together the Iowa Governor Election of 1924. So, now if anyone else happens to want to know a little bit about the Iowa Governor primary race here’s something for you…


The race kicked off in January 1924. Lots of men put hats into the race. By the end of the race, Iowa had eight Republican candidates for governor to chose, and they were:

  • Joseph Anderson – Born on a farm in Winnebago County, he received his teacher’s degree at the State Teacher’s College in Cedar Falls. He had been a member of the Iowa Legislature since 1916, and was the current Speaker of the House.
  • A.J. Banks — from Montour.
  • B.B. Burnquist — From Fort Dodge. Was the Chairman of the Republican State Central Committee.
  • William J. Burbank — Was the oldest candidate at fifty-eight. He was the current State Treasurer. He had his hands in the drug business, but his political career began when he was elected to the position of Blackhawk County Treasurer in 1918.
  • Joseph de Moss Buser — He was born in Louisa County and attended Iowa City Academy. He was a state senator from Muscatine, elected in 1918.
  • John Hammill — Was from Britt and currently the Lt. Governor.
  • Glenn C. Haynes — Was a native of Centerville. A war veteran, Major in the 168th Iowa Rainbow division and rose to the rank of Colonel in the National Guard. He was the youngest candidate running at forty-eight. His political career included the former assistant postmaster & postal inspector and currently the state auditor.
  • Handford MacNider — From Mason City.
  • Burt J. Thompson — From Forest City.


These were the items on everyone’s minds:

  • Who was going to beat Senator Smith W Brookhart who it was felt was too liberal for the party.
  • Budget Bill Law
  • Agricultural Depression
  • The Klu Klux Klan
  • Child Labor Amendment
  • Railroad Rates


No candidate received the 35% required percentage to be able to be first on the ballot for the primary race. A decision would be named at the Republican Convention on July 22, 1924.

Savory Hotel

Savory Hotel

It was hot and humid, but that didn’t stop 1,728 delegates from storming the state capitol to pick their candidate for governor. 250 of those delegates were women.[1] People arrived at the Savory Hotel. Everyone expected the Klu Klux Klan to make an appearance with banners and pageantry. There was nothing. Even Burbank could not be found.[2] No one knew that Burbank and withdrawn, and no one knew why.[3]


The Convention was located at the Coliseum and events started at 11:00 a.m. Such activity included keynote speeches from former Governor and current Senator A. Cummins as well as current Governor Kendall, followed by a small recess for lunch, another program and adjournment at 2:00 p.m.[4] Some of the concerns at the podium were: the re-nomination of Brookhart even though the junior senator was never named[5], the party’s ability to economize, the farm depression, labor, foreign affairs, railroads, the national politics, and the strength of the KKK.[6]


Besides the many candidates in the running, the attention appeared to focus on the current Lt. Governor Hammill and his wife, who was his unacknowledged campaign manager. She was busy socializing and talking to nearly everyone. [7]

Hammill ended up receiving the full vote and would be placed first on the general election ballot for governor.[8] Burbank’s withdrawal threw his votes to Hamill. Was this a strategic move by the KKK or had Burbank simply tired of the possibility of a seat in the governor’s chair? No one knew.[9] Either way, Hammill was humbled by the decision.[10] But that didn’t stop him from letting others celebrate for him. He returned home to Britt where parades and dances were to be held in his honor on Friday, August 1st.[11]

Gubernational Convention 1924

“At the G.O.P. Convention Tuesday.” Des Moines Tribune, Des Moines, Iowa, 23 July 1924, p. 6. Accessed: 22 April 2018.


[1] “G.O.P. Gathering, State Assembly, K.P. Meet July 22.” The Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, 17 July 1924, p. 5.

[2] Klauer, Robert. “Lobbies Are Alive With Banners as Delegates Meet.” The Daily Times, Davenport, Iowa, 21 July 1924, p. 1, 6. Accessed: 17 January 2018; “Burbank Had No Friends.” Quad-City Times. Davenport, Iowa, 22 July 1924, p. 1, 4. Accessed: 17 January 2018.

[3] “Scott County’s Vote Put Hammill Over; Thornberg And M’Clune Are Winners.” The Daily Times, Davenport, Iowa, 23 July 1924, p. 1. Accessed: 27 January 2018.

[4] “Wins By More Than 100 On the First Informal Ballot.” The Daily Times. Davenport, Iowa, 22 July 1924, p. 1. Accessed: 17 January 2018; “Hammill The G.O.P. Nominee.” Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa, 23 July 1924, p. 1, 10. Accessed: 17 January 2018; “Silent as to the Senator.” The Nebraska State Journal, Lincoln, Nebraska, 23 July 1924, p. 1. Accessed: 27 January 2018

[5] “Hammill The G.O.P. Nominee.” Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa, 23 July 1924, p. 1, 10. Accessed: 17 January 2018.

