History as We Show It

If you’ve read the submission call, you know we want to add some history to an already challenging piece of work. Historical fiction demands a degree of authenticity. That means getting the culture right, including the food, music and apparel. Properly addressing political, social and criminal events that affect the state and country. And paying attention to the times, especially the differences of philosophy between two-to-three generations.

This is a big ask. So to give writers a hand, we’re providing a primer to help with research. The good news is that much of San Cicaro hasn’t been stapled down with dates. Few if any characters will make a reappearance. Yet there exists landmarks that would have been there for decades, as well as some businesses.

The details below reflect the history of the United States and California as a whole. These events either had an impact on our fictional city, or are worth mentioning to “historically flavor” submissions. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and while Wikipedia is a fine jumping off point for cursory historic facts, we recommend going into secondary sources for anything requiring depth. For example, if your character has an occupation that doesn’t exist anymore, working those tricks-of-the-trade into the context is almost a must. Likewise, still-practiced professions may have relied on now obsolete techniques. Please do not be afraid to mention references in your cover letter. It can only win you points with us.

Two final points. First, don’t forget the urban fantasy and/or horror elements. And second, please try to minimize the impact on the history of the United States. We know the city’s existence is “alternate history,” but that’s the only difference we want. When in doubt, be conservative and focus on your characters.

1930s — The Great Depression, Deportation, Prohibition, Dust Bowl

Governors: C.C. Young (1927-1931), James Rolph (1931-1934), Frank Merriam (1934-1939), Culbert Olson (1939-1943).
Presidents: Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945).

Before the 30’s, California was discovered to possess considerable oil reserves and San Cicaro likely had its fair share. However, overproduction across the United States caused oil prices to fall out. Likewise, the Great Depression began just before the turn of the decade, and brought its own share of problems.

Labor strikes were also very plentiful, in industries like canning (twice), fruit picking, (especially cherries), agriculture, (particularly lettuce), garment production and longshoring. San Cicaro likely had a few strikes of its own. Workers were deported, particularly Mexicans and Filipinos, and its worth noting that many of them were natural-born Americans. Meanwhile, the Dust Bowl storms set off a series of migrations to California from Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas, leading to an Okie subculture of the region. These incomers were not entirely welcome either, and police were sent to stop them in an event informally known as the “Bum Blockade.”

Prohibition, in effect between 1920 and 1933, offered “enterprising” (bootlegging) opportunities for the less scrupulous. Both the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge began construction in 1933, a source of jobs for workers. Around the time of their completion however, the recession of 1937 struck, further hurting the economy. Late in the decade, all eyes were on the major war brewing in Europe…

1940s — World War II, Economic Rise, U.S. Route 101 begins Construction

Governors: Culbert Olson (1939-1943), Earl Warren (1943-1953).
Presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945), Harry S. Truman (1945-1954).

Because of San Cicaro’s coastal location, it was likely another producer of ships, ammunition and airplanes (aerospace has a long history in CA) for the war effort. The oil fields almost certainly received permission to expand, and there would have been a base to manage the internment camp for Japanese-Americans. See “Still Life with Ferris Wheel” in Welcome to San Cicaro for more about this. It’s not impossible that San Cicaro could have had a situation similar to Battle of Los Angeles, and there was a risk of attacks on the oil fields, as with Ellwood. The sheer amount of military production helped raise the state out of the Great Depression, but also brought in many other works from around the United States.

Aside from the war, there was a brief movement for the establishment of the State of Jefferson. The Magnuson Act passed in 1943, and started a trickle of Chinese immigration into the country around 1946. Sections of US 101 were expanded to freeways or expressways, during the 40’s, and San Cicaro would have benefitted as it lies between LA and SF.

1950s — Korean War, Consumerism, Red Scare

Governors: Earl Warren (1943-1953), Goodwin Knight (1953-1959), Pat Brown (1959-1967).
Presidents: Harry S. Truman (1945-1954), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961).

The Korean War began in 1950 and carried on for three years. Of interest, Truman’s Executive Order 9981 spearheaded racial integration in the armed forces. An uptick in Korean immigration followed the war, as did many Chinese following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and the Refugee Relief Act of 1953. On the home front, McCarthyism was on the rise, resulting in the Hollywood Blacklist. San Cicaro might have enjoyed a stronger theater scene as a result of some actors and writers losing work in LA. However, eyes turned skyward on October 4th, 1957, when Sputnik I launched, escalating the Space Race.

The Jack in the Box fast food chain began in San Diego in early 1951, and had 180 locations by 1960. We can assume a few would have been in San Cicaro. C.A. Swanson & Sons introduced the TV dinner in 1953. Disneyland opened in Anaheim on July 17th, 1955. During this time, Soul Jazz and Hard Bop were popular, and San Cicaro may have had a few clubs the equivalent of Jimbo’s Bop City. Finally, the beatnik generation was a popular stereotype of Southern California, and some of it may have been felt in SC.

As a final note, many motorcycle clubs such as Hells Angels and the East Bay Dragons were formed during the 1950s. If anyone wants to go that route, we recommend creating a fictional charter that may have been absorbed by one of the better known clubs in later decades. One may wish to model it off the Chosen Few MC, notable for their mixed race membership since 1960.

1960s — Entry into Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Assassinations

Governors: Pat Brown (1959-1967), Ronald Reagan (1967-1975).
Presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), John F. Kennedy (1961-1963), Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969), Richard Nixon (1969-1974).

The decade of assassinations robbed us of JFK on November 22nd, 1963. Then in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot on April 4th, followed by JFK’s brother Robert in June. This period was also when the Zodiac Killer was thought to have gone active in San Francisco, perhaps resulting in a copycat in San Cicaro. The Tate-LaBianca murders also happened late in this decade.

