Launch Party with Prohibition Productions. 6-9 Rooftop Jazz.
All ages, no cover.
Cambria Hotel & Suites Chelsea
123 W. 28th St., 19th floor.
B&N Talk and Signing
150 East 86th Street.
The Untold Story of the 1930s
Wasn’t the Depression era just… depressing?
I grew up with that weird train wreck mentality about the 1930s. I had that unholy fascination of the Depression with the Dust Bowl and the soup lines. But it all seemed just gray and uninteresting.
However, I couldn’t help but wonder about the strange, intriguing points of interest that would occasionally come to the surface about the same era: women’s rights were on the rise along with a lot of women entering the professional work force, it was the era of the cocktail just as much as the era of the soup line, and in two short decades there was a particularly impactful era of art. The shortest and most punchy movement to date: the Art Deco Era. In essence, I found it to be the very opposite of uninteresting and gray.
I also had a personal motivation. After I moved to New York City, just two weeks after 9/11, I witnessed first-hand how a vibrant city like NYC handles profound adversity: with grit, compassion, humor, art, and cocktails. Exactly like the 1930s.
That’s the story I wanted to tell.
My protagonist, twenty-three-year-old Lane Sanders, aide to the firecracker Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, embodies that gumption. The Art Deco Mystery series is named not only for the era, but because each story has an anchor of art that is meaningful to the storyline and the characters, to underscore the importance of art and its mysterious capacity to open the shutters of our heart and mind.
I truly hope that this story of The Silver Gun will increase your own delight in life as you enjoy the cool and untold history, the chic style, the mystery and romance, and of course the cocktails.
What is something many people might not know about you?
When I was twenty-four, my husband and I quit our jobs at General Motors and toured in his rock band for five years. I was the booking agent, manager, and sound tech (which I loved – I had no idea I’d enjoy mixing sound so much). He was the guitarist and lead singer. We wanted to have more oomph in our lives, so we did this in conjunction with a non-profit where we also did a ton of charity concerts with the military, prisons, schools… It was really hard work. But a great experience!
How did you get the idea for the Art Deco Mystery series?
Well… we moved to New York City for a job offer, and we had no idea if we’d love it or hate it. We ended up moving to New York only two weeks after 9/11. It was a crazy time to move to the city. It was so raw and hurting. And yet, alive like I’ve never seen. People were aware and helping and passionate. We had several people stop by our moving truck to welcome us to the city! During that time, I started reading a biography about Fiorello LaGuardia. His time coming into office right after Prohibition ended and during the Great Depression, was interestingly like the city in our era. And it depicted a view of life during the Depression that I hadn’t seen before. Yes, there were awful soup lines, despair, staggering need... But there was also a gritty spirit, innovation that toppled over anything I’d imagined about the era, and that New York wit that is full of satire and that grin-while-you’re-sneering realness… And women’s rights! Women going into professional arenas way before WWII, racial tensions were running high all while the first integrated giant dance hall, The Savoy, was opened and raging with success, where it didn’t matter if you were rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic…it only mattered if you could dance. I love that tension, and that’s the story I wanted to tell.
Why did you decide to have a backdrop of art in each book? And how does that work?
Well, that era was such a short and spicy era. Between jazz, film, visual art, you name it, its powerful punch has influenced every era since. I wanted to highlight that, too. Art moves us. It has a way of opening our eyes and hearts in ways that nothing else can do. Even if we don’t consider ourselves “artsy.” It’s why we can be moved to tears from a TV commercial. Art also has a way of coming alongside us to give voice to things we are navigating, feelings we can’t quite articulate. So, in each book, there is a different kind of art that compels a character and mirrors that character’s life. In the first book, there is a famous artist who is a household name now, but wasn’t then, and the main character comes across a journal from that artist and it helps her navigate the choices and feelings she’s going through. In the second book, there is a chilling classic novel that everyone has heard of, and hardly any have read, that comes alongside the main character and a villain. And in the third, in 1936 there was this delicious –God, I hope it gets a revival– play that Orson Welles produced through the Federal Works Project with the first all-black cast in America. They did MacBeth. Set in Haiti instead of Scotland and it’s called Voodoo MacBeth. What I would do to travel back in time to see it first- hand. I could cry thinking about it! And a character walks with this, as it echoes and brings light to his own trials.
Is this going to be a series or a trilogy?
I hope a series! I can tell you right now that if Kensington does a fourth book, it’s going to have a mystery set at The Savoy and the art that will be the backbone of that one will be jazz and dance. And the fifth will have The End of the Trail sculpture by James Earl Frasur.
Fio’s Antics: Fact or Fiction?
In The Art Deco Mysteries, Fiorello LaGuardia is one of the main characters and I’m sure it’s clear that I personally adore him. I’ve romanticized him a little bit – but I feel that his character is true to form. I have also put in real things that he actually did in the books. In fact, people are often surprised that the most sensational antics are actually the real ones.
There is a scene where Lane and Valerie see Fio bound down the steps of City Hall, then look wildly around for his car and driver. Not seeing them and yet needing to get to a fire (he made it a habit to be at the scene of every major fire, car crash, and crime), he pounced on the nearest form of conveyance: a policeman on a motorcycle with a sidecar. As they drive off, he yells to the stunned and chuckling onlookers, “I am not a sissy!” Totally true. It really happened. And it still cracks me up as I’m writing this.
He also was a big-time bellower with his unique and screechy voice. He did create an office in his car complete with police radio, desk, and gun compartment. The Fire Chief gave him an honorary fire coat. And he was a lover of art and music. He often guest-conducted at symphonies around the city. He played the coronet and yes, he did stop the Artichoke King’s monopoly on artichokes complete with police escort, a lordly scroll, and two trumpeters.
