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Check out the interviews held with talented writers and others who contribute to promoting the Belle Epoque!

Mogul and the Chinese Exclusion Act: An Interview with Joanna Shupe


Award-winning author Joanna Shupe writes the men of Edwardian era New York like no other. While some are born to the Knickerbocker Club set, others are self-made titans of industry. But whether they are from Five Points or Fifth Avenue, they are all swoon-worthy. In Mogul, one will battle a real historical injustice: the restrictive immigration laws of the late nineteenth century.

She never expected to find her former husband in an opium den.

Thus begins Mogul, Shupe’s last book in the Knickerbocker seriesCalvin Cabot, the son of humble American missionaries in China, has grown up to become one of the most influential men in America. Even with his lucrative newspapers and powerful friends, though, can he find a way around one of the worst laws of the Gilded Age—the Chinese Exclusion Act—to reunite a friend’s family?

In this post, Joanna Shupe answers our questions about the Chinese Exclusion Act and how she came up with the idea to work such substantive history into the conflict of her novel.

Interview with Joanna Shupe author of Knickerbocker Club series of Gilded Age historical romance

What was the Chinese Exclusion Act, and how will it affect your characters?

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, signed into law by President Arthur, severely limited the ability of Chinese men and women to enter the United States. It’s the most restrictive immigration policy the U.S. has ever had to date and wasn’t repealed until the early 1940s.

So why were Chinese immigrants singled out? In the 19th century, America was undergoing a massive transformation. The Gold Rush and the railroad expansion led to the need for cheap labor, and many Chinese immigrants (mostly men) were able to find jobs here. Gradually, anti-Chinese sentiment increased, polarized by a few politicians who used the Chinese immigrants as excuses for why wages remained so low. Their solution was to call for the banning of any Chinese laborer, thereby freeing up those jobs for American workers.

Starting in 1882, no Chinese laborer could enter the United States—and it was nearly impossible to prove you weren’t a laborer. Only diplomatic officials and officers on business, along with their servants, were considered non-laborers, so the influx of Chinese immigrants came to a near standstill. They also tightened the rules for reentry once you left, which meant families were separated with little hope of ever reuniting.

How effective were the Chinese Exclusion Acts at excluding the Chinese? For the last half of the 1870s, immigration from China had averaged less than nine thousand a year. In 1881, nearly twelve thousand Chinese were admitted into the United States; a year later the number swelled to forty thousand. And then the gates swung shut. In 1884, only ten Chinese were officially allowed to enter this country. The next year, twenty-six.

— “An Alleged Wife:
 One Immigrant in the Chinese Exclusion Era” by Robert Barde, Prologue Magazine, National Archives, Spring 2004, Vol. 36, No. 1.

Mogul is set in 1889, and circumstances have separated the hero’s best friend from his wife, who is still back in China. His best friend is African American, so they decide to tell politicians and the government that she is really the hero’s wife. This presents a problem when the hero falls in love with—and impetuously marries—the heroine of the story.

Racist anti-Chinese cartoons from Australia and United States illustrating Chinese Exclusion in Joanna Shupe historical romance novel Mogul.
Racist illustrations from Australia and the United States.
This sounds like a pretty sobering piece of history. What inspired you to use the Exclusion Act as a central plot line in Mogul?

I started with this idea that my hero would be discovered in an opium den in New York City, so that was where my research began. I didn’t remember the CEA from my history classes, so I was floored when I discovered it. It’s tragic and racist, and yet seems still so relevant today.

As romance novelists, we love to find conflict for our characters. I thought the CEA might be an interesting way to drive the story forward. I wanted to both highlight the xenophobia of the CEA and use the forced familial separation to craft the plot.

Anti-immigration illustrations and cartoons about Chinese Exclusion Act for interview with Joanna Shupe author of Gilded Age historical romance
From left: illustration of 1880 anti-Chinese riot in Denver; poster celebrating the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act; photo of Chin Quan Chan and family at the National Archives.
What kind of research did you need to do on the act itself and on the Chinese-American community in general? Do you have any sources that you recommend for students and researchers?

