The genre of historical fiction is a popular one and growing all the time. Telling a story about a particular time and place and developing characters based on actual living people requires a talent not just for writing fiction but an interest in research as well.
There are a handful of authors who do it really well, including Ken Follett (“World Without End”); Philippa Gregory (“The Other Boleyn Girl”), E.L. Doctorow (“Ragtime”) and Umberto Eco (“The Name of the Rose”). It is a gift to be able to do historical fiction well. Linda B. Myers, a Port Angeles, Washington-based author, has the gift.
In a telephone interview from her home, Myers said the idea for her latest novel, “Fog Coast Runaway,” set in Seaside and Astoria in the 1890s, started at a turnout on Highway 101 near Cannon Beach where she strained to read the words stamped into a a monument telling the story of a dog rumored to have been the lone survivor of an 1890’s shipwreck. Doing research about that dog, who in her story is called “Shep,” led Myers to learn more about the many shipwrecks in the area and the men who built and then manned the lighthouse that came to be known as “Terrible Tilly.”
“Fog Coast Runaway” isn’t a story about dogs, however, or even men. Mostly it’s about the life and times of a handful of plucky women. A tough Finnish lady runs an Astoria boarding house with an iron fist. A 16-year-old girl on her own starts up a hairdressing business and masters the fine art of “keep ‘em separated” to serve her cheerful prostitute clients as well as respectable matrons. Another Finnish woman creates a niche as a hotel cook. A wealthy married lady visiting Seaside from San Francisco becomes a benefactress to the novel’s protagonist, Adelia, a 13-year-old runaway who left home after her brother tried to rape her. A twist on the story is the secret that must be kept; the wealthy woman mistakenly believes she murdered her violent husband in self defense when in fact Adelia killed him.
“Fog Coast Runaway” doesn’t pull any punches about what life was like on the north Oregon coast in the 1890s. The author skillfully brings to life the daily dangers. She also does a delicious job describing the idylls of Victorian-era Seaside from a vacationer’s point of view.
“Two-thousand ships went down against those rocks,” Myers said, wonderingly. She said it took her two years to research and write the novel. She thanks Liisa Penner, the archivist at the Clatsop County Historical Society in Astoria, and the Society’s Heritage Museum for providing a font of information. She called Elaine Trucke, executive director of the Cannon Beach Historical Center and Museum, a “gold mine” of information.
“If you want to know what flowers bloomed in Seaside in 1890, the Seaside Historical Society Museum is a must-see visit,” Myers said. She also thanked the Seaside Public Library librarians who helped her dig for tidbits.
“Fog Coast Runaway” is a brisk, page-turning read. There are some saucy scenes and the author mastered the slang of the day scattering throughout her characters’ dialogue logger terms, sailor speak, and brothel language. She makes it crystal clear what it was like to be a woman in Seaside and Astoria in 1890, which, amazingly, turns this historical fiction into quite the feminist story.