The Winding Road Of Shirley Tallman

Author Shirley Tallman discusses the path she took to creating her historical mystery series ...


I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute a guest blog for Romantic Times. Inviting an author to write about her books, however, is akin to asking a mother to rave about her children. You may well be opening a Pandora’s Box!

But first things first. My name is Shirley Tallman and I write the Sarah Woolson historical mystery series for St. Martin’s Minotaur: Murder On Nobb Hill, The Russian Hill Murders, The Cliff House Strangler, and Scandal On Rincon Hill.


I was born in Los Angeles, California, raised in San Francisco where I attended college, flew as an international flight attendant for Pan American Airlines, married my college sweetheart and had a family. I began my writing career with a weekly syndicated newspaper column titled, “Penny Pinchers,” then wrote a mainstream novel (Please Stand By – Your Mother's Missing) with my best friend, Nancy Hersage. While she went on to write stage plays, I penned ten Harlequin/Silhouette contemporary romance novels, followed by several years of writing television movies, once again with Nancy. Our most memorable screenplay, The Babysitter's Seduction, starring Keri Russell, Stephen Collins, and Phylicia Rashad, aired twice on NBC, and can still be seen regularly on Lifetime.


But back to the main reason for writing this blog, the Sarah Woolson mystery series. Set in 1880s San Francisco, my heroine, Sarah Woolson, is young, intelligent, and beautiful — the only daughter of an eminent, well-to-do family. She is, in fact, the sort of woman any man would be delighted to marry — and, to Sarah’s dismay, several gentlemen have attempted to do just that! There’s just one catch: Sarah has no intentions of entering the domestic state, which would legally allow her husband to pretty much control her life! (Sounds awful, doesn’t it? But that’s the way it was in the 1880s).


To the dismay of her family and friends, Sarah has a very different plan. Defying Victorian convention, she has vowed to become an attorney, a decidedly unwomanly profession! As far as nineteenth-century San Francisco is concerned, women belong firmly in the home. To venture outside this realm is to go against God’s will — a firmly held belief most men, and a surprising number of women, are all too willing to say to her face. Sarah takes it all in stride. To quote our feisty heroine, “While I admit that the road I have chosen is fraught with prejudice and countless obstacles, I have no intention of giving up my dream of ensuring that justice is accessible for all, women as well as men, the poor equally with the rich.”

  Blessed with a doting father — who happens to be a Superior Court Judge for the County of San Francisco — Sarah has been provided an education every bit as first-rate as the one accorded her three older brothers. Too first rate, as far as her mother is concerned: she would like nothing better than to see her only daughter married and settled down with a family. But Sarah has her mind set on a different path. After passing the California Bar Exam, she employs a bit of subterfuge to obtain a position as associate attorney at one of the most prestigious law firms in the city. To say that this ploy results in some seriously ruffled male feathers would be an understatement. She all but turns the staid offices of Shepard, Shepard, McNaughton and Hall on its collective ears!



And that’s just the beginning. Determined to help those individuals who are unfairly denied due process of the law, she joins in a daring Chinatown raid, is kidnapped by Chinese highbinders, threatened by members of a darkly secret sex club, poisoned by a desperate killer, run down by a horse and carriage, set upon by ghostly spirits at an eerie séance, and is pressured to defend a most unpleasant Chinese cook of multiple murder charges. Add to that, a persistent and handsome suitor, and a most unlikely association with one of Chinatown’s most feared and dangerous tong lords, and we have to wonder if Sarah has bitten off more than even she can chew.

As her colleague and friend Robert Campbell accuses her in Murder On Nobb Hill (book one in the series), “Trust a woman to think that by calling herself an attorney she can set out to save the world!”

And you know, I think Sarah just might answer, “why not?”

- Shirley Tallman