The Parade’s Gone By: Book Review

5117G3D106L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This is an old book (published in 1968) by a British film historian, but that makes it even better for someone like me. This history of the silent film era relied on many interviews with the people who made that history: actors, producers, directors, and others who were still living when Kevin Brownlow knew them. Living legends, I should say. And the illustrations are terrific too.

I particularly benefitted from reading about the industry’s early move from the east to Hollywood. The California locals looked down on these intruders and called them “movies.” Brownlow states that it was as hard for a “movie” to join a country club as it was for a Jew or a Negro. This is the sort of information I can integrate into my stories–and I do. Here’s another insight I’ve used: “Thousands of girls poured into the town, pathetically anxious to work in pictures. There were chances for less than one in a hundred. The unlucky girls faced poverty, starvation, and sometimes suicide. They arrived without money or contacts. Their first shock was the discovery that the studios they continually had to visit to seek work were scattered over a fifty-mile radius.”

There is so much information about the early actors that I feature or mention in my series (Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Myrna Loy, Rudolph Valentino, to name a few) but also information about how they made movies in those days: the lighting, cameramen, lab work, directing, and how to get 2000 extras costumed each morning. I learned about the number of cameras used to shoot a scene and why there were at least two, and how informal the job descriptions were. Everyone did whatever they were asked to do in those pre-union days. This helped me describe my main character, Jessie, who, as assistant script girl, often runs errands, works in the office, or fetches props.

For anyone interested in the silent movie era, this is the principle book to read. And a bonus–it’s well written and hard to put down! Used copies are available online and any library can order you one for free.

Published in: on May 29, 2016 at 12:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A book review

Unknown-1The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood is the story of Frederica Sagor Maas’s experiences as a young woman trying to break into a career as a screen writer in silent-movie-era Hollywood. Born in 1900, she began writing scripts for silent movies in New York, went west to California in 1924, and continued in that dog-eat-dog environment with modest success. She wrote this book in the late 1990s, published it in 1999, and died in 2012 (no, your eyes are not deceiving you . . . she was 111 years old!). After becoming thoroughly discouraged with the business, she and her husband changed careers in the 1940s. 

Her stories of silent-film days are fascinating: Clara Bow dancing nude on the table at a party; starlets brought in to lavish parties where they were doled out to the men for the evening. She was acquainted with people who are big names today, like Irving Berlin, Joan Crawford, Marian Davies, the Gershwins, Betty Grable, William Hart, Norma Shearer, Daryl Zanuck, and many others. What I found most useful to my writing were the many references to her clothes (“one was a beige woolen dress with a hand-crocheted neckline and jabot in a rose-colored yard, with a full-length coat to match, bordered with a band of handsome badger fur”) and the tidbits that concern scriptwriting (like, one time it took Maas 6 weeks to complete a screenplay), the stores on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1920s, and what the inside of the famous restaurant Musso & Frank’s looked like. These can be sprinkled into my work to give my books period flavor. 

Published in: on May 23, 2016 at 10:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Great Houdini as an author

Coincidentally, the great magician, Harry Houdini, wrote a book that was published in 1924, the year that the mystery I am currently writing takes place. And it pertains directly to my topic: Spiritualism.

41WET3XBKHL._SX305_BO1,204,203,200_Houdini spent most of his adult like debunking Spiritualism, a quasi-religious movement that is based on communication with the dead through mediums. It is, of course, shot through with fakes, then and now. Houdini’s thirty-five-year mission was to “out” the fakes whenever he could. One of the ways he did this was by writing a book, A MAGICIAN AMONG THE SPIRITS.

To my delight, Houdini also describes many of the tricks that he discovered mediums using. I’ve incorporated some of those in my novel, which concerns a young woman who works as a shill for a Spiritualist medium. 

MV5BYTIxY2M2YjgtNjQzOS00ZTI3LWFhYTMtNDAxMDU1MjZkN2NlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTU3NTAwNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Again, coincidentally, there is a new series coming up this week on Fox about Houdini and his friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; the title is “Houdini & Doyle.” They solve mysteries together in England–Houdini being the pragmatist and Doyle being the ardent believer in Spiritualism, which he was. (Poor man, he was totally duped; he also believed the faked photographs of fairies were real.) The premise is accurate–they really were friends but were in complete disagreement about the authenticity of mediums. I can’t wait to see it! 

