Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Blog Tour Guest Post: Madam of My Heart by Gini Grossenbacher

Please join me in welcoming Gini Grossenbacher to Let Them Read Books! Gini is touring the blogosphere with the first book in her American Madams series, Madam of My Heart, and I'm happy to have her here today with a guest post about the world her protagonist inhabits and the sex trade in 1850s America. Read on and enter to win a copy of Madam of My Heart!

Baltimore, 1849. During a scandalous crisis, the young Irish Brianna Baird flees her home at Fells Point. With little cash and only a seamstress’s trade, she braves the hypnotic streets of New Orleans. The tantalizing Madam DeSalle lures her to her brothel, then sells her to the dashing but questionable gambler, Edward Spina, who falls in love with her. In a tawdry alliance with these two profiteers, Brianna embarks on a journey through the French Quarter’s debauched and glittering Voodoo world. Facing the horrors of slavery, she triumphs by gaining freedom papers for her maid Emma’s enslaved husband and son. Brianna and Edward escape with them to San Francisco. There she becomes one of the most sought after madams in the gold rush parlor house trade. But will her fame and pluck be enough to save Edward from the Vigilante noose? This is the first book in the American Madams series.

The World inside Madam of My Heart
A Closer Look: The Sex Trade in 1850s America
Gini Grossenbacher, M.S.

For most of history, Anonymous was a woman. – Virginia Woolf

Early San Francisco prostitutes

While researching Madam of My Heart, I explored a more intimate, personal, and physical sort of American history through the lens of historical fiction. This hidden history highlights the ordinary lives of women who fell from grace into the underbelly of society. Such women were found in every community in America, much to the chagrin of their peers and religious leaders. In developing my novel, I examined attitudes shaped by the minds of madams, prostitutes, and gamblers of their day. I witnessed their hopes, fears and assumptions. This silent history made up the fabric of America’s development as a nation and still influences the status of women today.

What was it really like to be a woman participating in the brothel trade in the 1800s? Was it so different from today’s sex trade?

The intimate details we explore will bring us a feeling of connection with the people of America’s past and also provide us a route into the greater themes of history. 

Ideal Womanhood

The chief distinction in the intellectual powers of the two sexes is shewn by man’s attaining to a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman. – Charles Darwin

During 19th century America, the culture of the ideal woman was the accepted norm. Men oversaw the public world—business, politics, religion—while women tended to home and family. But when the outside world needed women’s services for some pressing reason, the theory would change, and create special exemptions as follows.

When society became more complicated and the need arose for a more educated populace, more women enter teaching. Yet in that capacity, women were still not allowed to marry. Women still had few rights and no vote. A woman’s work outside the home would be limited to dressmaking, hat making, designing clothing, servant’s work, such as cook in the Admiral Fell Inn.

Yet, outside the bounds of home and family the threat of “the other,” meaning “the fallen,” was ever-present. In Madam of My Heart, the young Brianna gets a lecture from her fellow seamstress Rose about staying within the proper boundaries of town.

“Keep your eyes away from their windows on your walk, do you hear? And don’t you tarry.” Her wrinkle-worn eyes angled toward the Inner Harbor. “They live in parlor houses along Thames Street. That’s where they linger, some the legal age of sixteen, down around the corner past the Admiral Fell.” Thames Street. Rose’s voice grew agitated, and her eyes widened in warning. “Make no mistake. No respectable girl goes down there.”

Falling from Grace

Once a woman fell from grace, through out-of-wedlock pregnancy or infidelity, she no longer provided an example of piety, submissiveness and purity. Furthermore, her place in society was no longer secure. As in Brianna’s case, she not only lost her home but also her child which occurred frequently as found in the cemetery registries of America’s cities and towns. In Cheyenne Wyoming, prostitute Nellie Fischer buried her four-month-old infant when the child succumbed to pneumonia. Lillie White and Mary Brown buried still-born infants. Kate Bowers, Jane Bloom, and Mollie Jones all buried children whose ages they could not give and whose cause of death they did not know.

Many deaths, such as Brianna’s baby Ambrose, were never recorded in the register, for many mothers disposed of their infants without ceremony. When Nancy DeSalle observes Brianna burying her child in the Mississippi River, she says, “How well she knew that story.” As a parlor house madam, Nancy DeSalle had most likely assisted at many such child burials.

Getting back to the topic of falling from grace, many women—single, married, widowed, or divorced—found themselves failing to meet the requirements of nineteenth century respectability. The poor and the ignorant among them found few choices for employment, so they worked as laundresses, waitresses, theater girls, milliners, dressmakers, and actresses—or madams and prostitutes.

Brianna saw the man’s eyes wandering over her body, and she tensed as a slow smile eased across his face. On its own, his face was handsome, but under the circumstances, she was far from drawn to him. Seldom had a man gazed at her with such concentration. She gritted her teeth. Was she to be examined like a racehorse? This was becoming unbearable.

American communities did not hesitate to use these women’s services, but they also castigated them for their poverty and ignorance. Locked forever out of the polite society, these women were unequipped to respond constructively. They hovered around the grey zones of cities and towns, saddled with an ambivalent identity, scorned by men and women of all classes, and threatened with homelessness and abject poverty. That is Brianna’s tale.


Madam of My Heart is on a blog tour!

About the Author:

California author Gini Grossenbacher was a successful high school English teacher until she abandoned grades and term papers, choosing to write historical novels instead. Now she leads small writing groups and coaches other writers. She loves researching the history behind her novels, and enjoys traveling to the setting where they take place. Her hobbies include needlepoint, nature walks, and Scrabble. She lives in the Sacramento Valley where she grew up, east of San Francisco.

For more information, please visit Gini’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away two copies of Madam of My Heart!
To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules:

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 30th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Madam of My Heart


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