Monday, December 18, 2023

Beautiful Ghost

Good morning, dear readers! I have one more wonderful guest post for you this year. If you haven't already, make sure you sign up for my newsletter (should be right above this post) to get the latest updates and subscriber exclusive content starting January 1. It will be here before we know it!

My guest today is Milana Marsenich, who has written a moving story about women's lives after World War I. Just when they thought they had faced the worst, the Influenza Pandemic of 1918 hit their Montana town. If you loved Luminous, check out Beautiful Ghost!

Welcome, Milana!

~ Samantha


Beautiful Ghost an Excerpt

Guest Post by Milana Marsenich

“Come back to the bakery with me and you can see for yourself. Annie doesn’t even know I exist when you are around. You can stay with us. You’ll be safe there.” Kaly heard herself echoing a sentiment Beth had once professed to Kaly. “Come stay at Miss Lottie’s,” her friend had said. “You’ll be safe there.” 

This was different. Kaly looked at the ground. “Besides, we talked about it. You can’t work the line now.” Beth had agreed. The syphilis would infect others, eventually killing them. “Maybe Tara would put you to work.”

Kaly worked hard in the bakery. At first, she’d waited tables, but soon learned to cook good wholesome food. She cleaned tables and swamped the place at night, shopped, and stocked supplies. Still, she would not be able to make ends meet without Tara’s help and Tommy sending home his army money. 

Beth shook her head. “You know I can’t live on that kind of money. I’ve got a scheme brewing and as soon as it’s ready, you’ll be the first to know.” 

Kaly couldn’t help but feel that she had betrayed and abandoned her friend. So many didn’t have the means to retire that profession. Old prostitutes often died cold and sick on the streets, or at one of the hog ranches for old whores. Those with syphilis did even worse. 

She couldn’t stand to think of that fate for Beth. Beautiful, bold, vivacious Beth. Kaly missed their camaraderie. Beth had been her best friend since she was fourteen. If Kaly had her way, she’d never give her up. But Beth had distanced herself from Kaly since she’d moved in with Tara McClane, and there seemed to be nothing Kaly could do about it. 

Read more of Beautiful Ghost by Milana Marsenich

During the fall of 1918, the influenza pandemic crosses the nation and reaches the mining town of Butte, Montana. 

Marika Jovich, who wants to go to school to become a physician, works menial tasks for Dr. Fletcher. She feels useless as she tries to save friends and neighbors from the ravages of the flu. In the midst of the pandemic, she watches the town shut down, young and old perish, and her medical dreams all but evaporate.

Kaly Monroe used to be a half-good woman of the night. She left that life to raise her daughter, Annie, and live and work with her long-lost mother, Tara McClane. Kaly waits for her husband, Tommy, to return from the war. Word from the east is that soldiers are dying of influenza and she prays that Tommy is not one of them.

When an out-of-town woman named Amelia suddenly dies in Dr. Fletcher's office, both women try to learn more about the mysterious woman and the circumstances regarding her death. Is she another casualty of the pandemic, or the victim of manmade foul play? Who is this stranger, and is her demise a portent of the fate that awaits the residents of Butte?

Praise for Beautiful Ghost:
“Marsenich doesn't just describe the place and times, she conjures it up like time travel.” 
~ Amazon Review by Ellen Leahy Howell

Connect with Milana Marsenich

Award winning author, Milana Marsenich lives in Northwest Montana near Flathead Lake at the base of the beautiful Mission Mountains. She enjoys quick access to the mountains and has spent many hours hiking the wilderness trails with friends and dogs. For the past 20 years she has worked as a mental health therapist in a variety of settings. As a natural listener and a therapist, she has witnessed amazing generosity and courage in others. She first witnessed this in her hometown of Butte, Montana, a mining town with a rich history and the setting for Copper Sky, her first novel. 

