Tuesday, May 7, 2013

History, Romance and Los Angeles by James Scott Bell

I am thrilled to have James Scott Bell with us today as a guest blogger, and I want to thank Jillian Kent for connecting us. Please give Mr. Bell a warm CFHS welcome. Take it away James.
I never thought I’d write a historical with a strong romance element, let alone a series of them.

Back in the late 1990s I was all about thrillers. Legal thrillers mostly. But a writer (one who is going to be any good, at least) has to follow where his wild mind leads.

One day mine led me to what I thought was a pretty good idea. Legal thrillers were getting to be a crowded category. What could I do that was different? How about a historical legal thriller with a woman as the protagonist?

That held great possibilities, because the further back you go the fewer women you find practicing law. I thought about setting, too, and found one that has hardly been touched: the history of my own home town, Los Angeles, at the turn of the last century.

Perfect! In 1903 women were just starting to enter the legal profession. What if I had a young, idealistic woman arriving from back East, who wanted to be a trial lawyer? All sorts of delicious possibilities ensued.

That idea became the Kit Shannon series published by Bethany House. These books have now been re-published as e-books. You can read about them here. Bethany thought to team me up with one of their popular romance writers, Tracie Peterson, so she could “show me the ropes” as it were. We did the first three books together, then I did three on my own, and it felt great. Tracie and I developed a voice together, and I was able to carry that on. I had evolved!

What I like about historicals is that they are fixed in time. You don't have to worry about new technologies being invented, which sometimes happens right after you finish a book!

It was also nice to revisit what I consider to be the superior rules of romance. The civility, the restraint, the courtesy, the courting. The romantic dance required that you learn some steps. You didn’t just let it “all hang out,” which was the cry of the 1960s and is now the tired default setting of our culture.

I really got into the research. Big time. I compiled two huge binders of notes. I went to used bookstores and got books from the time and also reference books dealing with the period. For awhile I lived at the downtown branch of the Los Angeles public library, poring over the microfiches of the Los Angeles Times and The Los Angeles Examiner (the Hearst paper).

There was a time when I was so immersed in the period that I could close my eyes and feel like I was walking the streets of 1903 Los Angeles, with Kit Shannon in front of me. I tell you, if life was The Twilight Zone I might have gotten stuck there.

And I love Los Angeles as a setting. I'm third generation here. My grandparents built a house in Hollywood in 1923 that is still there. (My wife and I recently went to see it again, and the owner was there and let us in. Brought back all sorts of memories of when I was a kid spending the weekend with my grandparents! Memories of taking the bus with my grandmother down Hollywood Boulevard, to go to J. J. Newberry's and maybe the Chinese Theater for a movie. And memories of what they did every Saturday night: watch Lawrence Welk. Well, at least I liked the tap dancer).

Here are some interesting notes about my town over a hundred years ago:

1903: Eggs priced at 15¢ a dozen was considered expensive.

1904: Albert Kinney builds fifteen miles of concrete canals radiating from a core he hoped to turn into a cultural center. It was modeled after Venice, Italy, and so bore that name. People stayed away until he replaced high artistry with vaudeville acts and sideshow freaks. Then Venice thrived! (This is sort of a metaphor for Los Angeles itself).

In those days, police rode horses and wore the "rounded" type of police hat.

1904-Buffalo Bill parades down Broadway.

In 1905 you could buy an Oldsmobile Runabout for $675. The luxury Pierce Stanhope would cost you $1450.

You could get a turkey dinner for 25¢.

Stenographers made $10/week.

In those days, in the city, doctors reported that cases of depression and anxiety were on the increase (boy, what would they think of today?) Only back then they called it "Agitated melancholia."

1907-The movie industry begins when part of Selig Polyscope Company's version of The Count of Monte Cristo is filmed at the beach. Los Angeles weather draws more producers from the East.

It was also a time of religious hucksterism (not much has changed!) You had a plethora of seers, sages, swamis and snake-oil salesmen on the loose. And they advertised in the papers and city directory. One such ad from 1904:

Romanya, the Gypsy Queen, 345 S. Main

"I tell all. Settle lovers' quarrels, re-unite the separated; tell whom and when to marry; how to control and win the one you love; how to overcome enemies. A visit will convince all. Skeptics and unbelievers invited."

Most important of all, for me, was that the courtrooms of the era were wide open and rollicking. The man many consider the greatest trial lawyer who ever lived, Earl Rogers, was hitting his stride in 1903. So I made him a prominent character in the series. (That's another thing I enjoyed doing: putting real historical characters into the books, acting and speaking consistent with the research I did on them.)

After all the research and writing, I became devoted to Kit Shannon. My original intent was to write the series so she spanned the decades, right up to the 1960s. Now, with digital publishing available, maybe I still can.

But the readers will decide.

Thanks for having me here today. 

James Scott Bell is a multi-bestselling author and writing coach. His Plot & Structure (Writer's Digest Books) has been a consistent #1 bestseller since it's publication almost a decade ago. His latest project is the fiction writing software program, Knockout Novel, which does not require downloading and can be used to deepen any novel or novel-in-progress. Visit his website at www.jamesscottbell.com.

he courtrooms of 1903 Los Angeles are a man’s world––until Kit Shannon arrives
With shoulders squared and dreams set high, Kit Shannon arrives in Los Angeles feeling a special calling to the law. Yet under the care of her socialite aunt, Kit quickly comes to realize that few understand her burning desire to seek justice and practice a profession known only to men. When her aunt adamantly refuses to support her unconventional career aspirations, Kit questions whether she is truly following God's will. And when her growing love for a man pledged to another threatens scandal, Kit knows her days might be numbered in Los Angeles.

