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)  

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  

Medical Liquor Prescription

Look what I bought on eBay! A prescription for liquor dated 1929. Medical Liquor Prescription It’s a duplicate and the handwriting is sloppy, so it’s a bit hard to read, but it was made out to Albert Long of ???, Pennsylvania for Thatcher’s Drug Store in West Chester. The doctor prescribed a quart of some liquor that the second word begins with Fr . . . ti. Anyone know a liquor that would fit those letters? On the back, rules say that the prescription is only good for 3 days, and that this duplicate had to be retained by the drug store. No doubt, the pharmacist saved these in a binder (see the 2 hold punches?) in case the Prohibition cops wanted to check. Since one of my characters in Silent Murders and the book following that (Renting Silence 2015) is involved in legal drug store liquor sales, I wanted to have one of these for my “show and tell” folder when I appear at book signings and at book clubs. It makes history really come alive.

Published in: on July 20, 2014 at 8:22 am  Comments (9)  

Hooray! Cover art for SILENT MURDERS is here!

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do. So I’m pleased that I’m pleased with the cover for my next book, SILENT MURDERS, which will be released on September 23.

The art director for St.Martin’s/Minotaur has been working on the cover for some time, and I thought you’d like to see how the process works. Here’s the first attempt. I’m fortunate that my publisher listens to its authors when designing their book covers–many (most?) do not. I wondered about the use of denim as a background for the title–blue jeans in the 1920s didn’t seem to fit. It was meant to look like the hardcover below the torn book jacket, but to me it said “blue jeans.” And the face was a little cheesy, too innocent, too modern, too much like a romance novel, which SILENT MURDERS certainly is not.

silent murders 1

The second attempt was more authentic and more interesting. In fact, they chose to use an actual  photograph from the mid-1920s. This woman looks less “ingenue,” more mysterious. I liked it very much, but thought it was drab. I wondered if they had designed it that way on purpose to mimic the black and white silent movies of the era, which form the backdrop for the story. But still, I asked if they couldn’t inject a little color. 

silent murders

Third time’s the charm, right? Here are the final results–I think it’s terrific. Now all I have to do is wait until September to see the finished product.  




Published in: on June 6, 2014 at 8:49 am  Comments (8)  
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The Sheik by E. M. Hull

220px-EdithMaudeHull1To entertain myself on a long train trip this week, I brought a copy of E. M. Hull’s THE SHEIK to read. This is the shockingly steamy and famous romance novel by the British author, Mrs. Edith M. Hull (who probably needed to use initials to disguise the fact that she was a woman), published in 1919 in Britain and in 1921 in the U.S. It was a huge seller, but became even more so when it was made into a movie starring Rudolph Valentino in 1921, catapulting him to international fame. Because the second in my Roaring Twenties series SILENT MURDERS is set in the mid-Twenties in silent-movie Hollywood, I mention Rudy several times. He has a few cameo appearances. In the fourth book, which I am writing now, I mention the book itself. So I thought I’d better read the thing for myself. I wanted to see what constituted “shocking” in the 1920s.

It was hard coming across a copy. The library doesn’t carry such old books, nor do bookstores. I got a very old, used copy of a paperback from, so fragile that the pages kept crumbling as I turned them! 

220px-The_Sheik_with_Agnes_Ayres_and_Rudolph_Valentino,_movie_poster,_1921If you like romance novels, this is one you should read, if for no other reason than it started the craze for desert romances. It uses language we consider offensive today, for example, all dark-skinned people including Arabs are referred to as niggers, while avoiding anything considered offensive then, such as damn or hell. To note that the story seems trite is like saying that Shakespeare used lots of cliches. Hull was the first. Legions of romance writers followed her example and wrote similar stories in a similar vein. Her story involves a rich English noblewoman who is kidnapped and raped by a powerful sheik. She hates him. Then she loves him. He hates her; then he loves her. Happy ending in the desert wilderness. Most amusing is the kicker: he’s not a real Arab!!! (Of course not, no English girl can be in love with a dark-skinned barbarian!) The sheik is really an English lord, raised in the desert by Arabs and tanned by the sun. Made me think of  Tarzan, who similarly turns out to be the son of an English nobleman, raised by apes in the jungle. 

What is fascinating, to me at least, is the language and the way the story unfolds. For young women of this era, independence is not a virtue. Diana can only be happy when the sheik “tames” her, wrings all the spirit out of her, humiliates her, and makes her his slave. Then, she find true happiness. Here’s a paragraph so you can see for yourself:

Son of the SheikShe looked after him, as he went through the curtains, with a long, sobbing sigh. She was paying a heavy price for her happiness, but she would have paid a heavier one willingly. Nothing mattered now that he was not angry any more. She knew what her total submission meant: it was an end to all individualism, a complete self-abnegation, an absolute surrender to his wishes, his moods, and his temper. And she was content that it should be so, her love was prepared to endure whatever he might put upon her. Nothing that he could do could alter that, and nothing should make her own her love. She had hidden it from him, and she would hide it from him–cost what it might. Though he did not love her, he wanted her still; she had read that in his eyes five minutes ago, and she was happy even for that. 