I read quite a bit online about the CEA and the effects of the legislation. The 19th century Chinese-American community was fascinating to research. A good friend of mine is Chinese-American, and I peppered her (as well as her family) with lots of questions about the language and culture. They were all very patient and helpful.

I used mostly archives of The New York Times for tidbits about Chinatown, opium, and the Tongs, which is how I saw a mention of the game fan tan and began researching that. As with most historical research, you can fall into a rabbit hole pretty easily because it’s all so fascinating.

Uncle Sam lodging house anti-immigration cartoon from Puck leading to Chinese Exclusion Act focus of Mogul by Joanna Shupe historical romance author
Centerfold of “Uncle Sam’s Lodging House” from 7 June 1882 edition of Puck, accessed at the U.S. Library of Congress.
In a genre that some claim is about escapism, did you encounter any resistance to using this real history as a conflict in your book—either from editors, publisher, or readers?

I didn’t receive any resistance about this storyline, per se, but I’ve had readers tell me that they won’t read any historical set in America. The reason given is they can’t “romanticize” it the way they can with British history.

While I understand what they’re saying—after all, we’ve lived and breathed American history in school since Kindergarten—I don’t agree. We can’t assume we know everything in our history so well that we can’t learn something new or enjoy a compelling story. There’s so much history that isn’t taught—or isn’t taught well—and looking into the past gives us the clearest view of where we are today.

The Gilded Age is one of our finest eras…but also one of our nation’s low points. In each of the Knickerbocker Club books, I’ve tried to highlight some of the issues and problems as well as the opulence and wealth.

Thank you to Joanna Shupe author of Gilded Age historical romance Knickerbocker Club

INTERVIEW: Apollonia Lord, author of Seduced by the Outlaw


I love discovering new authors who write in my favorite time period, and I had to interview Apollonia Lord about her debut, Seduced by the Outlaw.

Seduced by the Outlaw by Apollonia Lord
It’s 1896, and Tamar Freeman is a respectable citizen of Kansas City, maintaining her family legacy, running the local newspaper, and caring for her sisters. The last thing she expects is to fall for an outlaw. But the lonely hearts ads that Deadwood Dick takes out in The Advocate stir something unexpected deep within.

Lawman Amos Tanner went deep undercover for the Pinkertons months ago to bust a burglary ring on the lam, wreaking havoc across the Western states. The coded ads he’s been placing with his Pinkerton boss in local newspapers have laid the trap expertly for the gang’s capture, and soon he’ll pull off his last heist as Deadwood Dick and be free to return home to Oklahoma. But a wildfire of an attraction has roared to life between him and Tamar. Walking away from her will be the hardest thing he’s ever done.

When the final heist doesn’t quite go off as planned, a shocking turn of events threatens to split Amos and Tamar forever. Will she find the strength to give up her safe world and risk a chance at the life she’s long desired?

Congratulations on the publication of your novel! How long was your journey from writing your first novel to now?
Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be interviewed for your blog. I started writing in high school and actually entered a competition with Arabesque Press for publishing. I nursed that novel for years until I quit in 2002. I stopped writing for 3 or 4 years and once I started again I sent out a novella to be included in an anthology. That was 6 years ago, and I haven’t stopped writing and submitting since then.

What inspired Seduced by the Outlaw?
I love historical novels, and Beverly Jenkins is one of my favorite authors who chronicles the stories of diverse characters in the West. And there is such a great multicultural history that is ignored in most movies. Another inspiration was how ads were used to look for love, loved ones, or employees. This database of ads catalogs the quests of former slaves to find loved ones and that piqued my interest. There is another story buried in here.

What are some little known facts you uncovered while researching your novel?
1. This book was inspired by the work of pioneering female journalists in the 19th century. In particular, Ida B. Wells has been a personal inspiration for me as I wrote this. She was a pioneering journalist and anti-lynching crusader. In my opinion, you can’t write a black female journalist in that time period without crafting her in the courageous and bold mold of Wells.