Copper Sky was chosen as a Spur Award finalist for Best Western Historical Novel in 2018. Her second novel, The Swan Keeper, was a Willa Award finalist in 2019. Her short story, Wild Dogs, won the Laura Award for short fiction in 2020. 

She has an M.Ed. in Mental Health Counseling from Montana State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana. She has previously published in Montana Quarterly, Big Sky Journal, The Polishing Stone, The Moronic Ox, BookGlow, and Feminist Studies

She has three published novels, Copper Sky, The Swan Keeper, and Beautiful Ghost, and one popular history book, Idaho Madams. Her upcoming novel, Shed Girl: A Juliet French Novel, will be released January 2024. Her popular history book, Mary MacLane: Butte’s Wild Woman and her Wooden Heart, will be out sometime in 2025. 

Connect with Milana on her Website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Book BubAmazon Author Page, or Goodreads.  

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Historic Places: Montpelier

It's been a while since I've made an entry to my Historic Places blog series, so I've been going through my photos and travel journals to decide what to share next. When I saw that my last entry was Mount Vernon, I decided we should take a virtual trip to James Madison's Montpelier.

The Great Little Madison, Father of the Constitution, fourth president of the United States, grew up at Montpelier, though not in the grand house that stands there today. James Madison was born 16 March 1751, before the mansion was built and his family lived in a cottage that once stood approximately half-mile south. The central portion of the mansion was built during James's childhood and was added onto throughout the proceeding decades.

The home belonged to his parents, and James was often away through the early years of the country's history. When he returned to Montpelier after his presidency in 1817, the mansion was divided into separate households, complete with their own entry doors, one for James's mother and the other for James and his wife, Dolley. The house is presented today as it was during the 1820s. The space is designed for conversation and study, just as one might expect of a home owned by James and Dolley Madison.

My favorite room of the home is the study, where visitors can imagine James passionately working on his plans for a new Constitution. A window provides a view of the front lawn, giving James notice of visitors or simply a place to allow his gaze to wander while his mind was at work. And his books! Letters written during James's lifetime reference a study so full of books and piles of papers that one can scarcely walk between them, and some of that collection remains today.

James died at Montpelier on 28 June 1836, declining physicians' offers to attempt to prolong his life until July 4th. Three US presidents had coincidentally passed away on the 4th of July, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1826, and James Monroe in 1831. James Madison was content to allow God to choose his time, and he is buried on the grounds at Montpelier.

Dolley Madison was forced to sell Montpelier in 1844. The plantation did not earn enough profit to support itself, and her son, Payne, was constantly draining her of cash. Dolley died in Washington DC in 1849, and was buried in the Congressional Cemetery. Her remains were later reinterred at Montpelier. The monument directly behind James's is hers.

Montpelier might not have the big budget of Mount Vernon, but it has been carefully restored and has a lot to offer visitors, including a fantastic guided tour, walking paths, gardens, and informative exhibits. They also have a nice little gift shop, where I may or may not have spent too much on books. Have you visited?

(All photos taken by Samantha Wilcoxson.)

Learn more about Dolley Madison in my Women of the American Revolution!  It is available at Pen & SwordAmazonBook DepositoryBarnes & Noble, or your favorite book retailer. 

Also available now at Audible and!

You can also find more articles here.

Join me on your preferred social media for daily fun facts, on this day in history posts, and lots of pictures!




Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Women of the Old West

One of the things I love about studying history is learning about women who did more than they ever thought they could under astonishing circumstances. American history is full of examples of this, from the Revolution and growing pains of a new nation, through civil war and western expansion. In the 1800s, it took a lot of courage and grit to move away from the settled east coast. My guest today gives us a glimpse of that world and an introduction to her book, The Redemption of Mattie Silks.

Welcome, Kimberly Burns!

~ Samantha


Women of the Old West

Guest Post by Kimberly Burns

Women of the Old West were pioneers and trailblazers, but not just in the sense that they gave up their homes and trekked into the wilderness. They also blazed trails in business, were pioneers of medicine and groundbreakers in politics.

