Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Trip Back to the Jazz Age & Contest

I'd like to welcome Ellen Mansoor Collier to the blog today. Ellen writes the Jazz Age Mystery series. Gold-Diggers, Gamblers and Guns is the third and most recent addition to the series.

Kathy: Gold-Diggers, Gamblers and Guns is considered a soft-boiled mystery inspired by actual events. How did you come across the actual events?

EMC: While doing research, I was amazed to discover that Galveston’s Bathing Girl Revue evolved into the Miss Universe pageant, attracting bathing beauties from all over the world. The promoters wanted to compete with Miss America in Atlantic City so they decided to one-up that pageant and turn their contest into an international competition. Hard to believe that these young women—all in their teens to twenties, many of whom couldn’t speak English—had traveled so far to a tiny island, then population 50K, to seek fame and fortune. I turned that premise, with a twist, into BATHING BEAUTIES, BOOZE AND BULLETS.

Kathy: As part of the Jazz Age Mystery series, Gold-Diggers, Gamblers and Guns is a historical mystery which requires some amount of research. What is your favorite research method?

EMC: I’m very visual and really enjoyed watching old movies to study the settings, styles and period detail of the 1920s. The snappy dialogue, slang and mannerisms seemed so over the top that the characters were almost like caricatures—but that’s how people really talked and behaved, at least in the movies. Luckily I found actual clips of Galveston’s Bathing Girl parade on YouTube showing how the girls perilously stood in open cars with little support, which I described in BATHING BEAUTIES. So dangerous! During the parade, tourists milled around the Seawall, walking between the cars, and the poor beauties had to hold on for dear life.

I also like to peruse old magazines, newspapers and photographs to get a feel for the era. One of my favorite ways to research is browsing at antique malls or shows and seeing vintage clothing, hats and shoes on display, and examining the old appliances and equipment they used then. Besides being a great history lesson, it’s a perfect excuse to go antique shopping! LOL

Kathy: Jasmine Cross is stuck between the world of gossip and glamour and the world of gangsters and and gamblers. If you had a choice, which world would you be in?

EMC: I’d like to do some of both since I think both worlds are fascinating in their own way. I’m intrigued by the criminal element—but only from a safe distance. That’s why I enjoyed freelancing for a variety of magazines, so I could explore different topics, meet interesting people and learn new things. I’ve interviewed all types of people, from garbage collectors to semi-celebrities, including Nancy Brinker and Suze Orman.

Kathy: Do you gamble (legally, of course-wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more)? If so, what games of chance do you prefer to play?

EMC: My idea of gambling is going to Vegas, sitting close to a band and playing nickel slot machines. Sometimes I even splurge on the quarter slots if it gets me closer to a good band. LOL I love the people-watching aspect in a casino, especially while they play Black Jack or poker.

Personally, I’d rather invest in a vintage purse or piece of jewelry than gamble. That’s where my research comes in!

Kathy: When I lived in Texas I visited Galveston and enjoyed my time there. What is your favorite thing to do on the island?

EMC: How cool! When did you live in TX? I enjoy sitting or walking on the beach, but when it’s hot, we prefer eating seafood in a restaurant like Gaido’s or Landry’s with an ocean view. Actually I love going to Artwalk and Artoberfest on Post Office Street in the Fall—live music, wine and cheese, antiques and artwork. I relate to artists trying to sell their creations!

Kathy: What first drew you to cozy mysteries?

EMC: I love the puzzle aspect and relationships in mysteries, not the blood and guts. I’d call my novels more soft-boiled rather than traditional cozies since they have hard-boiled elements, but the violence tends to be toned down. I get so queasy, I can’t even watch CSI or Law and Order!

Kathy: Do you write in any other genres?

EMC: No.

Kathy: Tell us about your series.

EMC: In my soft-boiled Jazz Age mysteries, real-life rival gangs fight over booze and bars during Prohibition in 1920s Galveston, Texas—the “Sin City of the Southwest.” Jasmine (“Jazz”) Cross, a 21-year-old society reporter, feels caught between two clashing cultures: the seedy speakeasy underworld and the snooty social circles she covers in the Galveston Gazette.

