Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

ROW80: Digging Through the Archives

Since there’s only been a couple of days since Round 3 started, I thought I’d talk a bit about some of the research and world-building that I did during the hiatus between Rounds 2 and 3.  My progress update, posted yesterday, can be found here, but the bottom line is that I was a good kid yesterday, and cranked out 1300 words for Path to the Peacock Throne (I’ve been stuck for a few weeks, so this is good), and roughly 1000 for my thesis.  So, yay, progress!

As I mentioned Monday, I’m taking a steampunk writing course this month, which will hopefully help me to start writing tell me no lies, my steampunk murder mystery tale set in late-19th century San Francisco.  I’ve done a lot of brainstorming, world-building, and outlining (I actually have most of the main events of the tale figured out, along with the identity of the murderer), but zilch by way of actual writing.  To be honest, I’ve been staring at the empty word processing page in absolutely horror, thinking, “But I don’t know how it starts!”  So to fire up my imagination a bit, and bring some words to the fore, I’ve been digging through digital photo archives for inspiration.

The Library of Congress is an excellent source for all sorts of old and archived photographs, but my favorite collection at the moment is Lawrence and Houseworth collection — over 900 photos of California taken between 1862 and 1867.  The collection captures the ‘Wild West’ in all its glory — boom towns, mining sites, redwood forests, and (my favorite) amazing shots of San Francisco.  There are photos of the docks, aerial shots of the bustling city, interiors of ramshackle saloons, and exterior shots of the imposing hotels, mansions, and buildings that dominated the skyline before the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed much of it.

Each photo tells a story, like this one, a shot of the “Ladies Aid and Preservation Society”:

After doing a little bit of searching, I found a listing for the Society, along with roughly a half dozen other charities in San Francisco from this period dedicated to dealing with alcoholics, orphans, and other “needy” cases.  Given that I’m writing about saloon singers and street urchins, a character or two from the Ladies’ Protection and Relief Society just might pop up, ready to dispense Christian charity to the poor unfortunate souls of the Barbary Coast (though whether or not my rabblerousers accept that charity is another question altogether!).

Finally, I’ve been using Pinterest, a website where you can make digital ‘pinboards’ (sorta like scrapbooks) of pictures found on the internet, to organize my favorite photos from the Lawrence and Houseworth collection; the pinboard can be seen here. Just as a side-note, Pinterest has also become incredibly handy as I attempt to piece together inspiration pieces for costuming (the board for tell me no lies is here, and has lots of cool steampunk outfits).

That’s it for me!  Today is Wednesday, which means it’s the last day of summer school for the week, and another long weekend stretches before.  It will be filled with thesisizing, grading, writing, and hopefully multiple trips to the beach, if the sunny weather holds out.


  1. First off, thanks for stopping by my blog! Sounds like you have started round 3 really well and your research sound so interesting. Love the title ‘tell me no lies’! Good luck with the rest of your week!

    • Yes, thanks for the ‘return visit’! I do love ROW80, because I get to ‘meet’ so many new people, and learn about their projects. 😀 Good luck with the rest of your week as well!

  2. I love research [g] And I find old photographs inspiring – there’s always the danger that they’ll spark new ideas and even more distractions…

    • Worldbuilding is one of my favorite things to do, so I really love when I have the time to dig around, do some research, and begin to weave the universe that my characters will inhabit. You’re right, however — there definitely is quite a bit of danger in poking at old photographs. The research I’ve done on 19th century San Francisco has already generated more ideas than I was prepared for, so I’ve been maintaining a running list of random thoughts. Hopefully I’ll be able to integrate most of them into my current WIP, but if not, I’ll definitely try to come back to them later on down the road.

  3. Congrats on getting in 1000 for that thesis, Jamila!

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