Remember the old US Army advertising campaign: "We do more before 9AM than most people do all day"? My great-grandmother could have given any soldier a run for their money. With a baby on her hip and five more little ones trailing behind, she packed her valuables into a wagon and walked from North Carolina to Colorado. She spent the rest of her life on a homestead in the Colorado foothills, keeping the house and raising three more babies while also completing a man’s day’s work out on the range. She may have accomplished more before any given sunrise than I do in a good year. Sadly, stories of her and other remarkable but unknown heroines are being lost in the fog of history. 

There were few acceptable careers for women in the 1800s, and certainly none that created wealth. Most working women struggled on subsistence earnings as laundresses, cooks, maids, or teachers. But in the West, where survival often depended on everyone pulling their weight, women could not afford to be shrinking violets. Their husbands and communities needed all hands to pitch in. The move west wrenched women from the customs, conventions, standards, and traditions with which they had been raised. They had to develop new codes of acceptable behavior, dress, and mores. In my novel The Mrs. Tabor, a local madam explains that a woman alone can act with the highest decorum and in the end, she will politely starve to death. The madam warns, “The law of survival always trumps the rules of etiquette.”

The need for labor gave Western women opportunities to create careers that their sisters in the East did not have. Women were often good with livestock, and ran cattle ranches, bred horses, or drove pack mules. It is estimated that 15% of homesteaders were single women. In an era when women could not sign a legal contract or open a bank account, female entrepreneurs owned restaurants, stores, and hotels in frontier towns. 

In the mining boomtowns, most men preferred prospecting to planning infrastructure. This opened the door for the few women there to participate in government and improve the living conditions for their families and communities. In fact, many Old West towns lacked a school and church until the females organized the funding and building of these cultural institutions. White men may have explored the West, but white women settled it.

Western women also participated in politics decades before the constitution was amended to allow voting for all, regardless of sex. Wyoming Territory passed a women’s voting act in 1869, and the gals got right to work. Within a year the territory had female jury members, a bailiff and a justice of the peace. Other states and territories west of the Mississippi soon followed suit and women were voting in Colorado by 1893 and in Utah by 1896. 

In a region where males greatly outnumbered females, some lonely men were of the opinion that woman’s suffrage might attract quality marriage candidates. Daring and hardy adventuresses would be drawn to a new life in the Wild West if they had a hand in shaping it. Delicate flowers accustomed to a steady life of comfort need not apply. 

When their Eastern sisters were marching for the right to vote in matching white dresses, Western women were campaigning to be elected to public office themselves. All-lady town councils were elected in Oskaloosa, Kansas (1888) and Kanab, Utah (1912). In 1920, the same year that the 19th Amendment was finally ratified, Jackson, Wyoming elected an all-female mayor and city council. One of their descendants wrote, “There was a practical approach to it. [They said] we need this and we’ll do it ourselves.” Dubbed the Petticoat Rulers, they extended electric service, installed street lights, grated streets, created a town cemetery, collected taxes, and appointed a (female) town treasurer, marshal, and health officer. 

Medical schools were graduating a handful of token female doctors in the late 1800s. Many of those found acceptance in the rough western territories. Perhaps citizens felt a lady doctor was better than no doctor at all. The television show Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman was loosely based on the life of Doc Susie who served small mountain towns in the Colorado Rockies from 1893 until 1956. Imagine the patients she must have treated in a region filled with wild animals and wilder men. Her story and that of a few other early medical professionals are noted in state historical society collections, but most are unknown in the wider world.

Some women found work on the wrong side of the law. Pearl Hart robbed stagecoaches. Belle Star led a gang of cattle rustlers. Sing Choy, also known as China Mary, controlled the opium dens and Chinese prostitution in old Tombstone. The main character of my latest book, Mattie Silks, used her sharp business acumen to run one of Denver’s most successful brothels for over forty years.

