Happy holidays!

I hope your holiday season is going well!

I’m posting here mainly to thank you. As you might know, I donate the royalties from my self-published books (including audiobooks) to Doctors Without Borders. I just made this year’s donation, and do you want to know how much it was?


Just… wow.

It’s your support that allowed me to do this, so thank you so much! Take a bow!

I spent this week in Vegas. We did a lot of fun things and ate wonderful food, but my favorite part was a trip to Valley of Fire State Park. It’s a gorgeous place with lots of petroglyphs–and some bighorn sheep that allowed us to get amazingly close.

Our New Years plans are as thrilling as always. The older kid will be home from college. She and her younger sister are having friends sleep over. We’ll watch movies, drink sparkling cider, and make cinnamon rolls. Woohoo!

Here’s wishing you a joyous 2019!

Summerfield’s Angel notes—chapter 7 through epilogue

Notes for Chapter 6

Links to the entire set of notes

Page numbers refer to the page in the PDF and print versions.


95—he was in a gang.  Alby’s childhood neighborhoods were infamous for their gangs as early as the 1820s, when an Irish gang called the Forty Thieves was active in Five Points. There are some good photos here and lots more good stuff here. I didn’t specify in the story, but Charley was most likely a member of the Whyos.

96—He’s in a town called Port Townsend. The town of Port Townsend was founded in the Pacific Northwest in 1852. It lies at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula, right atop Puget Sound. At one point, people predicted it would be the West Coast’s largest port. That didn’t happen due to a depression and unfavorable railroad lines, but it remained a viable town. Today it’s a wonderful place to visit, but during its heyday it was a fairly rough-and-tumble place. It’s still home to a major ship repair yard.

96—My sister, Aspasia. Aspasia was an influential woman in Athens during the 5th century BC.

103—There’s increasing demand for goods from Asia. Japan opened to  trade with the West in 1868, and Japanese imports became very popular in the U.S. Chinese exports such as porcelain were also in demand here. In London, fondness for blue-and-white porcelain amounted to Chinamania in the 1870s. Goods coming to the US from Asia landed at West Coast ports such as Port Townsend.

104—Port Angeles. This is another town on the Olympic Peninsula, about 45 miles west of Port Townsend. It was just beginning its growth during Alby’s time. Logging was a major industry, and the town is also conveniently located directly south of Victoria, Canada, across the Strait of Juan De Fuca.

106—this was the Olympic Peninsula. The Olympic Peninsula lies across Puget Sound from Seattle; if Washington were a mitten, the OP would be the thumb. The Olympic Mountains run down the center of the peninsula, and the peninsula rain forests get over 12 feet of rain a year. Port Angeles is considerably drier than that, however, with only about 2 feet of rainfall yearly. But a lot of that rain comes in a light drizzly mist, and it rains an average of 230 days per year.

107—Did I tell you Father sent a telegram yesterday? Commercial telegraphy was available by the mid 19th century. In 1890, Marconi was still a few years away from perfecting wireless communication, but a transcontinental telegraph wire had been in place since 1861. By Alby’s time, Western Union was the major player, and it would have been fairly simple and relatively inexpensive for someone to send a message from New York to Washington State. Western Union handled over 55 million messages in 1890.


I hope you’ve enjoyed these notes! I’d truly appreciate your feedback so I can assess whether to publish notes for future stories!

Summerfield’s Angel notes—chapter 6

Notes for Chapter 5

Links to the entire set of notes

Page numbers refer to the page in the PDF and print versions.


64—a professor talking about dinosaur bones he’d dug up. Scientists discovered dinosaurs in the 1840s, and paleontology became a hot enough topic to lead to the Bone Wars of the 1870s-80s. Public lectures were also popular in this era, so naturally dinosaurs were one of the things people lectured about. Even small towns sponsored lectures, and New York City might host hundreds per year.

65—We have some cattle. Believe it or not, NYC did have cattle in 1888. In Alby’s time, in fact, parts of Manhattan were still farmland, although that was rapidly changing. There were slaughterhouses right in the center of the city. This article has some interesting information too, plus pictures.

66—The New York Central freight yard. This yard sat between 10th and 12th Avenues and 30th and 33rd Streets and during Alby’s time was part of the Vanderbilt empire. It was a major source of food and goods entering the city, which was great. What wasn’t so great was the rail line that went up and down 10th and 11th, right at street level, on streets crowded with pedestrians and other traffic. So many people got run over by the trains that the area was called Death Avenue. Enter the West Side Cowboys—and my next note.