The silent movie, and its sequel, Son of the Sheik, were wildly popular, yet many fathers and husbands forbade their daughters and wives from seeing it. Too sensuous for impressionable women–although the rape is never shown or mentioned.  Stories abound of females fainting in the theater during the movie. You can see why I’ve enjoyed learning about this book and movie, and why I’ve mentioned it in the book I’m writing now. 

Charlie Chaplin’s Birthday

220px-Charlie_Chaplin_portraitOn April 16, fans of Charles Chaplin celebrates his 125th birthday.

I’m not a big fan. I acknowledge his genius–he was a brilliant comedian, actor, and businessman–but as a parent, I can’t help but be turned off by his penchant for very young girls. He was 35 when he got 15-year-old Lita Grey, as aspiring actress, pregnant and, because sex with a minor could have put him in prison, married her quickly in Mexico. She had 2 boys; they divorced. Lita was his second wife. His first wife was 16 when they married and 18 when they divorced. He had many affairs, usually with very young women, and two more wives. His fourth wife was 17 and he 53 when they married. Some may not care about this but I have a problem with older men taking advantage of very young girls, so Chaplin isn’t my favorite. Nonetheless, he was Douglas Fairbanks’s best friend, so I can’t avoid mentioning him in my Roaring Twenties series.

Here’s one passage:

“Welcome, Jessie.” Miss Pickford rose from her rattan chaise to greet me. I said hello to Stella DeLanti, who was playing the queen in our Zorro picture, and to Douglas’s brother Robert, the film’s general manager, both of whom I knew from the set, then I was introduced to Ernst Lubitsch. I had heard the name. Miss Pickford had brought him and his wife Helene to Hollywood from Germany a couple years ago to be one of her directors, and he was well known in film circles. Last, Miss Pickford turned to a plump girl with a round, pretty face whose baggy frock did little to disguise her fat stomach. She appeared to be about fifteen and was clearly bored by the adults around her. I assumed she was someone’s daughter.

220px-Lita_Grey“Jessie, this is Lillita Chaplin. Lita, dear, Jessie Beckett works on the Zorro picture with Douglas. Charlie and Douglas will be along as soon as they finish their tennis game. Do have a seat and some lemonade, Jessie. I know it’s been a long day for you.”

Geez Louise, the kid was Chaplin’s wife! His second, married just a few months ago in Mexico under somewhat mysterious circumstances. And she wasn’t fat. She was pregnant. Now I believed those rumors about Lita being under age. Even malicious gossip is true sometimes: Charlie Chaplin had an itch for young girls. His first wife, too, had been little more than a child. I felt sorry for Lita and tried without success to engage her in conversation.

Mary Pickford’s Birthday

220px-Mary_Pickford_1916April 8 is Mary Pickford’s 122nd birthday. Born Gladys Smith in Toronto, Canada, she lost her father, an alcoholic, at an early age. She and her younger sister and brother were raised by their mother, Charlotte, a fiercely determined woman who pushed all three of her children onto the stage and into silent pictures. Mary’s siblings, Lottie and Jack, became stars on her coattails–she was the international superstar of her era, the best known and best loved female face in the world. Yet she was not “just” an actress. She was a producer and the co-founder of United Artists–at a time when everyone thought actors didn’t have the brains to run a business. It was said that she had “a man’s head on her shoulders”–a rare compliment in that highly sexist era.

pickford-mary-roseIn my upcoming mystery, SILENT MURDERS, the setting moves from vaudeville to silent pictures. It is 1925, the height of the silent film era, and my protagonist, Jessie Beckett, finds a job as a lowly assistant script girl at Pickford-Fairbanks Studios, one of the better known but studios in Hollywood but not one of the largest. I introduce Mary Pickford, who is about 33 then and still playing children in her movies; Jack and Lottie play supporting roles in my story as well. I learned a lot about Mary Pickford–and her family–from reading a couple biographies and her own autobiography. And after writing her into several mysteries, I feel as if I know her quite well. Isn’t she pretty? But she was not just a pretty face; she was a genuinely kind person, a tough boss but always kind to her employees. She used to say that no one worked for her, they all worked with  her. 

So Happy Birthday, Mary Pickford!

Silent Murder copyedits–FINISHED!

thFinished final edits for SILENT MURDERS yesterday–only took 2 days! I have an omniscient copyeditor. Here are some things I learned: the preferred spelling is gray, not grey; also whiskey, not whisky. It’s “if worst comes to worst,” not “worse.” Rolls-Royce is hyphenated. It’s “dammit,” not damnit. These are one word: boardinghouse, drugstore, lightbulb, apiece, shopgirl, coffeepot, stuntman, backseat, shortcut, dustup, reshoot, stomachache, and uphill, BUT these aren’t: meat loaf, well-known, go-ahead, a while, tommy gun. And the popular drink, gin rickey, isn’t capitalized. When it comes to spelling, I made only two errors: minuscule (not miniscule) and lightning (not lightening, at least, not when it comes from the sky.) I’m aiming for my next manuscript to be error free–of course, it won’t be, but goals are good to have!!

Now I’m waiting for the cover art. They promised it for next week . . . I’m nervous. 

Published in: on March 29, 2014 at 8:36 am  Comments (6)