Some of you are familiar with my short story mysteries featuring Clara, an engaging prostitute who plied her trade during the Civil War with men whose sexual preferences included “soft” fetishes—i.e., nothing painful, more like making love in caskets, lapping brandy from her bellybutton, or enjoying chocolate applied with feathers. (So far, no one’s complained about the lack of explicit sexual detail on the page!) And somehow, she was repeatedly embroiled in solving mysterious deaths.
Well, I’m working on another Clara story, and here are some bits of info I think you’ll find interesting.
I stumbled across this book some years ago in the gift shop at the Museum of the Confederacy and bought it, because who isn’t interested in sex? Since then, Thomas P. Lowry has become my favorite writer on the topic! However, I’ve also searched online. I won’t be giving specific citations, because many of these facts pop up in several writings.
The topic of prostitution isn’t as intensively researched and written about as many other Civil War topics, and one might assume that’s because it was a minor issue. Wrong! In 1864 there were 450 brothels in Washington and over 75 in Alexandria, Virginia. A newspaper estimated there were 5000 “public women” in DC and another 2500 in Alexandria and Georgetown—and this is just an example. Whenever army troops set up camps, nearby small towns were overrun with women in the sex trade.
One estimate was that 40% of soldiers suffered the pox (syphilis) and/or the clap (gonorrhea). These STIs were nearly as dangerous to soldiers as battle—which prompted military officers to take action. That often took the form of moving bawdy women elsewhere.
For example, Major General William Rosecrans ordered that all prostitutes found in Nashville or known to be there be seized and transported to Louisville. What followed was that a recently christened steamboat, the Idahoe, was basically conscripted to move 111 of the most infamous of the sex workers. Louisville refused dockage to the Idahoe, and ordered them on to Cincinnati instead. Cincinnati also refused to accept them, so they were sent to Kentucky, but were turned away by Covington and Newport. Bottom line: they ended up back in Nashville.
Similar rounding up of prostitutes and forcibly transporting them to the enemy’s city by train was common between Richmond, Virginia and Washington, DC—which promoted women being spies. (But spying is for another day.) In any case, such transportation did not take into account the convenience, preferences, or comfort of the women. For example, one report on the women aboard the Idahoe said the women were in bad shape when they returned to Nashville: “The majority are a homely, forlorn set of degraded creatures. Having been hurried on the boats by a military guard, many were without a change of wardrobe.” Nor were they properly fed after the first three days.
Bottom line: Prostitution during the Civil War is a fascinating topic to pursue!
Like most readers, I have my habits. In the service of exposing my readers to a wider perspective, I have interviewed Christina Cox, fellow book lover, about a recent read she enjoyed: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly.
As a child, I dreamed of having a job where I could read children’s and middle-grade literature all day. Granted, I don’t get to do it all day, but one amazing perk of my job is I get to read over some wonderful new literature coming from that genre!
Most recently, I picked up Hello, Universe, the 2018 Newbery Award winner. Folks, this book is fantastic. I can absolutely see why Kelly won the award. The book follows four characters: Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet, all of whom have varied personalities and backgrounds. Their stories collide when Chet, the neighborhood bully, plays a prank on Virgil that will change the course of all of their lives. See its description on Goodreads (I’ve deleted spoilers!):
In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his loud and boisterous Filipino family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister Gen is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just act normal so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends—at least not until Chet pulls a prank that puts Virgil and his pet guinea pig in danger. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.
One of my favorite tropes (is it a trope?) in books is when multiple storylines finally converge into one and something clicks with the reader. The best example I’ve ever seen—not just in children’s literature, but in all of the books I’ve read—is Holes by Louis Sachar. Hello, Universe has a more low-key way of converging storylines (and it’s not a surprise it happens—read the dust jacket!), but it’s still satisfying in a way that I’m sure will delight its young readers.
Don’t just take it from me; there are so many starred reviews of this book that it’s hard to pick just one quote. Booklist and Kirkus are among its starred reviewers, which is a huge accomplishment.
Bottom line: Hello, Universe is a delightful book for lovers of children’s and middle-grade fiction. Check it out!
It’s important for writers to practice their craft and to set aside a little time every day (or every week) to do so. But people can’t write if they don’t read—especially within their genres. Have you taken a look to see which books are trending or bestsellers in your genre? If not, I’ve put together some lists for you. The lists on which these books show up are in parentheses next to their titles. The books are listed in no particular order.
Remember: No matter your genre, don’t forget to read what you write!
VL: I’m delighted that Heather Weidner agreed to an interview. Her most recent publication, “Digging Up Dirt,” appears in To Fetch a Thief. In addition, Heather has published two mystery novels and numerous short stories—and dogs show up frequently!
VL: Is the dog in your story in To Fetch a Thief based at all on your dog?
HW: It is. It’s based on my little female JRT Disney. She’s a bundle of energy, a great companion, and she always likes to explore outside. Thankfully, she’s not dug up anything strange.
