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Ragtime for the Rockies

Author Karl Lamb takes readers back to the Roaring Twenties

Created date

December 17th, 2014
author Karl Lamb holding up his book

In 1925 in New Orleans, the hypnotic rhythm of ragtime music spilled onto the streets of the French Quarter. But that wasn’t the case in Platteville, Colo. Ragtime music epitomized a myriad of social changes that were met with resistance out west as Karl Lamb explores in his first novel, Ragtime for the Rockies.

Ragtime for the Rockies is the story of newlyweds Owen and Ruby Mattison, a young couple who moved to Colorado during the Roaring Twenties and struggled to achieve acceptance by a community who opposed many of the social changes Owen and Ruby personified. 

Karl moved to Charlestown, an Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md., three years ago from Arnold, near Annapolis. He’s the author of seven books and two dozen articles on aspects of American politics, but Ragtime for the Rockies is his first fictional novel. 

“I’ve been writing one thing or another my whole life, so it seemed the natural progression to finally write a novel,” says Karl, who dedicates a good deal of his free time to writing. “I basically write whenever I can’t find an excuse to do something else,” he says.

Inspired by real-life events

“I was inspired to write this book after learning about my father’s experiences during the Roaring Twenties in Colorado,” says Karl. “My father had dictated a 12-page oral history paper about his experiences in Platteville, which was supplemented by several conversations. Owen and Ruby are fictionalized versions of my father, Lawrence Lamb, and Opal Underwood Lamb, his first wife.”

Like Karl’s father, Owen is an athletic coach and science teacher at a local high school in Colorado. Ruby, a home economics graduate and accomplished pianist is a fan of ragtime. Her bobbed hair and clothes show the triumph of flapper fashion during a time when young women challenged their elders by dancing to jazz music, wearing abbreviated clothing, and drinking prohibited alcohol. As tensions rise within the town, so does the prominence of the Ku Klux Klan. 

“People today are experiencing the later stages of a movement that began back in the 1920s, namely the liberation of women,” says Karl, a retired political science professor from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. 

Lifelong pursuit

While researching for Ragtime for the Rockies, Karl traveled across the country to interview family members and his father’s former students. He combed through documents, newspapers, letters, records, and photographs at the Denver Public Library and the Platteville Historical Society. 

Ragtime for the Rockies was published in 2012, about a year after Karl moved to Charlestown. He now plans to make his first book part of a trilogy, followed by a sequel about the Great Depression and a third novel about World War II. 

“I’m already more than half finished with the second book, and the last one is still in the planning stages,” says Karl. 

During an interview with publisher Xlibris, Karl says he hopes Ragtime for the Rockies will give readers a new understanding of what it meant to be in the West during the 1920s.

“I hope it will help people gain a new appreciation for their parents or grandparents who experienced that time period,” he says. 

New chapter, thanks to Charlestown

Karl says living at Charlestown allows him to spend his time as he wishes because all of his needs are taken care of. 

“It’s perfect! When I’m not writing, I enjoy playing bocce ball and Scrabble,” says Karl. “I use the pool and travel on some of the daytrips Charlestown has organized.”

Karl is also a member of a creative writing group at Charlestown, which he helped organize. He had taught a creative writing course as part of the community’s Elderhostel Lifelong Learning Institute at Charlestown, which proved popular with fellow resident writers; hence, the group was born.

“Everyone in the class enjoyed having a forum to discuss writing,” says Karl. “So after the course ended, we decided to continue on with a weekly writer’s critique group. It’s been great! I take chapters I’m working on from my novel to the group for their feedback. We have quite a few members who have had their work published.” 

Ragtime for the Rockies is available for download on Kindle. Hardcover and paperback versions are available at and, and a limited number of copies are also available for sale directly through the author at