Trains and World Fairs: Progress in 1904

Today I’m posting the second in my series about 1904, the time period for my YA novel FAITHFUL. (For the first post, see here.)

Pullman train carMaggie’s father tells her that he is taking her across the country on a pleasure trip. In 1904, the best way to travel was by train. Maggie and her father would have traveled in first class, in a Pullman compartment, with sleeping quarters. The steam-driven locomotive made the voyage across country in only a few days.train sleeping compartment

On the way, Maggie recounts that they stopped to take in the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the St. Louis World’s Fair. The Fair was a marvel of architecture and display, of art and technological advancements. It’s popularly thought that the ice cream cone was invented at the Fair – certainly it was a popular treat eaten by fairgoers. Over 1500 buildings were erected on 1200 acres, and 62 nations participated, introducing the American visitor to oddities from around the world.

For a retro glimpse of the Fair, take in the 1944 Judy Garland movie Meet Me In St. Louis:


By 1904 electricity was in use in most cities, and the Fair even boasted the Palace of Electricity, which was described as follows: “DynamosSt. Louis Exposition and motors of many kinds and new electrical machinery for a multiple of uses may be seen in operation.  Definite progress has been made during recent years in the use of electricity in the treatment of diseases.  How it is thus used is illustrated with X-ray apparatus and the famous Finsen light.  The progress in electric lighting and the use of electric power is shown.” Thomas Edison had not only perfected the electric light bulb, but had begun to develop the modern electrical network, which changed society forever.

Once Maggie arrived in Livingston, she and her father stayed at the Murray Hotel, which still exists. Some rooms at the time featured a relatively new luxury – en suite baths. The Murray and Livingston itself have changed little in 111 years.


Tally-ho coach in Yellowstone, 1900s

From Livingston yet another train ran down the Paradise valley to Gardiner, where visitors to Yellowstone National Park would disembark and catch a horse-drawn Tally-ho coach for the ride to Mammoth Hot Springs. The road follows the same path today as it did in 1904. In fact, while there have been changes in the Park, much of what Maggie experienced in 1904 remains today. More about that in an upcoming post.

But up next…clothing and food of 1904.

Context For FAITHFUL, 1904

This is the first post in a planned series on aspects of my debut YA novel FAITHFUL. If you haven’t read it, here’s the skinny: In 1904 Margaret Bennet has it all – money, position, and an elegant family home in Newport, Rhode Island. But just as she is to enter society, her mother ruins everything, first with public displays, and then by disappearing. Maggie’s confusion and loss are compounded when her father drags her to Yellowstone National Park, where he informs her that they will remain. At first Maggie’s only desire is to return to Newport. But the mystical beauty of the Yellowstone landscape, and the presence of young Tom Rowland, a boy unlike the others she has known, conspire to change Maggie from a spoiled girl willing to be constrained by society to a free-thinking and brave young woman living in a romantic landscape at the threshold of a new century.Faithful high res

When I first conceived the idea for FAITHFUL I had the notion of setting the story in Montana. It wasn’t that I was writing about Montana; I was writing about the loss of my own mother through Maggie’s search for her mother. Then my husband made the suggestion that if I was going to write about Montana, why not write about Yellowstone? Maybe even the historical Yellowstone? I liked that idea a lot, and chose 1904 almost out of thin air, because it was the year that the Old Faithful Inn opened, and I love that building, which is much the same today as it was in 1904 (see my later post for more on that).

My research took me into many aspects of the early 20th century, because I wanted to place Maggie in t1904 orphan trainhe correct social, political, and economic environment. Here are just a few of the things I uncovered:

Orphan trains: Between 1853 and 1929, roughly 250,000 orphaned or homeless children were relocated to foster families throughout the mid-west and western U.S. While it seemed like a good idea to remove children from1904 camera poverty and a life in an eastern city orphanage, many of these children were separated from siblings and placed in homes where they were treated like indentured servants. You can read more about this in Christina Baker Kline’s bestselling ORPHAN TRAIN.

Photography: Photography gained popular ground quickly in the early 20th century and in 1904 Kodak introduced the Brownie, a folding camera that could be used by the amateur. Costing a whopping $1.00, the ads for the camera proclaim “a child can handle the shutter.”
1904 airplane

First flight, early automobiles: In December 1903, the Wright brothers made their first successful airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Olds company (later Oldsmobile) began mass producing autos in 1901, and by 1905 was selling 5,000 automobiles per year.

The early 1900s were years of revolutionary change, and the rapidity and magetude of that change would have had a profound impact on a seventeen-year-old girl like Maggie. In future posts, I’ll be examining cross-country travel, clothing, food, Yellowstone itself and the Old Faithful Inn, and more. Next up: westward, ho!

