It began with a photograph I saw in a museum in the mid 1990s. The photograph was dated 1900 or so and captioned, “Anita McGee with the first members of the Army Nurse Corps.” I remembered thinking, “There’s a story there.” Many years and many romance novel readings later, I started conceptualize the story.
I love San Francisco history so it was natural for me to want to tell a story with the backdrop of my hometown. There was a lot I didn’t know so I spent a lot of time in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area archives looking for information about the Presidio, the Spanish American war, and nurses. I read with books with titles like “The History of Nursing.” There is one thing an historic novelist does NOT want to do is get the details wrong. I am a bit obsessive and one of my long time obsessions is the Palace Hotel. That gave me the idea to place my other character as a cook in the hotel.
My spouse Jeanette loves the fact that I am writer and I love San Francisco. She gave me books with old pictures of San Francisco, I found the visuals very helpful. One even gave me an idea for a pivotal location in the story- the Cobweb Palace. Yep, sometimes you don’t have to make stuff up; it’s already there.
Around the time I started to research and then to write Awake Unto Me, a couple of things happened in Jeanette’s and my life that greatly aided my writing. First, due to budget cuts, my employer, the state of California began furloughing employees. I was handed eighteen extra days off from 2009-2010. I didn’t have a choice: I had to take the pay cut and the days off. Therefore, those were my writing days. The second thing that happened was we decided to remodel our condo and ended up in a six month legal battle with the homeowners’ association. Writing was an excellent distraction from that mess. I could sit with my laptop in an arm chair in the tiny living room of the apartment where we lived, scatter my research materials around me, turn on classical music and just write for hours while Jeanette was at work. I found classical music a better background for writing than my more typical listening pleasure, rock and roll.
A challenge I found in writing an historical novel was trying to get into the characters’ heads and think as they would, i.e., in a nineteenth century fashion. You can say what you want about the universality of love and human emotions but how that would play out for two women in 1898 San Francisco would just not be the same. They are not hooking up online or even being introduced by mutual friends. They are not going to be going out on dates. So finding the way to get my two characters in proximity was a puzzle. I think my solution was simple but effective.
Writing is such a leap of faith, somewhat like falling in love. You can do the footwork and then you have to just let it go forward in whatever fashion it’s going to go. Sometimes the results are better than you ever imagined.