67—What’s the job, sir? I’d never heard of the West Side Cowboys before and was delighted to discover them. These were men who were hired by the railroad to ride in front of the freight trains carrying a red flag (or a red lantern at night). The goal was to keep people from being run over. Shockingly, West Side Cowboys continued to ride in Manhattan until 1941, when the High Line replaced the street-level tracks. You can read about the cowboys herehere, here, and here (all with photos) or watch a film of one in action here.

70—An accompanying illustration showed Santa. By Alby’s time, Santa had been used in Christmas ads for several decades already. In 1881, Thomas Nast drew a Santa illustration that provided the modern conception of what he looks like.

77—“Vaseline.” This is another thing that sent me down the research hole for a while—no pun intended. People have been improvising for lube probably since prehistoric times. By Alby’s time, an easy, practical solution was available because Vaseline had been invented in 1872.


Comments? Questions? Thoughts? Additional links? Are you finding these useful and interesting? Please comment!

And stay tuned for additional notes!

Summerfield’s Angel notes—chapter 5

Notes for Chapter 4

Links to the entire set of notes

Page numbers refer to the page in the PDF and print versions.

43—stripped down to his union suit. I did a fair amount of research on period-appropriate underwear. In Alby’s time, a one-piece union suit would have been most likely. The two-piece version is called long johns, possibly after a boxer named John L. Sullivan. Long johns eventually became more popular than union suits. Incidentally, women wore union suits as well.

49—a pale stone church with a tall copper-roofed steeple. I modeled this after the Church of the Transfiguration, built in 1801 on Mott Street. Interestingly, from the 1890s until 1902, the Irish parish leaders made Italians worship in the basement rather than the main sanctuary. One of the church leaders also tried to get Chinese immigrants forcibly removed from the neighborhood.

50—In one of those Fifth Avenue mansions. If you were a Gilded Age millionaire, Fifth Avenue was the place to live. Your neighbors would have been folks like the Vanderbilts and the Astors. Only one of these mansions survives intact today (it sold for $50 million last year), but you can see some period photos here and here.

54—He dropped the bundle into a brown paper shopping bag with thin rope handles. I spent far too much time researching how people transported purchases in 1888. Turns out paper bags were first mass-produced in 1852. If you want to be picky, the kind with the cord handles wasn’t patented until 1912, but we’ll allow me a bit of artistic license on that bit.

56—Have you never been in an elevator before? Elisha Otis invented the safety elevator in 1852. Before that, elevators were used to move goods; Otis’s invention made them safe for human transport. New York City saw its first office building with a passenger elevator in 1870. And of course it was the elevator that allowed high-rises to be practical. Early elevators were run by an operator. Although fully automated ones were available as early as 1900, they didn’t become widely used until the 40s.

57—I saw it in a mail-order catalog. Mail-order catalogs were born in the mid 19th century. They were a convenience to consumers, and they allowed sellers to increase their profits by bypassing middlemen. Here’s a nice article on their history. This article discusses mail-order catalogs in the Wild West. What I think is cool is the range of stuff you could order. I once lived in a little house in Nebraska that was built in 1888 and was quite possibly ordered from a catalog.

58—Do you remember a few years ago when roller skating was all the rage? Roller skates were invented in the mid-1700s. Skating became a fad in the 1880s, when the skates were first mass-produced. Here’s a fun little article about it. And although Xeno assumes the craze didn’t hit Nebraska, according to this fun article, the West was not immune. Roller-skating cowboys!

Comments? Questions? Thoughts? Additional links? Are you finding these useful and interesting? Please comment!

And stay tuned for additional notes!

Summerfield’s Angel notes—chapter 4

Notes for Chapter 3

Links to the entire set of notes

Page numbers refer to the page in the PDF and print versions.

26—Now many of them spoke in Italian. Although Italians landed in New York City as early as the 1600s, it was the late 1800s and early 1900s that saw huge waves arrive. They were among the largest groups of immigrants to the US in these years. One area in which a lot of them settled was Mulberry Street, which is a block from Baxter. Mulberry Bend was one of the most notorious sections of the Five Points neighborhood. This article has some photos of the neighborhood then and now.

29snow, burning cow chips, sickness. Trees are rare in the Sandhills, and the winters are bitterly cold. So how did the settlers and ranchers keep warm? By burning dried cow dung. Of course, prior to whites settling in the area, native people burned buffalo chips. The smell might not have been ideal, but it kept you alive.

29—He eventually found himself in Central Park. Central Park was designed in 1858 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux as a place for urbanites to get some peace and for rich people to see and be seen. People who already lived on the land—Irish immigrants and African Americans—were forced to relocate. During Alby’s time, the park was in somewhat of a decline, which continued until the 1930s.

