Finally, some momentum. Over the past couple of days I have: edited and submitted my critique sample for Paradise Lost III; incorporated the excellent feedback I received on one short into a tight edit, and sent that one on its merry way again; and started an all new story.  Meanwhile, I continue with research for my latest long-form project. All of which is normal progress for a serious writer, but still a nice advancement after a long semi-slump. The goal is to keep several submissions in the air without dropping the ball, going forward.

Speaking of Paradise Lost, the inimitable Jay Lake has been added to the staff in residence. This is outstanding news, and I am looking forward to the workshop more than ever.  Registration has been extended to February 25, so there is still plenty of time to sign up.

(I have not, in fact, used the delayed deadline to procrastinate further on my own submission.  That in itself is progress. W3w7.)

One star on Trip Advisor

In researching late-1800s Barbary Coast, I frequently run across amusing descriptions of the evils of said place and time.  It would seem observers  indulged in a game of hyperbolic one-upmanship when describing the vagaries of early San Francisco.  Here are a few top contenders.

First, let’s hear from infamous Madam Sally Stanford (no relation to University founder Leland Stanford, one assumes):

They were a wonderful set of burglars, the people who were running San Francisco when I first came to town in 1923, wonderful because, if they were stealing, they were doing it with class and style.

Even Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had plenty to say when he came to town:

It is hardly fair to blame America for the state of San Francisco, for its population is cosmopolitan and its seaport attracts the floating vice of the Pacific; but be the cause what it may, there is much room for spiritual betterment.

These are but amateur sentiments, however,  when compared to the musings of Col. Albert S. Evans, from A la California. Sketch of Life in the Golden State (1871):

Speak of the deeper depth, the lower hell, the maelstrom of vice and iniquity-from whence those who once fairly enter escape no more forever-and they will point triumphantly to the Barbary Coast, strewn from end to end with the wrecks of humanity, and challenge you to match it anywhere outside of the lake of fire and brimstone.

Strong stuff!  Not to be outdone, however, is Gangs of New York author Mr. Herbert Asbury, quoted in Lights and Shades of San Francisco (1876):

The Barbary Coast is the haunt of the low and the vile of every kind. The petty thief, the house burglar, the tramp, the whoremonger, lewd women, cutthroats, murderers, all are found here. Dance-halls and concert-saloons, where blear-eyed men and faded women drink vile liquor, smoke offensive tobacco, engage in vulgar conduct, sing obscene songs and say and do everything to heap upon themselves more degradation, are numerous. Low gambling houses, thronged with riot-loving rowdies, in all stages of intoxication, are there. Opium dens, where heathen Chinese and God-forsaken men and women are sprawled in miscellaneous confusion, disgustingly drowsy or completely overcome, are there. Licentiousness, debauchery, pollution, loathsome disease, insanity from dissipation, misery, poverty, wealth, profanity, blasphemy, and death, are there. And Hell, yawning to receive the putrid mass, is there also.

All bow down to the master of the purple passage. Well done, sir.

Hardly the stuff of travel pamphlets. But it paints a helluva setting for a tale of conflict, does it not?

Digging into the past

Research is perhaps one of the most fun parts of writing, and can lead to fresh inspiration from unexpected sources.  As part of the side research for a current project, I experienced the perils of mining information on a subject who lived a life of subterfuge.

Case in point: Frank Gardiner, the notorious 19th century bushranger.  Given his history, it’s perhaps not unexpected to encounter contradictions in his life story.  But it’s amusing nonetheless.

Frank Gardiner

Most sources, both primary and secondary, agree on the most significant points.   Gardiner and his gang were responsible for one of the biggest gold robberies in Australian history.   After a couple of years on the lam, he was captured and sentenced to thirty two years hard labor, but was ultimately released when he agreed to leave the country.  (Too criminal for Australia!  How great is that?)

His illustrious career as a bushranger is well documented.  What happened before and after remains in contention.  Some sources identify him as an emigrant from Scotland under the surname Christie.  Others claim he was born in New South Wales and used Christie as an occasional moniker.  His death appears to have occurred between ten and thirty five years (!) after leaving Australia.  Documentation supports his arrival in San Francisco, but details are sketchy.  According to various news sources on multiple continents, he may or may not have married a rich widower, sired two sons, retired to a ranch in Colorado, and had his skeleton sold at auction.

One interesting note is that the Wikipedia article appears to include some of the most accurate, if sparse, information.  At least the uncorroborated rumors are spelled out as such.  It’s hardly comprehensive, but doesn’t support the derision the site often receives from academia.  Let’s hear it for peer review!