Free Book!

Good news! The ebook version of The Impersonator is available FREE for 3 days on amazon. This is the first in my Roaring Twenties series and the book that won the national award for Best First Crime Novel in 2012. Order quick!!

Published in: on November 1, 2022 at 7:25 am  Comments (1)  

Who was Lois Long?

Lois Long was only twenty-three when she started writing for the new magazine, the New Yorker. The Vassar-educated daughter of a Congregational minister, Lois must have horrified her parents with her wild flapper ways. The stereotypical “minister’s daughter,” she covered the city’s nightlife scene with its speakeasy lifestyle, mixed race crowds, drinking and dancing, and flappers. But she didn’t use her real name–she signed her columns “Lipstick”–so maybe Daddy never knew . . . I got some good tidbits for my novels from her writing: for example, her choice of words and slang and her descriptions of the customers and speakeasies.

Click here to see the excellent Ken Burns 7-minute film about Lois Lang that includes some of her biting commentary on New York speakeasies.

Published in: on July 7, 2019 at 4:40 pm  Comments (2)  

The Last of the WAMPAS Baby Stars

Once upon a time, a sure-fire way for an aspiring screen actress to get noticed was to be named a WAMPAS Baby Star. Each year from 1922 until 1934, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers chose thirteen young women whom they believed would be the screen’s next stars. The girls got lots of attention, party invitations, publicity, and small parts, and some did break into big time stardom. I found this photo at an antiques mall hanging on a pegboard wall in a shoddy frame and bought it for $10. It was taken in 1934, the last year of the promotion.

WAMPAS Baby Stars you might know include Clara Bow (the “It Girl”), Joan Crawford, Janet Gaynor, Loretta Young, Mary Astor, Ginger Rogers (Fred Astaire’s dance partner), Sally Rand, and Fay Wray (of King Kong fame).  For a complete list, see

So when I read in this week’s NY Times that Mary Carlisle, the last WAMPAS Baby Star, had passed away, I thought it was worth noting on my blog. She was reputedly 104 years old, but since she had always fudged her age, no one–not even her son–is quite sure how old she was. She may have been 106. Mary Carlisle was named a WAMPAS Baby Star in 1932, along with Ginger Rogers. While not as big a star as some would become, Carlisle had a good film career, playing in movies until 1943 opposite male stars like Will Rogers, Bob Cummings, Jimmy Durante, Buster Crabbe, Ray Milland, and Bing Crosby. As she said in a 1937 interview, she was usually cast as the “sweet young heroine.” Read the NY Times obituary here. Or here, for the Washington Post.

Published in: on August 6, 2018 at 9:25 am  Leave a Comment  
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Hand-Painted Knees

On July 21, 1925, the same day as the St. Petersburg, FL, newspaper headlines featured the John Scopes trial (he was found guilty of teaching evolution in a Kentucky science class), there was also an article on the latest flapper fad: painted knees.

6ade6db95341a66ac19572a3a7d2534a“What is more appealing to the eye than a hand-painted knee? The answer, of course, is two hand-painted knees. And the world may expect from now on to see Flapperia’s dimpled knees exhibiting a painted pansy or a bleeding heart, or any other design of their choice.

This painting of the epidermis in the region of milady’s knees is predicted and advocated by Mrs. Ruth J. Maurer, beauty culture expert who has brought the question up for the approval of 500 beauty specialists meeting in Chicago. ‘It is an odd and beautiful fashion,’ Mrs. Maurer declares. ‘Hand-painted pictures on the knees are intriguing. Some of the designs are simple, some elaborate. Some girls prefer a flower or a group of blossoms of startling colors. Others like a portrait or a little landscape.”

I have my doubts as to how popular this was . . . I found only one image online that showed painted knees (and these, as you can see, are actually painted shins). Still, I think I’ll make a brief mention of this in the mystery I’m currently writing. Nothing big, maybe just a line where Jessie notices someone in New York with painted knees. If it happened anywhere, it would have happened in New York!

