A.B. Michaels Makes Surprising Discovery While Researching ‘The Price of Compassion’ [GUEST POST]

San Francisco Fire Sacramento Street 1906

The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 left the city in chaos as fire spread from one building to another. (Photo by Arnold Genthe – Library of Congress from early 20th Century lantern slide, Public Domain)

When a historical fiction author pens a new book, we always have loads of questions for them. But in the case of A.B. Michaels and her latest novel, The Price of Compassion, we just had one burning question that we wanted to ask. In this case, we asked her to tell us about the most challenging part of researching the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and whether or not any heroic stories from that time period inspired her during the writing process. We hope you enjoy her answer in today’s guest post.  —Jathan & Heather


I’m fortunate that a lot of material exists regarding the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906. I used a number of online sources as well as several books (you can find a bibliography on The Price of Compassion book page of my website, www.abmichaels.com) However, having so much material to work with does present a few “happy problems,” one of which is deciding which of the many fascinating characters and stories are worth including without detracting too much from the fictional story. To include every interesting factoid I came across would have turned an already long novel into an encyclopedia-sized tome!


Red Trumpet Press

Like most historical fiction authors, I like to be as accurate as I can, and that always presents a different sort of challenge. For example, I wanted to nail down specific locations within Chinatown and the city of San Francisco at large, imagining what it would be like to walk from street to street. Online maps from that era have such tiny print!

It was also important to get the timeline right, especially for the section of the novel that deals with the aftermath of the quake.  The horrendous fire that followed destroyed certain neighborhoods at certain times, yet left occasional blocks unscathed. The inferno really did function like an invading army.  As my characters traveled throughout the city, I wanted to make sure they were safe, but not too safe!

As for heroic stories from that disaster, a few have stuck with me. One, just an image, really, was  the piano someone set up in the midst of the Presidio’s tent city that various people played to keep their fellow refugees’ spirits up. Witnesses said they could hear the happy tunes both day and night. How cool is that?!

Another tale is about Amadeo Giannini, the founder of the Bank of Italy. He specialized in lending money at reasonable rates to lower-income business owners who had been turned down by the bigger banks of the city.  Because his new bank didn’t have a secure vault, he sent the deposits each night to the Crocker National Bank downtown.

On the morning of the earthquake, Giannini, who lived seventeen miles south of San Francisco in San Mateo, was dismayed to find the trains weren’t running.  He had to get to the city to make sure his deposits were secure, so he walked and hitched wagon rides, all the while hearing gruesome stories by survivors of the wholesale destruction awaiting him.  He finally made it to his bank on Columbus Street and saw that it was still standing, so he was able to obtain all the records of deposit. Then he rushed to Crocker National Bank, where he found a chaotic scene.  Some people were forcing their way inside to withdraw their money, while others were frantically trying to deposit their valuables, thinking the vaults would survive the approaching fire. Giannini wanted to save his customers’ deposits no matter what, so he procured two wagons, and with the help of his employees, he loaded up $80,000—all in bags of gold and silver coins— hid the money under some orange crates, and began the long ride back to his home in San Mateo.  Despite worries that he’d be robbed or arrested for looting, he kept going until he reached his home.  But even then he fretted because he had no safe place in which to store the money, either.  So, until he could think of something better, he stashed the financial assets of all his customers in his fireplace.  Eventually, those assets were invested into rebuilding the city and Giannini’s fledging bank started to take off.  Since the end of World War II, we know the Bank of Italy by a different name; we call it the Bank of America. Discovering stories like that is one of the best parts of being a historical fiction writer.


On April 18, 1906, San Francisco has just been shattered by a massive earthquake and is in the throes of an even more deadly fire.

During the chaos, gifted surgeon Tom Justice makes a life-changing decision that wreaks havoc on his body, mind, and spirit.

Leaving the woman he loves, he embarks on a quest to regain his sanity and self-worth. Yet just when he finds some answers, he’s arrested for murder—a crime he may very well be guilty of. The facts of the case are troubling; they’ll have you asking the question: “Is he guilty?” Or even worse…”What would I have done?”

A.B. Michaels

A.B. Michaels


A native of northern California, A.B. Michaels earned masters’ degrees in history and broadcasting, and worked for many years in public relations and marketing. Now that she’s an empty nester, she has time to write the kinds of stories she loves to read. Her historical series, The Golden City, follows characters who make their way in turn of the twentieth century San Francisco. “I love creating flawed characters I can relate to, who have to make difficult choices, and who long for happiness like the rest of us. So much was happening in the early 1900s that help shape my novels. Once I tear myself away from the underlying research, they are fascinating stories to write.”

Currently Ms. Michaels lives in Boise, Idaho with her husband and two furry creatures who are unclear on the concept that they are just dogs. In addition to writing, she loves to read and travel. A dabbler in fabric art, she also plays bocce in a summer league. Her latest stand-alone novel, The Price of Compassion, is book four of the Golden City series. It’s scheduled for release this summer and will be followed by book five, Josephine’s Daughter.

Visit Ms. Michaels at her home on the Web at ABMichaels.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

By A.B. Michaels
468 pgs. Red Trumpet Press. $15.99

HFVBT_Logo_Banner TwitterPurchase The Price of Compassion at one of these fine online retailers: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

The Price of Compassion is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

About A.B. Michaels
A native of northern California, I earned masters’ degrees in history and broadcasting, and worked for many years in public relations and marketing. Now, I write the kinds of stories I love to read, including my historical series, The Golden City. These days, I live in Boise, Idaho with my husband and two dogs. When I'm not writing, I love to read and travel, dabble in fabric art and play bocce in a summer league.

2 Responses to A.B. Michaels Makes Surprising Discovery While Researching ‘The Price of Compassion’ [GUEST POST]

  1. Amy Bruno says:

    Well, that was fascinating! As was the book, which I highly recommend. Thank you so much for hosting A.B. Michaels today!

    HF Virtual Book Tours

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