Fiorello was a five-foot-two firecracker of a guy. He was a fighter pilot in WWI, he was a congressman, and then the ninety-ninth mayor of New York City. He was a minority on both sides: half-Jewish, half-Italian. I love the tension of Fio. He was loud, abrasive and rude, yet he was a total romantic, loved music and art dearly, and always fought for the little guy.
Fiorello really did see in-person each and every petitioner in his office at the beginning of the work day. He was indeed rude and brash, yet he had an incredibly dear heart and fought for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. A lot of people my parents’ age remember him and his voice. His most memorable moment for my dad is Fiorello reading the funny papers over the radio for the kids when the newspapers went on strike.
Be sure to read the Author notes at the beginning and end of all my books for the fun details, where reality is often stranger than fiction.
Inspiration behind the characters
I adore stories where you come to love the characters as if they were flesh and blood just like us. If I don’t find those characters, I often don’t enjoy a book even if it’s well-written. I thought I’d share a little of the inspiration behind the characters.
Lane Sanders, protagonist. She is a funny mix of the humor of Stephanie Plum, the thoughtfulness of Katey Kontent, the physical look of Jennifer Garner or Emma Stone, and a dash of the adventurous punch of Dirk Pitt. (Not to mention my own historical liveliness that I love in Clive Cussler). She has a love of trying new things and always has a great idea to get out of a pickle.
Fiorello LaGuardia, of course, is a non-fictional character. I put in a lot of actual history and especially some of his more sensational antics. But anywhere he’s involved in the plot of my book, it is of course completely fiction. More on Fiorello in the blog post: Fio’s Antics – Fact or Fiction?
Aunt Evelyn. I think many artists have a way of drawing people to themselves. Their art builds bridges and rarely do they care about status, color, ethnicity, or social suaveness. I thought she would be an interesting person to anchor the story. Evelyn has friends in all high and low places which makes for delightful cameos including Eleanor Roosevelt and Diego Rivera. Any Elizabeth Peters fans be sure to catch a little nod to Amelia Peabody in The Silver Gun (Chapter 3)! Amelia and Evelyn would indeed be dear friends.
Finn Brodie. He’s pretty delicious and I of course like that about him. But I also wanted Lane to have someone who really got her, someone who would enjoy the adventure with her but would also look beneath the surface to understand her complicated past. For reasons later in the series, I wanted him to personally understand discrimination. So his Irish background would have definitely affected his chances of being part of Scotland Yard. And because of his own family issues that will be delved into in Book 3 – The Pearl Dagger – he really sees and appreciates Lane’s spirit. Everyone wants to be loved for more than their appearance. It is her indomitable spirit that makes him fall for her.
And finally… the villains. I have a lot of fun developing them and I can tell you that some of them will be bad-to-the-bone, and others will be complicated. Are they really that bad? Yes? No? What makes someone turn all-bad? What gives way to that? Book 2 – The Gold Pawn – releasing in 2018 will delve into that. Daley Joseph was named by my sons. I have no idea what compelled them to name him that. And I actually ran into someone once, that had those diabolical nose hairs and vacant eyes. Gave me the heebeejeebies and I knew, just as all good writers take note of what makes someone or something exceptional, it was good material to work with.
The Inspiration of my Favorite Scenes from The Silver Gun
I saw a commercial once that gave me the inspiration for the entire scene in Little Italy while Mambo Italiano played. I like the romance of that scene, but I wanted to highlight one of the things that makes me adore New York City. There is a kind of magic that you just fall into there. Sometimes crazy things happen that you couldn’t have planned, and all your senses are teased into awareness. It’s this atmosphere that I have never found anywhere else. And you never know when you might come across the magnificent. I love that unpredictability and the capacity to have magic happen even when it isn’t planned.
Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s (Roosevelt) Island
I really dig the scene at the lunatic asylum. I wrote it to Lady Gaga’s Poker Face. I write a lot of scenes with certain music in mind. I like that Daphne is revealed slowly and there’s just a bit of creepiness with the whole thing. I’ve seen people with careful veneers over their face. And I wonder what they’re hiding, what they’re holding back. I wonder who else can see that there’s a veneer. And I’ve witnessed a few veneers slip. The asylum, Metropolitan Hospital, is now an apartment building. With a pool in the back!
Aunt Evelyn’s Townhouse
I have come to love Aunt Evelyn’s home. It feels like home to me! And a big part of that is Mr. Kirkland. I love him. He’s a favorite. I think it’s cool that it’s his touch that makes her house a home. The inspiration for their back garden with the lights in the overarching tree is a little restaurant in Key West, called Pepe’s. There’s a banyan tree in the back where they hung all sorts of lanterns, fancy chandeliers, and fairy lights. And I love a good kitchen. It really is the heart of the home. So many of the important conversations in life happen in the kitchen. All of Rosamund Pilcher’s books have a good kitchen with a scrubbed pine table.
Central Park Glade Arch bridge
A lot of my favorite scenes take place in Central Park. The scroll that is on the silver gun really can be found on the Glade Arch Bridge. There are jazz bands that often play at the bottom of Cedar Hill like Finn and Lane witness. There is a festiveness to the park that you rarely find in other parks. I think it’s because of the people, the art and music all around, and the natural beauty surrounded by the glittering towers of buildings. I guarantee that in a future book, they will be sledding in Central Park at night. Because it’s spectacular.