As part of a Blog Tour organized by Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours, I am pleased to have Ellen Mansoor Collier as my guest today as she celebrates the release of VAMPS, VILLAINS AND VAUDEVILLE – the fourth book in the Jazz Age Mystery Series. Today she shares her thoughts and on writing historical novels.
JUST THE FACTS, MA’AM by Ellen Mansoor Collier
I’ll admit, I was never much of a history buff in high school or college. What did Ancient Egypt or the Civil War have to do with my daily life of classes, jobs, Student Council, football games, parties or dances? Although my mother was a World History teacher, I wasn’t at all interested until I managed an antiques shop after college between journalism jobs.
My bosses were two antiques dealers and decorators who took me on buying trips and taught me about different styles and period design. Antiques gave me a visual peek into the past: I could see the way people lived, touch their clothing, furniture, understand their habits and trends. Suddenly, for me, history came alive.
That glimpse led to a fascination with the Roaring Twenties. I loved almost everything about the 1920s: the style, the carefree spirihere t, interior design, the flowing flapper clothes and jewelry, the lingo, the music. Not only did the right to vote in 1920 allow women’s emancipation, the “Dry Decade” became an era of invention and innovation, the “flaming youth’s” rebellion against the stuffy old Victorian mores, leading to the giddy excitement of the Jazz Age.
I tried to convey that sense of freedom and “anything goes” attitude in my soft-boiled Jazz Age mystery series, through the POV of my main character Jasmine (“Jazz”) Cross, a society reporter who longs to cover hard news in a male-dominated world. Her ambition is thwarted by her old-fashioned editors, yet she’s determined to find ways around the newspaper’s rules and restrictions. I created Jazz as a flapper version of real-life Victorian journalist Nellie Bly, and set the novels during Prohibition in 1920s Galveston, Texas, interweaving actual gangsters, events and local landmarks into the plots.
While researching FLAPPERS, I became intrigued when I found out that Al Capone tried to muscle in on Galveston’s rival gangs, the Beach and Downtown gangs. I included this fun fact in the preface to show the powerful reach and reputation of Galveston’s gangsters, little known outside of Texas.
As a journalist, I prefer reality-based stories because I feel like I’m learning something new while I’m reading and researching. I enjoyed watching old silent movies, period dramas and documentaries, especially noir films featuring gangsters and mobsters, noting the settings (furniture, lamps, clothing, music, etc.) and jotted down expressions and bits of conversation. (True, I’m guilty of overusing Jazz Age sayings so I included a glossary of slang in the back of my novels.)
Since I wrote about real people, politicians (and gangsters), I had to be careful not to include anything too offensive or incriminating since much of the information was based on legend and largely undocumented.
What’s interesting is that the gangsters and bootleggers of yesteryear mirror today’s drug dealers, gangs and cartels. Still, I learned a lot about organized crime, politics and Prohibition, and how often their worlds intermingled.
History may repeat itself, but fiction makes it fresh and new. Enjoy!
Vamps, Villains and Vaudeville
A historical Jazz Age mystery inspired by real-life Galveston gangs and local landmarks.
In 1920s Galveston, society reporter Jazz Cross is in for a surprise when she attends a traveling vaudeville show with her beau, Prohibition Agent James Burton, and discovers that an old flame acts in the production. That night, they find a stabbing victim behind the Oasis — her half-brother Sammy’s speakeasy — who’s identified as an actor in the troupe. When the victim disappears and later turns up dead, Jazz must help prove that Sammy wasn’t the killer.
Meanwhile, a ring of jewel thieves are turning up all over town, robbing rich tourists of their precious gems. After a second vaudeville actor is found dead, Jazz discovers that the events behind the scenes are much more interesting than the outdated acts onstage.
To make matters worse, Sammy’s old nemesis demands that he settles a score and forces him into yet another illegal scheme. Can Jazz help solve the murders and prove her brother’s innocence—so he can escape the Downtown Gang for good?
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About Ellen Mansoor Collier
Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer and editor whose articles and essays have been published in a variety of national magazines. Several of her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World. During college summers, she worked as a reporter for a Houston community newspaper and as a cocktail waitress, both jobs providing background experience for her Jazz Age mysteries.
A flapper at heart, she’s worked as a magazine editor/writer, and in advertising and public relations (plus endured a hectic semester as a substitute teacher). She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism and served on UTmost, the college magazine and as president of WICI (Women in Communications).
FLAPPERS, FLASKS AND FOUL PLAY is her first novel, published in 2012, followed by the sequel, BATHING BEAUTIES, BOOZE AND BULLETS, released in May 2013. She lives in Houston with her husband and Chow mutts, and visits Galveston whenever possible.
“When you grow up in Houston, Galveston becomes like a second home. I had no idea this sleepy beach town had such a wild and colorful past until I began doing research, and became fascinated by the legends and stories of the 1920s. Finally I had to stop researching and start writing, trying to imagine a flapper’s life in Galveston during Prohibition.”
Pinterest – https://www.pinterest.com/artdecodame/flappers/
Other books by this author:
You can find all her books on Amazon.