VL: Disney is definitely cute! I can understand why you would want to put her in a story. But how did you come up with the actual plot for “Digging Up Dirt”?
HW: My husband is a realtor, and people are always leaving things in houses when they move out. That gave me the idea for the random things (that might not be so random) in the story.
VL: No need for a spoiler alert, but I will say I admired the variety of things left behind and how you tied them together. But back to your passion—I don’t think passion is too strong a word—for dogs. Do any of your other stories (or future stories) involve a canine companion?
HW: They do. In my Delanie Fitzgerald Mystery series, my sassy private investigator has a partner, Duncan Reynolds, and Duncan’s best pal is Margaret, the English bulldog. She’s a brown and white log with legs. She has two speeds, slow and napping. But she likes treats, and she’s a great companion.
I’m also working on another cozy mystery, and there is another Jack Russell Terrier in it. Her name is Bijou.
VL: While you are producing stories involving dogs, what do you do with your actual dogs?
HW: There are two dog beds in my office on either side of my desk. If they aren’t roughhousing, then they’re napping.
VL: Most writers are voracious readers. What types of books do you read?
HW: I love all kinds of mysteries, thrillers, history, and biography.
VL: What are you reading now?
HW: I just finished John Grisham’s The Reckoning, and now I’m reading Lee Child’s Past Tense.
VL: What’s your favorite book or movie that has an animal as a central character? Why?
HW: My early favorites were Charlotte’s Web and Where the Red Fern Grows. I have always loved animal stories, and even today, I tend to read mysteries that have pet sidekicks. My favorite mystery authors who include pets are Bethany Blake, Janet Evanovich, Krista Davis, and Libby Klein.
VL: What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now?
HW: I have three TBR piles right now. One’s on my night stand. I have one on a bookcase, and there’s another downstairs in the den. There are always more books than I have time to read. Most of the books in all three piles are mysteries and thrillers. There are a few biographies in the pile.
VL: Based on the locations of your TBR piles, I could probably guess at the answer to this next question, but I’ll ask anyway. Where is your favorite place to read (or write)? Why?
HW: I can read just about anywhere. At home, I like reading on my deck in the early mornings. At night, I like reading in bed with two snuggly Jack Russell Terriers.
As for the writing part of your question, I tend to be a binge writer. At home, I write in my office or on the deck. But I tend to write or proofread whenever I get a free moment, so it could be at lunch at work or in the dentist’s waiting room.
VL: What’s next for you?
HW: I am working on the third novel in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. It’s called Glitter, Glam, and Contraband. I am also working on a new cozy mystery set in Charlottesville, Virginia. I had a nonfiction piece accepted in the Sisters in Crime book marketing anthology, Promophobia, and that will be out next year, along with a short story, “Art Attack,” in the Deadly Southern Charm: A Lethal Ladies Mystery Anthology.
VL: You clearly have a lot going on! Thank you for taking time for this interview.
VL: Thank you, Heather! Congratulations on all you have done so far. No doubt we will see more of your writing in the future, especially Delaney Fitzgerald. Learn more about Heather Weidner below.
Heather Weidner’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders are her novels in the Delanie Fitzgerald series. Her novella “Diggin’ up Dirt” appears in To Fetch a Thief.
She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Guppies, and James River Writers.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.
Heather earned her BA in English from Virginia Wesleyan University and her MA in American literature from the University of Richmond. Through the years, she has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She blogs regularly with the Pens, Paws, and Claws authors.
Connect with Heather online:
To Fetch a Thief, the first Mutt Mysteries collection, features four novellas that have gone to the dogs. In this howlingly good read, canine companions help their owners solve crimes and right wrongs. These sleuths may be furry and low to the ground, but their keen senses are on high alert when it comes to sniffing out clues and digging up the truth. Make no bones about it, these pup heroes will steal your heart as they conquer ruff villains.
“Hounding the Pavement”
by Teresa Inge
Catt Ramsey has three things on her mind: grow her dog walking service in Virginia Beach, solve the theft of a client’s vintage necklace, and hire her sister Emma as a dog walker. But when Catt finds her model client dead after walking her precious dogs Bella and Beau, she and her own dogs Cagney and Lacey are hot on the trail to clear her name after being accused of murder.
“Diggin’ up Dirt”
by Heather Weidner
Amy Reynolds and her Jack Russell Terrier Darby find some strange things in her new house. Normally, she would have trashed the forgotten junk, but Amy’s imagination kicks into high gear when her nosy neighbors dish the dirt about the previous owners who disappeared, letting the house fall into foreclosure. Convinced that something nefarious happened, Amy and her canine sidekick uncover more abandoned clues in their search for the previous owners.
“Dog Gone it All”
by Jayne Ormerod
Meg Gordon and her tawny terrier Cannoli are hot on the trail of a thief, a heartless one who steals rocks commemorating neighborhood dogs who have crossed the Rainbow Bridge. But sniffing out clues leads them to something even more merciless…a dead body! There’s danger afoot as the two become entangled in the criminality infesting their small bayside community. And, dog gone it all, Meg is determined to get to the bottom of things.