32Earlier this year I attended a presentation by Mr. Jacob Riis. Riis was a photojournalist, most famous for his book How the Other Half Lives, which documented the lives of New York City’s poor (you can read the whole thing here). Riis also gave lectures on his work, often using lantern slides to project his photos so attendees could see them. His work is credited with sparking city-wide and national reforms to improve working and living conditions for the poor.

35—My mother died of consumption too. Tuberculosis (TB) was called consumption due to the way patients wasted away; it was the leading cause of death in the US during Alby’s time. Although the disease was more common among the poor due to difficult living conditions, anyone could get it, and the mortality rate was something like 50%. Also around Alby’s time, scientists discovered the cause of TB. Milk pasteurization, vaccinations, and antibiotics greatly reduced the rates of TB in the US, but it remains a serious disease elsewhere in the world—and even sometimes in the US, due to treatment-resistant strains of the disease.

35—The judge packed me up and put me on a train. Alby was sent west on an orphan train. In the days before cities had much in the way of social services, and before the juvenile justice system existed, the westbound trains were an option for orphaned, homeless, abused, and delinquent children. The idea was that placing them with a family in the Midwest would get them away from adverse influences in the city and give them a chance for a new life. While some children may have benefited from the experience, most were separated from their families and some were undoubtedly abused. Here’s a contemporary account of children being placed out, and this site provides some information. Here’s a man talking about his childhood experience being placed out.

38—More money in beeves than corn, they reckoned. Both in the 19th century and now, Nebraska has had a primarily agricultural economy. In the eastern part of the state, which has richer soil and gets more rainfall, crops like corn and soy are grown. The state also grows a fair amount of grain, such as wheat and sorghum. In the drier, sandier parts of the state, beef is the biggest industry.

39—We had a terrible blizzard in March. On March 12, 1888, a blizzard began in New York City. It dumped about 40 inches of snow in two days, bringing the city to a standstill; over 200 people died. There are details and some great photos here. This page has more images and a detailed contemporary account. And this page has more newspaper accounts from the event.

Comments? Questions? Thoughts? Additional links? Are you finding these useful and interesting? Please comment!

And stay tuned for additional notes!

Summerfield’s Angel notes—chapter 3

Notes for Chapter 2

Links to the entire set of notes

Page numbers refer to the page in the PDF and print versions.

21—Alby was smitten almost at once. Americans in the 1880s were surprisingly tolerant of same-sex relationships, as long as they were conducted discreetly. This was especially true in the West, where there were proportionately fewer women and where men worked and lived together in very close quarters. This article provides some background. But what about the cities of the East? By 1890, New York City had a thriving gay scene with a variety of clubs—including drag clubs—in the Bowery and Greenwich Village. People could and did face persecution, but at least in some social circles, same sex relationships were accepted. And regardless of sexual orientation, men were generally more comfortable showing affection and physical contact with each other than they are today. Here are some lovely photos.

22—a shallow wash between rolling hills. Alby lived on a ranch in Nebraska’s Sandhills, a large area of sand dune prairie. People began cattle ranching there in the 1870s, and even today, cattle are the major contributor to the economy. The Sandhills have always been sparsely populated, and winters can be extremely harsh, but it’s an important ecosystem. I think it has its own unique beauty as well. [Fun fact! I’m in the middle of a series with Dreamspinner, each book featuring a man originally from Peril, Nebraska—the fictional town near Alby’s ranch. The Stars from Peril books are contemporaries, and The Spy’s Love Song is the first. Redesigning Landry Bishop is due out in May, and I’m about to begin the third book.]

22cattle were driven to the train. During the time Alby was in Nebraska, cattle would have been kept on open rangeland. Every year, ranchers would round up the cattle intended for slaughter and cowboys would move these herds to the rail lines for transport east. In Nebraska, drives would have involved not just local cattle, but also herds driven up from Texas to the Union Pacific line. After the late 1880s, the decline of open range—caused by weather and overgrazing—reduced the number of drives. But a few people are doing it still, mostly to move animals from one pasture to another. This wonderful article includes great photos.

22or a cattle drive or errands took him to Ogallala or Cheyenne. Suppose you’re a cowboy who’s just finished a long, hard drive. You got the cattle on the train and you have a few dollars in your pocket. Wouldn’t you want a little recreation before getting back on your horse? That’s how cattle towns came to be. As you might imagine, these towns could be pretty wild places. Ogallala was one of the primary Nebraska cattle towns and Cheyenne was a major one in Wyoming. You can see some old photos of Ogallala.

