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 (5)  
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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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What I learned in Florida

I was in Florida this week on a mini-vacation to Captiva, an island off the Gulf Coast near Naples and Fort Myers. While there, we visited the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island–kayaked through the mangroves with a guide full of information, hiked a couple of short trails, and rode the scenic, 4-mile road through the preserve. At their information center, they have an excellent, small exhibit and that is where I learned something I can use in my Roaring Twenties books.

d52d3dda22180fc6bbe0cf16777ce55aBy the early 1900s, demand for plumes for ladies’  hats had almost wiped out rookeries along Florida’s coasts (not to mention other areas of the country). Birds were slaughtered by the millions for their feathers which were used to decorate ladies’ hats all over the world. One example: “In 1902, the London market sold 1,608 packets of plumes which required killing 190,000 egrets.” Then came the Roaring Twenties and a sea change. What happened?

The bob. That new, shocking, short haircut that swept through America (and much of the Western world) in the late 1910s and 1920s created a demand for cloche hats. Heavily plumed hats were no longer the fashion, and the demand for birds’ plumes plummeted. The bob contributed mightily to the preservation of birds all over the world.

Check out these “before and after” illustrations from Sears catalogues from the 1910s and 1924.



How Much for that Drink, Buddy?

In the mystery I’ve just started, two of my characters go into a speakeasy in Chicago in 1924 and order martinis. I wondered how much this would cost. Details like that enrich the writing and give readers a greater sense of the time and place. So I started investigating. And EUREKA! I found this price list from a Chicago speakeasy, dating from the mid-1920s. Perfect! 



So this is what I wrote: 

A haze of smoke hung over the place like thick fog on a fall morning. It shrouded the piano man and the young colored woman who stood beside him singing I Wish I Could Shimmy Like my Sister Kate. Her warm, throaty voice caressed the notes like a lover. Freddie and I sidled up to the crowded bar and ordered martinis. We surveyed the joint as we waited for the bartender to deliver.

Two long wooden bars divided the room. Two bartenders worked between them, serving customers from both sides. On our side a dozen café tables, each with two chairs, formed an arc around the musicians. The opposite side was busier, with card tables ringed with gamblers. No one was paying much attention to the music, which was a shame. That girl was good.

The martinis arrived. Freddie put three quarters on the counter. “Keep the change.”  

Published in: on February 14, 2016 at 7:49 pm  Comments (6)  

Top Blog!

I was just notified that this blog has been named one of the Top Fifteen Art-Decinspired blogs. I’m sure this designation comes with a large financial windfall and an invitation to the White House!


Published in: on February 13, 2016 at 11:01 am  Comments (2)  

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