Hello, friends! I am still healing from the wisdom tooth extraction and feeling cross about my soup/hummus/pudding subsistence diet. So! Much! Slime! But I don’t want to talk about that. Instead, I’d like to share some of the sources I consulted when writing “The Legendary Garrett Girls”.
As you probably know, I adore research. In this case, though, my research began entirely by accident, with an extended-family holiday to Alaska back in 2007. We rode the White Pass Railway (now a tourist’s toy) and saw the grave of the villainous Soapy Smith, but most of this was secondary. The main impressions I retain from that trip are of the sublime landscape. Still, I bought a souvenir at Parnassus Books (still open! hurray!) in Ketchikan: William B. Haskell’s Two Years in the Klondike and Alaskan Gold Fields, 1896-1898. I flicked through bits of it and then got distracted. I read other books, wrote about other times and places.
Several years later, Jessica Spotswood asked me for a short story for her anthology. Her parameters? “Any time in American history, with a girl protagonist.” Talk about possibilities!
I knew I wanted to write about a place I knew, however slightly. (I’m daunted by the idea of a real place I’ve never visited. Even with the internet at my disposal, I question whether I can take the measure of a place without smelling it.) And I’m drawn to people and places on the margins. Alaska was logical, the Gold Rush almost too obvious. But what kind of story was this going to be?
What happened next was Fate. I opened Haskell’s memoir and my eye fell on this line: “They now say there are more liars to the square inch in Alaska than any place in the world.” And that was it: I knew I had to write a romp about con artists during the Gold Rush.
Of course, there were logistics to work out, questions to answer. But unlike my novels, “The Legendary Garrett Girls” has remained remarkably true to its initial proposal, a high-energy scrawl of words on a page: sisters, scammers, hijinks ensue. I hope I’ve got the setting mostly, nearly right. I hope Alaskans don’t shake their heads with pity for the presumptuous cheechako who had the nerve to set a short story in their place, their legendary time. As ever, all errors in the story are my responsibility.
If you’re as entranced by the Gold Rush as I became, here’s a list of the books that I found most enjoyable – and, in some cases, infuriating but essential.
The Legendary Garrett Girls: Sources
Berton, Pierre. Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896-1899. 1972.
Emmons, George Thornton. The Tlingit Indians. Ed. Frederica de Laguna. 1991.
Haskell, William B. Two Years in the Klondike and Alaskan Gold Fields, 1896-1898. (1898.) 1998.
Hitchcock, Mary E. Two Women in the Klondike. (1899.) 2006.
Holder Spude, Catherine. “That Fiend in Hell”: Soapy Smith in Legend. 2012.
Smith, Jeff. Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel. Klondike Research, 2009.
Winslow, Kathryn. Big Pan-Out. New York: W. W. Norton, 1951.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll return to the question of my sources and talk about anti-heroes, historiography, and holdouts.