Saturday, June 26, 2021



Writing Historical Fiction

Reading historical fiction should be like stepping into a time machine. So writing it usually requires some research. The more the better, seems to be my mantra. I tend to get a little carried away. I love going back in time.

First stop, TimesMachine, the New York Times digital archive of its newspaper covering over one hundred fifty years. Next, Chronicling America, a searchable collection of historic digitized American newspapers organized by the Library of Congress. Then, interminable online searches for railroad route maps, women’s fashion, WWI binoculars, children’s toys, etc. For the story that would become ‘Moonset,’ I go one step further. I drive from Florida to Atlantic City so I can read the local newspapers from July, 1921, archived at the Atlantic City Free Public Library. My sister lives less than an hour away, so I’m not as crazy as I sound.

While waiting for my turn on the microfiche reader, I discover Atlantic City, The World’s Play-Ground, by James Bewkes, “dedicated to the millions who visit Atlantic City at all times of the year to find rest, recreation, and enjoyment.” The 1922 travel book, illustrated with beautiful colored sketches, is both a font of information—“More than 100,000 bathers disport in the ocean daily during the summer season. There are 1,000 hotels.”—and a delight.

Scrolling through the newspaper archive, advertisements for the imposing Chalfonte-Haddon Hall hotels, which I remember from the second page of Bewkes’ book, catch my eye. The “two most delightful of Atlantic City’s famous hotels,” offer “sunny rooms, single or en suite. Hot and cold salt sea water in every room; salt sea air at every window.” My main character, Loretta Bremer, a widow with two children, is definitely going to stay at Haddon Hall, ready to take dictation at a law conference being held there, until death intervenes.

I drive straight from the public library to the Boardwalk. Haddon Hall is now Resorts Casino. The Chalfonte is a parking lot.

The Boardwalk is populated this gray afternoon by a few lackluster panhandlers. I give them each a couple dollars and they soon fade away. The beach is deserted. I close my eyes and try to conjure up the noise of a crowd. I hear only the relentless roar of the surf and some strident laughing gulls.

I huddle inside my jacket as I walk on the beach. The bathhouses are long gone, as are the first aid tents, and the pony rides. Dune grasses wave in their place, planted this century to protect the beach from erosion. I collect some shells and quartz pebbles on my way back to the car. It will be dark soon. Before leaving, I snap some photos of the casino’s grand edifice. Details of the old Haddon Hall, hiding behind blue and white paint, call out to me. Is that a face I see pressed against the glass there? No, I tell myself, it’s only a reflection of the moon, and quickly turn away. My sister is waiting.


Jeanne DuBois lives in Florida with two retired greyhounds and writes short mystery fiction. ‘Moonset,’ set in 1921 Atlantic City, is her second published historical mystery and appears in Moonlight & Misadventure: 20 Stories of Mystery & Suspense. Her first, ‘Murder at the Alcazar,’ set in 1906 St. Augustine, is available at Mysterical-e. Find her at


About Moonlight & Misadventure: Whether it’s vintage Hollywood, the Florida everglades, the Atlantic City boardwalk, or a farmhouse in Western Canada, the twenty authors represented in this collection of mystery and suspense interpret the overarching theme of “moonlight and misadventure” in their own inimitable style where only one thing is assured: Waxing, waning, gibbous, or full, the moon is always there, illuminating things better left in the dark. Edited by Judy Penz Sheluk, available everywhere.



1 comment:

Judy Penz Sheluk said...

I love reading the author's back story on their story. Thank you for sharing it.