Monday, April 14, 2014

Historical 'Fun' Fact or Human Tragedy?

     Bordello, bawdy house, brothel, whorehouse, house of ill repute, red light district. All the words conjure up the same image: a place where women sold themselves.
      A friend once observed (with a wink) that I seemed to have an inordinate interest in the subject. I do, but it's not the obvious (whatever that is). I grew up in a town once so notorious for the wild and wooly life centered around its saloons (and what was upstairs) that the frontier fort commander often forbade the men to cross the river to vsit it when on leave. As late as the 1930s, my father had an office in a hotel where everyone knew the business that flourished on a higher floor. In the auto finance business at the time, he and his father loaned money to one of the "girls" who promptly disappeared with the car. The madam came to see Daddy and suggested that, in the future, he should check with her before financing a vehicle for anyone in her employ. And, the next morning, he found the missing car parked at the curb. Daddy told the story tongue-in-cheek and with a rueful chuckle from the hindsight of age and experience. But he didn't really think it was funny.
      One of my mother's bridge buddies opened an antique store on the historic 'old town' street and conducted tours upstairs to where a bordello allegedly flourished until being shut down by law enforcement in the late 40s. Along the hall leading to a back door 'escape' over the roof of another building, hung bells to be rung when a raid was eminent. Growing up after WW II, I became familiar with the old homes, now boarding houses, which had been part of the 'red light district' serving the men from two bases located in the town.
      I knew the stories in general, but it wasn't until much later that I consider the 'actors' in those long-ago and not-so-long-ago dramas. Only seeing their faces--some young and vulnerable, some old and hardened--in books and framed in tourist attractions, did I come to understand the human drama which took place in those establishments devoted to pleasure for some and perhaps a living hell for others.
      My 2012 novel, The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall, sprang from such an encounter and light-bulb moment. It is a romantic suspense which in no way glorifies those days. I struggled with bringing it to life and, in some ways, did a bit of 'preaching and pontificating' about the subject--though not, I hope, to the detriment of the story.
     I suppose I tried to incorporate sayings (There but for the grace of God...) and scripture (Judge not...) while building a story around historical fact. You can decide for yourself when you read the first chapter and view the trailer.

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