(And be sure to note what the REAL Houdini and Doyle looked like . . . )

Published in: on April 30, 2016 at 8:49 am  Comments (3)  
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The sad life of famous Twenties model Audrey Munson


Audrey Munson was fifteen when she was began her modeling career as a nude model for sculptors and painters. From 1906 until 1921, she was the preferred model for so many artists she became famous. She starred in several silent films and has the dubious distinction of being the first woman to appeal fully nude in an American film. 220px-Audrey_Munson1(Inspiration, 1915–a lost silent film; Purity 1916 is her only film that still exists) Both films were semi-autobiographical, about a model who poses for artists. 

Star,_for_the_%22Colonnade_of_Stars,%22_Court_of_the_Universe_building,_1915_Panama_Pacific_International_Exposition,_San_FranciscoA scandal involving a lover and murder brought her negative publicity and ruined her film and modeling career, and she tried to kill herself with mercury bichloride, a poison used by other famous people in the film world. Her attempt failed, but she declined into mental illness. In 1931, a judge sentenced her to a psychiatric facility where she remained until 1996–she died at the St. Lawrence State Hospital for the Insane at the age of 104.

$(KGrHqZ,!owF!F0PPH!IBQI+UncFng~~60_3Mourning_VictoryI became interested in this sad story because it was yet another example of a famous silent movie actor using mercury bichloride to kill themselves. I use that poison in several of my books. Sunset-FC-October-1915




Published in: on April 24, 2016 at 6:41 pm  Comments (7)  
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Looking Up People and Places in Roaring Twenties

Before there were telephone directories, there were city directories, which listed (or tried to list) every person in the city by address and occupation. Needless to say, these are great resources for historians doing research in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I found the perfect one for my story–Polk’s Chicago Directory of 1923, the exact one that would have been on the shelf of most Chicago businesses and in all libraries. Few individuals owned copies. With this, I’ve been able to understand how my main character, Maddie, is able to investigate certain people. 

1923So I was confident about writing this short passage:

“If we could find those men—we might learn something from them. We know their names.” I checked my notes and added, “Samuel Brown and Earl Smith.”

“How we gonna find two men with names like that in a city this size? Chicago’s got more than a million people, and I’ll bet half of them are named Brown and Smith. Samuel and Earl are pretty common too.” To prove his point, he reached for Carlotta’s Chicago Directory and handed it to me.

I flipped a few pages and started counting. “There are eleven pages of Smiths but only twenty-four Earl Smiths. And . . . and . . . geez, you’re right. Fifty-one Samuel Browns!” I sighed. Although most names had occupations listed with them, we didn’t know what sort of work the two men did. None had telephone numbers, of course—these were people, not businesses. I racked my brain for a way past this roadblock. Knocking on that many doors would keep me busy until Easter. Supposing Brown and Smith were relatives—cousins, say, or in-laws—might they live at the same address? I crosschecked the two lists without success. Freddy was right. Stumped, I could only say, “Well, here’s an idea: the police know who they are, because they questioned them after the drowning.”

“You’re gonna walk into the police station and ask them for their files?” Freddy snorted.

Published in: on April 17, 2016 at 8:38 am  Comments (1)  

Publishers Weekly reviews STOLEN MEMORIES

Publishers Weekly reviews a select few of the hundreds of books they receive each week, and I was fortunate that they chose Stolen Memories for their April 4 publication. And doubly fortunate that the reviewer liked it!

Stolen Memories CoverMary Miley. CreateSpace, $9.99 trade paper (260p) ISBN 978-151-888370-5

Set in Paris in 1928, this suspenseful novel from Miley (Silent Murders) will appeal to fans of the classic movie Gaslight. After surviving being thrown into the Seine, the unidentified narrator wakes in a hospital to find that she can’t recall her name or anything else about her life. Although the passport found in her purse identifies her as Eva Johnson, she refuses to accept that name. She’s haunted by feverish dreams involving lost paintings and a lost little boy, and her conscious moments are also a torment, especially after she’s confronted by Alexander DeSequeyra, a man claiming to be her husband. Her alarm only grows after hearing that Alexander committed a murder years earlier, but escaped conviction due to his wealth and influence. She becomes even more isolated after Alexander arranges her discharge from the hospital into his care, having overcome the doctor’s medical objections with a hefty bribe. Miley keeps the twists coming—and the reader guessing—to the end. 

