THE IMPERSONATOR doesn’t win the literary award . . .

. . . but we have a great time at the presentation dinner at the Library of Virginia!

On Saturday night, Oct. 18, the Library of Virginia literary award winners were announced by Virginia author Adriana Trigiani. There were 5 finalists in my category (The Impersonator is far right on this screen).


The winner (drumroll) was David Baldacci for KING AND MAXWELL. Here we are, post award.  image1









But I had a very nice consolation prize–the following day, Sunday’s New York Times book review section reviewed SILENT MURDERS, which just came out last month. (If you click on the newspaper, I think you can make it large enough to read.)




Published in: on October 19, 2014 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

You’re Invited to a Roaring Twenties Party



To all my readers within striking distance of Richmond, Virginia, please come to a Roaring Twenties party to celebrate the publication of my second mystery, SILENT MURDERS. There will be beverages for both “wets” and “dries,” hors d’oeuvres, period music, Charleston lessons, a lecture on silent movies (short, I promise!), a screening of the 1925 film  “Son of Zorro,” and a book signing. Last year’s part for THE IMPERSONATOR was a blast, and this one promises to be even better. Sponsored by the Library of Virginia and the Art Deco Society, whose members usually “dress to kill” in Twenties attire. (I don’t have a real flapper dress, but I have one that’s kinda flapperish that I’m planning to wear.)

Location: the Library of Virginia, 9th and Broad Street, Richmond


Wednesday, Oct. 15

free party

free parking below the library


And here’s the WTVR interview from Oct. 10 where I talk about the books. I don’t think an Oscar nomination is forthcoming, but I did my best.

Published in: on October 11, 2014 at 5:42 pm  Comments (1)  

The Star of Bombay provides a secondary plot line


Back in 2010 I visited the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum where I went to the gems and minerals hall to see the Hope diamond. I was surprised to see in a nearby exhibit the Star of Bombay, an enormous blue star sapphire that was given to Mary Pickford by her husband, Douglas Fairbanks. It came to the Smithsonian in 1981 after Miss Pickford’s death. (She died in 1979 at the age of 87.) The gem was discovered in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), which made me wonder why it isn’t called the Star of Ceylon . . . but never mind. It consists of 182 carats. Unbelievably, when Mary Pickford owned it, the stone was set in a ring. I cannot imagine how tiny Miss Pickford could have worn such a thing and still lifted her hand. 

I was remembering this last weekend while ruminating over possible plots for the fifth in my Roaring Twenties series. I needed a subplot to work alongside the main story and was thinking about jewel theft, something I haven’t touched on in previous books. All at once, I remembered the Star of Bombay at the Smithsonian and decided this would work beautifully. The story takes place in New York while Douglas and Mary are visiting on business, and I think I’ll have someone steal Mary’s huge ring. I am not 100% positive she owned it in 1926–nothing I could find tells me when Douglas gave her the jewel–but I’m going to assume she had it by 1926. After all, by 1930 their fairytale romance had lost its magic and they divorced a few years later. 


Published in: on September 28, 2014 at 4:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

Upcoming Book Events


Several readers asked about upcoming events for my Roaring Twenties books. Many are private, such as yesterday’s meeting with a book club in someone’s home or my upcoming visit with the Kiwanis, but these (below) are open to the public. Most are free; a few involve a meal or fundraiser and so cost $. There is an updated list with details on my website at or contact me directly at

September 24 5:30 – 9:00. Book talk, dinner, and discussion at the Inn at Warner Hall, Gloucester, VA, $55. Details.

September 30 6:00. A reading from SILENT MURDERS at Chop Suey Books in Carytown, Richmond VA, across from the Byrd Theater.

October 11 10:00-1:00. Book signing at Barnes & Noble, Merchants Square, Williamsburg VA.

October 15 6:00-8:00. Party to introduce SILENT MURDERS at Library of Virginia, 9th and Broad, Richmond VA. Food and drink, screening of Douglas Fairbanks’s Son of Zorro, short talk about silent movies, reception, book signing, period music, Charleston lessons. Free underground parking.

October 21 7:00 PM. Book talk and signing at Dumbarton Public Library, Richmond VA.

