Today I’m delighted to host Pat Brown on the site. We’ll be talking about her latest release:
ME: Your latest novella, Placing Out, is a historical romance featuring a police officer who is firmly in the closet. Can you tell us more about it?
PAT: My interest in historical fiction grew out of my love for Los Angeles. While watching a documentary on the city during Prohibition, I was fascinated to find out that Los Angeles didn’t have the organized gangs like Chicago or New York at that time, instead they had the LAPD, who were very ruthless and efficient in keeping East coast crime bosses out – they wanted the job themselves. Pretty well all police forces were corrupt during Prohibition, but the LAPD didn’t work with the gangs, they were the gangs. Along with City Hall, local businessmen and the L.A. Times, gambling joints, brothels and speakeasies were protected and sometimes even owned by cops.
Once I knew this, I had to write about it. My first historical was actually a novel called Shadows and Smoke, but it hasn’t been published yet. I got an agent for it, so he’s out working to sell it. But while researching the time that led up to Prohibition I stumbled across a program called placing out. It was devised by social agencies to move impoverished and often orphan children to a better life out west. The west needed workers and the children, the logic went, needed homes. Train loads of children, from babies to teenagers were shipped out to territories like Nebraska and Kansas.
I tried to imagine what it must have been like to be a kid taken from his home, no matter how bad it was all he knew, and sent out to live with strangers who might or might not care about him. Some of those children ended up in good, caring homes, but others became little more than indentured servants. I came up with Dylan Daniels, a boy of 10 who had lost his mother and whose father could no longer care for him. He was a thief and pickpocket and was arrested and shipped to Nebraska to stay with a farm family. He grew up there, among a stern, unloving family until he ran away. He realized he preferred the company of men to women and knew he couldn’t stay in Nebraska. He fled to Hollywood where he became a high-priced rent boy who catered to rich and famous men. Until he meets Ben Carter, an LAPD officer who arrests Dylan in a pansy bar raid. From the very beginning, Ben, a cop buried deep in the closet, finds himself hopelessly attracted to Dylan. Their struggle is to find a way to make what they have work against self-hatred and society’s pressure to be ‘normal’.
ME: You write M/M romance. What inspired you to pen stories in this genre?
PAT: I wrote those characters because that’s what they were. My characters grow in me and they tell me who and what they are. I originally meant Shadows and Smoke to have a gay protag but when I started writing, the character basically said in no uncertain terms that he liked women, so he became straight.
ME: What do you think your readers will like most about your story?
PAT: I think Placing Out shows a side of Hollywood/Los Angeles few people know. It’s not the Hollywood of movie stars, or rich, glitzy people. It’s about an LAPD cop who does things he’s not proud of and how he comes to accept it and even embrace it.
ME: What types of stories do you like to read and who is your favorite author?
PAT: I love reading darker crime fiction. I love Michael Connelly, Robert Crais and T. Jefferson Parker to name a couple. Lately almost all of my reading has been non-fiction history books. Prohibition, Los Angeles and most recently, New York City in the 1800s.
ME: What’s next for you? Do you plan on writing any other historicals?
PAT: I have the one historical novel finished. I’m currently working on another one, this one set in New York City in 1880s. It deals with 2 Irish immigrants who have to find their place in the new world and a smart-assed, 10 year old thief who wants to be somebody.
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Blurb: Placing Out is an historical romance set in 1932 Los Angeles. Ben Carter is a 6 year veteran of the LAPD, deeply in the closet. Dylan Daniels was a placed out kid sent from New York’s Five Points at 10 to a family in Nebraska until he ran away at 18 when he realized he preferred boys and didn’t want to be a farmer. In Hollywood he ends up as a popular hustler with a number of wealthy clients. In a bar raid he meets Ben who is instantly attracted and repelled by this beautiful man. Between them they struggle to overcome the barriers that keep them apart, including Ben being in a brutal squad that frequently raids pansy bars and beats the patrons. This tears Ben apart. Will he let Dylan’s love heal him or destroy him altogether?
The New York Times headline is based on a real headline I found in the archives of the Times. The actual date was in the 30s. But much of the wording is the same.
NEW YORK TIMES
Thursday, May 15, 1919
A HEARTLESS FATHER
Two children named Daniels, aged respectively two and eight years, last night sought shelter in the 6th precinct station house and told the Sergeant in charge that their father turned them into the street, and told them to help themselves. The children will be sent to the Almshouse.
Five Points, New York, 1919
I always remember the train. A black dragon, it smoked and roared, throwing up sparks that burned my face and left spots on my brand new shirt. The one the lady from the Five Points Mission got us so we’d be ready for our placing out. She told Da we had to look good for our new family. Every time I hear a train whistle now, I think back on that day. And all the days that followed on my trip west and the new life I had there.
Don’t remember Ma and Da much. Ma wasn’t there at all in the end and Da was gone most of the time working, out looking for work or in jail when he got pinched working for the Five Pointers or the Gophers. I barely remember Ma at all. She died in that big fire at her job in the garment factory when the owners locked all the doors and no one could get out. Da was never the same after. Only a year later, the fever took Flora and Mary, our little sisters. They were both sweet girls. That only left me and Sean who was only two. Moira, the oldest, was always a bitch. Even Ma said so, calling her a witch and born slattern.
