Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ex Marks the Plot

by Ann Parker, guest blogger

Leave a comment to enter a drawing for a free book!

First, I’d like to thank Poe’s Deadly Daughters for the opportunity to post here as part of my virtual tour for Mercury's Rise, the latest in my Silver Rush historical mystery series, which is based in 1880s Colorado.

Second, I’d like to sing the praises of reference librarians and subject matter experts! Many’s the time I’ve hunted for specific information on a subject, only to be left howling in the vastness of the internet. Well, maybe not many times, but often enough to become very frustrated with certain topics.

Such as divorce.

Particularly, divorce in the nineteenth century U.S.

Specifically, divorce in 1880 in Colorado.

I have collected plenty of books that touch on or deal directly with the general topic, including Robert L. Griwsold’s Family and Divorce in California, 1850–1890; Thomas J. Schlereth’s Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life; Ellen K. Rothman’s Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America; Glenda Riley’s Divorce: An American Tradition and her Building and Breaking Families in the American West; as well as Ruth Rymer Miller’s PhD thesis Alimony and Divorce: An Historical-Comparative Study of Gender Conflict. I even haunted the law library in Denver some years ago and made copies of things like the Code of Civil Procedure and Session Laws of Colorado, 1879 (when there were changes to codes) and… and…

What the heck was I doing?? I’m no lawyer! Not even close! How do I interpret this stuff?

Plus, I was getting nervous about the particulars of "my case," that is, the case of my protagonist, Inez Stannert. Inez’s husband has been missing for well over a year. During this time, she remakes her life. She takes a lover. She runs a saloon with her husband’s business partner, and she runs it very well, and begins making other business deals "on the side." She sends her young son, not quite two, back East to live with her sister. Inez decides to divorce her vanished husband, grounds of desertion. In Mercury's Rise, her carefully laid plans are swept aside, as if no more substantial than as a house of cards, when her husband, Mark Stannert, returns.

I sat, surrounded by my books and references, staring at my computer, wondering: What now?
What would Inez’s lawyer advise? What would Inez think, feel? What would Mark do? What would happen to their child, their business, her reputation, her relationship with her lover, Reverend Sands.
It was at this point, while at the Malice Domestic conference, that I bid on (and won) a few hours of research assistance from research librarian Jeanne Munn Bracken ( I confessed my concerns about Inez and her future, and Jeanne put me in touch with Hendrik Hartog, Bicentennial Professor of the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University, and Michael Grossberg, Sally M. Reahard Professor of History and Professor of Law at Indiana University. I was so relieved to find experts… experts at last!... who were willing to listen to and answer my questions. They agreed that the key issue was "fault," which would have to be central in any depiction of a couple going through a divorce during this time. Professor Grossberg added that, by the 1880s or so, maternal preference dominated the law and thus there would be a legal presumption in favor of giving custody to a mother. But that also meant that attacks on a woman’s character, virtue, parenting skills, and the like could be part of a bitter divorce.

Attacks on the wife’s virtue, you say? Her character? Parenting skills? Hmmmmm. The wheels in my mind began to turn….

Professor Hartog agreed with his colleague, adding, "In general most mothers of young children would get custody, but the claim had to be framed in terms of the misbehavior/abandonment of the husband. And misbehavior (which might be little more than having a job or choosing a different or no church to go to) by the wife might be enough to ensure her loss of custody, even of a child/infant of tender years."
As for Inez’s financial situation and business dealings, now that Mark has returned… I won’t say too much except to report Professor Hartog’s summation: "A tangled mess."
All in all, I owe much to researcher Jeanne and professors Hartog and Grossberg. The professors gave me some wonderful fodder for fiction, plus I added their excellent books to my tower of references: Hartog’s Man and Wife in America: A History, and Grossberg’s Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth-Century America.

