I think one of the most challenging aspects of writing historical fiction is finding out all the mundane details of daily life. It is also one of the most fun. A little detail from the 1920s and 1930s that I find particularly charming is that instead of using watts to describe the power of an electric light bulb as we do today, people used the term “candle power.” So in 1931 you could buy a 3-candle floor lamp for $7.75, for example. Although “watt” as a unit of measurement existed, the use of “candle power” demonstrates that the transition to electricity was still under way, and people continued to look to an older system of lighting as reference in understanding and speaking about the new one.
Posts by rathorn:
Just finished an interesting article, “‘What, Another Female Husband?’: The Prehistory of Same-Sex Marriage in America” by Rachel Hope Cleaves (full citation below). Cleaves provides an overview of the many examples of same-sex marriages in American history, which disprove the recent assertions that same-sex marriage represents “a radical break from the past.” Cleaves argues that the history of these unions has been erased by what she terms the “logic of impossibility.” Whenever contemporaries described these marriages, they always used language that made the marriage sound both unique and impossible–“queer,” “extraordinary,” “truth is stranger than fiction,” or by putting ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ in quotation marks. This had the effect of both denying the marriage legitimacy and also erasing past examples of such relationships by making it seem like this was the first time it had occurred.
Interestingly, the legal status of same-sex marriages was also up for debate. In 1923 in Chicago a male cross-dresser, Fred Thompson/Frances Carrick was arrested in a murder investigation. When his/her husband, Frank Carrick, was called to testify, “the state objected that he could not give testimony on behalf of his spouse.” The judge ruled in favor of the state, saying that “‘the fact that Thompson was a man did not affect his status as a wife, insofar as interpretation of the law is concerned.'” But when the New York Times reported the decision, they still put ‘husband’ in quotes.
Rachel Hope Cleaves, “‘What, Another Female Husband?’: The Prehistory of Same-Sex Marriage in America,” The Journal of American History 101, no. 4 (March 2015): 1055-1081
Some of the songs that the characters listen to in Untethered:
“My Buddy” is one of those songs that comes across as very homoerotic today but wasn’t intended so at the time. Of course, queer men would have been able to interpret it in a romantic way.
“They’re Either Too Young or Too Old,” which contains the immortal lines: And flying over Egypt, your heart will never be gypped
Untethered will be released on April 6 by Dreamspinner Press. You can read the full synopsis here. It’s about Frankie Norris, a young pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II. Besides telling the love story of Frankie and his crew chief, Jim Morrow, I wanted to show how WWII enabled gay men and lesbians to form a community of unprecedented scope and influence. The Armed Forces brought millions of men and women from all parts of the country together, providing countless opportunities to form same-sex relationships. It was a watershed moment in queer history.
What I found particularly striking as I did research for this novel was how the environment within the Armed Forces could be amazingly tolerant at times for queer men. Drag shows, surprisingly open sexual and romantic relationships, acceptance of gay men within units–you can find evidence for all of this. But at the same time, there was repression and homophobia and violence and the threat of discharge and/or prison. It was so dependent on the individuals involved and the place you happened to be. Because I’m a historian, I can’t help citing a source! I found Allan Berube’s Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II particularly useful in conceptualizing what gay men and lesbians encountered in the Armed Forces.
Hopefully I captured some of this sense of community coupled with the uncertainty and danger in Frankie’s story. It is available for pre-order at Dreamspinner Press.