Setting Writerly Goals

Yes, I know. It’s summer. You are lounging on a beach, or hiking in the mountains, or fishing a great creek, or…or…anything except writing. Goals are not on your mind.

I’m not here to jerk you away from a much-needed rest! I’m just here to inspire you so that when September rolls around (and it will) you’ll be ready to tackle those dormant writing plans.

a serene scene to help with goals

A serene scene to help with goals

Here are a few exercises that will hopefully get you started. Some of them are actually ideal summertime activities – expressing yourself artistically when you are playful is a great way to reinvigorate your brain.

1. Freewriting. Allow yourself to write by hand – by hand is important – for fifteen minutes without stopping to correct or think. Let your hand and brain run as fast as possible.

2. “Dreamstorming”. Rather than trying to brainstorm ideas, dream them. As you fall asleep, plant your story/sticking point in your mind and let your subconscious go to work while you sleep.

3. Try your hand at any other art expression. Draw, doodle, craft, play music – these other expressions will liberate the right side of the brain because you have nothing invested in them.

4. Read fairy tales, and Greek, Roman, Norse, and Native American myths and legends. Read Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. These tales form the basis of our oral traditions, and often contain repeating imagery and symbolism, much of which has been incorporated into our everyday subtext. Become familiar with them so you can consciously incorporate them into your work.

And here are a few books to set your goals in motion:

Lewis Hyde, The Gift
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk
Jane Yolen, Take Joy
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning
Bruce Ballenger & Barry Lane, Discovering the Writer Within
David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear
Eric Maisel, Fearless Creating
Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Julia Cameron, The Vein of Gold
Bernard Selling, Writing From Within
Robert Olen Butler, From Where You Dream
Jeff Vandermeer, Wonderbook

So don’t feel pressured. Just gather yourself into a fresh place, so come fall, your goals will be in place and your soul will be ready.

Tips For Writers & Readers

If you’ve browsed my website in the past you’ll know that in my Fox’s Den I’m creating a series of links to helpful tips for writers, readers, teachers, and librarians. Over the next few months, I’ll be adding to those files. Many are downloadable pdfs. Here’s what I have there so far:craft fox

For writers – getting started: thoughts on being a writer; professional organizations for writers; conference dos and don’ts; writing the synopsis; writing the logline; writing the query letter.

For writers – craft: a plot paradigm; a plot lecture; a discussion of conflict and tension; two links to files on crafting voice.

For readers: a series of articles on the Roaring Twenties; a series of articles on San Francisco in 1906.

For teachers and librarians: downloadable worksheets with helpful tips on organization skills for kids.

Please come back from time to time as I’m always adding new material. And to keep up with my latest information, sign up to receive my blog posts and occasional newsletter, right to your inbox. You’ll receive a free treat when you do!

Books With Diversity: Cross-cultural Relationships

In this moment when diversity is finally getting the attention it deserves, and publishers and readers are discovering books that represent diverse cultures, I’d like to make mention of young adult novels that feature cross-cultural and/or interracial relationships.

My interest in the subject stems from my own work. In my backstory construct of FORGIVEN, I imagined that Kula Baker’s great-grandmother was Alaskan Athabaskan, and married Kula’s Caucasian great-grandfather, who then brought her back to California. In the novel itself Kula, searching for a way to help her father, goes to San Francisco and meets and falls in love with David Wong, a Chinese-American boy. While diversity and the interracial nature of their relationship was not my primary focus I did try to represent fairly the kind of discrimination and social contempt my characters would have suffered, particularly as Kula’s looks reflect her heritage.

Additionally, in a parallel and cross-generational backstory, Kula’s mentor Miss Everts fell in love with a Chinese man in her youth, which would have been way outside the cultural norm.

Below is a selection of novels that also feature interracial relationships. Most of these novels are recommendations from a handful of YALSA librarians, so thanks go to Mary Plews, Susan Schab, Christina Kelley, Dhonielle Clayton, Yesha Naik, Nic Willcox, Naomi Bates, Tracy Weikel, and Brenda Kahn.

THE GAME OF LOVE AND DEATH by Martha Brockenbrough, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015. Flora and Henry, African American girl and white boy, are pawns in a game between Love and Death.diversity

A SUMMER OF KINGS by Han Nolan, HMH Books for Young Readers, 2012. Esther, a white girl, stands up for King-Roy Johnson, a black teen accused of murder.

THE SECRET SKY by Atia Abawi, Speak, 2015. Fatima is a Hazara girl, raised to be obedient and dutiful. Samiullah is a Pashtun boy raised to defend the traditions of his tribe. They were not meant to fall in love. But they do.