Comments? Questions? Thoughts? Additional links? Are you finding these useful and interesting? Please comment!

And stay tuned for additional notes!

Summerfield’s Angel Notes—chapter 2

Notes for Chapter 1

Links to the entire set of notes

Page numbers below refer to the page in the PDF and print versions.

9—cheap food was easy to find at the pushcarts in Five Points. People have been selling food and goods on the streets of New York City since its founding. The earliest carts sold oysters. The real rush came in the late 1800s, though, when hundreds of thousands of Eastern European Jews landed in the city. Pushcarts allowed them to both support themselves with little capital and buy food and goods inexpensively. Here are some articles on the history of pushcarts: https://www.eldridgestreet.org/history/pushcarts-the-hustle-to-the-american-dream/https://www.6sqft.com/from-oysters-to-falafel-the-complete-history-of-street-vending-in-nyc/http://strangeside.com/new-york-pushcarts-and-peddlars/. There’s even a video of Lower East Side pushcarts, filmed around 1903!

9—a neighborhood where the signs were mostly in Yiddish. Jews have been immigrating to New York City since the mid 1600s. The earlier Jews were fleeing the Inquisition and came mostly from Portugal, Spain, and their colonies. But between 1880 and 1939, over a million Jews fled persecution in Eastern Europe and settled in New York, especially in the Lower East Side. Like many immigrant communities, this one was poor but vibrant.

10—“Bowery,” he said, his voice heavily accented. Bowery was the first thoroughfare in New York City. Originally a footpath used by native peoples, it became a street when the Dutch colonized. By the 1800s, it was an entertainment district mostly aimed at the masses, such as the residents of Five Points, rather than the wealthy. By Alby’s time, the Bowery had become fairly seedy, full of saloons, cheap lodging, and prostitutes. Here’s a great history of the area, including photos.

10—Trolleys rattled down the center of the street, while elevated train tracks lined the buildings on either side. Elevated trains came to New York in the 1860s and to the Bowery in 1878. While they provided public transportation, the trains were noisy and dirty, and their presence contributed to the Bowery’s decline. The el tracks were torn down in 1955. There are lots of great photos and some videos.

10—“Seven-cent lodging houses.” In Alby’s time, NYC was badly overcrowded. Seven-cent lodging houses were one option for the poor, and a small step up from sleeping on the street. Jacob Riis described them in 1890, and they were also photographed.

13—There were cheap places to eat in the Bowery, restaurants where the menus showed ham and beans for a nickel and coffee for another five cents. I spent a lot of timing researching restaurants. Working people in Alby’s time needed cheap places to eat, especially since many didn’t have access to a kitchen at home. Scroll down this page for a photo of a 5-cent restaurant in the Bowery. This page has an example of a 5-cent menu.

14—plunging yourself into the Central Park Lake. Central Park Lake was opened in 1858 and was intended expressly for recreation: boating in summer and skating in winter. Some old photos exist.

14—Xenocrates. Xenocrates was a 4th century BC Greek philosopher, a student of Plato.

15—when we’ve a notion to go slumming. Slumming was a popular pastime among the wealthy in Alby’s time. Parties of well-off white people would have excursions into neighborhoods populated by minorities and the poor. The Bowery was a popular neighborhood for this.

15—There’s a new establishment there called the Slide. I’ve taken a bit of liberty with this one. The Slide was actually in Greenwich Village, not the Bowery. I’m not sure when it opened, but by 1890 it was known—notorious in some circles—as a dive gay bar. Here are a description and a modern photo. It must have been quite a place! Police shut it down in 1892.

15—The YMCA. The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded in 1844 and came to New York City in 1852. The first one in the Bowery opened in 1872, although I’ve based my description more on this location, also in the Bowery (although it didn’t open until 1915). The Y was intended to provide housing, meals, exercise, spirituality, and education to working-class men, in hopes of saving them from lives of poverty and crime. The Y rented out rooms, and it also provide exercise facilities, lecture halls, and job placement. This page has drawings of what the interior would have looked like in Alby’s time. With young men living close together, a certain amount of sexual activity must have happened, although the extent of it in 1880s New York is unknown. By the early 1900s, at least, the YMCAs in New York were well-known as a relatively safe place for gay men to engage with one another.

Comments? Questions? Thoughts? Additional links? Are you finding these useful and interesting? Please comment!

And stay tuned for additional notes!

Summerfield’s Angel Notes—chapter 1

Are you a proud nerd like I am? Does the word research send pleasant little tingles down your spine? Have you considered tattooing a footnote on your foot? If so, this post is for you.

