Friday, December 16, 2011

Timberline's True Name

--This is a reposting; I know there is renewed interest in Woman of Ill Fame and so I'm going to put this blog post up again.

This blog is currently about witchcraft persecutions, ancient and modern, but now and then I will dip into material regarding my first novel Woman of Ill Fame. The novel is about a Gold Rush prostitute in a dangerous, brand-new San Francisco.

A few days ago, someone was in my archives and saw my post about the real-life prostitute whose image is featured on the cover. All I knew was that her name was Timberline, she was a Dodge City prostitute, and her image is in the collections of the Kansas State Historical Society.

Well, the anonymous commenter wrote that her name was Rose Vastine.

That for one thing totally threw me. Although I fashioned my character based on this photograph and named her Nora, for some reason I had “felt” that this real woman’s name was Kate.

Secondly, the commenter wrote that she earned the name Timberline for being 6’2” in height. Another big surprise. In my mind, the nickname had dirty connotations!

Armed with her real name, I consulted Professor Google.

The first link I accessed made me gasp out loud in the cafĂ© I was working in, and literally grab my forehead. According to Linda Wommack’s Ladies of the Tenderloin, “Timberline climbed up into the hills above Creede and shot herself not once, but six times.”

When you have spent so much time staring at someone’s photograph and constructing an entire novel around them, you develop a strange and intense connection to them. It was almost as upsetting as hearing this news about someone I knew…but not only was Timberline a stranger to me, but she died 150 years ago. Whatever sorrows she endured, they are dust now.

I dedicated the novel to two wonderful women the world lost at an early age, and on the second line dedicated it to “Timberline and the other girls of the line: I hope the world was kind to you.”

And here was evidence that the world had not been kind to her.

The link went on to say that Timberline did not die from that suicide attempt, but strangely enough, another link had her recovering from an “intended overdose.” Is it apocryphal that she tried to kill herself with such vastly different methods and survived both times? Whatever the truth is, she must have been an unhappy young woman.

Several sources have her living in Creede, Colorado, a silver mining camp 420 miles from the Dodge City that her photograph is labeled with. Sure enough, the website for Creede, Colorado mentions Timberline on its “About Creede” page. Bat Masterson too (whose biography the commenter mentions) lived in both cities, so maybe she hitched a ride with him.

If anyone has any more information on her, I’d most definitely love to know it.

. . . . .

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Germanic wood sculpture

Sculptor Stefanie Rocknak makes the incredible life-sized pieces you see here, inspired by the medieval art of Germany.

I was so taken with these images (seen in my alumni magazine, Colby: we both attended the same college) that I contacted Rocknak to rave. There's so much emotion captured in these faces and in their body language. I feel like I could stare at them for hours to try to figure out what their individual stories are.

There's something about these figures that is timeless and we see they are the same as us today...but deep in the wood is the darkness of their shortened, brutal lives. They lived in a world where superstition reigned, where food was scarce, and where they couldn't even use logs to warm their huts (only nobles could burn logs; peasants were reduced to whatever branches they could scrounge on the ground).

These sculptures visually show what I tried to convey with words in The Witch's Trinity. In fact, had I known of Rocknak's work in 2006, I would have begged and pleaded with my editor to have one of her pieces on the cover --or maybe even this triptych, which to me looks like the priest, Gude and Irmeltrud.

Check out Rocknak's artist statement on her website. I love her eclectic, whimsical look back at what fueled her work (like her brother's wooden robot, or a face she carved with her dad as a child), rather than some high-flung attempt to interpret her philosophy for others.

This image of her is from the Colby magazine article by Pat Sims. I love how the statue in the background is arching around to look at the camera too.