When a Department Store was an Experience

Department Stores, they ain’t what they used to be. There was a time when a trip to the department store was an experience. You had a nice meal, you got personal service, and you were pampered.

Before department stores came about, upper- and middle-class women didn’t go shopping. Door-to-door salesmen brought their wares to the home. Or servants went to stores for groceries and such. People thought it was too dangerous or risqué for a woman to be on the streets alone.

The First

The first department store opened in London in 1796. They sold furs, fans, haberdashery, jewelry, clocks, and hats. It was called Howell & Co’s Grand Fashionable Magazine 

Macy’s opened in 1878.

Department store owners sought upper- and middle-class customers. Everyone else lacked the time or the money to shop at their leisure. 

Whoever said that money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.

— Bo Derek

The Experience

Aimed at women with money, most stores had elegant tea rooms or full restaurants. The buildings had high ceilings, luxury fixtures, and beautiful views. They had lounging areas, personal assistants to help you shop, and weekly fashion shows.

Women loved the freedom that shopping gave them. They got out of the house. And—learned to love to shop. Read more about how 19th-century women gained their freedom thanks to department stores. 

Happiness is not in money, but in shopping.

— Marilyn Monroe

You could buy anything at a department store. Each floor of the larger stores was a “department” like men’s clothing, women’s clothing, shoes, housewares, etc.

Around 1900 American department stores began selling cosmetics. It was such a high-profit item, it became a feature of the first floor of all department stores.

Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.

— Oscar Wilde

They considered men to be too timid to walk all through the store. Thus men’s departments were on the first floor. There were smoking rooms set off from everything else, so they wouldn’t “disturb” the ladies. 


Image of Garfinckel's Department Store Building--when shopping at a department store was an experience
image by AgnosticPreachersKid [CC BY-SA 4.0]

In My Soul to Keep Miranda makes her escape from Garfinckel’s Department store. Learn more about My Soul to Keep.

Garfinckel’s opened its first retail store in 1918 in Washington D.C. Known for its high fashion, it closed in the 1990s.

Have I visited Garinckel’s? Only virtually. You can learn a little more about Garfinckel’s here or here


Image of a former Lazarus in Philadelphia--when a department store was an experience
public domain image of a former Lazarus store in Philadelphia

After their escape from Redemption, Miranda and Beryl shop at a department store called Lazarus. 

F&R Lazarus & Company was founded in 1851. Commonly called, Lazarus, its headquarters were in Columbus, Ohio. It operated in the midwest until 2005. Learn more about Lazarus here and here.

A first reader laughed out loud at the name of the department store and thought I’d named it that for its Biblical association. Granted, the implications did occur to me, but the real reason I had them go to Lazarus? I lived in the Columbus, Ohio area in the ’60s and had visited the store more than once. 

Experience or Convenience?

Our department stores today are pale shadows of what they once were. Back when a trip to the department store was an experience, women loved to go to the store. Shopping was an added bonus. Somehow internet shopping, while convenient, doesn’t create an experience. Would you prefer a shopping experience or shopping convenience?

Unimpressed to Loving the Blue Ridge Mountains

A soft blue haze enveloped the first mountains I ever saw. They didn’t impress me much. In the distance, they looked like rolling hills. Then came the drive up the mountains, through the mountains, and along the ridge. Each curve, dip, and climb yielded breath-taking vistas of forested mountains, bald knobs, and valleys swathed in the blue haze. I was in grade school during that first trip. I went from unimpressed to loving the Blue Ridge Mountains and that mysterious blue haze.

public domain image

I made many trips to the area as a child. I no longer recall all the details, when and exactly where, but there are moments etched in my memory. Memorable moments include a walk to a gorgeous waterfall, a climb to a rocky knob, and the larger-than-my-sister bear cub that sat three feet behind my little sister who played on the picnic table in the next camping site.

Little did I know then that these mountains would become the backdrop and setting for the world of My Soul to Keep. They are integral to the story of Fellowship.

World’s Second Oldest

The Blue Ridge Mountains formed about 1.1 billion to 250 million years ago. South Africa’s Barberton greenstone belt are the only mountains in the world that are older than the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Located in the eastern United States, these mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain range that spans from Georgia to Pennsylvania.

They were the home of Siouan Manahoacs, the Iroquois, and the Shawnee and other tribes. The Powhatan name for the Blue Ridge was Quirank. The Virginian branch of the Siouan called them Ahkonshuck.

The Blue Ridge Mountains encompasses two major national parks and eight national forests. More than 100 mountains in this range reach or exceed, an elevation of 5,000 feet. Learn more here.