Regardless of where they found employment, the women of the Old West displayed an incredible work ethic and courage enough to fill a library with adventure stories. But there is another, less glamorous trait they seemed to possess — pragmatism. If there was work to be done, they simply got to it. I don’t think many of the women who settled the wild frontier took any time to reflect on accomplishments or bask in any congratulatory accolades. There were few philosophical debates about equality of ability or opportunity. They were too busy, living by the motto, “Get ’er done!”

The Redemption of Mattie Silks

In 1892, running one of the West’s fanciest brothels is a rough game. In a town filled with brazen criminals, corrupt police, zealous politicians, and morality committees, Madam Mattie Silks makes her fortune catering to Colorado’s gold and silver millionaires.

Notorious crime boss “Soapy” Smith is at the top of the Denver underworld. There are no rules for Smith’s gang. They solve problems with bribes and bullets. When Mattie’s husband stumbles into Soapy’s dealings, she struggles to protect him.

Gold is discovered in the Yukon and Mattie seizes the opportunity for adventure and profit. But Skagway, Alaska, is even more lawless than Denver. Mattie must use all her business sense and street smarts to safeguard those she cares about. Will it be enough? Or will Lady Justice again turn a blind eye?

Based on a true story, The Redemption of Mattie Silks is an action-packed tale of a woman succeeding in a man’s world even when the cards are stacked against her.

“The research on the era shines through, as do the grit and spirit of the characters. …A colorful and enthralling journey.” 
~ K.T. Blakemore, award-winning author of The Good Time Girls series

Connect with Kimberly Burns

Kimberly Burns grew up in Colorado hearing stories about the colorful characters of the Old West. She has degrees from the University of Colorado and the University of Hartford. Kimberly is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Western Writers of America, and Women Writing the West. She lives with her husband and black Lab in Leesburg, Virginia.

Her debut novel The Mrs. Tabor won numerous awards including the Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Award for Best New Novel, a gold medal for Best Regional Fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards, a National Indie Excellence Award, and a silver medal from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association EVVY Awards.

Kimberly and her unruly heroines make for an entertaining book talk. She is available to discuss her novels with book groups in person or online. Email her at

Connect with Kimberly through her website, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon Author Page, Goodreads

Saturday, December 9, 2023

What I'm Reading: The Wharton Plot

Last month, I posted the first book review on my blog and decided to make it a habit. This month, I would like to introduce you to The Wharton Plot, a novel by Mariah Fredericks.

My dear readers might know that I adore Edith Wharton. In fact, when tasked with writing a ghost story, the first thing I did was reread my favorites by Wharton, including Afterward. With the goal of creating a story in a similar style, I wrote Among the Lost set in 1927 Northern Michigan.

The Lindburgh Nanny was my introduction to the writing of Mariah Fredericks, and you can read what I thought about it here. Clearly, I enjoyed it enough to jump at the chance to read an early copy of her newest novel. When I received an email from Minotaur Books asking if I’d like to read The Wharton Plot, I said, “Solving a mystery with Edith Wharton? Yes, please!”

Historical facts not treated as spoilers.

Edith Wharton

Since dear Mrs Wharton did not actually have anything to do with investigating the murder of writer David Graham Phillips, this novel is purely fiction, but it was fun to spend time with one of my favorite classic authors in Gilded Age New York. Historically, the murder required no investigation, because the killer was known straight away. If you don’t know who it was or what happened, I won’t give it away here. Fredericks creates a gap in time between the murder and the discovery of the killer in order to take Mrs Wharton on an adventure.

I’m normally a purist when it comes to historical fiction, but Fredericks adjustments to the facts in this case don’t change much at the core of the story and enable the reader to get a good look at the senseless tragedy through Edith Wharton’s eyes.

When Edith wonders that Phillips was gunned down in broad daylight in the middle of the street, her friend makes some derogatory comments about guns, which I thought might have been an anachronistic attitude. However, when I did a bit of research after finishing the book, I learned that this case did actually spur one of America's early gun control laws. It's always nice to learn something when reading historical fiction!

