Marsha Canham's Blog

May 19, 2011

And now for something a little different

Filed under: Uncategorized — marshacanham @ 5:50 am

My guest blogger today is Phoebe Matthews, one of several thousand…well, okay at least a hundred…authors on the BacklistEbooks email loop. It’s a great loop with a lot of good information for authors with backlists trying to wade their way into the deep and sometimes murky waters of self publishing. Along the way, you hear some cool stories too that make anonymous faces seem a little more personal *s* Enjoy.

When I was very small, and the great-uncles smelled of whiskey and cigars, and the great-aunts gossiped about each other, I heard snippets of stories that were way too fascinating for the ears of children and so my sisters and cousins and I did a lot of pretending to be busy reading in a corner after Sunday dinner at my grandparents’ house. The house was, and still is, in Chicago, a three story house built by an ancestor for his young immigrant bride. They were married in the 1870s, and I have a photo of their children sitting on the porch with their 4th of July decorations, 1885. The house is in walking distance from Lincoln Park Zoo. The street’s name has been changed but the house is still there, converted into offices for a non-profit.

Over the years I played with the stories, planned to turn them into a long novel, did mountains of research, and then realized the stories weren’t a novel, they were snippets of memories. For instance, my grandfather remembered seeing Evelyn Nesbit as the closing act at the vaudeville, swinging out over the audience on a swing with red velvet ropes. Oh yeah, of course she was fully clothed, this was vaudeville, not burlesque. She sat motionless in the swing, and never smiled. “Saddest face I’ve ever seen,” he told me. But Evelyn, once a favorite model of Gibson, later married to a millionaire, had been the center of a scandal that rocked Chicago and left her with no other means of earning a living. All the audience wanted was a chance to see her. They didn’t expect talent. (The 1950s movie titled Girl in the Red Velvet Swing starred a very young and gorgeous Joan Collins as Evelyn.)

And there was the cherry bomb story, and stories of the stage door Johnnies and the broken marriages and the screaming fights, all tales to clutter up our young minds.

The stories fit better into novellas. So that’s how my Chicago 1890s trilogy started. Could have called it the Gay Nineties, which is what that historical era was once called, but that label would kind of mislead people now. If you watch Coronation Street, well, drag the theme back to Chicago 1890s when the Columbia Exposition opened and all the little boys in the neighborhood first saw and fell madly in love with Lillian Russell, including my great-uncles. The stories were passed down in my family, and then I added fiction to tie them together. Some are true as they stand, some are exaggerated, and some are pure fiction and on pain of painful death at the hands of family members, I won’t say which is which.

As for the cover of the first novella, I tried a photo of the house. Everyone in the Loop group said it looked like a murder mystery. So then I searched thru BigStock and there he was, a young man who remarkably resembled ancient photos of one of the great-uncles. I know Marsha doesn’t much like this cover, but ohmygod that’s Rudy. Right down to the expression. Women went in and out of his life, and I don’t think he ever figured out why.

– Phoebe Matthews


And don’t forget to check out the amazing, stupendous, huge coupon sale over at Smashwords where you can get a lot of great backlist books from 10-100% off!!!!



  1. I love this! Phoebe this is so neat. I keep trying to dig into my family history and look what you’ve done with yours. Wow.

    Comment by JILLMETCALF — May 19, 2011 @ 6:36 am | Reply

  2. A friend of mine was looking up some info for his wife about her family, just a curiosity thing. That was four years ago and since then he’s turned into a genealogy (dare I use the word fanatic) and traced both of their family’s back several generations. Apparently the Mormons have one of the best libraries for this sort of research and he’s there so often they started greeting him as Brother Bob *s*

    Comment by marshacanham — May 19, 2011 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  3. My paternal grandmother told the new doctor in town that she was 18 when in fact she was only 16. She was a beauty and they soon married and produced my father. My grandmother made my grandfather’s life less than blissful, but they stuck together as people did then. I used a young woman lying about her age to avoid becoming the ward of a very handsome powerful man, and of course, she created havoc in his life. It’s not what I’d call a “family” story, but as you found, some stories are too good to let slip away without notice.

    Comment by Phoebe Conn — May 19, 2011 @ 6:00 pm | Reply

  4. My grandparents came over from Poland. From what I can gather from finding an old entry on a ship’s passenger manifest (this genealogy stuff is contagious), my grandfather came over first, on a cattle boat, followed almost a year later by my grandmother and five kids. They lived in a creaky old house in Toronto across from a meat packing plant, and two of my most vivid memories from childhood were the smell of the slaughterhouse, and the fact my grandmother used to pluck her own chickens and make duvets with the feathers and I always got stabbed with the little quills. I never knew my grandfather–I don’t think my mother did either, he died when she was very young– but my grandmother was like a tiny mighty mouse. One wrong word and the hand shot out.

    Comment by marshacanham — May 19, 2011 @ 9:25 pm | Reply

  5. Genealogy is addictive. The details make stories so much richer. I love the slightly surprised look on Rudy’s face and the line about Rudy tried.
    I have an ancestor named Freelove Townsend who married Thomas Jones, a privateer for England who was described by others as an out-and-out pirate. I keep thinking one day I could make a good story out of that, but I have a lot in mind for “one day.”
    Phoebe, your young bride sounds fun. Is this the Rudy story?
    Marsha, you hooked me on historical romance a long time ago. Yours was the first I read and I loved it. If I looked, I could probably figure out which one.

    Comment by Ellis Vidler — May 21, 2011 @ 10:58 am | Reply

    • Your comment reminds me of a visit to the Revolutionary war cemetary in Savannah. I wish I had written down the actual inscription, but there was a tombstone up against a wall that said something like: My son was walking down the street minding his own business when two vicious pyrates off a ship knocked him on the head for no reason and killed him dead. All the tombstones had something to say, which gave a great insight to the character of the people who died and those who buried their loved ones. Very few just said Rest In Peace. I keep thinking I’ll go back one day and take more time to look around, but like you, I have a lot of things I’d like to do…just no time. *s* And I’m glad I got you hooked on historical romances, I know I am. lol

      Comment by marshacanham — May 21, 2011 @ 11:33 am | Reply

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