The Old Shelter

Dieselpunk Roaring Twenties. Sarah Zama's Author Blog

About This Blog


“Long story short” version

Ghost Trilogy is a multicultural, multiethnic, historically set ghost story. What do I share with my characters? Uhm… let me think. Oh, right, I’m a human being like them.

Honestly, one of the things that I most love about this project is that I knew very little about so many aspects when I first started writing, that I had to do a lot of research. This allowed me to learn a lot of things I didn’t know, to meet new people, to ponder things I had never thought about before.

This blog is part of that journey.


“Sit down and have a cup of coffee while I tell you a story” version

Ghost Trilogy is a ghost story at its heart. What a surprise, uh? It’s speculative fiction. Fantasy, if you like.
The story is mostly set inside the Old Shelter, a speakeasy hidden in a building which has been haunted by a ghost for some one hundred years. Adam Brailsfield owns the club… and the ghost. The ghost has been connected to his family for a few generations and he fears it’s turning him mad as – rumour has it – it did to his grandfather.
Sinéad O’Flanagan was entrusted with a coin by a friend, so she could give that coin to a niece of the giver. But the coin seems to drag her again and again to the Old Shelter. Michael and Blood meet Sinéad on a night out and they all end up at the Old Shelter. Blood and Michael have a strong bond with the worlds of spirits. They realise the ghost is not merely haunting the place, it seeks revenge over the Brailsfields, and the power of that curse is set deep inside Sinéad’s coin. If they let themselves be involved with the ghost, the curse might bend their life too – but they may also be able to break it.

So, it is a fantasy story, but it’s set in Chicago – a real place – in 1926 – an historical period, and I wanted the historical part to be as important as the speculative part.
Problem: when I started the project, I knew nothing about American history, let alone a specific time and place as Prohibition Chicago.
But it wasn’t the only problem. The story as it was shaping up presented a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural main cast, and it was set in a very specific, very definite cultural environment: Chicago Black Belt.
Did I know anything about this? Guess what.
Well, you know when they say you should write about what you know? That’s absolutely a good advice. You can’t possibly write about something you know nothing about. But here’s the catch: if you don’t know something, you can learn it.

ff942c28e5513a89bdc96040e34ecf5cSo this blog is about my journey through time, novels, documents, web sites, videos, films and whatever other resource I found (and I’m still finding) in order to get the knowledge necessary to write this story credibly.
My research lean heavily on books, there’s no other effective way to research a topic in any depth, in my opinion. When writing historically, knowing the facts is the main thing, so of course books about historical events take up a big chunk of my resource list. Next come books about social history, which mostly deal with everyday life and the way people felt about their world and life.
Visual “anything” is also heavy on my resource list too. I combed the net for pictures of the era (there are some pretty awesome archives out there) and films (luckily, in the Twenties films were already popular, numerous and depicted everyday life). Description can be very evocative, but seeing with your own eyes is always the best.
But you write the story from inside your characters, so knowing what is going on around them isn’t going to be enough. Novels are a very important part (I’d almost said, the most important part) of my quest for knowing the time and the place.
There’s a whole bunch of other resources, of course, like the web, era advertisements, people who know first hand stories. And of course there are libraries collections… which unfortunately, I didn’t have the possibility to consult. You know, me living on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and all that.
It’s really a whole new world to discover and I’ll admit I enjoy the research as much as writing the actual story.

Because of the subject matter, I have three macroareas of interest:

Roaring Twenties histofc30a5269167b32e5cdab0aa8e438261ry and social history

Writing an historical setting is hell. Seriously. You’ll never imagine what you need to know in order to write a story set in time period you have no p
ersonal experience with.
Books about historical facts are indispensable. Of course you need to know the facts if you want to write historically at any degree of credibility. But in order to make your characters and their life feel real, what you need is social history. Which in my opinion is the most fascinating part of history itself. Knowing what people did and what they felt. That’s just awesome in itself.
The Twenties were a moment of dramatic change and break out from the past. I was kind of shocked to discover how modern people were in the Twenties even compared to us, and this in spite of other things being so different, even downright unacceptable by today’s thinking. It’s like looking yourself in the mirror and discover you’re wearing an unusual makeup and outfit, and there’s a reason why you’re doing so. Just fascinating.

African American history and cultureec263a436b297bf359b1015ef3b7cdf2
You’ll never know how hard it is to research a community’s life until you actually try to do it. Especially if you’re doing it from the other side of the world, I should add.
My story is set on the South Side of Chicago, more specifically what was then know as the Black Belt. It’s a little part of the city, but with a very strong personality, and I wanted that personality to be part of my story. The Twenties were a time of dramatic change for the Black people of America and Chicago was one of those few places where the change was most dramatic.
This is what was and still is so fascinating about this location for me.
My luck: it was the time of the Harlem Renaissance, so I can’t say I have a shortage of first hand experiences to delve into. Renaissance novels are prominent on my reading list.
My misfortune: before I started this project, I knew nothing, I mean nothing about African American culture and history. So I decided not to be too strict. Beside social history of the period and Renaissance novels, I also read quite a few African American authors who either wrote in pre Civil Rights Movement time, or set their novels before that time.

Native American history and culture
My two main characters, Michael and Blood, are Indians, precisely Lakota Oglala. And because they are my main characters and the story is about them, of course I put extra efforts in trying to touch their inner souls and their feelings and thoughts. As people.
Native American authors are very heavy on all my lists, novels, film, videos in addition to the usual history and cultural histories. Novels are particularly prominent here, because this is my same media, and so this is where I learn the best and I confront myself with.
With rare exceptions, these authors and their novels don’t go further back than the 1970s, and certainly they aren’t all Lakota. Their work span a few decades of recent history and a wide range of Indian nations. But mine is a story about change and coping with change, and this is something the Native Peoples of Americans had been facing for many decades now, so I don’t feel I stride too far away, even if I get out of the time and national path.
But honestly, what made the big difference for me was having the possibility to get in touch with people, confront myself with them, exchange and learn. Personal relations is what matters. Always.

So, I did read all the books I list in here, and I did watch all the films. But there are so many more waiting for me on my shelves, so, if you’ll excuse me…


———————————————————-  Welcome to the Old Shelter
Background image by ScatterFlee
Gravatar image by DreamUpGraphic


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