November 6 morning. Book signing at Barnes & Noble, Colorado Avenue, Denver, CO.

November 6 6:00-10. Kappa Kappa Gamma 25th anniversary Book & Author dinner, talk on Roaring Twenties, Hyatt Regency, Denver CO. Details. 




Published in: on September 21, 2014 at 2:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Have a bite of the Roaring Twenties–try a Charleston Chew.

250px-CharlestonChewEvery so often, I have to do a book signing. This involves sitting at a table at a book store for three or four hours, hoping customers will stop by to chat and maybe buy a book. To make the process more interesting for book store customers, I usually bring show-and-tell: my 2 beaded flapper dresses from 1925, my (empty) bottle of poison that my killer used to murder a couple people, antique vaudeville programs, and a 1929 doctor’s prescription for alcohol (legal booze). Talking about these helps pass the time. 

I recently decided I needed something to give away, so I had some bookmarks printed and did a quick bit of research into candies that were popular in the Roaring Twenties. There are several that are still around–and still popular–today, but I chose Charleston Chews, largely because the name evokes the era–the Charleston was the signature dance of the decade. I had a local candy store order a large quantity of bite-size Charleston Chews for me and am ready to set them out at my next event! 

Other candies were popular in the Twenties: Butterfingers, candy canes, and Clark Bars, for example. I mention Clark Bars in SILENT MURDERS when Carl Delaney, the cop who likes Jessie, hands her one after she’s been arrested and says they gave them to him in France during the Great War. (I can’t write World War I because it wasn’t called that until after World War II happened.) But Clark Bars don’t have the verbal tie-in to the Twenties that Charleston Chews have, so I went with those. Maybe, if the Charleston Chews are popular, I’ll buy some Clark Bars and give out both . . . 

Charleston  Chews were introduced in 1922, and since my books take place in 1925 and 1926, they come from the right era. I plan to mention them in my next book. They are chewy, as you might expect from the name, and made of nougat coated in chocolate. 

Published in: on September 13, 2014 at 7:34 am  Comments (5)  

Prohibition and the Church/State Overlap

Church Pic1I read something interesting in The Economist last week. Something I hadn’t thought about but it made sense. “A century or more ago, Protestant pastors largely stayed out of politics. They were wary of church-state entanglements, so tended instead to their flocks’ basic needs. It was Prohibition, for which many clergy campaigned before the first world war, that galvanized the church’s involvement in politics.”5 Prohibition Disposal(9)


Published in: on September 7, 2014 at 8:29 am  Comments (1)  
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How Much $$ Can Fit in a Suitcase in 1926?

20-dollar-bill-061My fourth mystery, MURDER IN DISGUISE (due out in 2016), involves a suitcase full of cash from illegal bootlegging and drug sales. I found myself at a loss when trying to estimate how much money would be in that suitcase. How much money would fit into an average suitcase? Of course, it depends on the size of the suitcase and the denomination of the bills, but even then, I had no earthly idea. Would it be tens of thousands of dollars? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? 

To find out, I took a trip to my local bank and, after carefully explaining that I was neither crazy nor a bank robber, I asked the manager how many bills to an inch were in a stack? I explained why I needed to know, and after she stopped laughing, she got a teller to bring out several packets of cash. I whipped out my ruler and measured–turns out there are about 200 bills per inch when the bills are used. Crisp new bills lie flatter and would measure more per inch, but I figured the money in my fictitious suitcase was used bills, coming from bootleggers and drug dealers, not from banks. 

Back home, I measured the length and width of a dollar bill, then plotted how many could fit in a suitcase of approximately 30″ x 20″ x 8.” There would be 1,600 bills in each 8″ stack and 35 stacks arranged 5 rows by 7 rows. Now, depending upon the denominations inside the suitcase, it would hold about 5 1/2 million dollars if they were all hundreds. But my story takes place in 1925, and hundred dollar bills would be rare and difficult to spend (and would be worth about $1,365 in today’s money), so I figure most are twenties and some are tens, still large bills in those days but easier to use. With a hypothetical mixture of mostly twenties (see illustration) and some hundreds and some tens, I came out with about $1.68 million. That sounded reasonable. So that’s what I’m going with. 

