The Old Shelter

Dieselpunk Roaring Twenties. Sarah Zama's Author Blog

Archive for the month “May, 2014”

Dieselpunk Me

I own a shop over on Etsy. I make jewellery with a steampunk twist.

On Etsy, you have the possibility to do what they call treasuries and are basically collections of items. These treasuries are usually themed, though the theme is up to you.

I did a few treasuries with a steampunk theme, but recently I composed my first dieselpunk treasury.

Here it is.


It turned out a nice diesel mood, don’t you think?




Anxious Decades


One morsel review: A comprehensive introduction to the 1920s and 1930s in the U.S. covering all aspects of life, if just shortly. Essential to get a first taste for these two era of transformation in American history.


Anxious Decades
America in prosperity and Depression, 1920-1941

Michael E. Perrish

Genre: social history
A presentation of America in the Interwar years. Two very different but equally important decades in the history of the country are presented in a very essential form. Only basic information are given, but they ultimately creat a big picture of en entire era.

I remember the night I picked up this book. The idea for my story (it wasn’t Ghost Trilogy at the time, but the story that came first) had started to take form in my head. I had characters and situations, I had pinned down a few plotpoints. I knew it was time to start researching the setting, though at that time I still thought I’d set the story in the Thirties. I combed the Italian catalogues and came up with four or five titles about Prohibition America (really, there seems to be nothing in my language about this matter) and I picked up this first of all because it sounded the more introductory.

So I sat on my bed with this fat book in my lap and staring down at its cover, I asked myself, “You sure you want to do this?”I remember the night I picked up this book. The idea for my story (it wasn’t Ghost Trilogy at the time, but the story that came first) had started to take form in my head. I had characters and situations, I had pinned down a few plotpoints. I knew it was time to start researching the setting, though at that time I still thought I’d set the story in the Thirties. I combed the Italian catalogues and came up with four or five titles about Prohibition America (really, there seems to be nothing in my language about this matter) and I picked up this first of all because it sounded the more introductory.
“Well… yeah…” I answered.
“You’re aware you don’t know anything about Prohibition America, now are you?”
“Sure. But everybody who knows started somewhere.”
Well, I can’t say this was a good choice, because it wasn’t a choice at all, since this was the only book on the matter I could find, so I suppose it was my good luck that this is a very good book. An excellent introduction to American society and history in the Interwar years.

Even if at the time I was more interested in the Thirties, I liked the first half of the book, concerning the Twenties, quite a bit better. There seem to be a lot going on in the Twenties. The world was changing, and life was changing, and people were changing. Life how we know it today took its first steps in the Twenties. Electric light, house plumbing, telephones, cars, all became commonplace – at lest for the middle class – in this decade. The movies were a popular pastime, the first music recordings came out, holidays became more and more common. Advertising transformed the way people thought to themselves and the way they wanted to live.
There was an important break – many older people thought ‘a shocking break’ – in personal behaviours from the past. Young people started dating each other in an informal way, they started to show their body, relationships between men and women became more relaxed and companiable. Going out with friends to dance and drink (in spite of Prohibition) and coming home in the early hours of the day after became ever more common.

A lot of segments of society gain more freedom and recognition. Women won the right to vote in 1920, but that was just the first step toward a more fulfilling life where work and personal ambitions had a place beside motherhood. Many African American communities burst with life and energy and demanded – and sometimes gained – more recognition. Many immigrant communities found their strength and cohesion, gaining weight in political and economical life.
This new society, which could offer so many new opportunities, allowed many individuals find their way and became famous, rich and successful for a whole range of reasons. Their lives and achievements are briefly presented here.
Each topic is briefly covered, but the coverage is comprehensive. The book touches upon political and economical matters (Prohibition, the resurgence of the KKK, the many race riots, the Stock Market Crush), events that captured people’s attention, particularly the trials (the Scopes, the Sweet, the Sacco and Vanzetti) as well as social changes (the car, new home appliances, advertising and the new consumerism). There’s a brief introduction to everything, that’s why it’s so good for a first taste of the era.

If the first half of the book is a collection of little pictures that ultimately create a bigger picture of the Roaring Twenties, the second half is all focused on one central protagonist: the Great Depression.
How it all started and what happened to people. The crashing stock market, the folding shops and activities, the dying out of the glittering life. The bread cues, the broken families. The book depicts a very vivid image of that era and it’s kind of shocking after the lively, exciting things happened in the Twenties.
Over everything, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s gigantic personality and his vision, his New Deal.

Where the first part of the book focuses on people’s life and the social change involving them, the second part focuses more on political and economic matters, the Great Depression, the New Deal and the way they affected people’s life and the way people reacted to them. The first one hundred days of Roosevelt’s mandate is looked at in details as well as many of the agencies created by the New Deal. A special attention is given to the WPA (Works Progress Administration) project, that created work for hundreds of thousands of people and updated services for many communities.

So it is as if the book had two souls, but it presents what in fact were two very different decades in American history. And does an excellent job of it.

