Friday, August 26, 2011

Klondike Friday: Gotta Spend it.

When I sent the manuscript for the first book in the Klondike Gold Rush series, Gold Digger, into my editor she returned it questioning every instance in which I’d specified the amount of money flowing.

Yup, I said, they really did spend money in those quantities.

Very few people made much money in the rush: of all those tens of thousands of people who set off for the Klondike, almost all of them were too late. By the time they heard the news, headed to Seattle or San Francisco or Vancouver, bought the required one ton of possessions, got on a boat to Skagway or Dyea, carried all their things over the passes and into Canada, made a boat and braved the rapids on the Yukon River, and finally arrived in Dawson… all the claims were taken.

There were a few exceptions of prospectors who got lucky, but generally speaking the only ones who truly stuck it rich were already in the area when the initial strike was made.

Aside, that is, from those who mined the miners – the bartenders and dance hall girls and far-sighted shopkeepers.

Yet for those who did strike it rich it was a time of almost unimaginable indulgence. Any luxury available in the South – champagne, oysters, pâté, silk dresses, ostrich plume hats, not to mention real luxuries like fresh eggs! could be had for the right price.

Men dropped ten thousand dollars in a night at the gambling tables (in 1898 dollars!), threw nuggets at the feet of their favourite dance hall performer, bought drinks for all and sundry. A dancer known as Diamond Tooth Gertie (incidentally, you can visit Diamond Tooth Gertie’s in Dawson today) reportedly said, “The poor ginks have just gotta spent it, they’re that scared they’ll die before they have it all out of the ground.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Win a signed copy of Among the Departed

Haven't read Among the Departed, the fifth in the Constable Molly Smith series? Well, hasten over to Dru's fabulous blog and read all about a Day in the Life of Constable Molly Smith, and you can enter your name to win a signed hardcover book.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Klondike Fridays: A newspaper story run amok.

The Promised Land. Not.

In her book Gold Diggers (a non-fiction account of the Klondike Gold Rush) Charlotte Gray points out that the rush was largely a journalistic or media event.

That there was gold in the Yukon was not exactly a big secret. People had been mining there and finding gold for more than twenty years. So what happened in 1897 that set off a world wide rush that saw tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of people from all parts of the world packing up all their worldly belongings and rushing into the wilderness?


There was a severe depression going on in the United States. When word arrived that a ship was heading to Seattle, carrying gold and now-rich gold miners, the newspapers, particularly the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Seattle Times, saw the opportunity to pump up the business prospects of Seattle. And they played it up for all it was worth. They made the arrival of the Portland in July 16, 1897 into a media event of unprecedented proportions. Other papers, of course, picked it up, and the news spread to a highly receptive audience like wildfire.

The amount of gold in that first shipment wasn’t really all that impressive. The papers reported it in weight – which did sound pretty good – rather than value – nothing too special.

Once the story had legs, as they say in the newspaper biz, everyone else was jumping on the bandwagon. Outfitting shops sprouted overnight, stores put ads in newspapers and hung signs and banners, books and maps were printed by the boatload, and everyone with a boat rushed to the docks to provide transportation. That the books and maps were likely to be laughably inaccurate, and the goods one supposedly needed wouldn’t do much other than take money from a wanna-be prospector’s pocket, was of no relevance. People needed to believe and other people were happy to take advantage of that need.

Unfortunately for the tens of thousands who made it to the Klondike, the reality was a lot different. There wasn't gold lying on the ground waiting to be swept up, and the profitable mines were already owned by those who’d been in the area when the strike happened.

The only real money to be made was in the shops or the saloons and dance halls.

Enter Fiona MacGillivray.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Scene of the Crime - Sat. August 13th

Colour me excited! Scene of the Crime is on Saturday. One of my very favourite weekends of the whole year.

And you're invited!

Scene of the Crime is the annual mystery lovers festival held on Wolfe Island, Ontario. It's a celebration of crime writing and crime reading and crime authors and crime readers. This year the Grant Allen award winner for contributions to Canadian crime writing is Maureen Jennings, who should need no introduction. We're thrilled that she's joining us just days after the release of the first book in her new series set in England in WWII. It's called Season of Darkness and I was lucky enough to get an early copy so I can lead the afternoon panel discussion. It's a great book and an exciting new venture for the popular Maureen.

The other guest authors are C.B. Forrest, Elizabeth J. Duncan, Howard Shrier, and R.J. Harlick, wonderful authors all. The guest lecture will be given by Staff Sergeant Kristina Patterson of the Belleville Police Service on Tactical Survival.

If you haven't sent in your registration, here are the "Walk On" rates: $70.00 if we can still seat you for meals; $50.00 if we can't (there are other places to eat). Just be sure you're on the 9:30 ferry leaving from Kingston.

I will be giving the optional extra workshop this year, and it's on Writing Believable Antagonists. If you'd like to take the workshop, please check if there is still space available.

For all the details including ferry schedule have a look here:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Klondike Fridays

Time to head back to the wild days of the Klondike Gold Rush. And wild days they were.

Gold Mountain is on schedule for a May 2012 release and I am sitting down this morning to begin plotting out the next Klondike Gold Rush book. No title as of yet, but ideas are simmering. Last night when I pulled out my history books to start getting back into the sense of the time period, I thought it might be fun over the next year to post things of interest on this blog, for anyone wanting to know more about the background to the books. I’ll try to keep to a regular schedule of Klondike Fridays. Yes, yes, today is Saturday, but I only thought of the idea last night.

One of the reasons the Klondike Gold Rush is so well known (and so darned easy to research) is that it was not only the last great gold rush, but it was also the only one to be captured extensively on film.

You all know those iconic images of the lines of packers trudging up a 45 degree slope in the snow.

In the 1890s, the camera and all necessary supplies for it had become small enough that photographers were able to get out of their studios and stiffly posed portraits and take their camera not only into the streets but also the mountains and the gold fields and peoples’ homes. Thus we have a fully documented photographic record of the period.

Some were professional photographers, perhaps the best known of which was Eric A Hegg, who opened a studio in Dawson City and made a living taking photographs of Klondike scenes to sell in an early version of the postcard. There were many amateurs as well, people who loved their cameras and the new art of photographer such as George Hicks. The White Pass & Yukon Route company employed a full time photographer, Harry Barley, to keep company owners and shareholders informed about the progress of the railway.

One of the books I rely most on for my research is The Klondike Quest: A Photographic Essay 1897-1899 by Pierre Berton. It’s a big beautiful book packed with wonderful photos of the amazing people who made the great journey to the promised land.

That the promised land didn’t turn out to be quite so promising will be the subject of my next posting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Vicki Delany's Summer Newsletter

I send a newsletter out quarterly, just updating friends, family, and readers on where I've been and will be and what's happening in my little part of the book world. The summer newsletter went out this afternoon. If you'd like a copy, but are not on my mailing list, please let me know. I guarantee that I will not sell your e-mail address to anyone! No matter how much they beg.