In Civil Rights, the Free Speech Movement made sit-ins at Berkeley, and may have had a sister chapter operating in San Cicaro. The Black Panthers protested at the California State Assembly against the Mulford Act, resulting in a handful of publicized arrests. The Watts Riots occur in August of 1965 in Los Angeles, a western counterpart to the race riots in the east, the latter of which intensified following MLK’s murder. These events gave rise to the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

In 1960, the Winter Olympics were held in Squaw Valley. The Santa Barbara oil spill happened on February 7th, 1969. and likely had an impact on San Cicaro from afar. Likewise, the city may have seen new arrivals of hippies during the Summer of Love, along with opposition to the escalating Vietnam War and the draft. The decade ended somewhat optimistically with the success of Apollo 11, although some may forget there was opposition to the program.

On the fantasy and occult front, two important events of note happened. Anton LaVey established the Church of Satan in San Francisco in ’66. Meanwhile, the famous Patterson-Gimlin shot of Bigfoot occurred in Northern California in ’67.

1970s — Vietnam War Ends, Energy Crisis and Notable Crimes

Governors: Ronald Reagan (1967-1975), Jerry Brown (1975-1983).
Presidents: Richard Nixon (1969-1974), Gerald Ford (1974-1977), Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).

The 70’s were marked by the energy crisis, raising the price of gas at the pump. Initially, San Cicaro benefitted thanks to their oil fields, but they soon shut down for unclear reasons. Some say they dried up, others think it was environmental concerns, possibly pushed by rival oil companies. In March 1970, the U.S. postal strike began in New York, soon spreading to other states, possibly affecting San Cicaro as well. The Cold War continued with its policies of détente. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War came to a close. Thousands of veterans returned home, and sizeable numbers of Vietnamese refugees came to California in a few waves between 1975 and 1982.

In crime, the trials of Charles Manson and his family happened between 1970 to ’71, with sentencing having difficulties occurring due to the ruling of California v. Anderson. Several serial killers popped up around this time including the Golden State Killer, the Hillside Strangler, the Randy Kraft, the Trash bag Killer and even a special guest murder by Ted Bundy. Newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped on February 4th, 1972. The Golden Dragon massacre occurred on September 4th, 1977, and Harvey Milk was assassinated on November 27th, 1978.

1980s — The Economy, Cold War Fears, HIV

Governors: Jerry Brown (1975-1983), George Deukmejian (1983-1991).
Presidents: Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), George H.W. Bush (1989-1993).

The economy underwent great change through the 1980’s with a recession marking the early years and the oil glut ending the energy crisis of the prior decade. 1982 was particularly rough for the unemployed. However, fortunes changed around 1984 when the United States entered a period of economic growth and reduced inflation. Of mention, a large industry shift saw many Americans transition from manufacturing and mining to services and retail. Exports and especially imports to and from Japan grew, and San Cicaro ports and trucking likely benefitted by providing transportation services.

In foreign relations, there would have been a great deal of anxiety regarding current events in the Cold War. This may have resulted in an anti-nuclear protest in the city. On May 18th 1981, the first cases of HIV/AIDS were reported in Los Angeles (initially labeled GRID). Lucia Bella Hospital in San Cicaro would likely have reported similar cases not much later. The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles may have been the talk of the town then. Finally, while San Cicaro is no stranger to tremors, October of ’89 marked the Loma Prieta earthquake. San Cicaro could have lightly felt it to the north.

Racism, Sexism & Homophobia

There’s a fine line between historical fiction and historical fantasy. The former is aware of the times, whether good or bad, and makes the sincere effort to reflect them. Meanwhile the latter might be enjoyable, but it risks whitewashing details. Without care, this becomes a disservice to the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, Woman’s Suffrage and the Gay Liberation Front. Suffice to say, we’re more interested in historic fiction.

To be clear, the plots of submitted stories don’t have to address these issues. A few certainly can and are welcome to, but we’re not aiming to rehash Lovecraft Country. That said, don’t ignore the times. Depending upon the decade, segregation and unfair hiring practices are likely commonplace. We welcome stories from the viewpoints of those disenfranchised and recommend some awareness of the discriminatory line, even if the protagonists do not agree with the zeitgeist.

Finally, like any good story element, racism, sexism and homophobia are better shown than told. It does not always have to be blatant slurs or acts of violence. It can be subtle things such as signs, graffiti, uncomfortable stares and whispering, refusal of service, or authority figures telling folks to “move on” without explaining why.

When it comes to numbers and history regarding individual ethnic groups, we recommend taking a look at the history of individual ethnic groups in Los Angeles and the demographics and history of San Francisco as guidelines.

The Culture

Last but not least, it’s important to pay attention to culture between the 1930’s and 1980’s. The economic availability of goods is a very common “gotcha” in historical fiction. This primer made little effort to cover the effects of new art, music, food, entertainment and literature on the city throughout the decades. However, submitting authors should not ignore these important factors.

With regard to music, there’s an interesting contrast. As it stands, published works in 1924 are usually in the public domain. Some of these songs may have enjoyed popularity through the 30’s and perhaps 40’s. As long as the song qualifies as such, you may use the lyrics in your writing. Otherwise, the song title or a brief description of the lyrics can be referenced.

Finally, we almost forgot to mention the value of sports. Not just as a source of entertainment, sports were also an outlet for desegregation and of course, betting. Sports news is a very easy thing to throw over the radio or pack into a headline.

Good luck, writers! A special thanks to Robert Bye on Unsplash for the banner photo, and a huge thanks to the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives for the images.