THE SUMMER OF CHASING MERMAIDS by Sarah Ockler, Simon Pulse, 2015. Christian is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat native Tobagan Elyse like a glass statue.

LIKE NO OTHER by Una LaMarche, Razorbill, 2014. Though their relation is strictly forbidden, Devorah and Jax arrange secret meetings and risk everything to be together.

WHAT I THOUGHT WAS TRUE by Huntley Fitzpatrick, Speak, 2015. He’s a rich kid from across the bridge in Stony Bay, and she hails from a family of fishermen and housecleaners to her island’s summer population.

FOREIGN EXCHANGE by Mel Glenn, HarperTeen, 1999. When students from big-city Tower High School spend a weekend in rural Hudson Landing with the students of the local high school, an African-American boy from the city is accused of murdering a local white

NAUGHTS AND CROSSES by Malorie Blackman, Simon & Schuster, 2005. Callum is a naught, a second-class citizen in a society run by the ruling Crosses. Sephy is a Cross, and daughter of the man slated to become prime minister. In their world, white naughts and black Crosses simply don’t mix — and they certainly don’t fall in love. But that’s exactly what they’ve done.

ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013. Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits–smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

IF YOU COME SOFTLY by Jacqueline Woodson, Speak, 2010. In one frozen moment their eyes lock and after that they know they fit together — even though she’s Jewish and he’s black.

PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles, Bloomsbury, 2015. In a passionate story about looking beneath the surface, Simone Elkeles breaks through the stereotypes and barriers that threaten to keep white Brittany and Latino Alex apart.

ROMIETTE AND JULIO by Sharon Draper, Simon Pulse, 2001. Romiette is African-American and Julio is Hispanic, and the Devildogs, a dangerous local gang, violently oppose their interracial relationship.

LIES WE TELL OURSELVES by Robin Talley, Harlequin Teen, 2014. Sarah and Linda must confront harsh truths about race, power and how they really feel about one another.diversity

SOMEONE LIKE SUMMER by M.E. Kerr, HarperTeen, 2007. The start of a romance between a young Colombian who came to town to work and the daughter of a local contractor whose crews are entirely Latino.

MISMATCH by Lensey Namioka, Delacourte, 2007. Sue Hua just moved from racially diverse Seattle to a suburban white-bread town where she feels like the only Asian American for miles. Then she meets Andy, a handsome and passionate violin player who happens to be Asian American.

CHASING SECRETS by Gennifer Choldenko, Wendy Lamb Books, 2015.  Ignoring the rules of race and class, Lizzie and Noah must put the pieces together in a heart-stopping race to save the people they love.

Have I missed something? Can you add any titles to this list?



Drum roll…………I am over the moon about the cover for my debut middle grade novel, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, out March 15, 2016, from Viking. Here it is:

CharmedChildrencover (1)


And here’s the blurb:

Something is not right at Rookskill Castle, a rundown Scottish manor shrouded in mystery. The castle is a temporary boarding school for children escaping the Blitz, but soon it’s clear there is something terribly wrong. There are clues hinting that a spy is in the house, and there are undeniable signs of a sinister magic. When the children in the castle’s temporary boarding school begin disappearing one by one, it’s a race against the clock for twelve-year-old Kat Bateson, her two younger siblings, and their new best friend.

The novel will also be released as an audiobook from Listening Library. You can find it on Goodreads here, and on Amazon here.

FORGIVEN Giveaway – Kindle Free Download and Goodreads Giveaway!

In conjunction with my posts about San Francisco in 1906, the setting of my novel FORGIVEN – and particularly for those wonderful librarians heading to ALA San Francisco – I’m running a giveaway for hard copies…and a freebie on ebook copies! Now you’ll know what to read on the plane – FORGIVEN, after all, is set in the city by the bay.

Please do spread the word about this opportunity. Best of luck and hope you enjoy the freebie!

First, here’s a link to an Amazon Kindle freebie:

And second, here’s a link to a Goodreads’ giveaway of 5 autographed copies (one of your few chances at getting your hands on the hardcover, signed and personalized to boot!):

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Forgiven by Janet Fox


by Janet Fox

Giveaway ends June 22, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

The Fires That Devastated San Francisco

In April 1906, following the great earthquake (for more on the earthquake, see my previous post), numerous fires broke out all over the city of San Francisco. The city had recently installed gas and water mains, and these ruptured during the quake, so the combination of explosive gas and no water made for a volatile and horrific situation.fires downtown

One of the first and largest fires was started by a woman trying to cook breakfast for her family after the quake, and as a result it earned the nickname “Ham and Eggs Fire.” Other fires were started by firefighters using dynamite to create fire breaks. The downtown area was engulfed in a blazing inferno.

