The Origins of Ritzy

Here’s what I learned this morning from Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day:

César Ritz (1850-1918), a Swiss hotelier, earned worldwide renown for the luxurious hotels bearing his name in London and Paris. (The Ritz-Carlton hotel company is a contemporary descendant of these enterprises.) Although they were by no means the first to cater to high-end clients, Ritz’s hotels quickly earned reputations as symbols of opulence. F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer who often focused on the fashionably wealthy, titled one of his short stories “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” and the phrase “to put on the ritz” means “to indulge in ostentatious display.” The adjective ritzy, describing either something fancy or stylish, or the haughty attitudes of the wealthy elite, first checked into the English language in 1920.

Therefore, I can safely used the word ritzy in my Roaring Twenties mysteries!

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Published in: on November 29, 2018 at 7:35 am  Comments (2)  

Need Christmas Present Idea?

Need a Christmas present or hostess gift for someone who likes to read? Consider giving a journey back into the Roaring Twenties via my Roaring Twenties mysteries, set in 1924 with a vaudeville and silent movies backdrop. The first in the series, THE IMPERSONATOR, won the national award for Best First Crime Novel in 2012, the second, SILENT MURDERS, had a terrific review in the New York Times. 

Find them in your local bookstores, libraries, or online at amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

Take one missing heiress, an unscrupulous uncle, and a young vaudeville performer fallen on hard times; add several murdered girls, a mysterious Chinese herbalist, and a handsome bootlegger; then move from the seamy world of Prohibition-era vaudeville to Oregon’s rugged coast, and what do you have? A formula for suspense, as Jessie finds herself torn between her deceitful charade and her determination to find out what really happened to the girl she is impersonating.

 

 

In the second Roaring Twenties murder mystery, Jessie trades her nomadic vaudeville life for a modest but steady job in the silent film industry. She quickly learns that all Hollywood scorns the Prohibition laws: studio bosses rule the police and gangsters supply speakeasies everywhere with bootleg hooch and Mexican dope. When a powerful director is murdered at his own party and Jessie’s waitress friend is killed for what she saw, Jessie takes the lead in an investigation tainted by corrupt cops. Soon tangled in a web of drugs, bribery, and greed, she finds herself a prime suspect as the bodies pile up.

The third in the Roaring Twenties mystery series takes Jessie from silent films back into the world of vaudeville to track down a performer with something to hide. At the request of her silent film star boss, Mary Pickford, Jessie uses her vaudeville talents to investigate the murder of an extra by a Hollywood actress already sentenced to death for the crime. Her inquiries lead to the discovery of a blackmailer and more than a dozen actors facing ruin or even death if their secrets are exposed. If the convicted actress is innocent, then who killed the blackmailer?

The fourth book begins in the fall of 1925 when a projectionist is gunned down in the theater booth. The killer flees to the balcony and vanishes. Jessie’s investigation succeeds where the police fail, thanks to her vaudeville skills and connections. A killer seeking revenge for an Old World massacre is targeting a group of Balkan immigrants, one by one. Jessie deduces the reason the killer is never apprehended—but fails to spot the killer until it’s almost too late. A young deaf girl whose mother has gone missing plays a significant role.

 

 

 

 

STOLEN MEMORIES, below, is not part of the Roaring Twenties series, although it is set in that decade, in France and England.

A brutal attack along the banks of the Seine 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, who believes 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. For weeks he tries threats, bribery, and hypnosis to pry the truth out of her. As her memory returns piecemeal–some corroborating, some clashing with what she is told–she struggles to establish her identity. 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? The story takes place in 1928 against a backdrop of pagan ritual and an early Christian midsummer festival known as the Fires of John the Baptist.

 

 

Rejection of a Roaring Twenties author

I came across these rejections of authors who began writing during the Roaring Twenties. I’ve had plenty of rejections myself, so it makes me feel good to be in such lofty company!

After 5 years of continual rejection, the writer finally lands a publishing deal: Agatha Christie. Her book sales are now in excess of $2 billion. Only William Shakespeare has sold more.

An absurd story as romance, melodrama or record of New York high life.”Yet publication sees The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald become a best-selling classic.

Rejected by all publishers in the UK and US, the author self-publishes his novel in Florence, Italy, using his own press in 1928. After being banned for nearly 30 years, Grove Press publish the controversial work in 1959. A year later Penguin finally launch the UK edition. The book quickly sells millions, as Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence becomes a worldwide best-seller.

Read other amazing (and amusing) stories about the early rejections of famous authors here. 

 

Published in: on November 5, 2017 at 6:15 pm  Comments (2)  

You Can Quit Correcting Me Now, Mother

I teach writing at the Richmond Jail (volunteer job), and my inmates, like many other people, are surprised when I tell them that the rules of grammar aren’t written in stone. This coming Monday, at my next class, I’ll be showing them an example of that, now that rules have changed on an important point.

It’s official!! “Their” can be singular! 

I can’t wait to tell my mother that she can stop correcting me when I say things like, ‘Everybody has their own opinion.’ (I know the old rule: that a singular subject takes a singular pronoun–it should be ‘Everybody has his or her own opinion’ unless it’s clearly masculine or feminine, like ‘Every girl has her own opinion.’) But at a recent meeting of the American Copyeditors Society, experts okayed a change that the major styles (Chicago and AP) agree on: “They/them/their is acceptable in limited cases as a singular and or gender neutral pronoun, when alternative wording is overly awkward or clumsy.” THANK YOU!!! No more “Each child has his or her toy,” or pretending that “his” is neutral.

This is a day for celebration! Hooray!

