The real people in “Big Stick”

My steampunk novel BIG STICK obviously features Teddy Roosevelt (as seen on the cover, drawn by Hugo-winning “Girl Genius” artist Phil Foglio). But I tried to incorporate many other actual, real people into the book as well. Doing so was tremendously fun. If I needed a doctor for the story, I’d research who could possibly fit that actually existed at the time. I read biographies and articles to try to get their personalities down.

So for those who have read the book and are interested (and for those who haven’t but find this interesting) here are some of the other real people who appear in the novel. Warning: Some minor spoilers ahead.

Mark Twain: Of course, I had to include one of my favorite authors. I don’t think I have to explain who he is. Since the book takes place in 1898 (when Teddy Roosevelt was Commissioner of Police in Manhattan), Twain is quite old. That doesn’t stop him from helping, of course, with his riverboat that turns into a zeppelin. (Hey, it’s a steampunk novel. Zeppelins are required). He also assists in pulling a trick on the bad guys which, well, gets weird.

Harriett Tubman: Tubman was the hero who helped slaves escape to the north with her “underground railroad” before and during the Civil War. Since the book’s publication, she’s been the subject of a mostly-fictional movie about her life and will soon be featured on the $20 bill. In BIG STICK, she is quite old, travels around in a steam-powered wheelchair, runs a secret organization dedicated to fighting injustice, and doesn’t take guff from anybody.

Edward Bouchet: Bouchet was a scientist who was the first African-American to get a doctorate from Yale. After graduating, however, he could not find a job because of racial discrimination and ended up teaching at minor schools and even becoming a High School principal. In BIG STICK, unable to find work, he gets recruited by Tubman’s secret organization as their device expert (sort of like “Q” to James Bond). I probably made him a bit more “mad scientisty” than he actually was…

Anthony Comstock: Comstock was a Christian moralist who headed the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, which, like all such moralists, he got to define. In BIG STICK, he gives speeches against places he thinks support vice, only to have those places struck by lightning from clear blue skies soon thereafter, making people think he has God on his side. Our heroes are convinced there is a scientific explanation, which leads to the grand adventure…

Eliza Grier: Dr. Grier was one of the first black women to get a medical degree but, like Bouchet, had trouble finding employment afterwards. She ended up as a teacher and died young. In BIG STICK, she is employed by the secret organization and tends to the wounds of our heroes, even when they don’t want it, but she knows her stuff and they deal with her. She’s another tough cookie — you have to be when you try to enter the white man’s world in 1898.

Melville Fuller: Fuller was the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court and was responsible for the terrible decision Plessy v. Ferguson which upheld Jim Crow laws and established “separate but equal” provisions in our laws, making racial segregation completely legal. He was a rabid conservative who struck down many progressive pieces of legislation he didn’t like. As you may guess, in BIG STICK, he’s one of the Bad Guys.

Henry Lowrie: Lowrie was known as a kind of “Robin Hood” figure pre-Civil War, where he would attack, rob, and kill slave owners, leading to what became known as the “Lowrie Wars.” He’s a fascinating character. He was reported to have died in 1872 but many people thought that was just to allow him to go into hiding. In BIG STICK, he’s quite old and serves as Tubman’s personal bodyguard, though he longs to participate in the adventure our heroes are on.

William Stephen Devery: Devery was a corrupt policeman in Manhattan who was fired by Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, out to clean up the department. In BIG STICK, he sees Roosevelt as his sworn enemy and does everything in his power to bring him down. He gets a job as Comstock’s bodyguard but uses it for nefarious purposes. In real life, he appealed his firing, got rehired, became Chief of Police, and was just as corrupt the second time.

Other real characters are met only briefly or in mention, such as Thomas Edison, President William McKinley, Nikolai Tesla, George Washington Carver, and Grover Cleveland… and then there are a bunch of characters that exist only in my imagination.

If you haven’t read the book (from Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press), follow this link to read the first few chapters, check out some reviews, and order your copy.

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