[6] “Wins By More Than 100 On the First Informal Ballot.” The Daily Times. Davenport, Iowa, 22 July 1924, p. 1. Accessed: 17 January 2018; “Hammill Will Be Nominated.” Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa, 22 July 1924, p. 1, 4. Accessed: 27 January 2018.

[7] “Klauer, Robert L. “State Convention Notes.” The Daily Times. Davenport, Iowa, 22 July 1924, p. 18. Accessed: 17 January 2018.

[8] “Hammill The G.O.P. Nominee.” Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa, 23 July 1924, p. 1, 10. Accessed: 17 January 2018; “Hammill The G.O.P. Nominee.” Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa, 23 July 1924, p. 1, 10. Accessed: 17 January 2018.

[9] “Scott County’s Vote Put Hammill Over; Thornberg And M’Clune Are Winners.” The Daily Times, Davenport, Iowa, 23 July 1924, p. 1. Accessed: 27 January 2018.

[10] “‘Fresh As A Daisy’ Says John Hammill.” Des Moines Tribune, Des Moines, Iowa, 23 July 1924, p. 1, 6. Accessed: 27 January 2018.

[11] “Britt to Welcome Hammill Back Home.” The Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, 30 July 1924, p. 2. Accessed: 23 January 2018.


Damnation (TV Series on USA)

damnation-key-art-1506718760717_610w_720I’ve watched the first three episodes of USA’s Damnation, and I’m torn. The writer in me is enjoying the characters and plot. The historian in me, however, hates this show.

I don’t think the writers of Damnation have read any books about Iowa history. I felt they watched episodes of Boardwalk Empire and Deadwood and thought, heck, let’s just make Damnation like Deadwood. Let’s have shootouts and whorehouses and gunslingers. We’ll just put people in 1930s clothing. No one will notice or care. Their blog post isn’t history at all. It’s just some lazy links to websites. The writer could at least have tried to be somewhat true to Iowa history. Since the writers don’t feel they have to, I will. Here’s my counter to their blog post.

1. The Great Depression & Labor Strikes: 

The farmers of Iowa’s anger had been simmering for nearly a decade before it exploded into demonstration and violence in the 1930s [Ossian, 22]. Farmers wanted better money for their commodities. They picketed. They blocked roads. Violence did occur, but death was rare. Some individuals such as Mother Bloo who was a communist supporter of the neighboring state of South Dakota wanted violence. She attempted to rile up the natives of Sioux City [Mills, A Judge, 55]. She blamed banks and big business for the farmers’ troubles. She and others like her lost their leverage when New Deal programs provided farmers better subsidies [Mills, A Judge, 58].

2. Prohibition: 

Prohibition in Iowa didn’t begin with the Volstead Act. Iowa was dry long before the rest of the nation and would impose strict laws on liquor by the drink decades past the federal repeal in 1933 [Mills, Looking in Windows, 118; “Iowa Ends 47 Year Drouth”]. Iowa farmers, especially in western counties such as Templeton, banded together to thwart state and federal law and keep their farmers and communities afloat by manufacturing, selling and transporting illegal liquor [Bauer, 7].

3. The Black Legion:

Nope. Nope. And nope. The Black Legion may have been in Michigan and Ohio, but not in Iowa. Do the writers have a map? Are Michigan and Ohio anywhere near Iowa? Why not focus on the Farmer’s Holiday Association [Karr, 637]. Instead, they focus on a radical group that never really had a stronghold in the state [Langton, “Time Machine”]. Even the KKK was limited in Iowa. Since Iowa’s black population was very small in rural areas [Outside In, 28-30], most of the violence and agitation was directed at Catholics. Those that called themselves KKK members were unorganized and ineffective. They spent most of their time infighting [Schwieder, 307]. By the mid-1920s, the KKK began to lose their political power in Iowa as well as elsewhere in the country [Schwieder, 298].