The Haze

The blue haze is a result of all the trees. When excess heat stresses the trees, they release a hydrocarbon called isoprene into the air. The isoprene reacts with other molecules in the air and causes the blue-tinted haze.

The Parkway

Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the newly finished Skyline Drive in 1933. During that visit, U.S. Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia suggested extending the road. He envisioned it connected with the recently established Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A meeting between the governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee took place. Plans for the park-to-park highway were drawn up.

There were protests about the Parkway. People’s homes were taken in the name of greater good and conservationists worried about the impact on the mountains and their ecology. Years of construction, refunding, and negotiations finally saw the Blue Ridge Parkway completed in 1987. (Learn more about the construction and more about the Parkway.

An Alternate History

These are the kinds of things I must research to make the alternate history world of My Soul to Keep. In that world, the U. S. did not get involved in World War II. The ramifications are huge. There would be no financial growth due to the war efforts and there would be no population boom when the soldiers returned. Thus, in Fellowship we learn that the Blue Ridge Parkway project was never finished. Those areas nourished by the tourist trade up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway would not have flourished. At least not the way they have in the real world.

Writing an Alternate History is fun but fraught with research. But it isn’t boring when I get to relive (physically and virtually) how I went from unimpressed to impressed and in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Outtake: An Early Prelude

Long ago, I wrote the first draft of My Soul to Keep. It was a fantasy with dragons. What was I thinking? My next draft or two or three were just as far afield as the fantasy, though they were closer to a science fictional approach. Then, after many discussions with my husband and friends, I came up with the alternate world in which the story now takes place. I thought readers might enjoy a look back at some of the outtakes from those earlier drafts. So, without further ado, here’s an outtake: an early prelude to My Soul to Keep.


Outtake: An Early Prelude

A Testament for Modern Times

The New Book of Samuel

Chapter 3, verses 1-17

1. Now it came to pass, in the days after the Great War, that the children of the world did evil in the sight of the Lord.

2. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people and He delivered them into the days of darkness called the Great Depression.  He overthrew the tables of their moneymakers and money changers; and gold became as water.

3. Thieves, drunkards, and  murderers ruled the land known as America.  The American leader, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was assassinated; yet the people of America repented not.

4. And in these days the peoples of Europe, Russia, and Asia loved God not.  So it came to pass that there was war between Britain and the Third Reich.

5. And the wicked fell upon each other and they dwelt in the darkness of their damnation.

6. Ten times ten thousand Britons were slain in the fields and in their homes.  Their cities were destroyed, and their young men carried away into slavery.

7. And the Britons called to America for ships and weapons and men.  But the American people asked one another, “Why must our sons die over the sea in other people’s battles?”

8. So it came to pass that the American people closed their ears and would not hear the strife across the sea.  For they were sore afraid.

9. Now there arose many prophets: Father Charles Coughlin, Gerald L. K. Smith, Francis Townsend, Aimee Semple McPherson, and William Ashley Sunday.

10. But the greatest of these was born of the land called Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a man named Samuel Garret.  He was a humble and pious man whose heart was troubled by the wickedness of his people.

11. There was sent to him from God the angel, Gabriel.  And Gabriel said unto him, “Rise up and walk through the length and breadth of the land.”  And he did.

12. And he saw the sins of the people of America were very grievous and was ashamed.  And he cried out to the Lord, “Father, why hast thou forsaken us?”

13. And the angel returned unto him and said, “This nation was conceived ‘in liberty under God;’ thou hast forsaken the Father.”

14. “Open your ears that you may hear the word of God unto you:  Woe be unto this wicked and faithless generation.  In as much as ye shall repent, I will cleanse you of your iniquities.

15. “And to him who doth not repent and come to me with a broken heart and contrite spirit, I will blot out his name from the Book of Life.”

16. And it came to pass that Samuel made the people naked to their shame.  And when the people heard the words of the Lord in their synagogues, and in their temples, and in their kingdom halls, and in their churches they fell down upon their faces and begged His forgiveness.

17. So the Lord blessed the people who took Fellowship with Him.  And remembering His covenant with Noah, God sent not the waters but the angels, the Azrael, to cleanse the wicked from the face of the land.


I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the past. If you haven’t read My Soul to Keep this passage is not in the published book. The information contained in this outtake, an early prelude, still formed the background for the story world. Click on this link to learn more about the book. If you have ready My Soul to Keep, what do you think of this?

