Strange but True: Tales from Authors with Anne Louise Bannon

Here's the second edition of the new author series . . . Strange but True: Tales from Authors . . . where we'll learn the weirdest or possibly the most ambitious thing authors have done or learned for their writing. As an author I know that we often come across incredibly odd facts in our research, and sometimes, we endeavor to learn things firsthand, so we can describe it better in our stories. Has an author gained a new skill, traveled somewhere dangerous/exotic, tried a crazy sport? Inquiring minds want to know. 

Today I am pleased to welcome the lovely and talented Anne Louise Bannon with her own strange but true author story . . .

Drinking in My Research  - By Anne Louise Bannon

A few months ago, I was on a panel about how we writers of historical mysteries do our research. After I was introduced and asked the topic question, I joked that I had brought some of my research. And plopped a bottle onto the table with a solid thunk.

The bottle contained angelica, a sherry-style fortified wine that the padres made in Los Angeles starting in the mission period. Given that sherry is technically a Spanish wine, no surprise, that’s the style that was made in Southern California, even well after the Americans took over in 1849.

Angelica is an important part of the Old Los Angeles series, set in L.A. in the 1870s because that’s one of the wines that my main character, Maddie Wilcox, makes and sells. It’s also what Maddie and her two friends drink when the three get together to try to solve a case. Angelina Sutton and Regina Medina have quite the head for liquor. Since angelica is fortified, i.e. has extra alcohol added to it, it can be pretty heady stuff. (Death of the Drunkard is the most recent book in this series.)

My bottle, by the way, was not that old. In fact, the wine inside it was only a couple of years old by that point. One reason Maddie is a winemaker (as well as a doctor) is that my husband, Michael Holland, also makes wine at home. And at the time Maddie and her pals were coming to life, Michael was also delving into the history of winemaking in Los Angeles. California’s wine industry actually began here, folks, decades before Mr. Haraszthy arrived in Napa.

But also because Michael is the archivist for the City of Los Angeles, he has access to the oldest building still standing in the city, the Avila Adobe (pictured above and left), and with it, to the two grape vines growing in the courtyard. So he got permission to harvest the grapes, of the mission variety, and did some research to find out how angelica was made. He contacted winemaker Deborah Hall, of Gypsy Canyon winery. Hall had found some wild vines on part of her land, realized they were old mission vines, then did some research of her own to find a recipe for angelica. She shared it with Michael, and he started making angelica from the grapes he harvested.

One of the difficulties of writing a historical mystery is that you don’t always know what things tasted like way back when. We can make guesses, but it’s not quite the same thing. On the other hand, I have a better idea of what angelica is like, thanks to my husband’s winemaking. I can’t say it’s perfectly authentic to what they were drinking in the 1870s. It’s probably more stable since winemaking technology has gotten better over the years.

I don’t know too many authors who get to drink their research. I do recommend caution, though. Umm. Those scenes where Maddie complains about how hard it is to get up the next morning after a conference with Regina and Angelina? Umm. I might just know a little bit about how that happens. As I pointed out, angelica can be pretty heady stuff.


I’m an author and journalist who wrote my first novel at age 15. My journalistic work has appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Wines and Vines, Seamwork, and in newspapers across the country. I was a TV critic for over 15 years, founded the YourFamilyViewer blog, and created the wine education blog with my husband, Michael Holland. I am the co-author of Howdunit: Book of Poisons, with Serita Stevens, as well as author of the Freddie and Kathy mystery series, set in the 1920s,  the Operation Quickline series and the Old Los Angeles series, set in the 1870s. My husband and I live in Southern California with an assortment of critters. You can catch up with my adventures on my website at:


The Old Los Angeles Series

Los Angeles in the 1870s was a small, but growing town filled with violence. Physician and winemaker Maddie Wilcox solves murders with the help of her friends Angelina Sutton, wife of the undertaker, and Regina Medina, the most notorious madam in town. Learn more here. (And until February 21st you can get book one--Death of the Zanjero--for $1.99 on Kindle! CLICK HERE FOR THE DEAL!)

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