Summer marches on, and now that grading is through, life is calming down a bit. I spend my days writing and dealing with the family, and by the time I fall into bed, I’m usually exhausted. But I’ve reached 21k on tell me no lies, I’ve outlined and organized the next chapter of my thesis, and I’ve managed to spend time with friends and family, so I think I’ve been fairly successful in terms of progress. However, I’m starting to feel like I’m spending way too much time on the computer, so I’m going to have to unplug sometime soon and just read a book.
I took a little time out yesterday to return to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s digital archives and poke around a bit. In my last round of research I spent time poring over crime reports, but this time I did a search for any mention of the Barbary Coast, and whoa. I was worried that my depiction of the Barbary Coast was too dark, but after reading these articles, I’m actually wondering if it’s dark enough.
By the late 1880s, the Barbary Coast was reportedly much calmer than during the wild west days of yore. Still, judging from these articles, conditions were still deplorable. Vice, murder, theft, drugs, alcohol, domestic violence, suicide, child abuse… all of these were commonplace in “Hell’s Half-Acre.” Men were violent, women were loose, brassy and bold. It’s easy to imagine a serial killer at work in these parts, preying on ladies of the stage. Better yet, my MC, Tempest Dumont, would have totally fit in with her swearing, boozing, flirting ways.
This passage from an 1889 article, “Hell’s Half-Acre: Sights and Scenes on the Barbary Coast,” totally sums up the vibe that I’ve been going for in my WIP:
Entering a saloon on Kearny street near Jackson, on the east side, there were found about half a dozen horribly dissipated looking hags seated at tables with men of the same general appearance of themselves. Gin, rum, and bad beer had painted all of their faces of a lurid hue, the faithful reflex of evil passions within. “These,” said the guide, as he pointed to the women, “are the ‘battle-axes’ or ‘blisters’ of Barbary. They live on drink, you may say, and spend about half their time in jail.”
The scene actually reminds me of Roarke’s, the local bar where my characters hang out. It’s a rundown, ramshackle dive where the company is questionable and the only beer on tap is little better than bitter swill, much different from the glitz and glamor of the Belladonna, the saloon where Tempest works.
I’ll be writing more about setting and the Barbary Coast in the weeks to come, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to check out the Barbary Coast walking tour before I head back to Santa Barbara.