J IS FOR JACK LONDON
I inserted the novelist Jack London as a “walk on” character in The Depth of Beauty because he was a San Francisco native and is well known to readers today. His iconic novel, The Call of the Wild (written in 1903) had already made him famous by 1906. The novel is based on London’s experiences in the Klondike Gold Rush, which figures prominently in my first novel, The Art of Love.
On the day of the earthquake, London and his second wife, Charmian, were living at their ranch in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco. They felt the temblor and traveled back to
the city by horseback. London said he only wrote articles and fiction so he could pay bills (he preferred ranching, but wasn’t successful at it). Apparently he was paid extremely well to provide an eyewitness account of the quake’s aftermath, including the massive fire, for Collier’s Magazine. Here’s a taste of what he wrote, which I used as background information for my upcoming novella, The Promise, which takes place during that horrible time:
“Before the flames, throughout the night, fled tens of thousands of homeless ones. Some were wrapped in blankets. Others carried bundles of bedding and dear household treasures. Sometimes a whole family was harnessed to a carriage or delivery wagon that was weighted down with their possessions. Baby buggies, toy wagons, and go-carts were used as trucks, while every other person was dragging a trunk. Yet everybody was gracious. The most perfect courtesy obtained. Never in all San Francisco’s history, were her people so kind and courteous as on this night of terror.”
K is for Katherine
One of my favorite characters in The Depth of Beauty is Will’s beautiful sister Katherine, who goes by the nickname Kit. At the beginning of the novel, she’s a prisoner of her elevated social status and feels quite shallow and useless. Like her brother, however, she undergoes a transformation during the course of the story. In Kit’s case she makes the decision to move from spoiled debutante
to hard-working nurse. The reader also learns that something happened to Kit in her past that informs her present attitude toward men. That attitude is summed up by an exchange with her
brother in which he points out that she attracts men to her like bees to honey. Kit scoffs at that, retorting, “I’d much rather be the bee … then I can sting.” In the novel we also meet a man named Dr. Tom Justice who may (or may not) change Kit’s outlook. Readers will have to wait to find out what happens between those two in my upcoming novel The Price of Compassion. Better to stock up on tissue now!
L is for Latin Quarter/Little Italy
One of San Francisco’s most popular neighborhoods is North Beach, which also goes by the nicknames Little Italy or the Latin Quarter. In the late 19th century it was actually beachfront (hence the name “North Beach”) but was filled in to make room for warehouses and docks. Over time, many immigrants from Mediterranean countries like Spain and Italy settled there and the neighborhood took on a distinct look apart from its adjacent southern neighbor, Chinatown.
In the Depth of Beauty I recount an event that actually happened, in which an Italian man named Pietro Spadafora, after taking home some discarded wood from Chinatown (left over from the plague-driven “Chinatown Beautification Project”), came down with the plague himself. Both he and his mother died from it. This showed the city residents that the illness wasn’t just limited to “those heathen Chinee.” The truth was anybody could get it – but no one could figure out exactly how it was transmitted.
I hope you’re enjoying these “bits and pieces” which provide background for The Depth of Beauty and my upcoming novella, The Promise. The Promise tells the story of two young people whose lives are changed forever when they meet during the immediate aftermath of the Great Earthquake. Corporal Ben Tilson helps a young woman struggling to keep her aunt and little sister safe amidst the devastation. The promise he makes to them will test his strength, fortitude and perseverance under the most challenging circumstances imaginable. Will he be able to keep it? He’s prepared to give it everything’s he’s got.