Summerfield’s Angel is set in New York City in 1888, which means I joyfully engaged in a lot of background research as I wrote it. Here are some notes to accompany the story—they provide a little background information on some of the details. You absolutely don’t need to read these notes to understand and enjoy the story. But if you can’t get enough of the details, these are for you. To avoid spoilers, I’d recommend reading the story before turning to the notes.

Page numbers refer to the page in the PDF and print versions.

1—New York City was bigger than Alby Boyle remembered, and noisier. I didn’t realize it until well after I’d written this opening sentence, but I was echoing the rhythm of the final line of one of my favorite Walt Whitman poems, which was written in roughly the same era in which this story takes place.

1—nowhere near the killing temperatures that had changed his life the previous year. The winters of 1886-87 and 1887-88 were extremely harsh in much of North America. In the Great Plains states, one terrible blizzard killed 90% of the cattle on open ranges, bankrupting ranchers and changing the way ranching and farming were done. This article describes that blizzard and its aftermath, as does this one. I’ve taken a bit of artistic license and moved that disaster to 1888, which is the year New York City suffered an awful blizzard. I’ll discuss that in notes for Chapter 4.

1—Alby hunched his shoulders inside his duster and tipped the brim of his Stetson downward. The John B. Stetson Company was founded in 1865. Their famous hat, the Boss of the Plains, was intended to meet the needs of the people who lived and worked in the challenging conditions of the West. That hat became such standard wear for cowboys that it became the quintessential cowboy hat. It’s still manufactured by the Stetson company and retains most of its original styling.

2—It was covered in tiny electric lights, glittering ribbons, and colored glass baubles. Electric Christmas lights were invented by Thomas Edison in 1880, but I’ve jumped the gun a bit in my story since they weren’t widely in use until the early 20th century. Before then, people generally used candles–which of course created a real danger of fire. Incidentally, I’ve always loved those bubble lights, which weren’t invented until the 1920s. Turns out the original kind were pretty dangerous, though.

2—a pair of horses trotted by just an arm’s reach away, pulling a trolley down the tracks. Before motor vehicles were invented, NYC had a variety of forms of transportation. One of these was the trolley: an enclosed wagon pulled down rails by one or two horses. The rails reduced friction, helping the horses pull more weight at a faster rate. The first of NYC’s trolleys began running in 1832; they were eventually replaced by cable cars and electric streetcars. The final horse trolley in NYC stopped running in 1917. Here’s a bit of good trivia. The Brooklyn Dodgers were originally the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, so called because people had to dodge the electric trolleys on their way to the games. Here are a few more details.

4—“Can you point me in the direction of Baxter Street?” Baxter Street was part of Manhattan’s Five Points neighborhood, which may be one of the country’s most famous slums. It persisted as a slum for most of the 19th century. Emancipated African Americans lived there early on, as did large numbers of Irish immigrants. It was notorious for squalid tenements, violent crime, gangs, and disease. It would have been a very difficult place to live during Alby’s childhood. Here are a few websites with photos and more info: http://www.anthropologyinpractice.com/2010/04/five-points-then-and-now-landmarks.html and https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/where-exactly-was-the-citys-five-points-slum/  and https://longislandwins.com/columns/immigrants-civil-war/five-points-on-the-edge-of-the-draft-riots/This photo by Jacob Riis was taken on Baxter Street the year Summerfield’s Angel takes place. More on Jacob Riis in Chapter 4.

5—a wooden building with clapboards in disarray and a roof in danger of imminent collapse. This is the photo that inspired my description of the saloon.

6—he could see the church spire rising two blocks away on Mott Street. Alby is looking at the spire of the Church of the Transfiguration, which still stands.

6—It had been a sprawling wooden building, three stories high, with a roofline that swooped and bowed at dizzying angles. This photo inspired my description of Alby’s childhood home.

7—Irish immigrants had been landing in this neighborhood for generations. Although some Irish people immigrated to New York prior to the American Revolution, the biggest numbers came after the Great Famine in 1845. Irish people constituted a large portion of the population of cities like New York, Boston, and Chicago. Almost all of them were poor and uneducated when they arrived, and they faced discrimination and harsh living and working conditions.These websites provide more info: https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/irish-immigrants-new-york-tenement-museum and https://www.claddaghdesign.com/history/irish-new-york/ and https://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Irish-immigration-to-America.html .

Comments? Questions? Thoughts? Additional links? Are you finding these useful and interesting? Please comment!

And stay tuned for additional notes!

Links to the entire set of notes