A chance meeting with Earl Rogers, the city's most prominent criminal trial lawyer, garners Kit an apprentice position. And work on a notorious murder case. Someone has been killing prostitutes in Los Angeles, but Kit is certain it is not Rogers’ client. Determined to find the truth, Kit runs full on into forces that want to stop her, forces that stretch all the way to the citadels of power in the City of Angels.


  1. Welcome Mr. James Scott Bell...may I say that I love your name? It screams author. I haven't read any of your books, but they sound intriguing. I'm not big on Los Angeles. I guess because I've always lived in small towns. I currently live in Redding, Ca. and even it's a bit too large for me. Thanks for sharing all this info on LA. God bless.

  2. Great research and a fascinating cast of characters. Thanks for visiting CFHS!

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  4. I loved the Kit Shannon series! (and many other of Mr. Bell's books) My husband and teenage son are huge fans of your legal thrillers, and read the ones we have over and over.

    I did not know about the canals built in Venice, CA! Sounds like quite a sight to see, though I could do without the "vaudeville acts and sideshow freaks"! lol

    Thank you for stopping by today, Mr. Bell! Very interesting stuff! :)

  5. I love the premise of these books! Definitely need to read them! Thanks for guesting on our blog, we are so pleased to have you here!

  6. Ooooh I loved these books when they came out! I still have them. They're on my "keeper" shelf :)

  7. Welcome, Jim! I love Kit, and your later books as well. Keep 'em coming!

  8. Welcome, Jim. Love having you here. I love the Kit books and anything you've written. My husband likes your books and sometimes grabs them before I can. Keep them coming. Hope to see you again in the near future.

  9. Wow what a series!! =) Keep them coming!! truckredford(at)Gmail(dot)com

  10. So glad you could join us here, Jim. I love that you get so immersed in research. I never realized how much I love history until I began to do research for a book. There are so many fascinating people and tidbits that are fun to include in a story.

  11. Oh.. it's so exciting to have you here, Jim!! I loved your article. I live in San Jose.. so just a day's drive north of you. But honestly, I've never enjoyed driving through LA!! Way too crowded. It's really interesting to see how things were a hundred years ago.. how different in some ways and the same in others. Until this post, I had no idea you wrote historical romances. Geezz.. where have I been? Buried under deadlines, I imagine. Now, I simply must get these books. They look fascinating!
    Best to you, Jim!

  12. Jim, thanks so much for visiting with us! Your books have a GREAT premise--I'm going to have to get them. :)
    Blessings, Laurie Kingery

  13. Welcome to our blog James,
    I enjoyed your post and you definitely made me curious about the series. Just might have to make another stop on Amazon. And you're right, we don't have to worry about cell phones and modern technology but do have to be careful modern phrases don't creep into our writing. I once had a character take a nosedive off her horse. Hmm, had to reword that as nosedive is from airplanes and not in the old west.
    Enjoyed the post.

  14. I loved this post and the chance to read Bell again. Thanks!

  15. Love the storyline of these books! I grew up watching Lawrence Welk on weekends also - great memories. :)
    Susan P

  16. Welcome! I am a huge fan of Plot & Structure! Love L.O.C.K.

    I've only read a few historicals set in California and all those in San Francisco. I'll definitely have to add this to my must reads.

  17. Nice to see more about you here James Scott Bell, I am liking the comments that say others like your work-I am sure I will be reading some one day soon.
    Paula O

  18. Great information! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing with us today. I'm anxious to read about your female attorney at the turn of last century. Sounds like a fun book series!

  19. Hi, Jim, thanks for the delightful post. I loved the Kit Shannon series, too! I'm glad to see them available as e-books now. I've had a novel concept rumbling around for a while, but was having a hard time organizing it amidst all the various deadlines. Your fiction writing software program, Knockout Novel, is really helping nail down and organizing all of the structural components. Thanks!

  20. I do believe I have read this series at some point in my life. However, i am very glad to hear that they are now in ebook format. I love my ebook - it is so much easier to hold than a print book. However, I still love to read a print book at times, and certainly like to have them in my library...lol


  21. Hi Jim, Good to see you here. Our book club needs to read the Kit Shannon series. Loved what you said about "living in a library." We historical writers can easily get lost "somewhere in time" because we love the research so much. I've taken two of your classes at Mount Hermon so far - the continuing class two years ago and the self-publishing class this year. Plus I have several of your writing books. So I should be as great a writer as you, right?

  22. Wow, Jim. Welcome to our blog home. You're a really good fit with these books.

  23. Thank you all for the kind words and warm welcome. I really appreciate being able to share my passion for early Los Angeles and Kit Shannon in particular. Keep writing!

  24. What a lovely post. I especially enjoyed Romanya's ad. She set high expectations for her services. Anyway, welcome to our virtual condominium. I'm glad you've made yourself at home (you fit right in) and hope you'll return.

  25. Great to have you here as a guest, Jim. I'll never forget the year you keynoted for ACFW, and we met in the bookstore after engaging in witty repartee about your book display and the type of person you are. :) Your workshops are amazing, and I recommend your WD books constantly. Use them myself too!

    LOVED the Kit Shannon series. I'll admit to avoiding your legal thrillers, but when you teamed up with Tracie (a great friend and mentor, and the reason I got into publishing fiction), I was sold! You did an amazing job on them, and the tidbits you provided her about historical Los Angeles are fascinating.

    I too have gotten lost in research, though I can see I have only scratched the surface so far with what I've written.

    Thank you for stopping by and joining us here at CFHS.