Here are some photos readers submitted:

1926 flapper

1926 flapper



Published in: on August 20, 2016 at 8:09 am  Comments (11)  

New Cover Art for Next Book

My publisher, Severn House, just sent the cover art for my next book. I really love it! Renting Silence is the third in the Roaring Twenties series and I think this cover is the best yet. The girl looks just as I imagine Jessie to look: unruly bobbed hair, confident stare, pretty but not glamorous. I’ve completed the editing process and now have nothing more to do but wait until it debuts, supposedly on August 31 in the U.K. and Australia/New Zealand; later in the USA.  

Renting Silence cover

Published in: on June 5, 2016 at 11:53 am  Comments (2)  

Bernice Bobs Her Hair

MV5BMTU0ODM3NDYwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzQxMzcyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR2,0,214,317_AL_I recently got this short (48 minutes) movie from Netflix, “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” filmed in 1976 and starring Shelly Duvall. It is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald and, like much of this other work, concerns rich people in the 1920s. Bernice is visiting her cousin Marjorie for the social summer. Bernice is an old-fashioned girl–dull–all she can talk about is the weather. The boys don’t want to dance with her at parties. Marjorie complains to her mother that Bernice is ruining her summer. Bernice overhears and asks Marjorie to help her become popular. 

“I could do it in 2 days,” says Marjorie, and she starts with conversation skills. Primed to be more outgoing, Bernice announces at a party that she is going to bob her hair. This is a shocking idea. No one thinks she’s serious. But when she is goaded into it by Marjorie, who has become jealous of her cousin’s newfound popularity. Everyone troupes down to the barber shop to see if she will do something this daring. 

The barber is shocked at the request, saying he’s never cut a woman’s hair. No surprise there–no one back then has been trained to cut a woman’s hair. Women didn’t cut their hair. But he does it, rather badly. And the consequences backfire on Marjorie. Reminds me of “Mean Girls.” 

Good, short flick. Fitzgerald skewers the manners of the idle rich, feminine competition, and gives us a surprise ending. It was published in 1920, when bobbed hair was really quite scandalous. Long hair, a woman’s “crowning glory,” represented virtue and respectability; bobbed hair was synonymous with sin and immorality. By 1925, enough women had bobbed their hair so that it wasn’t quite as horrifying, but at the time this story takes place, Bernice was doing something few women dared. Interestingly, Fitzgerald seems to disapprove as well, because Bernice turns out much less attractive after she bobs her hair and the boys all lose interest. 

If you’d rather read the short story than watch it, click here.

Published in: on December 20, 2015 at 5:01 pm  Comments (2)  
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Lecture at the Downton Abbey Exhibit

 Downtown-image2_medium[1] - size 75

 On Nov. 14, I gave this talk at the Virginia Historical Society as part of their Downton Abbey exhibit, “Dressing Downton.” My presentation was titled Weird-but-True Things Most People Don’t Know about the Roaring Twenties. The VHS always records its speakers, so if you’d like to hear/see it, just click on the title. It’s a light, but serious, lecture that lasts 40 minutes (plus a Q&A). In it, I share some of the surprising things I learned during my research for my Roaring Twenties mystery series, things I have incorporated into my novels. 


Who is Beatrice Burton?

150px-Beatrice_BurtonI’ve now read two books by Beatrice Burton (FLAPPER WIFE and HOLLYWOOD GIRL), so I got curious about this woman who wrote in the mid-1920s–and who is helping me write my own stories today.

Her first book, FLAPPER WIFE, was published in 1925, exactly the year my novels are set. Her last came out in 1937. During those 12 years, she published seventeen novels. I’ve read only two, but judging from the titles and short descriptions, they are all romances about young women finding happiness in marriage. Her books are set in the year they were written, so they provide a fascinating glimpse of the prejudices, fashions, slang, values, and surroundings of the era. No writer of historical fiction could ask for a better source!

Little is known of Ms.Burton’s life. (This is the only image I could find of her.) She was born in Cleveland in 1894 and died in Florida in 1983. She wanted to be an actress–and in fact had at least three small parts in silent movies in the 1920s–and this may explain her interest in Hollywood as a subject for her books and magazine articles. Six of her stories were made into (silent) movies, none of which seems to have survived. Too bad–I’d love to see the one that was based on FLAPPER WIFE. 