Then I learned that bills from that era were slightly larger than our today. I could either redo my calculations or imagine a slightly larger suitcase. Lazy me.




Published in: on August 30, 2014 at 2:46 pm  Comments (1)  

Now Available in Paperback

adaf6-impersonatorHooray! My Roaring Twenties mystery, THE IMPERSONATOR, originally published by St. Martin’s/Minotaur Press last September in hardback, has just been made available in paperback form at all bookstores and online. The paperback version has a section at the end with suggested questions for book clubs, something they don’t do in hardcover versions, for some reason . . . probably because most book clubs choose books that are available in paperback to keep costs down. 


Published in: on August 23, 2014 at 3:07 pm  Comments (6)  

How Much $$ Was Made during Prohibition?

255_10000_1934_face_large_2This is a famously difficult question, one that historians and economic historians have played with for decades. Still, it is fun to speculate. According to Daniel Okrent, the historian who wrote the marvelous book, Last Call, the annual sales from bootleg liquor reached about 3.6 billion dollars by 1926. To put this into perspective, that was about the same amount as the entire federal budget that year, including the military. 

Another way to look at the question is to measure the increase in printed bills by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. In 1925, they printed $300 million MORE large-denomination bills than they had five years earlier, before Prohibition started. As NY Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia said, “What honest businessman deals in $10,000 bills? Surely these bills were not used to pay the salaries of ministers.” 

Surely not. They were more likely to go to pay for things like Al Capone’s armor-plated car ($350,000 in today’s dollars) or bootlegger Terry Druggan’s solid silver toilet seat, not to mention bribes for the judges, politicians, lawyers, policemen, juries, federal agents, and bureaucrats in every town and city. 

The introduction of electronic money transfers between banks and credit cards meant the end of large bills. Nothing larger than a $100 bill has been printed in America since 1969. 

Published in: on August 15, 2014 at 2:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

Douglas Fairbanks, Creator of Zorro

220px-FairbanksMarkofZorroOkay, I know that Johnston McCulley wrote the original story of Zorro in 1919 in a weekly magazine. He titled his tale “The Curse of Capistrano,” and it didn’t get much notice. It would have died an obscure death had not the great swashbuckling actor, Douglas Fairbanks, happened to read the magazine on his way to Europe for his honeymoon and decided it would make a great movie–with himself as the star, of course. 

I recently re-read “The Curse of Capistrano” and re-watched “The Mark of Zorro,” Fairbanks’s 1920 film, to compare the two. I wanted to see just how much of the Zorro persona Fairbanks invented and just how much was McCulley’s. 

Turns out, Fairbanks accounts for as much or more than McCulley. McCulley is not a great writer and is particularly weak on descriptions. While he describes Don Diego as “lifeless” and the character is always complaining about being exhausted, it was Douglas Fairbanks who turned that into a vivid image. He shows Don Diego in his first scene entering a tavern during a storm with, of all things, an umbrella–that highly effeminate tool. He is dressed in fancy, decorative clothing. He yawns constantly and slumps. At least 5 times, he shows a stupid magic trick while asking, “Have you seen this one?” He wears a beauty spot on his chin and in one scene, makes shadow puppets on the wall. None of these details appear in the original magazine. 

Douglas Fairbanks also put details into Zorro. It is he who invented the black outfit, the Z on the cheek and, in one case, on the seat of the pants. Endowing Zorro with his own athleticism, he swings on a rope from balcony to balcony, leaps walls and rooftops, conducts sword fights over tables, while walking over a chair, and crouching on the fireplace mantel. Douglas added the secret, underground lair beneath the de Vega household where Zorro can hide his horse as he is being pursued (sort of like the Bat-cave), and the hidden passageways in the deVega mansion by which Zorro/Don Diego come and go in secret.

Conclusion: Our notion of Zorro, nurtured through many more movies and television series, stems largely from Douglas Fairbanks’s vision of the hero. I’ll be using this in the talks I’m scheduled to give this fall. 


Published in: on August 5, 2014 at 5:55 am  Comments (7)  

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