Kathy: Do you have a favorite character? If so, who and why?

EMC: Jasmine is my favorite, followed by Amanda, because they’re both good girls struggling to make their mark in a town filled with corruption, decadence and temptation.

Kathy: Did you have a specific inspiration for your series?

EMC: After going on a “mobsters tour” in Chicago, I found out Galveston had its own crime familes and connection to Al Capone. I heard all these wild rumors about Galveston gangs and wanted to learn more about the Maceos and the Beach and Downtown gangs.

Kathy: What made you decide to publish your work?

EMC: I came close to getting an agent but that was before Boardwalk Empire and the Great Gatsby helped fuel the Jazz Age craze. I’ve worked as a professional magazine editor and writer half my life, my brother is a graphic artist, and l have several editor friends so I charged ahead and decided to do it myself.

Kathy: If you could have a dinner party and invite 4 authors, living or dead, in any genre, who would you invite?

EMC: My answers may change every year, but for now: Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker and either Agatha Christie, Edgar Allen Poe or Shakespeare.

Kathy: What are you currently reading?

EMC: The Illusion of Murder by Carol McCleary about the adventures of Nellie Bly. As the first female investigative reporter, she was fearless!

Kathy: Will you share any of your hobbies or interests with us?

EMC: I worked for two antique dealers/designers between journalism jobs in my 20s, and became interested in old things.

I collect vintage purses and Deco vanity items, and enjoy getting worn or damaged pieces restored to their original condition—or better!

Kathy: Name 4 items you always have in your fridge or pantry.

EMC: Milk, 7 Up Ten, ice cream, seasonal fruits, especially grapes and watermelon during the summer.

Kathy: Do you have plans for future books either in your current series or a new series?

EMC: I have a few new ideas but it depends on interest and time. I want to end on a high note and keep the series fresh, rather than wear out my welcome.

Kathy: What's your favorite thing about being an author?

EMC: I love connecting with readers who enjoy my books and give me their opinion and thoughts on my characters. A few readers have e-mailed me wanting to friend me on Goodreads—and I’m delighted—but now it looks like only my good friends give me five-star reviews! LOL

One gal e’mailed me at 3 a.m. after finishing Bathing Beauties and was so excited that I was working on GOLD DIGGERS. She knew so much about the history that she actually gave me an idea for the ending.

One fan of the series is designing knitwear based on Jazz’s character—cloche caps, I think. Can’t wait to see her book!

These types of reader responses make all the hard work worthwhile.

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  1. Thanks for featuring me today, Kathy! Great questions!

    1. Thanks for visiting-I'm happy to have had you visit!

  2. Thank you for the awesome interview ladies! This is one series I HAVE to read. And thank you Ellen for the history lesson of Nellie Bly...I learn something new every day!
    Sandy in So. Cali

  3. Great interview will have to read these books.

  4. What an interesting time in our history. I loved the clothes for that time period, too.

  5. Thanks, ladies! My mother was a World History teacher but I wasn't interested in history until I worked for two antiques dealers/designers--and fell in love with Art Deco style and Jazz Age culture. The 1920s are the bee's knees! I recommend you read the series in order, start with FLAPPERS and BATHING BEAUTIES to lead up to GOLD DIGGERS. Enjoy!

  6. Woo Hoo! I'm #625 and I'm super excited to take a trip back into flapper time this weekend! I'm probably one of the few ppl in my town that is excited to see rain in the forecast this weekend!

  7. I love book clubs and contests because you get to explore new authors and genres. While I always thought fondly of the Roaring 20's I was excited to get into this mystery to explore their world a little more. Collier brings the reader into the world of gangsters and speak easys through the eyes of Jazz, a sassy young dame who works for the daily paper as a society reporter but ends up much more of a crime reporter as batches of rotgut alcohol make their way into clubs putting anyone and everyone at risk. I love this spunky young character and enjoyed spending time with her in Gavelston, TX during the height of Prohibition.
    Loved it, looking for to Jazz's next adventure.