2. My family is from Kansas City, and it was fun digging into the city’s history of this book. I spent a lot of time looking at historical photographs and reading about the city

3. Deadwood Dick is the name of a real-life person and was used in an old serial novel. The former slave and cowboy Nat Love was nicknamed Deadwood Dick. My critique partners laughed every time I said it, but the character’s name was based on real research.

Is there any historical research you didn’t have space to include in the novel? If so, what was it and why didn’t you include it?
I tend to write short, so I try to thread all the historical research needed through the story. Now, I wish I had put in more about the Pinkertons.

Drawing from the Proust Questionnaire:

Your favourite occupation.
Writer or engineer. Scratch that: bakers who make a properly balanced chocolate chip cookie.

Your heroines in World history.
Politician Shirley Chisholm. Civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell. Warrior Queen Nzingha. Entertainer/spy Josephine Baker. Any woman in history who decided to go her own way, challenge the status quo, and make a real change for people is my heroine.

The natural talent you’d like to be gifted with.
The ability to like shopping.

Which of your characters did you enjoy writing the most?
Tamar. She’s unmoved and headstrong. She’s a passionate advocate yet has never felt real passion with a lover. She has so many contradictions.

What are you reading right now?
I’m reading a lot of exams right now. Besides that, I am listening to Cal Newport’s Deep Work and Jonah Berger’s Invisible Influence, both nonfiction but can help writers pivot into deeper success. I’m reading You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero, a book on African American spies, Priya in Heels, Perv, The Gazillionaire and the Virgin, and Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Economics I Learned from Online Dating.

What’s next?
In 2016, I have another contemporary romance coming out for Christmas. I am working on other historical novels and novellas ranging from a WWII spy romance in Europe to a story about Exodusters to a jewel thief in 1880s London.

Apollonia Lord has devoured historical romance novels since she was a toddler. (Seriously. She nibbled on the edges of her mother’s paperbacks as a baby. Now she is a bit more conventional in her reading experiences.) Based in Texas, she is a teacher by day and a writer at night.

Follow Apollonia
Twitter: @writelovely / @apollonia_lord

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Interview with Myra MacPherson, author of The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage and Scandal In the Gilded Age


The Scarlet Sisters by Myra Macpherson

Book Review

The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage and Scandal In the Gilded Age is a very approachable book about the lives of Victoria and Tennessee Claflin, two sisters who shocked and scandalized 19th century American society, and how they took the world by storm.

The exploits of the Claflin sisters would not be out of place in a modern day tabloid. They courted the press and then fought them off when they wanted to leave their exploits behind. They disobeyed society’s edicts and then reversed this when they moved to England to build a respectable new life for themselves. In a way, I can understand why they wanted to retreat; it couldn’t have been fun to be in the limelight all the time and seen as unnatural. However, I found myself disappointed that Victoria and Tennessee couldn’t be openly proud of their achievements and not swept it all under the rug. After all, their childhood had been so terrible  and chaotic, yet they managed to rise above it all to become powerful, unconventional women who were never victims again.

The skills the sisters learned as mediums and as quack doctors, selling medical potions with their father, gave them the ability to be convincing and to talk to large crowds. They used this to run their own financial business, to lecture to large crowds about the women’s suffrage movement, and in Victoria’s case, to run for President of the United States. I loved the style of this book and how the author used primary sources so it was if you were really having a conversation with those involved and those who knew the sisters.

There is also a lot of information about women’s concerns at the time within the book, such as prostitution, marriages of convenience, the vote, and contraceptives. I’d always pictured the free love movement to be something from the 1960s, but reading this book made me realize it had been around a lot longer. The Claflin sisters were ahead of their time when they preached against the double standard of men being able to take lovers before and after marriage, whilst women were expected to settle down with one man in marriage and often with little love shared between them.

I really enjoyed this book, and if you love reading true stories about strong heroines then you will as well.

Author Interview

What made you want to write about the Scarlet Sisters?
In 2008 America was all agog at the historic possibility of a woman, Hillary Clinton, being on a ticket as president with an African American male, Barack Obama, as vice-president. I happened to read a tiny squib that said it had been done before, in 1872 when Victoria Woodhull ran with former slave and great orator, Frederick Douglass, on an obscure third party ticket. I began to explore this and discovered Victoria’s sassy younger sister, Tennessee Claflin, and I was hooked. Here were the two most symbiotic  and sensational sisters in American history, amazingly avant garde.

