It is said that Helen of Troy had a face that launched 1,000 ships. My current work in progress, tentatively titled Molly’s Song was launched by a face as well. Or, to be more accurate, by a black and white photograph of a young woman. As the image is copyrighted, I cannot include the picture itself in this post, but you may visit the article here and see it for yourself. Scroll all the way to the end of the article, as it is the last photograph, though check out the others and read the article too. It’s quite interesting. Then return to my humble page and read on. Note that the photo is risque, but it is not lewd. It was taken in the 19th Century, so view it in that light.
It’s a fairly straightforward photograph. A young woman is seated in a chair (or possibly a stool) and looking at a photograph. But it is anything but simple, Dear Reader, for you see, the woman is a woman of ill repute (harlot, scarlet woman, woman of ill fame, hooker, whore, ceiling expert, fallen woman, prostitute, or whatever term people use), though today we use the word sex worker. Granted, the photo was taken about twenty-five years or so after the time period I decided to write about in my novel. (Civil War as opposed to late Gilded Age), but while looking at the photograph, I wanted to know the answers to several questions, and the answers I dreamed up formed the basis of my novel.
- What was her name?
- Where was she from originally?
- What color was her hair? (Red, of course!!!!)
- What circumstances led to her employment in a bordello?
- How old was she?
- Who is in that picture she is looking at?
- Who gave her the locket she wears around her neck?
- What does she dream of at night?
- What are her fears?
- What does she do in her down time? Does she have any?
- Does she ever wonder how her life might have been different?
- Is she comfortable with her circumstances? Or does she want out of sex work?
- Where is she? City? State? Country?
- Does she ever think of slipping off into the night and starting a new life elsewhere?
- If she does, will she actually do it? Or merely think about it?
- Is she religious?
- Does she have friends? Enemies? Regular customers? Customers she hates?
- What does she do when she gets angry? Sad? Happy?
- When was the last time she cried? Laughed?
- Has she ever been in love? When? With Who? What happened?
So there you have it, Dear Readers. I wanted to know the answers to these questions, and so I set out to figure these things out and thus I got a novel out of it. Or will have one once all the steps have been completed.
For the record, I named her Molly O’Sullivan, of County Galway, residing on Mott Street in Manhattan in the Summer and Fall of 1864.