  • Bauer, Bryce T. Gentlemen Bootleggers. Ebook. Chicago, Illinois: Chicago Review Press Incorporated, 2014. 
  • “Iowa Ends 47 Year Drouth on Liquor-by-the-Drink.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois: 6 July 1963.
  • Karr, Rodney D. “Farmer Rebels in Plymouth County, Iowa, 1932-1933.” The Annals of Iowa 47, no. 7 (1985): 637-645.
  • Langton, Diane. “Time Machine: History of the Klan in Iowa.” The Gazette. Cedar Rapids, Iowa: 7 October 2017. Accessed: 4 December 2017.
  • Mills, George. A Judge and a Rope and Other Stories of Bygone Iowa. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1994.
  • Mills, George. Looking In Windows Surprising Stories of Old Des Moines. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1991.
  • Ossian, Lisa L. The Depression Dilemmas of Rural Iowa, 1929-1933. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 2011.
  • Outside In: African-American History in Iowa, 1838-2000. Des Moines, Iowa: State Historical Society of Iowa, 2001.
  • Schwieder, Dorothy. “A Farmer and the Ku Klux Klan in Northwest Iowa.The Annals of Iowa 61, no. 3 (2002): 286–320.

Those Pesky Details

When writing historical fiction, it’s so easy to get lost in the details and never write. That’s where I’m at in my current scene. It takes place at the Plaza in late October 1924. There are lots of pictures of this famous hotel inside and out. However, I have been unsuccessful in finding a photograph or a vivid description of the Grill. Below is my process on how I mix both fact and fiction to create my settings.

# One: I knew nothing about the Plaza or where it was located. Nowadays it’s far easier to just jump online and go to the first link that pops up in your Search Engine. Not me. My first stop is still a book(s). One of my go to beginning sources are children’s non-fiction. They get to the point quickly and don’t offer a lot of details. I picked up: (1) New York: Everything You Wanted to Know (2) Eloise at the Plaza.

1 - Start Small








# Two: My library had nothing on the Plaza at all. So I did a quick search to see what was available. I found five sources: (1) Sonny Kleinfield. The Hotel: A Week in the Life of the Plaza (2) Ward Morehouse III. Inside the Plaza: An Intimate Portrait of the Ultimate Hotel (3) Curtis Gathje. At the Plaza: An Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Hotel (4) Eve Brown. The Plaza Cookbook (5) Eve Brown. Plaza: Its Life and Times. 

# 2

# Three: I checked Worldcat to see if any of these five books were at my local library or libraries that were within driving distance. Nope. I was out of luck. So then the crabby cheap scape voice in my head starts whining about not spending any more money on books this month that I should intern library loan them. However, when I go to, all five books were under $5.00 with free shipping. That’s just $2.00 more than an interlibrary loan. I decided to splurge and buy all five books.

# 3

# Four: They took about two weeks to arrive. Playing the waiting game, I decided to search online to see what I could find on the Plaza and the Grill. I could find only two online sources that fit my needs (1) (2), but none of these offered a photograph of the Grill. Both of these sites did mention F. Scott Fitzgerald of whom I completely forgot about his obsession with New York City and the Plaza. I attempted to check out Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned, but my library couldn’t locate it in their collection (even though their website said it was checked in). So, I had to go here. Fitzgerald described the Grill but in very limited terms.


# Five: The books began to trickle in slowly. (4) Eve Brown. The Plaza Cookbook, I had been looking forward to reading thinking it would really meet my needs was a bust. More of a craft book than a cook book. (1) Sonny Kleinfield. The Hotel: A Week in the Life of the Plaza, I was actually going to have to read this book cover to cover. The events depicted were well past the 1920s (1990s), but I figured not too much as probably changed for the workers of the hotel. (2) Ward Morehouse III. Inside the Plaza: An Intimate Portrait of the Ultimate Hotel & (5) Eve Brown. Plaza: Its Life and Times, were okay. I could skim them, but they touched on similar things except told me when the Grill closed. (3) Curtis Gathje. At the Plaza: An Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Hotel, provided the best photographs and images of the hotel. There were no photographs of the Grill, though. The closest thing I could find was the remodeled version from the late 1940s in the Rend-vous room.


# Six: Now, I combine the sources I found from the internet and few tidbits here and there from the books.


# Seven: Then the scene looks something like this with the few items I need to research put into [brackets]:

I waited a half hour after Laura and C.J. departed before heading down to the lobby with my purse and the stack of newspapers clutched beneath my arm.

Laura’s new companion didn’t even bother coming up to our suite. He had the front desk announce his arrival from the telephone. I put his rudeness aside. His presence had allowed me one night of freedom.

The gloominess outside couldn’t penetrate the hotel’s interior. The walls were painted a blinding white. The light from the chandeliers winked at me like the glint in the eye of a half a dozen mischievous boys. I had to grip the railing tighter than normal. Every step downward jarred my ribs. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken Jake so far on that walk.