Published in: on April 9, 2017 at 2:10 pm  Comments (3)  

Identical twins made successful moonshiners

People often ask where writers get their ideas. The answer is “everywhere.” Here’s one specific example:

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I read this marvelous article in the Richmond newspaper about twin brothers who made moonshine in the 1950s and 60s when it was illegal in Virginia. Being identical twins helped when they reached a courtroom, because witnesses couldn’t identify the accused for certain. Which brother was it? They couldn’t say for sure. That gives me a good idea for a plot device: having identical twin bootleggers beat the rap because no one could tell them apart. Read the whole article here:

http://www.richmond.com/life/bill-lohmann/article_ab06ec1e-04a9-5914-8d81-82e6a71a9d64.html

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Published in: on January 28, 2017 at 1:13 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Challenging Game of ‘Name that Character’ Part I

Most_Popular_Male_NamesYou think it’s easy, naming characters? It’s harder than naming your own baby. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things about writing—for me, anyway. I was talking with an acquaintance at a party recently who said, “How about using my name in your next book? I don’t care if I’m playing a villain or a hero—or even just a walk-on part.” It put me on the spot. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings but choosing names for characters doesn’t work like that. It can be a daunting prospect—especially for authors who, like me, write historical novels.

First and most important, the name has to fit the era. My mysteries are set in the Roaring Twenties, so names popular in the 1950s or 1970s or today may not work well at all. Authors who set their books in the medieval era or Revolutionary Russia have an even tougher time.

One place I consult for ideas is the Social Security website where the most popular names of any given decade are listed. If I have a character who is 35 years old in 1925, I look at the records for 1890 to learn which names prevailed. I don’t necessarily use the most popular names on the list, but I definitely want a name from that list. For example, the top 5 names for boys in 1890 were John, William, James, George, and Charles; the top 5 for girls were Mary, Anna, Margaret, Helen, and Elizabeth. There is zero overlap with today’s popular names (Liam, Noah, Ethan, Mason, and Lucas; Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Ava, and Mia).a-web-boy-names-no-frame-2014-jan-otth

I also take into consideration naming styles of the era. In the 1920s, it was common to use –ie or –y endings on nicknames for men, not just boys. Lots of grown men were called Freddy, Tommy, Jimmie, Johnny, Timmy, Frankie, Eddy, Wally, and so forth. You don’t hear those much today, do you? Also common was the use of nicknames that bore no resemblance to the given name, like Slats, Studs, Lucky, Stretch, Fats, Porky, Babe, and Lumpy. This is particularly true in the criminal underworld; think of Bugs, Scarface, Hymie, Killer, and Snorky—all real gangsters.

But first names are a breeze compared to last names. For those, I need to consider not only the era but the likely ethnicity of the character. The Roaring Twenties was a time of heavy immigration from eastern Europe; so many people in urban centers had surnames that were Italian, Jewish, or Polish. If I’d been writing about an earlier time, the names might have skewed to German, English, Irish, and Scots. I have to also consider professions: police forces in 1920s Chicago or New York skewed toward Irish, so I’ll probably name my cop Mac or O’Toole. In fact, the cop in the book I’m currently writing is named Kevin O’Rourke. Servants in the early part of the twentieth century were often Irish immigrant or African American women, which is why the young Irish housemaid in my current book is called Ellen and the black cook is Bessie Jackson. (Unlike today, when African Americans often use names that have African, Muslim, or biblical origins, blacks in the early 20th century chose names that closely resembled those used by European-Americans.) Their employer’s name is Weidemann, a German name representing the German immigrants of an earlier generation who are now prosperous enough to afford servants.

Madeleine.11In writing my current book, I muddled my way through several names before settling on Maddie for my main character. She was born in the 1890s in Chicago to immigrant parents from French Canada, so I gave her a French name, Madeleine, which I Americanized with a nickname to Maddie. For her Italian immigrant husband, I chose Tomasso Pastore, so she now has a multicultural name—how very American!

Another fun tool I use to help me with ideas is the on-line random name generator. This site lets me choose the gender, the ethnicity, the country, and the age of a person; then it spits out an appropriate name. So if I needed a name for a minor character who is an Australian male living in America today and in his fifties, I get . . . (drum roll) Eddie J. Adcock. Sounds good to me! Check it out at www.fakenamegenerator.com.

Some famous authors, like David Baldacci, auction the naming rights of their characters for charity, promising to use the winner’s name in their next book. It’s a nice fund-raiser, but it’s risky. I guarantee the author worries about what the winning name will be! What if he or she ends up having to use a name that doesn’t fit any characters? I’d love to auction a name for charity, but I can’t risk getting stuck with something that didn’t exist in the 1920s. It’s really more appropriate for authors who write contemporary fiction.

I explained a little of this to my friend and promised him I’d keep his name in mind for future books. But off the record, it won’t happen. His name is far too modern for a Roaring Twenties mystery.

 

 

Published in: on August 28, 2016 at 8:46 am  Comments (2)  
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A Surprise Nomination

stolen-memories-ebook-coverI was so surprised when I got a phone call telling me STOLEN MEMORIES was a finalist for a prestigious Daphne award, I must have sounded like an idiot . . . I kept repeating, “What award? Are you sure?” The caller was sure. The book is one of five finalists in the category of Historical Mystery/Suspense. The winner will be announced on July 13-16 in San Diego at the Romance Writers of America conference. I don’t imagine my book will win–after all, it has only a 20% chance–but I’m thrilled it’s a finalist.

The award is named for the late Daphne du Maurier, one of my favorite authors (Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, The Birds, Jamaica Inn, etc.) Young_Daphne_du_Maurier

Published in: on June 11, 2016 at 7:48 am  Comments (10)  

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)  
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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 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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