Published in: on April 10, 2016 at 12:58 pm  Comments (4)  

“Sign a Song of Gangsters:” A Gangster Map

When I found this gangster map of the Chicago gangland territories in the 1920s, I was thrilled. It is a big help to me as I’m trying to figure out which gang operated in which area. (Click on the map to make it bigger.)



Published in: on April 2, 2016 at 2:03 pm  Comments (1)  

In the Roaring Twenties, Chicago’s trolleys were called streetcars.

My characters need to get around the big city of Chicago (with 1.7 million people in 1924, when my story takes place) with public transportation. Public services differed from city to city, and I learned that in Chicago, what were called trolleys in some cities (connecting to overhead electric wires) were called streetcars in Chicago. These pictures date from the late 1920s.


Another good detail I can use is that stops were marked by a black pole with a white band, as seen below,in the lower left corner.

10-03--Milwaukee-Halsted 1930

And sometimes, double cars ran on Chicago’s busiest routes:

10-03--two-car train


All good details to make my story feel genuine.

If you’re interested in the subject, click here. 


Published in: on March 26, 2016 at 9:15 am  Leave a Comment  

How long did it take you to write that???

This is a question authors hear at almost every book signing or speaking engagement they attend. “How long did it take you to write that?”

Like most authors, I have trouble answering. The first problem is how to measure writing time. Few authors write on a 9 to 5 schedule, 5 days a week, which is sort of the standard American work week. Most authors have day jobs–they teach or work for a newspaper or manage an office or work in a hospital–so their writing occurs during lunch hour, in the evenings, or on weekends. I’ve never met a writer who tracks his or her hours! 

But the toughest issue is the definition of “writing.” Is going to the library for research considered “writing?” Is reading new publications by authors who write in the same genre considered “writing?” What about sending emails to an agent, spending two days at a writing conference, preparing a talk for an author dinner, or traveling to a book club meeting to discuss your latest publication? Is revising a manuscript to the editor’s requests considered “writing?” And does the time spent brainstorming over titles, choosing cover images, perusing the author’s Facebook page, interviewing sources, and packing books in padded envelopes and driving them to the post office count? Hardest to measure is the inevitable down time: waiting 6 months while your agent submits the manuscript to various publishers, waiting for next month’s critique group meeting to learn how your peers react to your latest chapter, or waiting a year for the book to actually appear on the shelves. And what about the many manuscripts that are partially completed and set aside for a month or a year or a decade, as the author tackles something else?

Over the years, I’ve concluded that this question is really, “How long ago did you start this book?” So that’s how I answer. “I started in the summer of 2009 and it was published in 2015.” I amend that by saying what I’ve learned from other authors: that one year is a fairly good estimate of how long it takes most writers to write most books. Sure, some churn our two or even three in a year, but they are balanced by the ones who take ten years to write a single one. 

Fifteen years after I began the first draft of my latest novel, it celebrated its official birth on Feb. 15, 2016. 

Stolen Memories Cover

I began writing this story back in 2001 and over the years, I revised and added to it too many times to count. It went through my two critique groups, my first agent, my second agent, and my editor before I felt it was something I could be proud of. During that time, I wrote and had published seven other books, but I never let go of this one. 

A brutal attack along the banks of the Seine in 1928 leaves a young Englishwoman close to death in a Paris hospital, without a memory in her head. She soon comes up against a vengeful husband who accuses her of the theft of priceless art, the French gendarmes who have linked her to a murder on the Riviera, and a scorned lover who is trying to kill her. The husband, believing his wife’s amnesia is faked, spirits her away to an ancient chateau in the French province of Champagne, where prehistoric dolmens and standing stones dot the fields and caves hewn out of limestone are used for more than storing wine. But who is trying to poison her and bury her in an avalanche of slate? Who is laying a trap for her deep within the wine caves of Champagne?

Published in: on March 19, 2016 at 7:55 am  Comments (2)  

Getting Arrested in the 1920s

The mystery I’m currently working on (one-third complete so far!) is set in Chicago in 1924. I have a scene where a speakeasy is raided and the patrons are arrested and taken to the police station. It’s night time. What do the police look like? What does a paddy wagon look like? What does the inside of a police station look like in those days, and at night? I compiled a few pictures to help me describe the scene:







Published in: on March 11, 2016 at 4:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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