Didn’t matter, after Ma died, Da said it was up to Moira to take care of us. She got out of that when she run off with Jimmy Paglia, that no good Eye-tal-yan Wop. She married him. Da nearly had a fit when she did that. But it was worse when she told us she wasn’t gonna mind me no more. She called me a no good street rat who should have been drowned at birth. I slugged her and ran away. No one caught me. No one ever could when I didn’t wanna be caught. They call me Jack because I was as fast as a jackrabbit.
I ran with Ding Dong for a while, helping him and other Dusters with their hustles. Until the coppers got me cornered behind Old Bailey’s saloon. I’d run off with a bottle of gin. Stuff tastes like piss, but I can sell it for two bits and ain’t that sweet. Except this time the coppers caught me and tossed me in the hoosegow. I figure Da would come around and get me out. He did, then he turns around and put us out, sayin’ we were too much trouble.
Sean was the one took us to that police station. They sent us away too. I was still expecting Da to come get us, instead this wrinkled old dame showed up carrying a Bible. Tells me she’s from something called the Five Points House of Industry. Her skirts were all black and crinkly and rustled whenever she moved. I don’t remember Ma wearing anything so fancy. This lady said her name was Rose Marie and she was a woman of God, doing God’s work. When I ask her what that is, she say it’s saving lost and fallen souls like me.
“I ain’t lost,” I told her. “And I ain’t fallen nowhere. I’m standing right here.”
“You are indeed, young man. You’re a poor orphan boy who has taken to the dirty streets to survive. You have fallen into that vast and stinking den of iniquity. Arrested stealing a bottle of the devil’s drink.”
“Ain’t no orphan neither.”
“Your ma died. You live in squalor among the most base humans. You’re father can’t take care of you. He told me as much.” She patted the folds of her big dress and touched my head. I jerked away from her, wanting to tell her not to touch me. Instead I batted her hand away when she tried to touch me again. “We’re going to take care of you, Dylan Daniels. You and your brother. We’re going to take you to a place where you can learn to be a man.”
“A man?” I snorted. “I’m ten years old. I ain’t no man.”
“Nonetheless.” She was all stuffy and stiff. I didn’t like her. She didn’t care. “You are going to be placed out.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, lady. I ain’t going nowhere.”
She looked around the filthy cell they had put me in. It smelled like piss and shit. There was a sparkle in her brown eyes when she looked back at me. “No, young man, you aren’t. For now.”
I still didn’t know what she was talking about it. I didn’t know until Da came with a bag I recognized as belonging to Ma, all tied up with twine. He also handed me a silver dollar.
“You be a good, boy. Make your mother proud.”
I stared down at the bag and the dollar glittering in the palm of my hand. I’d never had that much money in all my life. I still didn’t get it.
“They haven’t told me where you’re going to, but Missus Matthews says they’re all good homes. You’re getting a real chance if you behave and mind your betters.”
It hit me like I got kicked by one of Tony Gambol’s big bay Clydesdales. Da was sending both of us away. “I won’t go,” I said, folding my arms over my chest. “You can’t fuckin’ make me.”
He slapped me across the face. I didn’t see it coming and fell back, landing on my ass on the dirty, rough floor. I threw myself to my feet but he backed away, going to the jail cell door.
“I don’t like doin’ that, Jack-boy, but you ain’t got no choice in this. I can’t be your ma and pa both. With your ma gone, I gotta do what’s good for both of you.”
I argued and yelled but no one listened. Da left and I was alone. I stayed alone until the Five Points lady came for me and took me and my bag and silver dollar, now carefully hidden in my shoe, to the train station. Sean was there with Da. He clung to Da ’til he shoved Sean at me. Then he hung on to me so tight my hand fell asleep. He was already wailing when I dragged him into the belching monster. It shuddered and grunted as it pulled away from the station. I looked at the platform through a grimy, soot-covered window but Da was already gone.
I got so I could sleep in the dragon’s belly. I met other kids like me. Over a hundred of us. Some were real orphans, some were like me, picked up by the cops, others volunteered to be placed out. They fed us, mustard sandwiches and sometimes jam. In Omaha they divided our four cars up into cities. Our car was going to Nebraska. Someplace near North Platte. The resident agent, William T. Elder, took us out in a horse drawn wagon to introduce us to our new family, the Chatterfields.
As we drove away from the still belching train, I watched until we turned a corner and headed on a dusty road out of town and I couldn’t see the train no more. Then I turned in my seat and stared straight ahead, knowing I ain’t never gonna see Da or Moira agin. Sean kept at me about when Da comin’ to get us ’til I slapped him.
Folks ask me later if I cried. ‘Course not. I don’t cry. What do they think I am? A baby? Sean was the baby, not me.
So Pat wants to know, what is it you like about historical fiction. What would you like to see that hasn’t been done yet?