In the lobby, my footsteps echoed off the elaborate marble. The perfume of freshly cut flowers dulled the odor from the unwashed bodies of the travelers grouped around the L-shaped desk. After months of rooming in cheap hotels and boarding houses on the campaign trail, the opulence of the place made a queer knot form in my stomach. Even if Walley could have afforded a place like, staying here would have alienated his voters. I felt the guilt creep back in and I tried to ignore it. Maybe another cigarette, a good stiff drink, and some food would take my mind off him for a little while.

“May I help you?” The attendant behind the desk wore a swell suit. He had parted his hair down the middle and smoothed it down with Brilliantine. His hair’s severity didn’t soften his sharp features at all. It gave him the impression he’d sucked on one too many lemons. Maybe the last lemon wasn’t so tart. He smiled at me and his brown eyes were kind.

I stepped toward the desk and told him what I wanted. A phonograph with some Negro records, a suggestion on where to eat, and where I might purchase some food for Jake. C.J. and Laura hadn’t bothered themselves with him since we’d left Chicago.

The attendant smiled and gestured toward the hallway near us. “The Grill has delectable food with a wide selection of wines and champagnes not found elsewhere in the city stocked well before that inconvenient law.”

“The place have anything stronger than wine and champagne?”

His smile widened a little bit and his brown eyes danced like the twinkling light overhead. “I’m certain that may be arranged. I’ll send someone out to fetch the records and a phonograph immediately. And as for your dog, room service has a menu strictly devoted to meeting you and your canine’s needs.”

My eye brows rose at that. Room service for pets. What else did this hotel offer?

“Thank you, Mr. …”

“Caldwell. And you are welcome, Miss O’Brian.”

I frowned. There had to be well over two hundred room in the hotel and twice as many guests.

 “How’d you know my name?”

The man’s smile dimmed, but the sparkle in his eyes remained. “It is my job. Enjoy your evening, Miss O’Brian.”

Maybe I should have found another place to eat. The clerk’s suggestion led me to the basement. With my hand pressed against my side and my pinched face, I must have given the impression that I required immediate attention.

I was seated at a round table with a placement of four. I nudged aside an empty glass, a fancy plate, and silverware to deposit my newspapers and purse onto what appeared to be a soft, white tablecloth. Clouds of cigarette smoke hung so thick in the air I had to blink away the stinging sensation. The yellow light overhead waved back and forth as I was in a giant shadowed fish bowl. I could make out the faces of the patrons closest to me. A couple [Arnold & Carolyn Rothstein] and several of the college set giggling at the empty bottles of champagne on their table. But the men in the orchestra playing Mozart’s [piece] at the back of the room, their faces were mere hazy outlines. I hoped their food and liquor proved better than the atmosphere.

What is Historical Fiction?

Looking back, I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction. I know this comes from growing up on a farm. My Grandfather’s brothers and cousins all lived within a two-mile radius from us. Everyone helped each other. During these group efforts of farm work, there was always plenty of time for gossip. I always gravitated toward my Grandfather, my Great Uncle Laverne, and my Great Uncle John. I always thought they were the best storytellers.

What is historical fiction exactly?

The Historical Novel Society defines this genre as:

To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).

Most of the stories told to me growing up were G to PG-rated. Maybe ventured toward a PG-13 rating by the time I got older (usually for language). One of my favorite stories was told to me first by my Grandfather, my Great Uncle Laverne, then my Dad last year. This story always ended the same and varied only by the point of view. Coming at this story if it were fictitious would be labeled as historical fiction because I was neither alive at the time and had to approach it through research. Whereas my Dad and Grandfather and Great Uncle would bristle at the definition because they lived during this time.


My Dad said he was seven or eight. My grandfather said he was ten. Great Uncle Laverne only referred to my Dad as ‘when he was a little cuss’ (‘cuss’ changed to ‘shit’ when I was older). My Great Grandmother Mamie who had retired and moved into town at this point, still came out to assist with the farm work. There was a particular ram that had taken a terrible dislike to her and anyone that wore a dress. This was the late 1950s or early 1960s (depending on who was telling the story), so every woman pretty much wore a dress. This ram had a particular animosity toward my Great Grandmother Mamie. Uncle Laverne had suggested she had ‘done something’ to the ram. What exactly she had done was never explained. The worst instance involved Great Grandma Mamie while she was milking. The ram waited until she was bent over. He butted her right into the barn wall and busted out her front teeth.


My Dad was ornery. This was something he never grew out of. He knew the reputation of the ram and liked to goad it for fun. Sometimes he would go in the pen, antagonize it enough so it would put its head down and charge him. My Dad would make a game out of it waiting as long as possible to jump out of the pen so the ram hit the fence instead of him.