Just how does a middle-aged author end up obsessed with solving the murder of a fellow author whom she just met and didn’t like? “She was aware that she would rather spend the afternoon with the corpse of a man she detested rather than her living, breathing husband.” The failing relationship of the Whartons and women’s limited options in life – even if you’re a woman with Edith Wharton’s resources – are secondary themes in this book and are well done. I could go on about challenges that women still face in this day of being able and expected to do it all, but I have a book review to write.

David Graham Phillips

Edith is initially not impressed by the victim's sister's theory that he was killed by someone trying to halt the publication of his latest novel. "This was why radicals were so irritating. To persuade themselves of their importance, they insisted the entire world was involved in a vast intrigue to thwart them." She investigates a few theories of her own, and through her actions the reader gets a glimpse at The Four Hundred and their shallow interactions and maneuverings. As Edith looks at them with fresh eyes in her search for a killer, she realizes how much they get away with due to their deep pockets. Could one of them have wanted Phillips dead?

He wrote the sort of stories that made people angry, exposing political payoffs and scandalous social lives. Edith is warned to stop digging, which only makes her more eager to discover the elusive truth. "Do not write this. What words could be more provocative to a writer? What clearer sign that there was a story here to write?"

Edith isn't sure who killed Phillips, but she is sure that it has something to do with his writing. Even when one dismissed suspect claims it's a crazy theory because no one cares about books. "The calm assertion that books did not matter was such heresy to her that she had no idea how to refute it." I couldn't agree more, Edith.

Of course, Mrs Wharton does find her killer in a dramatic ending, but that is all I will say about that, so that you can enjoy The Wharton Plot yourself when it is released in January 2024!

Curious about what else I'm reading? Join me on Goodreads or see what other books I have reviewed here on my blog.

Monday, December 4, 2023

How to Dress Like a Tudor

I am excited to feature author Judith Arnopp today! I have been friends with Judith for several years and am excited about her latest book, How to Dress Like a Tudor. She has joined me here on the blog before, once with a popular article about Margaret Beaufort and more recently with a look at Henry VIII. If you love all things Tudor, you will love this one too!

Welcome, Judith!

~ Samantha


How to Dress Like a Tudor

Guest Post by Judith Arnopp

Have you ever hankered to dress like a Tudor lord or lady, or perhaps you prefer the status of goodwife, or costermonger, or even a bawd? 

For beginner historical reenactors, the path to authenticity can be bewildering and sometimes intimidating. Judith Arnopp uses her own experience, both as a historian and a medieval/Tudor lady, to make your own journey a little easier.

The author traces the transition of fashion from the relatively subtle styles popular at the court of Henry VII, through the carefully constructed royal grandeur of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I to the pinnacle of majesty and splendid iconography of Elizabeth I. 

In contrast to the magnificence of court come the ordinary folk who, subject to sumptuary laws and regulations, wore garments of a simpler cut and cloth – a strata of society that formed the back bone of Tudor England.

This brief history of 16th century fashion examines clothing for both rich and poor, adult and child, and offers tips and tricks on how to begin to sew your first historically inspired garment, this book is aimed at helping the beginner learn How to Dress like a Tudor.

Get your copy of How to Dress Like a Tudor!

Connect with Judith

Judith writes historical fiction set during the late medieval and Tudor period. Her usual focus is on the women who lived close to the monarch, women like Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth of York and Mary Tudor but more recently has been writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself. Her books are on Kindle, Audible and Paperback.

She also writes non-fiction, her work featuring in many anthologies and online magazines. Her latest non-fiction, How to Dress like a Tudor published by Pen & Sword Books is available now. 

Judith is a founder member of a reenactment group The Fyne Company of Cambria, and began making Tudor costumes for herself, her husband, John, and other members of the group. It was this that inspired How to Dress like a Tudor and she hopes to write more non-fiction Tudor history in the future.