Inspiration from Fire and Brimstone and Redemption.

public domain image via Wikimedia Commons

I come from a family with deep roots in conservative religion and found inspiration from fire and brimstone and redemption. Where did I find that inspiration? American Christianity has a history of periodic revivals of conservative religious fervor called the Great Awakening.

During each of these periods of Awakening, there were widespread revivals led by evangelicals The phrase “Great Awakening” refers to all the periods collectively. The term Awakening refers to the awakening of interest in religion.


Revivals were a series of religious gatherings. They lasted from three days to a week or more. Meetings would happen in the same location at the same time every day or evening. At these meetings, the evangelist preached of fire and brimstone and redemption. In the American South revivals were commonly held in tents through the summer months. In the northern states, halls and auditoriums were rented. Some areas and denominations continue to hold annual tent revivals to this day.

Thousands attended these revivals. The evangelists produced a profound sense of conviction and redemption among believers. The Fellowship in my novel, My Soul to Keep, was created with this history in mind.


Historians agree that there were three Awakenings. The First Great Awakening occurred during the 1730s and 1740s. The Second Great Awakening ran from the late eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century. The period of revival from the 1850’s to the 1900s is called the Third Great Awakening.

Up for debate is whether a Fourth Great Awakening happened during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Experts disagree. Air-conditioned megachurches and televangelism were more popular then than tent revivals.

A period of lower interest and sometimes disillusionment followed most of these Awakenings. Readers over a certain age likely remember one such period. Anyone remember Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Fae Bakker?


Each period had its religious leaders. Do you know who they were? Below is a list of real and fictional religious leaders. See if you can identify the real ones. Don’t look them up. Go with your best memory or guess.

Inspiration from Fire and Brimstone and Redemption--The History of the Great Awakening

You can download the quiz here: The Great Awakening Quiz


The answers to the quiz can be found here: The Great Awakening Quiz Answers


How did I first become aware of the Great Awakening? Family history. Plus, I attended some tent revivals as a child. In time, my immediate family’s religious beliefs veered away from the ultra-conservative. I’ve gone a bit further away than that. But let me make it clear, I am not against any religion conservative or not. I wrote a dystopian novel about abuses of religion and government. Abuses that I fear.

So, how did you do on the quiz? Anyone get 100%? Let me know your score in the comments below.

If She Loves a Rag Doll, Is She Still Evil?

In My Soul to Keep, there is a character who is a murderous psychopath. She’s been purposely programmed to be that kind of person.  So how do you go about creating a story villain who’s truly evil but has some redeeming qualities? If she loves a rag doll, is she still evil?


Fortunately I had a mentor who knew how. How did he know? First, he’s smart. Second, he’s studied successful fiction and movies for a long time. What did he say to me that gave me a clue? He reminded me that a great story villain isn’t all villain all the time.. He also reminded me to look at the villains in books I’ve loved. For example, in Dean Koontz’s The Watchers there is a creature who had been created to be a destroyer, a murderer. He’s loathsome in appearance in and in deed. However, there’s a scene where the investigator-character discovers the monster’s lair. In the lair, the monstrous villain has treasured objects that include a collection of Disney branded toys and movies. It made this reader’s heart soften a touch toward the monster. And it made the monster more real, less one dimensional.


I took that lesson to heart when I developed the psychopathic villain for My Soul to Keep. Rather than refer directly to Disney characters or movies, I used a character name from J. M. Barrie and twisted it so it was an oblique reference. If you’ve read my novel, can you figure out which character name I used and how?

But I didn’t stop there. I wanted something that would throw back to her childhood that hinted at the idea that she once had the potential to be a kind and caring person. When I’m stuck for ideas like this, I do an image search on Google and Pinterest. And this is what I found.

If she loves a rag doll, is she still evil. The answer is yes, read why
Many thanks to Titia Geertman for sharing the story and pictures.

Read this post about that rag doll. It struck me that in the alternate world of My Soul to Keep, this would be the type of doll created for this character by her mother. And while there is a strong link between the doll and the character, the assassin is never seen with the doll. This was also done on purpose. Often the strongest emotional resonance is when we see something about a character through another character. Thus Beryl thinks about her daughter and we learn about Azrael.


For each of my characters, even the walk-ons, I created at least one detail that demonstrated the character’s past history or personality. One character lives in a shabby cabin but reads Shakespeare. Another character has a tight perm that made her bangs wobble and bounce.

In My Soul to Keep, the rag doll gives the villain a past readers can relate to, but it doesn’t change her. So in answer to my question, if she loves a rag doll, is she still evil? The answer is yes. In which books that you’ve read have the villains had a touch of humanity or love or charity that made them more dimensional?