“This is Not a Dog Park”
by Rosemary Shomaker
“Coyotes and burglaries? That’s an odd pairing of troubles.” Such are Adam Moreland’s reactions to a subdivision’s meeting announcement. He has no idea. Trouble comes his way in spades, featuring a coyote . . . burglaries . . . and a dead body! A dog, death investigation, and new female acquaintance kick start Adam’s listless life frozen by a failed relationship, an unfulfilling job, and a judgmental mother. Events shift Adam’s perspective and push him to act.
Teresa Inge grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today, she doesn’t carry a rod like her idol, but she hotrods. She is president of Sister’s in Crime Mystery by the Sea Chapter and author of short mysteries in Virginia is for Mysteries and 50 Shades of Cabernet.
Heather Weidner, a member of SinC – Central Virginia and Guppies, is the author of the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, Secret Lives and Private Eyes and The Tulip Shirt Murders. Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. Heather lives in Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers, Disney and Riley. She’s been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. Some of her life experience comes from being a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, IT manager, and cop’s kid. She blogs at Pens, Paws, and Claws.
Jayne Ormerod grew up in a small Ohio town then went on to a small-town Ohio college. Upon earning her degree in accountancy, she became a CIA (that’s not a sexy spy thing, but a Certified Internal Auditor.) She married a naval officer and off they sailed to see the world. After nineteen moves, they, along with their two rescue dogs Tiller and Scout, have settled into a cozy cottage by the sea. Jayne is the author of the Blonds at the Beach Mysteries, The Blond Leading the Blond, and Blond Luck. She has contributed seven short mysteries to various anthologies to include joining with the other To Fetch a Thief authors in Virginia is for Mysteries, Volumes I and II, and 50 Shades of Cabernet.
Rosemary Shomaker writes about the unexpected in everyday life. She’s the woman you don’t notice in the grocery store or at church but whom you do notice at estate sales and wandering vacant lots. In all these places she’s collecting story ideas. Rosemary writes women’s fiction, paranormal, and mystery short stories, and she’s taking her first steps toward longer fiction, so stay tuned. She’s an urban planner by education, a government policy analyst by trade, and a fiction writer at heart. Rosemary credits Sisters in Crime with developing her craft and applauds the organization’s mission of promoting the ongoing advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers.
These four great authors should be on your horizon.
Where to follow the authors: see the individual bios above for links to their Facebook pages, Twitter, and websites.
[Warning: This blog talks about the incidence and aftermath of sexual assault and rape.]
Like most readers, I have my habits. In the service of exposing my readers to a wider perspective, I have interviewed Christina Cox, fellow book lover, about a recent read she enjoyed: Any Man by Amber Tamblyn.
VL: How did you come to read Any Man?
CC: I’ve been a fan of Amber Tamblyn for a long time, but not for her writing — for her talents as an actor. When I found out this book was coming out, it piqued my interest immediately. Then I found out she was going to do a reading at Fountain Bookstore (down the road from me), and I knew I had to get it!
VL: Is it typical of the books you read?
CC: Not at all; it’s much more intense than the books I typically read. From its jacket description, you can see why:
A violent serial rapist is on the loose, who goes by the name Maude. She hunts for men at bars, online, at home— the place doesn’t matter, neither does the man. Her victims then must live the aftermath of their assault in the form of doubt from the police, feelings of shame alienation from their friends and family and the haunting of a horrible woman who becomes the phantom on which society projects its greatest fears, fascinations and even misogyny. All the while the police are without leads and the media hound the victims, publicly dissecting the details of their attack.
What is extraordinary is how as years pass these men learn to heal, by banding together and finding a space to raise their voices. Told in alternating viewpoints signature to each voice and experience of the victim, these pages crackle with emotion, ranging from horror to breathtaking empathy.
As bold as it is timely, Any Man paints a searing portrait of survival and is a tribute to those who have lived through the nightmare of sexual assault.
As you can see, it’s a dark premise. It’s shocking to read at some points, but Tamblyn does a really wonderful job of introducing lighter parts when you need them.
VL: What did you like best?
CC: Tamblyn began as a poet, so the book is written as a mix of poetry and prose. The writing is breathtaking, and she does a great job of conveying a lot of information and emotion in fewer words. So many pages gave me chills.
VL: What did you like least?
CC: It was hard to read such an intense book; at times I needed to put it down for something else. But at her Fountain reading, she talked about our society’s history of ignoring survivors of sexual assault/rape or sweeping their stories under the rug. I think this is an important story, and an interesting take considering a woman is the perpetrator.
VL: Would you recommend Any Man to family or friends?
CC: I would (and have), but I would do it with the caveat that it’s very difficult to read in parts. I’m careful with whom I recommend it, because you never know if this story will hit too close to home.
VL: Have you read other books by this author?
Tamblyn has several poetry books under her belt, but I haven’t read them yet. They’re definitely on my list!
Have you read Any Man? What did you think?