Behind the Scenes
Compromise With Sin is my historical novel set in the early 1900s.
I gathered so much fascinating information–pictures, videos, letters, article–that I wanted to share it.Check back here often as I’ll frequently update the page.
In doing research for Compromise With Sin I discovered Helen Keller to be a fearless reformer. At the age of 26, she challenged taboos with her essay “I Must Speak: A Plea to the American Woman,” published in The Ladies’ Home Journal. She warned married women about gonorrhea and its potential to infect them and their newborn babies. She urged women to demand prophylactic drops in their babies’ eyes to prevent possible blindness from gonorrhea.
At right is an image of my ratty copy of her essay. I’ve provided a link above to a legible version on the American Foundation for the Blind web site. The essay appeared in the January 1909 issue of the magazine. (The web site incorrectly states it was 1901.)
Keller had written a previous essay published in the magazine’s January 1907 issue. Titled
“Unnecessary Blindness,” it argues that two-fifths of all cases of blindness could have been prevented with proper treatment but skirts the issue of venereal disease.
Here’s a picture of the first car mentioned in the novel, a 1904 Buick Model B. It must have been a beauty with its indigo body, yellow wheels, and tufted leather seats.
When Frank Morrissey needed a truck in 1905, it wasn’t just a matter of going to a dealer & buying one ready-built. Here’s what I learned from Doug Maney, Museum Curator at the Mack Truck Historical Museum:
1905 was the beginning of the Mack Brothers Motor Car Company building trucks. Prior to 1905 they focused on building busses. The early model trucks typically did not include a cab when they were completed at the Mack factory. Many of the customers would have purchased a truck chassis and had a body builder construct a custom body to suit the needs of the customer. I have attached several photos of early Mack trucks for reference. As you can see, the chassis remained the same but the body configuration differed. Typically the body build on the rear of the truck would include a roof over the driver area. Side curtains would provide protection from the elements when they were lowered. In most cases, even with the side curtains, they still got wet.
Doug provided this schematic:
The 1905 Cadillac Osceola was the first closed-body car in the U.S.
While I’m on the subject of starting things, here’s a video of a man trying to light a Coleman gas-powered iron. I think I’d have learned to love wrinkles.
Louise knows the dangers of laudanum, the opiate of choice in her day. Many famous people were known to be “opiate fiends.” One was Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who first took it at age fifteen for a spinal injury.
Opiods were a cure for everything, including baby’s teething pain. Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was popularly used, sometimes in dosages that proved lethal.
Villisca, Iowa, Axe Murders
The citizens of Riverbend, Nebraska, (the fictitious setting for my novel) were rattled by the news from a neighboring town that an entire family and two girls who had spent the night had been axed to death in their sleep. I based the incident loosely on the 1912 axe murders in Villisca, Iowa. Today the house many believe to be haunted is a museum, which offers tours & overnight stays.
In the 90s I worked for an ad agency in Omaha. In the midst of planning a 100th anniversary observance for Child Saving Institute, an adoption agency, I discovered this ad in their archives. It still gives me goosebumps. The event was the inspiration for Baby Giveaway Saturday in my novel.
“Acres of Diamonds” is a speech written by Rev. Russell Conwell who personally delivered it more than 5,000 times on the Chautauqua stage & elsewhere. Later motivational speaker Earl Nightingale adopted the speech & ensured its continued popularity through much of the 20th century.
I refer to three poems in my novel. One is “The Wreck of the Hesperus,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
The second is “Little Flo’s Letter,” usually attributed to Anonymous but actually written by Eben E. Rexford. I have fond memories of sitting with family at the kitchen table of my late mother-in-law, Clesta Gabrial, while she recited this and other poems she’d learned as a girl.
The third poem is “The Present Crisis,” by James Russell Lowell. Helen Keller “borrowed” a line from this poem for her essay “I Must Speak: A Plea to the American Woman,” published in The Ladies’ Home Journal. She’s warning women that their husbands might carry gonorrhea. Here’s what she says:
In mercy let it be remembered, the father does not know that he has so foully destroyed the eyes of his child and handicapped him for life. It is part of the bitter harvest of the wild oats he has sown. Society has smiled upon his ‘youthful recklessness’ because Society does not know that ‘They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin.’
So I borrowed from Lowell via Keller for my title Compromise With Sin though not exactly in the way you might expect.
One of my minor characters smokes a Potter’s Asthma Cigarette whenever she has an asthma attack. Smoking to relieve lung conditions was once commonly practiced as it was considered a means of delivering medicine directly to the lungs. You can learn more about such treatments on the blog of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.
Also believed to have health benefits in the early 1900s was the S-corset. Let’s hope it doesn’t make a comeback in our time.
Truth to tell: Compromise With Sin has been in the works for so long that some of the files are on floppy discs. At one time I seriously thought of naming the book Babies’ Sore Eyes, but fortunately a number of people convinced me it was a bad idea.
My method of writing the first draft of the novel is one I would recommend to no one. I had no outline, only a vague sense of where the story would go. A scene would come into my head, and I’d write it. Then another and another. I did stop occasionally and try to impose some order on things, but I pretty much ended up with a heap of scenes that somehow had to be stitched together to make a novel.
Early on, Marie had an older sister, Bedelia, called “Beady,” a character who took over the story after Louise died (yes I killed her). In that version of events, it was Beady, inspired by Aunt Grace, who championed the cause for drops in babies’ eyes. Louise was not merely unsympathetic character, she was mean, and Doc was far worse than he ended up being in the published novel. I eliminated Beady because I wanted to change Louise’s character so that she’s deeply flawed but seeks redemption.
Here are a few of Beady’s scenes:
Beady meets Andrew
More recent outtakes were needed to keep the story moving. As much as I enjoyed having Louise confront Doc’s love interest–I named her Daisy Friend, but then gave that name to Louise’s former childhood nemesis–I decided Doc shouldn’t have a love interest.