Published in: on March 7, 2015 at 7:22 am  Leave a Comment  
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How to Catch a Man in the Roaring Twenties

imageFor the past few centuries, books have been written to instruct young women on matters relating to manners, beauty, and marriage. Most of these have been written by men, of course, and most are tedious tomes, but some can be highly entertaining as we look back and think, “Really? You’ve got to be kidding!” The 1920s saw the introduction of the Flapper, a young woman who flouted society’s conventions, including those that related to men and marriage. Most men (and most women) found this horrifying; some few found it liberating. Needless to say, books like these can be very helpful in setting the scene and making my readers feel as if they have stepped back in time.

I recently came across an interesting blog post that summarizes one of these books. Or, I should say, eight of these books, as they were a set of volumes devoted to catching a man. Check this out:

Or, if you want to read the original books, published in 1922, you can do so online here:

Published in: on March 1, 2015 at 8:19 am  Comments (4)  

The Flapper Wife: a 1925 novel for brainless young females



41wsoa78cmL._AA160_The Flapper Wife by Beatrice Burton (published 1925) is a marvelous find for me. It provides loads of information about the Roaring Twenties not easily found elsewhere. I picked up period language (“who is the sheik I saw leaving the house”, “What a poor simp Lola was!”, “you have it all over her like a tent”), historical details not found in history books (a punch is one-third fruit juice and two-thirds gin, women wore driving gloves in the car, a telephone is located in the coat closet under the stairs), clothing details (“she put on her kimono and went downstairs,”), information about medicine (milk toast and hot lemonade for a cold), makeup (removing it with a wad of cotton dipped in almond oil), food (a lettuce sandwich–no further explanation, but I assume is lettuce, bread, and some sort of mayonnaise?), and prices (a full-time maid earns $18/week, a very expensive hat is $55).

 I also learned about attitudes in 1925, the year that my Roaring Twenties mysteries take place. Read on . . . 

The miserably illogical and stupid plot centers around a 20-year-old who is just married. She’s grown up in a poor family, and somehow (inexplicably) has never learned to cook a meal or do any housework, not even dusting. She always telephones for her groceries; she’s never even been “to market.” This makes no sense and is never explained. So . . . anyway, she wants to marry a rich man, and she marries a young lawyer whom she doesn’t know well and turns out to be not rich at all. What attracted him to her is never explained; she’s pretty, but brainless. (Well, I guess he isn’t the first man to go for that combination.) They barely know each other. There is no pre-marital sex. She doesn’t even kiss him much. She is a wild “flapper” who wants to party and go to the pictures and have fun, and she is still in love with her previous boyfriend, a rotter (of course) who is a handsome, out-of-work actor (nothing worse than an actor).

Within a few weeks, this petulant, demanding young thing has gone through her new husband’s bank account, and he can’t suggest she stop spending because she’s so pretty. So he’s as big an idiot as she is. Anyway, after pages and pages of drivel and several separations, they manage to get back together. The moral that the author wants to drill into young women: women get their joy and fulfillment from cooking, cleaning, and having babies. (Everyone has been trying to tell her that throughout the book.) Once our young 20-year-old realizes that she’s been pursuing a flapper lifestyle rather than her true vocation, life is miraculously happily ever after. (Eye roll.) She chides her husband at the end, saying if he’d been stricter with her and disciplined her more, she’d have been better behaved. Amusingly, there is no hint of sex and the heroine, if she could be called that, hasn’t a clue, even as a married woman. When her actor-boyfriend kisses her and says he “wants her,” she wonders what on earth he can mean by that? 

So did you think I disliked the book? Au contraire! I thoroughly enjoyed it! It’s like reading a slice of history, and very amusing history at that. My two grandmothers, who would be the same age as the empty-headed young woman in this story, were nothing like that, nor were their sisters or contemporaries that I knew. But the author, a mature woman, is reacting to the widespread concern that all this independence for young women was bad for them and for society. She’s helping to convince readers (other young women) that subservience to the superior male is the definition of a successful marriage.  

Published in: on February 8, 2015 at 4:33 pm  Comments (15)  
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