One early spring day, (this varied too, Dad said spring, Laverne, and my Grandfather always said summer) my Grandmother announced she was going to have a picnic on the front lawn and would be inviting all of her friends from Circle (this is what the Lutheran women called their organization at church). She made a point of making sure my Dad understood that he was to be on his best behavior.

No matter how many times I heard this part, I always thought it was a rather foolish thing for my Grandmother to do. She would have been better off saying nothing. My Dad, being his ornery self — took this as a direct challenge to her authority.

My Dad watched from the barn while he was doing his chores while my Grandmother and Grandfather set up the tables and chairs. All the food. The shiny cars began to snake down the lane and park in the grass. Women exited their cars in their finest hats and dresses. An idea began to formulate in my Dad’s brain. Something mischievous. Maybe even a little evil. But hilarious none the less.

He waited until he finished his chores. He did his usual batting to get the ram riled up. When he knew the ram was good and mad, he let it loose.

The ram didn’t hesitate. He ran straight for the group of ladies. My Grandmother saw him first and screamed. The other ladies scrambled up out of their chairs. Some of them fell. When they attempted to get back up, the ram in a fit of joy, knocked one lady in the rear then another.

My Grandmother never found the incident amusing. My Dad thought it was hilarious. He knew he would get the belt for what he did, but he hadn’t cared. It was so worth it to see the ladies looking like a bunch of bright dominos getting knocked down over and over again. My Grandfather said it was one of the hardest times he had to discipline my Dad. My Grandfather never admitted this to him, but he had laughed just as hard if not harder at the chaotic scene caused by his mischievous son and his devilish ram.

In the late 1980s I asked my Grandfather whatever became of the ram. My Grandfather paused for a minute, then offered me the usual response to the fate of any animal on a farm. They ate him. But he didn’t taste very good, he had said. The meat was too tough.

Mining the Everywhere

Writing is hard. It’s even more difficult when I have to make the historian in me go sit in the corner by themselves. They’re mumbling away: ‘”That isn’t right. You can’t change that. It isn’t true.” My writer self says: “Shut up! It’s fiction, damn it!”

The character in my current WIP has ended up in Sioux City, Iowa. What I knew about the place is minuscule. The few tidbits of history I’d gleaned from my father and husband who both attended college there decades ago. So, I bought a couple of books and inner library loaned several more to immerse myself in the city’s history.

This is what drives the historian in me bat s&%t crazy. I want to find a source–something that goes into in a depth analysis about Sioux City during Prohibition. I can’t find squat print wise. The closest thing I can find is a Master’s Thesis from a South Dakota university on law enforcement during the 1930s and a book about South Dakota during prohibition (Sioux City is rare in that it sits very close to two other states). There are a few things scattered on the internet. The myth of Sioux City being the ‘Little Chicago’ is debunked here. So, I attempt to go to to see if I can find anything in nearby newspapers.

Grrr….fragments in the newspapers too. But a few things happened at once that helped me get through my current scene.

Cheesy action flicks. I like to have noise in the background, especially things I’ve seen so I won’t get sucked into something new. Commando (1985). It wasn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger’s beef cake one-liner’s that intrigued me. It was David Patrick Kelly’s character Sully. The small, vicious little guy that was always waiting for the right moment to strike only to get squashed at the end. Kelly creates another intense character, Charlie, in John Wick (2014). He makes Charlie memorable with both his wicked humor and the irony of his profession, waste management. Could I create a character with the same sharp characteristics and make him as interesting as Kelly does with both of these characters (likable feels like the wrong word here)?

That one story. Cheryl Mullenbach’s violent summary of the crime committed by Ira Pavey. A local bootlegger who ended his competition by way of a bullet to the back of their head (I had to confirm the story against the newspapers of the time and it checked out).

David Patrick Kelly and the bootlegger Ira Pavey…I needed to blend these two ideas into one. There had to be an intense and funny guy in this scene. Having him would: 1) Increase tension – feuding bootleggers and my main character is caught in the middle 2) Show the steal of my character by showing the mechanisms she uses to hide her fear and disgust of his profession.

Secondary characters are there to enhance the main character. If you (or I) have done it right, these lower tiered characters can be memorable, too.

Flora’s Secret (Review)

32316856One way to create tension is to force your characters into a tight little space and let them fight it out. Davison, forces her characters to do exactly this in the first installment of her Flora Maguire Series.

This historical who-done-it had me turning pages until the end to where the murderer is revealed. Davison doesn’t make it easy. She fills the story with enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing until the end.

Looking forward to reading the next installment in the series.