The weather was warm, windy, and dry, and the fires raged for four days until rains came. More than half the population of the city was displaced, and refugee camps remained in place for up to two years.fires

Most of the destruction resulting from the April 1906 catastrophe could be attributed to the fires rather than the earthquake itself. The price tag in today’s dollars would run into the trillions.

Here’s how Kula, in FORGIVEN, describes the fires that followed the earthquake:

The fires crawled up Nob Hill and consumed the home of Phillipa Everts. They consumed the home and all the artwork and papers and sketches of Sebastian…The fires consumed mansions and tenements, brothels and castles. They consumed the palatial homes on Russian Hill and the side-by-sides of Telegraph Hill. We watched them all burn.

aftermath of firesAll day and into the night Thursday, the east side of San Francisco burned. It burned hot through the vile, mean streets of the Barbary Coast, sending hundreds of miserable alleys to the heavens as a pillar of smoke.

The fires burned through Market and destroyed the Grand Opera House, where I had seen Caruso sing just two nights ago, and the Palace Hotel, where he slept…all his costumes were lost. Not even the rich and famous were immune to the flames.

Perhaps the only positive note was the response of people on the street following the disaster. The community rose up together and vowed to rebuild. Even those rendered homeless displayed great kindness, and the gap between rich and poor disappeared for a time as all suffered together.fires reported

It’s only a matter of time before another great quake occurs on the San Andreas Fault.

The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

As you saw in my previous post, Enrico Caruso experienced a devastating earthquake.

At 5:12 on the morning of April 18, 1906, San Francisco was rocked by an earthquake estimated now to have been of magnitude 7.8 (the Richter scale was yet to be instituted; this magnitude is the same as the recent initial Tibetan earthquake.) While the main epicenter of the quake was offshore, it is assumed to have been associated with the San Andreas Fault, a strike-slip boundary. There were two jolts, a foreshock of about 25 seconds and the main shock, which lasted a devastating 42 seconds.earthquake damage

It must have felt like it went on forever.

The initial death toll was reported in the hundreds, but that was partly due to under-reported fatalities in crowded Chinatown; it’s now assumed that thousands died in the initial quake.

Areas north of San Francisco, like Santa Rosa, were hit even harder, and the Salinas River was permanently shifted to a new channel, emptying six miles south of its previous course.earthquake damage

Here is one eyewitness account of the initial devastation:

“Of a sudden we had found ourselves staggering and reeling. It was as if the earth was slipping gently from under our feet. Then came the sickening swaying of the earth that threw us flat upon our faces. We struggled in the street. We could not get on our feet. Then it seemed as though my head were split with the roar that crashed into my ears. Big buildings were crumbling as one might crush a biscuit in one’s hand. Ahead of me a great cornice crushed a man as if he were a maggot – a laborer in overalls on his way to the Union Iron Works with a dinner pail on his arm.” (P. Barrett).train after earthquake

As terrible as the quake itself was, what happened in the days following the quake left hundreds of thousands of residents homeless, and changed the face of San Francisco forever.

That’s the subject of my next post.


The Voice of the Early 1900s: Enrico Caruso

In the climactic chapters of FORGIVEN, Kula, along with other wealthy patrons, spends an evening at the opera and hears Enrico Caruso perform. It was to be his last performance in San Francisco, and her last night of stability.

Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) was an Italian tenor who captivated the world with his voice. He lived during the advent of the phonograph, and in part because his celebrity was spread through the new media of his time – newspapers, books, and magazines – his popularity expanded worldwide and his notoriety continues to this day.

In April 1906, Caruso visited San Francisco as part of a series of performances by artists of the Metropolitan Opera. He sang Don Jose in Carmen to an enthusiastic audience. But on the following morning, April 18th, he like all San Franciscans was awakened by the first jolt of the great earthquake of 1906. He escaped unharmed, and even went on to eat breakfast. But the fires that broke out following the earthquake destroyed most of the city, including his hotel, his entire personal wardrobe, and the sets of the opera company.

Caruso left the city and vowed never to return, and he never did.

Here is a recording that speaks to his tremendous ability:


The opera Carmen tells the thwarted romantic story of the naive soldier Don Jose and the seductive but doomed Carmen. For Kula, this story would have been a scandalous revelation, and hearing the great Caruso would have been a high point in her sheltered life. The earthquake might have seemed like a fitting coda, if not for the terrible tragedy in the making.

More on that in the next post.