Thus fortified, I was able to move forward at last, to plot and scheme poor Inez’s situation for Mercury's Rise and look into her future with something more certain than a crystal ball!
Ann Parker is a California-based science/corporate writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver-mining boomtown of Leadville. The latest in her series, Mercury's Rise, was released November 1. Publishers Weekly says, "Parker smoothly mixes the personal dramas and the detection in an installment that’s an easy jumping-on point for newcomers." Library Journal adds, "Parker’s depth of knowledge coupled with an all-too-human cast leaves us eager to see what Inez will do next. Encore!

Learn more about Ann and her books at

Leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win a Silver Rush mystery prize! Winner will be announced later this week. To see the rest of Ann’s blog tour, check out her News page.


Sharon Wildwind said...

I am so glad to see you here. I've loved this series from the first book. Your writing is always such a joy.

The English Teacher said...

Sounds great. Count me in as an entry, please. :)

Liz said...

Poor Inez.

Is the mystery how her husband slipped down a mine shaft?

Ann Parker said...

Hello Sharon!
It's great to be here at Poe's Deadly Daughters and be among folks whose work I love! And thank you for your kind words... :-)

Ann Parker said...

Hello English Teacher!
Count yourself as entered! :-)

Ann Parker said...

Hi Liz!
Yes, poor Inez indeed. No "no fault" divorce in Colorado in 1880...
As to the mystery ... well, guess you'll have to read MERCURY'S RISE to find out! ;-)

Kim Hansen said...

It is so fun to read about your process, Ann. And I about snorted when I read Ex Marks the Plot. That is excellently punny on a few levels. I'm guessing you based your whole series and the name Mark on that pun, right? I can't wait to read Mercury's Rise.

Arletta Dawdy said...

What a wealth of research you did for Mercury's Rise...and so nice of you to share with us. It will be exciting to see the outcome for Inez down the line.

Katreader said...

I'm delighted to learn about your series. I enjoy historical mysteries and will have to look for yours.

LymeRicky said...

I love learning more about how other think, feel and explore the writing process. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Martha said...

I'm so excited that you have a new book coming out. I love your series and enjoy the research you weave into the stories. Mercury's Rise is going on my wish list. Thanks for something good to look forward to. :-)

Barb Goffman said...

So nice to hear that the item you won at the Malice Domestic auction was so helpful. See you at Malice this spring!

Ann Parker said...

Hi Kim!
I love puns; the title for this post just popped to mind when I was considering the topic. And here's the weird part: I keyed on "Ex" and "Plot," but I didn't even realize the "Mark" connection until you mentioned it!
... The mind works in mysterious ways...

Ann Parker said...

Hi Arletta!
Thank you! It'll be interesting to me as well to see what happens to Inez. I didn't outline the whole series (a la J.K. Rowling), so Inez's choices may all come down to a toss of the coin or a nudge from the subconscious. Or a nudge from my editor... there's always that. ;-)

Ann Parker said...

Hello Katreader!
Hope you have a chance to chase down one of the books and give it a try. You must let me know what you think about it, when you do. :-)
Thanks for dropping in and commenting!

Ann Parker said...

Hello LymeRicky,
I always enjoy hearing/reading how other writers work as well. Everyone is different; what's important is to find the path that works for you. :-)

Ann Parker said...

Hello Martha,
You are very welcome! And thanks for the kind words. It's nice to know there are readers out there, willing to wait as I sllooooowwwwlllly make my way through each book. Wish I could write faster. Ah well.

Ann Parker said...

Hello Barb,
It was absolutely invaluable. Winning those hours of research time was a life-saver.
See you at Malice D! :-)

Kaye said...

A saloon owner certainly sounds interesting. Please throw my name in the hat.


Bobbie said...

I am very interested in reading your series, having visited Leadville several times and wanting to learn about it and its history, we loved our visits. So a chance to win your books is a grand deal for me! I very much look forward to reading your work!

Ann Parker said...

Hello Kaye!
You are officially entered. :-)

Ann Parker said...

Hello Bobbie!
How wonderful that you have visited Leadville! It's an amazing place with an amazing history. Your name has been "added to the hat." :-)