Update #3. When Writing A History Book....
Jeff here. Hi everyone, it's me again. So, I had this idea for a collection....
I'd like to offer some thoughts on what this book is about. Feel free to quote me. I'll leave what this book is not about alone.
This book has generated a lot of discussion already. People see the campaign, read the descriptions of the scenarios, draw their own inferences, and it has certainly stirred up debates. Topics I've seen have ranged from presumption about the "political" bents of the authors, to questioning people's credentials to write about something in their setting, to worse stuff. Most of them have been typical consequence-free Internet bullshit. One or two have been disturbing, and one I read today was ugly.
This book is about history, viewed through a lens of the occult detective stories of the 20s and 30s, which this game we all so love is about. It's a game set in a period that was in social turmoil--often violent social turmoil, which has received little attention in its decades of publication.
I write on Sunday mornings. It's my hobby. And I had this idea for a scenario about an admittedly metaphorical monster (one that I came up with, and that I have used before). The idea was the same at its core through numerous variations: the monster was (being largely metaphorical) of indeterminate mortality. It represents inevitability. It could be buried somewhere, and pop up decades later when someone unsealed the wrong oubliette. It is both human and inhuman; tragic and intractable; struggling but hopelessly doomed to insignificance, absorbed into the cosmos. Classic cosmic horror stuff.
I was going to have it haunt an old prison, and had a number of fun set pieces around the basic situation jotted down. The scenario had moved settings several times in my mind. In various incarnations, it has involved cats investigating a Cuban prison barge during the Haitian Revolution; taking place at the Temple of Vesta in the reign of Commodus; and been at a children's "detention center" on the southern U.S. border in 2019. That version was really dark.
Oscar didn't want to do a modern book, and wanted to get back to the 20s and 30s. So we decided to have some scenarios set against some grimmer aspects of the 20s and 30s that really hadn't been touched on much before. It seems that I know a lot of history buffs in my circle of writing buddies because it was pretty easy to draw submissions, even with some really strict submission guidelines about historical accuracy
I decided that my prison would be a real, historical one, unvarnished and straight out of the history books. I'm an immigration attorney, so I decided to write what I know this time around: an immigration prison. I've been practicing for 30 years, and have written and lectured for state and national specialty bars on a wide variety of immigration topics. My Juris Doctor (honors) is from the University of North Carolina (1989), and my bachelor's (high honors, first in my major) is in Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs from Miami U. (1986). When I write something potentially controversial, it has to be spot on accurate, so I leveraged my professional expertise.
To make sure that I got my prison (the Elysian Hills "tramp barracks" near the current site of Dodger Stadium) as right as possible within the bounds of sticking a monster underneath it, I bought four different scholarly history books on the history of immigration, the 1931 Mexican repatriation, and the history of imprisonment in Los Angeles. I'm interested in the facts, and don't like to presume that I know. Some of these books were better than others; others were mixed bags of good research, with good citations to historical records, and unadorned rhetoric. I read all four of them. If you want to read one--one, incidentally, which I found a bit rhetorical in places but which dug up a lot of original source material--read City of Inmates, by Kelly Hernandez. (You know where can hook you up).
I learned a long time ago--back in the 1990s when I started writing Call of Cthulhu scenarios--that screwing up your history is the quickest route to a public scourging from the fan base. So I wasn't going to do that. Once the prison was squared away historically (and one place where I indulged some creative license pointed out explicitly), then I worked in the monster and how there are both human and cosmic horrors afoot. Historical games should be set in historical places, and when the history is controversial, cite your sources.
I am going to hold my authors to the same standard. Want to make an assertion in a book where I'm the editor about how things were in the 20s and 30s after, say, the Tulsa Race Riots, in veteran's halls, when you were a French-Canadian Catholic in Maine, working in a "radium girls" type of factory, struggling with an abortion decision, or getting removed from the U.S. by vigilantes? Cite your sources. That's what historians do, what I will do, and what my co-authors will do. I suppose my metaphorical monster could have been sitting on a mountaintop in Kenya, or lurking beneath some cabin in the woods, but this is a historical setting, right?
That's what this book is about. We're exploring the opposite end from Pulp Cthulhu: let's put some occult detectives into some disturbing and controversial historical issues and see what happens.
If you see parallels between some of the historical settings and things going on in the world today, I could have written mine that way. In fact, I've got an outline. I chose not to.
And just for the record: I am, in fact, staunchly against filthy, overcrowded, makeshift detention camps, and the deportation of U.S. citizens of Mexican ancestry from the U.S. in 1931 Los Angeles because they were easy targets. I own that.