Welcome to the Old Shelter

I started working on the project of a speculative story set in Chicago in the Twenties late in 2009. The story was very different back then. Actually, that part of story is still in embryo form. The project as it turned out is the prequel to that original story.
I planned Ghost Trilogy as a test for the original story, as a project that should have been far simpler and far shorter than it actually turned out.

As of today, I’ve worked on Ghost Trilogy for the best part of the last four years.
A solitary work, as it often happens for written stories. Very few people have read anything of it, and always just snippets and individual chapters, although I have been discussing the entire story with a few fellow writers.

I refused to share more because I’ve always thought, “It isn’t ready. I can’t have people reading a thing which isn’t ready.” But now that the first of these three novels is coming to completion and to a stage where I can actually send it out, I really feel like sharing with everyone. Either I do this, or I’ll explode!

Why the Old Shelter?
The Old Shelter is the main setting in the story. It’s a black-and-tan speakeasy standing in the Black Belt of Chicago (on Michigan and 37th, if you really need to know), and is housed in a building that was built in the mid-1830s by the ancestors of the current owner, Adam Braislfield.
Everybody knows the Old Shelter is haunted, although who haunts it is up for debate. Most people believe the ghost is Stacy Braislfield, Adam’s problematic grandfather. But there are other stories, one even involving a murder in the very first days of Chicago.

I truly love this setting. For me, the integrated speakeasy really expresses everything this story is about. I spent a great amount of time researching it… especially because you don’t find information about life in a speakeasy all that easily. I had to piece together bits and pieces of info coming from a variety of sources, but I’d say the effort was worth it. Well, at least for me.
A big chunk of the story happens inside the Old Shelter, together with the majority of plot points. This setting isn’t just dear to me, it is important to the story itself.

So, let me welcome you to the Old Shelter with a snippet of the first novel as it stands today (but it’s still in revision mode, so it may change).
This is the second time my main characters visit the club.

It was unbelievably crowded, so much so he wondered how the dancers could even move. More people stood along the edge of the floor, like he did, clapping their hands, moving to the rhythm, shouting in each other’s ears, laughing.

Michael had to admit that in spite of his dislike for speakeasies, he liked this feeling. Music and people reacting to it, living it, abandoning themselves to it. It was familiar enough that he felt part of it, to a point.

He sighed. Why would he think about it?

He skirted the crowd and, going up the few steps elevating the dice and pool rooms from the club floor, wandered among the little tables where people shot dice. This was one of the dimmest parts of the club and he noticed in the back of the dice room, under the stairs, protected by the wall of players, a few couples hid in the dark, necking.

Grinning, he crossed the arc into the pool room, where guys pressed around the table, playing and betting and cheering.

Michael stopped near the edge of the steps. He could see most of the club from here.

He scanned the place, searching, from this vantage point. When the clarinet took the lead, his eyes moved to the bandstand on their own accord. He didn’t know the song, but the voice of the clarinet sent a shiver down his spine. The clarinetist played in the background of the bandstand, almost hidden by the other musicians, his face downcast, his eyes possibly closed. He seemed to be oblivious to anything around him but the music. That sensation became even stronger when he paused a moment and raised his face. He craned his head back, turning his face up – to the sky? – his eyes closed. For a fleeting second, Michael expected him to raise his hands, palms up. He felt so very uncomfortable, he had to look away.

So his gaze landed on Adam standing by the light panel beside the bandstand, where three levers could be worked. He was listening to the music, sloping to the wall, leaning with a shoulder by the panel. He smiled when a cheer came from the dance floor, straightened and grabbed one of the levers.

The light became brighter on the floor and Michael turned to watch. Dancers moved to the edge leaving space in the centre, where two couples still danced. Michael grinned. One was Blood and Susie. The other was a lanky guy nearly as light as Susie and a curvy girl nearly as brown as Blood.

They danced one around the other, in a way that seemed like a shout back and forth. A challenge, called out with their dancing bodies. People around clapped their hands at the same rhythm, and shouted and catcalled and Michael thought he could recognise one part rooting for one couple and another part for the other.

He wasn’t into that kind of dance, although the beat did tug at his every muscle, but even he could see that where Blood and Susie were smooth and fast, the other couple was muscular and jumping.

A movement from the bandstand caught his attention. The light was dim on the stand now, but even through the glow of the floor, Michael saw the piano player turn to the bass player standing beside him and motioned toward Blood and Susie. The bass player grinned and nodded and then his bass started chasing after Blood and Susie’s steps, just like the piano chased after the other couple’s steps. The dancers followed the music, forcing the rhythm just slightly on some steps, and the instruments would caught those steps and weave a new rhythm on them, in a whirlwind that morphed the dance and the music.

Michael didn’t move when Rob came and stood beside him.

“Well,” Rob said, amazement in his voice. “Looks like Sharowna and Walt have found some worthy challengers.”


I’m going to make this very easy on you. This is not the Old Shelter… but it is very very close.

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