By Sharon Almirall

“If I trace it back, it goes back to 9/ll,” said Jacqueline St. Joan in explaining how she was inspired to write “Shawl of Midnight,” a novel about the strength of Pakistani women living today under medieval laws and the networks they form to help each other.

“Every murderer creates his own story,” Barbara Nickless spoke about her series featuring forensic semiotician Dr. Evan Wilding—a man who interprets the words and symbols left behind by killers that led him to consult on some of the world’s grisliest cases.  

“History looks very different when seen through the eyes of women,” said Cokie Roberts, famed NPR reporter whose comment was quoted for the description of the research and storytelling by J.v.L. Bell and Jan Gunia who together wrote “Women of the Gold Rush Era.”

CPW’s most popular event, the annual Authors’ Lunch, was held Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Louisville Recreation & Senior Center and featured these four authors.

‘Shawl of Midnight’ (“if you give a woman a shawl, she is forever your sister”) is an account of the sisterhood that allows oppressed women to survive.” Domestic violence, St. Joan said, occurs in many countries, not only in Pakistan.

St. Joan was teaching at Metropolitan State University of Denver and did a lot of work in domestic violence. “In many countries, we punish people for violating social norms. In the 1960s, I had a multi-racial marriage and was shunned by family,” she cited as an example of violating social norms.

St. Joan met a woman who knew about honor killing and the more this person talked about honor killing, the more St. Joan thought the woman, “was the Harriet Tubman of Pakistan.

“I was concerned for her safety and went to Pakistan as a guest where I was given the opportunity to do a human rights tour.”  When touring, she took precautions by dying her hair, going out with a ‘brother’ and wearing Muslim clothing.

Honor killing in certain cultures is the killing of a relative, especially a girl or woman, who is perceived to have brought dishonor to the family.

Jacqueline St. Joan writes fiction, nonfiction, scholarly articles, and poetry. She has won many writing awards. St. Joan’s work has been published in numerous periodicals including Ms., F magazine, Denver Post, Chrysalis Reader, Bloomsbury Review, Harvard Women’s Law Journal, The Denver Quarterly, Valley Voices, and The Missouri Review, and the “Northern Colorado Writers Anthology.” She has a law degree from the University of Denver and a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Colorado, and she served as a Denver County Judge for ten years.

Barbara Nickless became a writer in 2016 when her family lost their home in a fire. Nickless’s “Dark of Night,” a novel published in 2022 follows “At First Light” published in 2021.

“At First Light,” is the first book in Nickless’s trilogy about the protagonist who is the forensics semiotician Dr. Evan Wilding.

She writes about how a killer creates a narrative to justify actions. One killer can see his action as an adventure while a second killer is a professional who earns money for killing. A third type of killer is the revenger who uses killing to get even against those who have wronged him. The fourth killer is the tragedian who sees his crime as unavoidable.

She views Shakespeare as one of the first criminologists.

Nickless is also a Wall Street Journal and Amazon Charts bestselling author of the award-winning Sydney Parnell crime novels. Winner of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence and the Golden Quill Award, Nickless has been nominated for the Colorado Book Award five times and has won three.  Her most recent travels—while conducting research for a novel—involved taking cover from rocket fire and being grilled at military checkpoints.

Authors Bell and Gunia found that most Gold Rush stories were told from the man’s point of view and that belief led them to research and write about the woman’s point of view. They focused on women who lived normal lives in the Gold Rush era.

Bell’s and Gunia’s criteria for choosing ten women to research began with selecting women who came to Colorado prior to 1861.  Their book centers on the women who were unacclaimed heroines of Native American, Hispanic, Anglo, and African American cultures and whose tenacity, unceasing work and intelligence helped lay the beginnings or the state of Colorado.

The Gold Rush era group includes Amache Prowers, a successful Cheyenne businesswoman who negotiated life between two cultures; Mary Cozens, an early settler in Central City who later helped establish and run a ranch and stage stop in the Fraser Valley; Clara Brown, a former enslaved woman who became one of Colorado’s most beloved pioneers; and Albina Washburn, a radical reformer and suffragist who spent her life working for political, economic, and social change

Author J.v.L. Bell  left her engineering career and sold her first Colorado historical mystery, ‘The Lucky Hat Mine.” In 2018, she published her first non-fiction book, a children’s biography about Elizabeth Byers. Her second Colorado historical mystery was published in 2019 and her third in 2021. “The Lucky Hat Mine” and “Murder at Buckskin Joe,” are Will Rogers award winners.

Jan Gunia’s passion for nineteenth century Colorado women’s history began in elementary school and continues to this day. Her extensive research of Colorado pioneers has taken her beyond Colorado to Maine and Kansas, where she visited Augusta Tabor’s former home and the Tabor land, respectively. While in those states, as well as in Colorado, she has conducted research at state archives, museums, local historical societies, and libraries.

Authors (l to r) Nickless, St. Joan, Gunia and Bell sign books for
CPW members. Photo by Ann Lockhart