They took on the white male power structure, from the hypocritical famous reverend Henry Ward Beecher, to corrupt financiers and politicians. In a time when women had no power they carved out major firsts: the first women stockbrokers in America with 2,000 or more brokers and assistants rushing out into the street to see them open their firm; the only two sisters to publish a radical Weekly; Woodhull was the first woman to address congress; Tennie ran for congress the same year her sister ran for president and shocked the world by becoming an honorary colonel of New York’s only black regiment.

Then they outed Beecher for adultery, were clapped in prison on a trumped up charge of sending obscene material through the mail, and put in motion the Beecher Trial of the Century (which ended in a hung jury). By then destitute, abandoned by friends and the suffragist movement, they sashayed to London and married two of the richest men in England. Famed beauties, they lived by their wits and street smarts and when the truth didn’t suit them, they recreated themselves. Yet through it all they remained true to their crusade for women’s freedom.

Is there anything about the Scarlet Sisters background that you can relate to your own?
Their childhood, forced into scam fortune telling by their one-eyed snake oil salesman father ,was far afield from anything I knew but when I started as a journalist during the Mad Men era, I faced rank discrimination. I covered national sports and could not get into the press box  to file my stories because I was a woman. The National Press Club and many clubs banned women until the early eighties. I wrote about abortion before it was legal, and women’s rights issues as well as covering presidential politics for the Washington Post and witnessed discrimination of women in many careers. It is amazing how many of the sisters’ battles remain a problem today; they fought for equal pay for equal work, still not achieved in the United States. They were assailed by the same sort of right wing hard liners on issues like contraception that feminists are today.

Do you have a sister?
Sorry but I had no sisters. However, I do think the only way they managed to be so outspoken and active was because they had each other. Tennie spoke at one point of how despairing and difficult it had been to go against social norms in their arguments for Free Love, which could mean anything from trying to change draconian divorce laws that penalized women to deciding when and if to marry or when and if to have children–all outrageous ideas during the Victorian era. Although Victoria could lash out on stage and in print against detractors, she was often a nervous person who needed the support Tennie gave her. Although seven years younger, Tennie was the sturdier one of the two and looked after Victoria.

Which sister would I want to be?
I am going to cop out and say I would like to be a combination of the two. I like Tennie’s vivacious spirit, generosity and sense of humor. I admire Victoria’s unswerving sense of devotion to her causes–until it suited her purpose to disavow free love. Both were not perfect and when their backs were to the wall they could be tough in defending themselves and, as I have said in the book, had few scruples about lying when it suited them. But this was not new in an era where get-rich-quick robber barons and even the older rich crowd, like Caroline Astor, made up worthy antecedents. The very idea that they could be so far ahead of their time remains intriguing.

If you were a woman in the Victorian era would you stay at home or be blazing your own trail? What would you be doing do you think?
I would definitely like to think I would have been out blazing a trail in Victorian times, probably in the liberal wing of the suffragist movement and also in journalism. When I started my journalism career, most women my age were getting married and having babies. (I did that later). I have always been against the grain. when I sought my first newspaper job there were no women covering anything but society news, fashion etc. I fought my way out of that niche and was one of the few women covering regular news. I don’t know if I could take the pummeling the sisters did, but in a much lesser way, women in the sixties and seventies were breaking new ground and I was among them.

I have written books that are certainly masculine in subject matter–Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation, which was the first trade book to mention PTSD and is now considered a classic in describing how the war affected the generation that either fought in the war or escaped it. All Governments Lie: the life and times of Rebel Journalist I.F. Stoneis a history not only of one man but an examination of the media coziness with government throughout the 20th century.

My daughter became a three time Emmy Award winning producer for ESPN, the major sports network, so you can see how much times changed for women although she too was a rarity when first hired as a field producer by ESPN.

Visit Myra online at her Official Website, follow her on Twitter, or like her Facebook page for The Scarlet Sisters!

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